In the Margins: Dealing with Depression

This is the seventh in this year’s series of stories devoted to Wheaton students who are “different” in some way. These stories are solely representative of the individuals who tell them. This week’s story is by “Violet.” The story is based on an interview with Dr. Cliff Williams of the Department of Philosophy, who recorded what Violet said, then transcribed and edited it.

In elementary school, I was the perfect student, except for fourth grade, when I stopped caring about school and stopped doing my homework. I told my parents that I was sick, even though I wasn’t, so that I could stay home in bed. I don’t know whether I was depressed then, but I do know that during my freshman year of high school I definitely was. I felt a heavy weight the entire year, plus a deep-seated insecurity and doubt about the meaning of anything.

During my sophomore year at Wheaton, I got pretty low. There were a couple of times that year that I couldn’t get out of bed, not because I was tired and needed more sleep, but because I couldn’t move. I started bingeing and purging. That’s when you eat a lot and then make yourself throw up. I was disgusted by the fact that I had taken in a lot of food to comfort myself. The act of throwing up was a visual expulsion — this stuff is out of me, it’s gone. I thought, “Maybe I can be pure or forgiven if I just get all the crap out and stop consuming so much.”

I felt an incredible amount of guilt about how much it cost for me simply to be alive — school costs, clothing costs, food costs. I was down on myself about my appearance. I felt that I was an idiot because I was taking some hard classes. I applied for several programs and was turned down. I couldn’t make anything good of the fact that I was a superprivileged person who consumed so much. I felt as though I was wasting people’s space. I couldn’t seem to give back to anyone. I constantly asked myself, “What am I doing here?”

The summer after my sophomore year was healing. I backpacked a lot, spent a lot of time in nature, felt better about my body, and stopped bingeing and purging. Over Christmas break of my junior year, I took a medication not related to mental health and within a week or two was sent into a deep and severe depression.

I came back to school after the break, but it was immediately evident to me that I couldn’t do school. I couldn’t think. I had a hard time talking to people. I couldn’t connect with anyone. I slept 16 hours a night, trying to keep reality at bay. I knew that I would fail my classes. So after a week I left as quietly as possible. I tried to tell a few people that I was leaving, but I was ashamed of myself — very, very ashamed.

There was a spiritual component to what I was feeling. I thought I was condemned by God. I felt a lot of worthlessness. The condemnation and guilt were overwhelming. I felt that I didn’t deserve to be at Wheaton. I couldn’t say the creeds, I couldn’t take communion, I wasn’t good enough for anything.

At home, I went around the house making confessions, saying that I needed to be kicked out of the house because I was a bad daughter who was going to hell. For about a month, I was numb. From time to time during that month, my mom and my sister found me hunched over in some room of the house, wailing to God to forgive me.

My parents got me to a psychiatrist, who put me on anti-depression medication and took me off the medication that had caused me to spiral downward. My mom invented tasks for me to do. My sister signed me up for guitar lessons. They never let me be alone for too long. I began to feel again. After a couple of months, I got a job. By the time I got the job, I wasn’t doing great, but I was functioning a little better.

A turning point came during a women’s Bible study when all of them prayed for me. I opened my eyes during the prayers and saw that the women were sobbing. I felt that God was really with me. God wasn’t angry with me. I could live. My sins were no more. I was clean. I didn’t have to experience guilt for what I had done and left undone.

During the summer, I quit the job I had gotten and took some classes. I also did an internship at a ministry and reconnected with other people. During my severest depression, I had thought about myself all the time. I had been absorbed with my own faults, my own insecurities, my own helplessness. It had been very hard to engage with others.

For a time, I needed that “selfish” time. I needed it to find help, to talk to a counselor, to be with people who were empathetic and who listened to me and simply sat with me. But after a while, I also needed to serve others. Doing that at the internship made me feel that I was doing something meaningful.

When I came back to Wheaton this past fall, I thought, “I’ve been through the worst thing I can imagine. Now I’m better. I’m healed.” I found, though, that I was naïve to think this. There have been times when I’ve thought I was okay, and as soon as I was alone, I broke down into fits of sobbing. Sometimes I feel as though I’m lying to people because I can’t get the work done that I need to do. I’m bad about exercising, even though I know it’s one of the best things I can do. At times I’m too scared to ask someone to be with me.

One thing that keeps me going is doing new things and being in new environments. Another is focusing on good and beautiful things. I keep a gratitude journal, and from time to time I write down specific memories of the things that are good and the specific things that I see that are beautiful.

Still another thing that keeps me going is making things or doing things for other people, such as making a good meal for someone or giving someone love in some way. Also, writing poetry helps me realize that I am a productive, worthwhile human being.

I give myself grace when I can’t be there for someone or can’t do the things I want to do. But when I am healthy emotionally, I go out of my way to minister to those around me and try to do my work.

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