Connie Jeffery —
I have always been a happy, bubbly person, at least on the outside. My friends often describe me as “the Energizer Bunny.” I zip around from task to task with energy, enthusiasm, and a joie de vivre that has been described as contagious. But over the past couple of years, that energy has been depleted—the lack of joy, palpable. By Christmas of last year, after recovering from a bout of the flu, I found myself at my lowest point. I started using words like “overwhelmed,” “stressed,” and “tired” to describe myself. I found it hard to get out of bed each morning, and I lost 10 pounds in just six weeks.
My family and a few close friends took notice. My husband suggested I see a doctor. Relatives told me I had “lost my spark.” My lack of joy was the thing that concerned me the most and I tried to recapture it in various ways. I read the same Bible promises that had brought me comfort in the past. I tried to pray. But these things were challenges because I had difficulty focusing on simple tasks and I cried for no apparent reason. My general feeling of malaise was pervasive, and I didn’t feel like being around people. I was “too tired” to exercise. These weren’t symptoms I could simply pray away.
I deliberately avoided the word “depressed.” I found it much easier to be “overwhelmed” by an endless to-do list or “stressed” over a new job assignment. Depressed? Not me. In hindsight, I wish I had Googled “depression” and read the list of symptoms that matched my experience so precisely. I wish I had confided in someone—a trusted friend, pastor, doctor—sooner than I did. But the fear of stigma was a threat; also, I still believed if I simply pushed through it, if I focused on doing “All things through Christ which strengthens me,” I would indeed be able to do all things.
And depression just didn’t make sense. I am so blessed. I have a job I love, an incredibly supportive family, two adorable granddaughters who are the joy of my life, and a faith that has sustained me in both the best and the worst of times. There was no reason for me to feel so low. Even though I feared the stigma of depression, I didn’t stigmatize others who were experiencing issues. I was a good listener when it came to other people’s depression, but felt like there was no one for me to turn to for help. I was wrong, of course. I had resources and people who were readily accessible—I just needed to take that first step, and finally I did.
I started with my family doctor at my family’s insistence and with some trepidation. The problem? He is an Adventist, a family friend, and he knows me far too well. Maybe it would be easier to confide in a stranger, I thought. But I went to my doctor anyway, and he was exactly the right person for me at that point in time. I launched tearfully into my symptoms, and for the first time in a long time, I was totally honest. He handed me a box of Kleenex and kept listening. He treated me with respect and assured me that there was no stigma attached to being depressed. After lab tests ruling out other possibilities confirmed the diagnosis, we agreed on a treatment plan together.
Having opened up about my problems to one person, it became easier to seek help from others. I talked to my pastor, a woman I trust completely and to whom I felt comfortable talking about this part of my journey. She listened to my story, prayed with me, and continues to ask how I’m doing. I walk with my next door neighbor three or four times a week and we talk. (Walking is great for depression.) While she’s Jewish and I’m Christian, we are both women who find strength in sharing our stories. We’ve been next door neighbors for 20 years but only developed our walking relationship recently—and it has turned out to be such a blessing for us both. I also confided in the human resources director at work. She listened, was kind and professional, and made me aware of resources that were available to me.
According to the World Health Organization, 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Over 16 million adults in the U.S. have at least one major depressive episode each year—that’s 6.9 percent of us. And those statistics apply to people of faith, too. There is no shame in depression. But I had to learn that this was true for me—not just for other people. I have always known that my church family and friends would offer all kinds of support, spiritual and otherwise, if I had a physical illness. I just didn’t know they’d be there for me in my depression. While the media shines a spotlight on mental health issues in the wake of celebrity suicides, I hope that we as a church family also keep a light shining—the light of friendship, compassion, understanding, and love. My journey is far from over, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel. The joy has been returning, slowly, over several months. I’m grateful for the support of my doctor, family, pastor, and friends. I’m thankful that I am able to read God’s promises with clearer eyes.
My father is the first one who shared with me the concept of the “jar of tears” God keeps for us in heaven. Psalms 56:8 tells us that He “keeps a record of your days of wandering and stores your tears in His bottle.” Can you imagine it? He not only counts the hairs on my head, He keeps a record of each tear I shed! Jesus wept, too, and He understands.
Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.