I wrote this in 2013, intending to read it at my church.
That never happened, for one reason or another. And I eventually forgot it existed! It wasn’t until today, when I got an email asking for details about my depression, that I realized I’d never published this account.
It’s long. But if you want to know about my death and rebirth, here’s the story.
My name is Amanda McKinney, and I’m an idolater.
In theory, I’ve always known that I had idols. But I never really understood how many things I love more than God, until He took all of my comfort—stole my idols right out from under me—and left me broken and shaking in fear.
This is my story of darkness, depression, and mind-numbing terror.
And it’s a story of the sweet, sweet safety of Jesus.
First, a little about who I was in August of 2013, while anticipating the birth of my second child:
I’ve always been very introspective. I’m a question-asker and a voracious reader. I was raised in church, graduated from a Christian Highschool and college, AND spent more than a little of my spare time writing about God and theology on my blog.
I could quote Scripture with the best of them.
I’m familiar with G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, and Martin Luther. I could argue evidence for the existence of God from ten different angles and explain why the Prosperity Gospel is heretical. And I almost always tackled three or four books at once, on topics I both agreed and disagreed with.
In short, I had an answer—or at least a theory—for everything.
But after the birth of my son, I struggled with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, which threw my entire world for a loop.
It started with not being able to sleep well. My racing heart and anxious thoughts kept me awake all night, which began to take a toll on my already-worn-out mind.
After several days of fighting irrational fears and telling myself it would get better soon, it became harder and harder to believe I really WOULD be alright again. My body physically dealt with the symptoms of panic attacks, while my head and heart struggled with their own issues.
Like that horrible song you can’t get out of your head, my brain kept telling me everything was BAD…SCARY…and eventually MEANINGLESS.
I could not stop thinking:
“What if I don’t sleep tonight? What if I’m never able to enjoy sleep again? What if I’m so tired that I can’t take proper care of my children? What if? What if? What if?”
And, eventually, those questions turned to the Spiritual realm as well:
“What kind of God allows mental illnesses like this in the first place? What could the purpose be? What if He’s not really as good as the Bible says He is? I honestly can’t remember feeling truly happy…and it certainly doesn’t feel like I ever will again. What if I don’t ever, ever feel happy again? What if…?”
Now, let me remind you, I know a lot of Scripture. I’ve read tons of commentary about pain and suffering—including Lewis’ excellent book The Problem of Pain.
But none of that head-knowledge was comforting to me in the least!
The ability to appreciate Scripture was rooted in my mind, and that was the thing that was broken and hurting!
Where could I turn, when I couldn’t even trust my own thoughts? What was the point of all the learning I had done all my life, if it was basically useless to me at my most desperate hour?
And, most importantly, WHERE WAS GOD?!
As days wore on, I became more and more desperate for relief…for just a spark of hope..for a glimpse of God to remind me He is there, and He is good.
I wrote this in my journal one night:
“I used to criticize all the ways humans self-medicate. How they cling to false theologies and comfort each other with pretty lies. But now that I’m experiencing the hurt for myself, I understand completely. Don’t bother me with complicated theories and scary Truth right now. I’m totally head-learned out. Lie to me if you must! Just help me, Jesus. Be my Healer. Hold me in your arms. Promise me peace and joy!”
I wasn’t looking for another quote about God.
Instead, I was desperate for HIM—personally, intimately…and He felt very, very far away.
The longer I went without His voice, the more I realized I was experiencing emotional Hell. What else would you call the absence of God?
No joy. No hope. No relief. No God.
Where, where was He? And, if He was so good, why had He left me in Hell?
Then, finally, God came to rescue me. The details are somewhat long, and they wouldn’t mean as much to you anyway.
God spoke directly to my heart and confirmed His presence in the way that I needed to feel it.
Suffice it to say: through some eery “coincidences”–and the video testimony of a perfect stranger online-–God got my attention. And then he answered my prayers.
I literally couldn’t stand, from awe and amazement that the Creator of the Universe was interacting directly with ME. For years, I had been repeating, “God sees you and loves you.”
But to actually experience that truth…it overwhelmed me.
Furthermore, God revealed that He was using my horrible, panic-filled battle with depression to address deep soul questions I hadn’t been motivated to tackle until I was at the end of my rope.
All my life I had asked to become more like Jesus, and finally I was learning for myself that it’s NOT an easy process.
That “refining fire” we hear so much about? Yeah, turns out it burns. And Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said, “In this life, you WILL have trouble.” That’s a promise, folks.
It’s terrifying when you think of just how much trouble one person might experience. (I was driving myself crazy asking all of those “what if?”questions.)
But I realized my obsessive desire for sleep and comfort actually reveal one of my idols. Turns out, I often want a trouble-free life more than I want Him.
Another of my idols is my own ability to reason and problem-solve. I spent hours sacrificing to this god, desperately searching for medical solutions to my problems on the internet…
…and the only thing I discovered, for sure, was just how little we humans really know about the human body and brain.
There were so many conflicting opinions! So much advice that promised to help me calm down and rest that only ended in disappointment!
Suddenly, I realized I wasn’t in control of my body the way I always thought I was. In fact, I realized the terrifying truth: I’m hardly in control of ANYTHING at all.
The mind/brain of which I’m so proud is a gift from God. But if I start valuing it more than I value Him, it can be stripped away.
There were two verses I focused on, while sorting all of this out.
The first is Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
And second, 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
These became the foundations onto which I rebuilt my understanding of God, even as my body still refused to cooperate.
Slowly, slowly, (muuuuch more slowly than I would have preferred), the Truth of these words began to sink into my heart….and God began allowing the horrible fog to lift from my brain.
The whole time I was lying awake, scared and out-of-control, I comforted myself with the idea that things would go back to “normal.”
I thought I’d be “me” again soon—if I just could hang on.
But, now I know that was a lie.
I’ll NEVER be the same.
The woman I was before Collin’s birth is DEAD, and the terrible yet beautiful truth is, God is the one who killed her.
Don’t be confused by the word “beautiful.” It literally felt like death—frightening, lonely, and totally unfair. We pay lip-service to the idea of suffering in church, but it’s a whole different animal when you’re up all night choking on it.
It’s more than uncomfortable.
It’s bigger than “sad” or “worried.”
It’s surgery, turned fatal with the DEATH of our sinful selves.
And it takes lot of time, prayer, and loving/wise counsel to help us recover from that kind of pain.
It may be strange for some of you to think about “recovering” from an encounter with God, but I think it’s biblical. God wrestled with Jacob and popped his thigh out of socket. He had Jonah cast into the ocean and swallowed by a fish. He made Joseph wait in a prison cell for years, an innocent man.
It seems God constantly puts His children through serious, totally-unexpected and “unfair” crises that last longer than we ever thought we could endure.
In fact, that’s exactly what a mentor of mine wrote to me, when she heard about my struggles:
“We don’t get to choose the time, place or type of suffering – but anyone serious about following Jesus WILL suffer, even if it’s not direct persecution…
In times of suffering, most of what is happening is the removal of things; the emptying, not the filling, not the learning of lessons. It feels like dying, because, in fact, we are – we are dying to self, our tidy theology, our ability to control our circumstances and our fond illusions that we can… But after all that, when all hope has died, when we no longer put our hope in our deliverance (a subtle idol) – He resurrects us. He wants so much more for us than just to be once more at ease.”
In the middle of my depression, I couldn’t recognize the awful, painful experience as something for my good. But, now, I more fully understand Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.”
I learned just how much of a control-freak I am—and how much I try to rely on my own head and strength to get me through tough times when, the truth is, I’m almost completely OUT OF CONTROL.
My mind could be taken from me in an instant.
It’s only thanks to God that good feelings like safety and comfort and happiness exist in the first place, and He determines when to give them out.
There is very little in this life that *I* get to steer.
But, in my pit of darkness, I was pierced with the reality that God truly is my ONLY hope, and that has been a worthwhile discovery. He saw fit to strip away my safety and to take happiness far, far away, to help me see how badly I need him.
It sounds crazy. But He took me through Hell to accomplish his good purpose.
In closing, God wounded me, and I still have scars from the ordeal. Not only that, but many of my questions remain unanswered, even though God has helped me better understand a few things.
As He continues to insist that I trust Him—completely—He keeps me guessing in a lot of areas. Unfortunately, I still have to answer “I don’t know” to many, many things…and I still struggle with anxious thoughts and trouble relaxing…
My name is Amanda McKinney, and I practice idolatry.
But, I know the One, True God is pursuing my soul. He is breaking down the Old Man and making something totally new. And, even when I’m awake and confused, He is producing in me the fruits of His Spirit…including joy, patience…and PEACE.
Will you praise Him with me?