“Please read, important,” the email in my school inbox read. It was a from a dear, sweet student I had and who I had sensed had been wanting to talk to me for some time. I opened the email, and inside found her long and difficult story, detailing this girl’s history with depression, suicide attempts, cutting, and anxiety.
That afternoon, at a collaboration meeting with my fellow teachers, we discussed how we are seeing a vast and exponential increase in the number of girls who are struggling with some sort of emotional or mental turmoil. Later that week, a friend of mine in a different state told me how at that Sunday during church meetings, it was brought up that many, many of the young women in her church are dealing with depression and anxiety, and as such, are crippled with social anxiety and incapacitating depression.
Every time I get up in front of my classes when we are discussing psychological disorders and I tell my own story of struggling with anxiety and depression, I look around the classroom to see tears, to see similar stories written on so many of their faces.
I think about this stuff a lot. Probably because I see it a lot. I see it everywhere I go, and not only because I see hundreds of teenagers every day and am friends with many women who struggle with mental illness as adults. I probably see it more because I myself have gone through it; anyone who has survived a trial knows that it opens your eyes to the plight of those who struggle through similar circumstances. Also, I am very open about my depression, and that openness, I think, emboldens people to be more open about it with me. So, I see and hear about it a lot. Probably a lot more than the average person.
So, to the average person out there, I just wanted to let you know: depression and anxiety is a plague that is destroying the happiness of many, many of the girls and women you know and love.
And here is something that I know: Satan rejoices over this.
Think about it. The women you know—either teenagers or grown women—are breathtakingly amazing. They are strong, funny, intelligent, driven, and have so much to offer the world. And many of them really aren’t tempted by many of Satan’s “typical” arsenal of temptations, such as drugs, alcohol, immorality, or other vices. These women, in fact, are very conscientious and are doing all they can to walk the path of righteousness, to make correct decisions, and to be good people. Because of this, happiness and blessings will naturally flow to them, as is decreed by the irrefutable laws that God has set forth regarding obedience. Their obedience automatically is going to set them on the path that leads towards happiness.
Satan hates this. He knows that he can’t get to them through vice and degradation. So, what’s he to do? What can possibly bring these stalwart soldiers of Christ down? What can he do to prevent these women from feeling the happiness that will come to them because of their good choices?
He uses depression and anxiety. To be clear, he doesn't cause depression or anxiety. No. Rather, he preaches lies to those who struggle with it, lies meant to strip women of their will to fight the darkness.
Women—beautiful, talented, strong, sensitive, nurturing, caring, powerful women—are succumbing to Satan’s lies of worthlessness, uselessness, stress, comparisons, hopelessness, indifference, apathy, learned helplessness, and powerlessness.
Some of these women would struggle with depression and anxiety no matter what: a genetic predilection and family history means that mental disorders are just one of the crosses they were given in this life to bear. Genes create the mental struggle; however, Satan takes full advantage of that genetic tendency two ways.
He tells you to give into the depression; that you can’t do anything about it; that it is your entire identity; that you cannot function because of it; that you do not have to strive or work hard or do anything to reach your potential. Because, you have depression, gosh darn it, and that’s a valid excuse. The result of this is that you withdraw your positive and light-filled influence from the world, and as such, not only bring on further misery to yourself, but deny others of the good you would be doing them through your presence.
He tells you that your depression is because of your circumstances. He tells you that you are miserable not because your brain doesn’t produce enough “happy juice,” as I like to call it, but because of your incorrigible and ungrateful children, your worthless and lazy husband who never fully understands you, your constant monotonous routine of a boring and unfulfilling life, your surplus fat, your ugly face, the friend or neighbor or family member who offended you, the boss who doesn’t appreciate you, the house you live in for not being nice enough, your paycheck for not being big enough, the failure that you are as a mother, the failure you are as a Pinterest-er, the failure you are as…..fill in the blank. Satan tells you that your misery is circumstantial, and as such, you react with hatred, misery, bitterness, anger, and irritation at everything and everyone around you. You can obviously see the harm in this reaction; it’s a natural human response. When fighting through waves of anxiety or despair, we automatically search for meaning, for reasons why we feel it. And we tend to forget that there is no reason, outside of our brain’s chemistry, and we lash out and label everything around us as the cause.
Lies. All lies. All lies that Satan spins and caresses with, that he uses to take women down, one by one. Lies that he uses to keep you from being awesome and to use you as an instrument of misery not only in your own life, but in the lives of everyone you touch. He knows that if you take down one woman you not only take down the woman, but you take down their family—either the family they live with as teenagers, or the family they create as women—and also, he can get to your friends. One depressed mother spreads sadness more than anything else will. One depressed teenager infects so many in their group of friends; I have seen one person set off a chain of reactions that spreads its dark tentacles through entire social circles.
Then, there are those women who don’t have a genetic predisposition for depression or anxiety, but rather, are experiencing a bout of it due to a difficult experience or time of life. Satan uses these situations to make those circumstances feel like quicksand; he encourages you to dwell on them and sink into them until they drown you. And, Satan rejoices.
Then, there are those women who don’t have depression or anxiety at all—they just aren’t happy. I often see this in teenagers. Let’s face it: being a teenager is hard, and they are faced with so many new hormones, such social pressure, and so many stressful life changes. Combine that with the biological fact that in adolescent brains their emotional responses and self-awareness is heightened and self-regulation and analytical skills are underdeveloped, and you sure have a lot of symptoms that seem like you have depression or anxiety. And in our newly-minted world of uber mental-health awareness, it is much easier to just slap a label of depression on teenage misery than to realize that given a decade, their brains will be functioning differently.
So, teenagers feel this brain-induced angst, and sometimes (not always, but sometimes), as one of my students so aptly put it, they tend to “romanticize depression,” because it gives them a sense of uniqueness and identity, a “thing” to be and have. I have seen this romanticizing become a trend, something that entire groups of friends don as their particular identity. Then, with that label of depression, teachers and counselors are asked to handle the students with kid gloves, and a new class of teenagers develops: “fragile”. We are asked to cut them slack, to compensate, to take down their workloads. Which, we do, of course, because we love them and want them to succeed. If a kid is struggling, we want to help. But speaking from personal experience, there are some situations where this type of labeling can cause more harm than good.
No matter what category you fall under—predisposition for biological depression, circumstantial depression, or just normal teenagery or hormone-induced depression—Satan gets a bit excited, rubs his hand together, and goes in for the kill. He knows you are vulnerable in a way that he must exploit, because he won’t get most of these women in any other way. He doesn't create your original struggle, but he sure does step in when it's occurring and manipulate your beliefs to keep you down longer.
In all of these, Satan seeks to manipulate the natural darkness and despair that accompanies anxiety and depression. For some people, Satan makes them feel like their unhappiness is a sin: they must be doing something wrong, because they are miserable. To be clear: this is a LIE. Depression is not caused by unrighteousness. The thing is though, we are taught over and over again that the righteous will be happy, so, because we’re not happy, we feel we must be wicked. Satan fills us with a sense of shame and embarrassment, a sense of flailing desperation and guilt. This keeps us from reaching our potential, from embracing our royal birthright as children of God, and from allowing ourselves to be happy with the blessings we have.
For others, he just uses our natural depression and anxiety to diminish our light and influence for good in the world. He knows that if he can get you to blame your misery on your family, he can destroy families. He knows that if he can get you to use depression as an excuse to not serve or do, then he can destroy potential and salvation. He knows that if he can get you to obsess—in unhealthy and extreme ways—over “fixing yourself,” you will become blind to those around you. He knows that if he can get you to constantly emulate a victim status that gives you special treatment, you will not take accountability for your own happiness, and, that your friends and family will take note—and some will follow accordingly. He knows that your many actions and choices that are good will lead to blessings, and dwelling on the darkness is the only way he can blind you to those blessings and keep you from enjoying them as you deserve. He knows that if you were to recognize and see those blessings, the joy that would radiate from you would draw far too many people into the Light. He must keep you in the dark. He knows that discontentment and a lack of gratitude have led to civilization-wide unrest before, and if he can get the women of the world to feel it, then the world will fall.
In all situations, Satan accomplishes two critical goals he has had from the beginning:
He strips you of your free agency. How? By making you feel powerless, like you have no choice, like you can’t choose happiness. This great falsehood only leads us, with flaxen cords, to further misery. We can always choose. Depression may be weighing us down with a ton of dark matter, but we can still choose to stand up and go live our lives.
Just this winter, I woke up one morning after a week-long battle with a particularly harsh bout of depression. I didn’t want to get up. I looked out the window and noted that it had snowed: this was even worse. We were supposed to get up and go to church that day. The thought of even trying, of making what seemed like the Herculean effort to get out of bed, get everyone ready, be there, be pleasant, be social, just be at all, nearly crushed me. I told my husband, “I can’t do it. I just can’t today. Not today.” My husband, who is kind and gentle and wise, and who I know just wanted to scoop me up and tell me that it was okay and to stay home, instead sagely said, “I know you don’t want to go, and I know it is hard. But you can choose to go. And choosing to go is the right choice. Because if you choose not to go this one time, it will make it so much easier to choose not to go next time.” And he was right. I was mad at him: I wanted him to give me an excuse to stay home, to wallow, to curl into myself in my bed and just not have to do this whole life thing for one day. But, he loves me enough to keep encouraging me to choose the light, even when it looks so dark.
And that is our choice. Satan makes us feel like we can’t choose, that we can’t choose to fight. That we have no choice over our fate. That depression holds us in its tight grip and we cannot break free. And as always, Satan wraps his lies up in truths to deceive us all. Indeed, the truth is that many of us cannot choose to stop being depressed. Depression will haunt us our entire lives, rearing its ugly head over and over again. So, no, we don't have that choice. That is the truth that Satan uses to wrap this destructive lie in: that we cannot choose our reaction to depression. And if we believe that lie, he has us. We will turn towards the darkness and sink further and further into it. Satan knows that agency is one of our greatest gifts, and the only thing that will allow us to progress and become stronger. He will do everything he can to everyone he can to make them feel like they cannot choose. With conscientious and strong women, depression is the tool he uses to make us feel powerless. And that powerlessness is always a lie. Never choose darkness. Fight it with everything you have.
2. The second lie, as previously mentioned, is that Satan tells those of us who struggle with depression that we can’t help or serve anyone when depressed. I have known almost entire neighborhoods to be decimated by this insidious result of depression and anxiety—entire swaths of geography where women are hiding, where they are retreating—and those areas are darker for it. He wants to take any form of light from our eyes, so that no one around us can benefit from it. He wants us to withdraw, to say no to helping others, to barely function, to require being taken care of, to feel sorry for ourselves, to stop doing everything that we are amazing at and everything that we most certainly can do (even if it is very, very hard).
I know that living your normal life while in the throes of depression is like trying to slog through waist-high mud with weights on every part of your body. But here’s the thing: you can slog. And people will notice you slogging, and your light—which is there even if you can’t feel it—will benefit others. Every step you take through that mud will make the slogging of others a bit easier. And, miraculously, as we lighten the load of others, our load begins to feel lighter as well, not heavier. Ladies, we are warriors. WARRIORS. Satan doesn’t want us to fight. He wants us to draw inward; he wants us to stop being warriors.
Don’t let him tell you that it’s okay to give up. Don’t be his pawn. Don’t be his victim.
If you have depression or anxiety, don’t let it be a tool that is used against you. Fight. Go to therapy, take medication, make some lifestyle changes, do what you can—and then walk on. Fight on. Make the choice every day to remember that it does not define you. You are not your biology. You are above your circumstances and unhealthy thought processes. You are above your emotional tumult. Your life is full of potential and this darkness you feel is just a cross that you must endure for a short time. Or a cross you must bear for a lifetime, but, you will not let it rob you of that life. Instead of letting depression be a tool that is used against you, allow it to make you stronger as you fight on and seek the Light of Him who saves. Dig deep within your own arsenal, and hold onto the rod of iron, and never forget you don't have to fight alone: latch onto the undeniable and unstoppable force of Christ’s redeeming Atonement, and fight together.