You're a fake, a phony, a liar. You call yourself a Christian. You're an imposter, a poser, a worthless human being...a terrible person. You have hate in your heart. You have no friends.
And the tape kept playing. For five months the tape played over and over again in my head. Surely my husband could hear it. Even if he couldn’t hear it he surely knew all these things about me.
Who do you think you are? You‘re going to speak at a women’s retreat about the Greatest Commandments? You, who love no one? Imposter, fake, liar. You think you know everything. You know nothing. You have fooled people in the past but you aren’t going to get away with it this time. hey are going to see you for what you truly are...a fake, a phony, a liar.
Let me start at the beginning.
In June 2017 I talked to my doctor about coming off an anti-depressant I had been on for 10 years. I was in a better place, I told her. I was retired, under less stress, things were going smoothly and I no longer felt I needed the medication to cope. She agreed and together we worked out a plan to gradually reduce the medication over a period of time. By July I was completely off the medication and I was feeling great. By September a series of events, life altering events, seem to hit all at once. Little by little the tape in my head began to play reminding me of my inadequacies. I became outwardly emotional, crying at the slightest provocation. I was angry and argued with anyone who wanted, or didn’t want, a fight. I had no patience. I pushed away those closest to me because I didn’t want or need anyone. After all, I was unlovable.
Prior to all this drama, I was asked to speak at our annual women’s retreat on the Greatest Commandments. You know, love God and love your neighbor as yourself. As I read and dug deeper into the scripture it was if it pierced my heart. Who do you love; really love?
The answer was no one other than your family. You have no friends, no one cares about you. If you wanted to run away where would you go? You have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. You’re going to stand up there and talk about the love of God and the love for neighbors when you only love yourself?
I slept a lot. I played Candy Crush a lot. I ignored phone calls and emails. I couldn’t force myself to be in contact with anyone. They knew who I was, a fake, a phony, a liar. I tried to keep up appearances. I had a part-time job as a receptionist at my church. I had to go to work but there I felt like everyone could see through me so I kept my head down and my mouth shut, trying to act “normal.” I knew I had other responsibilities, which continued to gnaw at me, but I was paralyzed to do anything. In October I skipped my birthday.
Throughout this dark period I prayed that God would take away the pain that I was feeling. I prayed, on some days, that I would just lie down and not wake up again. I vowed to be a better neighbor. I promised that I would try to connect with other women intentionally.
By November I realized, with the help of the Holy Spirit, that I needed to go back on my medication. I called the doctor’s office and while I only asked for a half-dosage of the medication she prescribed the full dosage. I told myself I only needed half so I proceeded to cut each pill in half. I didn’t want to become “dependent” on medication to make me feel better. So I took the half-dosage for six weeks or more. The tapes kept playing. No real noticeable improvement. I am a fake, a phony, a liar. Is this life really worth living?
In November I slogged through Thanksgiving with little to be thankful for. The Christmas season was tough. I had no energy or desire to shop for gifts. I recall one night when my husband came home and tried to give me a monetary gift from an elderly friend. I started to cry and refused to take it. I wasn’t worthy to receive a gift that I knew was a significant sacrifice from her. You are worthless, a fake, a phony. I let Christmas cards sit unopened. There was no joy in my heart.
Then the Holy Spirit nudged me again. I needed to take the full dosage prescribed by my doctor. Slowly, almost unperceptively, I started to feel better. The tapes were not playing as loudly as they once were and not as frequently. After church one Sunday in late January I said to my husband, I feel as if my head is breaking through the surface of the water. I felt as if I had been drowning and now I could start to breathe again. Little by little the tapes stopped. My sense of humor returned and I was able to laugh again. I think it was about this time that I finally had the courage to open the Christmas cards that were sitting on the coffee table unopened.
While at work in the church office a "friend" came in to volunteer. I use the word "friend" because while I had known her for decades, we had only a superficial relationship. She was in the midst of a divorce and I suggested perhaps she could use a Stephen Minister. Her reaction surprised me. She said she was offended. All she wanted was a friend, not someone who was assigned to her, who would be required to spend time with her. She told me that she was in the audience when I gave the eulogy at a friend's celebration of life.
"Sharon," she said, "I wanted to come up to you then and ask you to be my friend." Here was an answer to prayer. A woman, as lonely as I was, who desired a meaningful relationship. We decided on that very day to be intentional about our friendship. We continue to meet several times a month for lunch and offer support to each other. We are learning that we have so much in common.
It is now the middle of May and, with the help of God and medication, I am starting to feel like my old self again. I am motivated to take on those responsibilities I have ignored in the past. The Lord has answered my prayers. I am developing friendships. There are still days that I struggle but overall life is good and God is great!
The ironic thing about this whole story is that I should have known better. As a counselor who worked with emotionally disabled children in the public schools for over twenty years, I saw this pattern many times. Students were prescribed medication, feel better and go off the medication, only to have to return to taking it again. Mental illness is a life-long disease. I thank God for the doctors and scientists who study the brain and develop medication for those of us who deal with mental illnesses. I don’t ever want to experience again the depths of despair I lived with for those five months.
UPDATE: I spoke at that retreat in April and shared “my story.” I was unprepared for the response I received. Women thanked me for my transparency, hugged me, and they began to share what they had been through. A number of the women told me that they, too, were on medication for anxiety and/or depression. It was frightening to be that open but it started a dialogue that I hope won’t end. We need not be ashamed of our mental illnesses. We do need to fight for better education and understanding and I hope to do just that.
Regional Disability Advocate of SW Classis