Monday, August 18, 2014

Depressed? Get Help. Don't Wait.

By Niki Turner

The death of comedian Robin Williams came as a shock to us all. How could the man who made everyone laugh be so depressed, so tormented, that suicide seemed the only plausible option? 

Depression doesn't always show up on the outside. And if we aren't asking questions and talking about it with our friends and family members, depression will continue to destroy lives. Denying its existence, calling it a "character flaw," or attributing depression to a lack of faith or sin in someone's life is ignorant, and harmful.

I used to be one of those naysayers, even while I battled depression and anxiety myself. I was convinced that if I just had more faith, if I just prayed harder, if I just wasn't so weak, the panic attacks and debilitating depression would go away. But they didn't. 

Oh, it's not like I wasn't "fighting" and "resisting the enemy." I confessed scriptures, prayed, repented, cried, took herbal supplements, started exercising, meditated, received communion. I tried every method in—and out—of the book to get my wayward self under control. And all the while a still, small voice kept whispering in my ear, "Go to the doctor." 

But I didn't want to go to the doctor. I didn't want to admit my failure to overcome, to be victorious in this quest for mental and emotional stability. Even though I firmly believe God gives man knowledge and wisdom to find and create medical treatments so His children can have health. Even though I'm the first one to say "do everything you can in the spiritual realm, and everything you can in the natural realm to achieve and maintain health." Sure, I'll say it to someone else, but not to myself.

There's nothing like pride to trap you in a pit. [Tweet this!]

Eventually, I cracked (the genteel Southern term is "dropped my basket") one day on the way to the ski area in nasty weather. My husband was driving, the kids were all in the car, on the way to an activity I don't particularly enjoy. I'd made myself go anyway because the LAST time I didn't go, my oldest son severely dislocated his elbow and required an ambulance, emergency surgery, and physical therapy. Was I thinking my presence would somehow prevent another traumatic experience? Possibly. (That's another side of pride, but we won't examine that one today.)

I started crying and could not stop. I couldn't breathe. Couldn't see. Couldn't think clearly. For a few terrifying moments I felt certain I was going to self-destruct right there in the car, like those people who spontaneously combust in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. By the time the attack finally ended, thanks to a praying husband, I was exhausted. I spent the day in the lodge at the ski area, too physically and emotionally drained to even think about hitting the slopes.

A few days later, teary-eyed and humbled, I described my litany of symptoms to my doctor. She asked me a few pointed questions about how I was sleeping (um...people sleep?), did I feel angry all the time (you mean it's not normal to always be ready to fly into a rage?), etc. And then she told me I had something akin to a repetitive-motion injury in my brain. Too much stress for too long = body chemicals all out of whack. I was existing in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight response. 

The medications she prescribed had some side effects, but the side effects were nothing compared to the wonderful realization that I was reacting and responding to things like a regular person. Things that previously threw me off-kilter for days were still upsetting, but only briefly. I could move forward. My children (who did not know I had started taking 'happy pills') asked me what was up ... I was so relaxed, they said. Wow. Had I been that crazy?
Son of Groucho via Flickr
I took those prescriptions for five years. Today I no longer need them, but I'm constantly aware that I may need them again someday, and I'm no longer too proud to admit it.  

Maybe you have some prideful attitude about something or someone, even though you secretly (or not so secretly) struggle with the same issue. Shakespeare put it this way, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." The Apostle Paul put it like this: "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." 

Robin Williams' tragic death brought a lot of these topics up in conversation this week. I share my story because perhaps someone else out there is buckling under the pressure and stress and needs to know God has a precise and individualized plan for your good. If that's you, my prayer is that you will heed His still, small voice, and obey His leading. And for all of us, that instead of judging, we'll love one another. Instead of shaming, we'll offer a shoulder to lean on. And instead of assuming, we'll listen.

Niki Turner is a novelist, journalist, and blogger. She blogs at and is a co-blogger at Niki is an active member and volunteer for American Christian Fiction Writers and is involved in establishing an ACFW chapter on Colorado's Western Slope, where she resides. Her fiction blends the good news of God's love with come-as-you-are characters in stories that encourage and inspire. Her debut novelette, Santiago Sol, will be released through Pelican Book Group. 


  1. Good for you getting the help you needed, Niki!

    1. I hope sharing my story will encourage others to seek help, and not be afraid!

  2. What an important, powerful post. Thank you for being transparent with us.

    I read that someone asked Dick Cavett, "What do you have to be depressed about?" His response, "What do you have to be asthmatic about?" If we can change the way our culture views depression, it could save countless lives.

    1. Wow. Why do we ask people questions like that? We need a paradigm shift regarding mental health in general!

  3. Niki, I'm glad you found healing at last. And special kudos to you for the courage to write about your experience in public.

    A word of caution to anyone suffering depression: be very, very careful with herbal treatments. St. Johns wort is a common herbal treatment for depression, but for people who have bipolar disorder (a disorder that causes alternating periods of depression and "highs" called mania), it can trigger a manic episode. Some people -- particularly those with bipolar type II which has prolonged depression and mild "high" instead of full-blown manic episodes -- may not even realize they have bipolar.

    Yeah, as you might guess, I have a close family member with bipolar disorder (fortunately under a doctor's care and stable).

    1. Very true, C.J. Herbal preparations can help, but you really need to seek a doctor's counsel before you start playing with them. The side effects can be as dramatic as prescription meds. I never tried St. John's Wort, but it comes with a number of warnings. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. I like to say " I have a chemical imbalance" ...sounds much better, right? There ARE things that do help mild depression, like getting more exercise, eating better, taking time to do things for other people rather than focusing on yourself. But there's definitely a point where that's not enough. Depression is a very real and frightening condition that colors every part of your day. Untreated the only color is black.

    1. I agree! For me, those chemicals were apparently hormones that were literally making me crazy. That's an aspect of depression treatment, esp. for women, that I think should be looked into more thoroughly.


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