They say that depression is the mind’s inability to conjure a future. Well if my future was going look anything like my first 16 years, who needed one?
Life with depression is like solitary confinement. There is a complete loneliness, with only the voice of your conscience to break the silence—but it is no friend. “Worthless girl,” it says. “You don’t deserve your family’s love. Spare them the pain of having to be with you. No one needs you here.” You can stop the voice with music, sleep, getting out with friends or family. But that quiet won’t last for long. Eventually, the voice will become so loud that you won’t only hear it, you’ll feel it, like a weight on your heart, your shoulders, your mind. It’s a heaviness that you cannot touch and you cannot relieve—like a grocery bag going from one arm to another, until neither can hold it up one more moment.
The heaviness is so severe that you feel as though you can’t get out of bed, let alone, out your door. Life slows down so much, you have hours and hours of time to sit and be aware of your awful, sad state of mind. It becomes the dominant factor in your life. School, family, friends, church, all become second place to depression.
Next comes the physical pain. Even walking to the fridge hurts so badly that you decide not to eat. Lifting your arms is so agonizing that you decide not to go to school. Even looking in the mirror has its own unique pain, as there is no longer anyone staring back at you—you’re just a bag of bones.
Depression dulls the mind. You’re not even aware of how you hurt yourself or others. No one’s words can cut through it. No one’s actions can move it. And the more you try, the more you scream; the more you cry, the more you beg and plead—and the more tired you become.
And so you try to make a deal with depression—a compromise. You say, “Look, I’ll give you what you want because I can’t fight you anymore. Take my whole life. Just leave me a little control. That’s all I ask.”
You’re given a single fragment of say in your life. It comes in the form of self-inflicted pain.
Depression agrees and the deal is done. You’re given a single fragment of say in your life. It comes in the form of self-inflicted pain. At first, it feels powerful. You choose the pain, you choose the level, you choose when it’s going to happen. “Now, this is more like it,” you say to yourself. At first, you do it once every couple of weeks, then once every week, then once every day until it hits you—you no longer control it. It controls you.
And then you realize that you’ve screwed up your life so badly that you will never be happy, holy, or innocent again, like when you were a kid or the times in God’s presence when you just knew in your heart that He was your only hope. But now, you're damaged goods...no, it’s worst than that. You’re no longer goods, just damaged. You look at yourself and think, If I were an object, I'd be thrown out like trash. That was me—worthy of nothing, just sitting next to a dumpster on oil-stained asphalt in some forgotten back alley.
But here is what made my problem even worse. Even though all my friends and family had found out in drips and drabs that I was depressed and a cutter and had made three botched attempts at suicide by way of pills, something happened in them I could have never predicted. My sad state of mind became only part of how they saw me, nothing more than an element of my overall brand. To those closest to me, my depression simply became a component of who I was, and there, it faded into the background of their lives. It was as if I had shown up one day with purple hair or a ring in my lip. It might be shocking at first, but soon, everybody simply got used to it.
So there I was, the 16-year-old girl who was funny, a friend to everyone, a Christian, a cutter, talented, hard working, depressed, smart and a daddy’s girl. Depression was just another characteristic. But the truth was, it was something that was happening to me every day. It was forcing me down into a dark, empty hole. I simply couldn’t let the world think that I was dealing with it like I would an allergy. I had to make a move.
I turned on the shower, grabbed a brand new razor blade from a package of xacto knife blades—which I had never done before—and stepped beneath the hot water. I was going to cut myself good and it would make such a splash that everyone would become reacquainted with how deep my pain really was. “Wait till you feel what it’s like to be known for who you really are, Shelby,” a voice echoed in my mind just over the sound of the water falling all around me. “Everyone will know the truth and it will feel so good.”
I took a moment to feel the rush of what I was about to do.
I took a moment to feel the rush of what I was about to do. I put the razor to my wrist expecting to have to work at cutting through my flesh as I had before. But the new razor sliced me clean and the force of my hand pushed the edge deep into my wrist. I had intended to go deeper than before, but never this deep or for it to hurt so badly. The water filled my wound as blood poured out and suddenly it was everywhere—all over me and the shower. Oh, no! Oh, no! I said to myself. I clutched my painful wrist, which only made the blood gush more violently.
I began to feel lightheaded. I turned off the water, threw a towel around me and stepped outside the shower, slowly sliding along the wall to the floor and erupted into a bitter weeping.
Suddenly I heard the sound of someone running down the stairs toward the bathroom where I was. It was my little brother; he knew something was wrong. He came to the door and called out to me.
“Go away!” I yelled at him. After him came my mom, who jiggled the handle and raised the tension with the panic in her voice. “Honey, open this door!” she screamed. I had done it now. I had succeeded in getting attention, but this time I lay wrapped in blood-stained towels, sitting in a pool of blood at the end of a trail of red. It looked like a murder scene. I was in awful pain and getting dizzier by the second. This is not what I had in mind.
An hour later, after my mom rushed me to a clinic, I was being examined by a young, straight-talking doctor. “Can you look at this, Shelby? You’ve got to see this.”
As he lightly pulled open my wound, he said, “See that?” I sat up and leaned forward a bit. “That’s it. It’s your main artery.”
I looked at the grotesque gash in my skin. It had the appearance of something hateful. As the doctor’s fingers pulled, I could see inside. “You were just two millimeters away from slicing through that. If you had, your mom never would have gotten to you in time. You would have bled out right there on your bathroom floor.”
Two millimeters—about the size of a blunt pencil lead. Whereas some people’s life passes before their eyes, suddenly, my entire future passed before mine. I saw all the things that I might not have ever experienced: getting my driver’s license, seeing my little brother graduate, having my dad kiss me and give me away at my wedding, having children, growing old with a man who loves me, surrounded by grandchildren. They were all of the moments in life that would never be mine were it not for the fact that my razor just happened to slide right by two millimeters, as near as a near-death experience can be.
As my doctor left the room, I put my head back on my pillow and tears flowed in waves. I cried in deep, heavy sobs that I feared might make the hospital staff rush to my side.
Arriving home the next day, my mother had the windows of my second story room modified to open only a few inches and my door removed. I walked in and lay on my bed. I reached into my nightstand where I kept a ruler and pulled it out. For the next six hours, I just lay there, looking periodically at the ruler, running my thumb to the edge where the little tiny black lines told the story of my life. Two millimeters. I was dead but for two millimeters.
As I looked straight ahead, I felt like I noticed movement at the door. I was afraid to look.
As I looked straight ahead, I felt like I noticed movement at the door. I was afraid to look. Either it was the devil in my doorway, or the devil had become my doorway—I didn’t know. But I heard that familiar voice. “You don’t think you’re done cutting, do you, Shelby? Don’t you feel like a fool? And wouldn’t you know it, after all that, you’re still depressed? You don’t think your God is going to do something for you now if He hasn’t done anything in the past?”
There I lay, defeated, embarrassed, in pain, being tormented by the devil himself, cut, stitched, and wrapped. I couldn’t stand it any more. I raised my hands into the air and pleaded for God to come to me. I had done that before, but I must have never meant it quite like that. Because suddenly, I felt Jesus himself, lying next to me and holding me close.
“You’re here!” I said.
“Yes,” He spoke low.
“You’ve come to save me.”
“Yes,” He said again.
My pulse racing, I looked around the room. The doorway was empty.
“So does the fact that you’re here mean you’ve come to heal me of my depression?”
“No,” He replied. “I’m going to give you something better.
What could be better than that?
Three years later, I was at a youth conference sitting next to my youth pastor, Sandi. We were listening to the keynote speaker talk about something, I really don’t remember what. Suddenly, I got the sharp feeling that God was telling me that I should go to Bible school and become a pastor.
As the session was dismissed and we were walking out and on to the campus, my mind was in a cloud of confusion about what I thought I just heard.
“I think God is trying to tell me that I am supposed to go to Bible college and become a pastor,” I told Sandi.
She suddenly began to cry.
“What are you crying about?” I asked her.
“God was telling me the same thing,” she said. “He told me that He was calling you to Bible school!”
• • •
Today, I still have to take medication to get through each day and am still diagnosed with depression. But I think about how a pastor is called to love, and God’s unmistakable hand in allowing me that dreadful day in the shower and the life-changing glimpse into my wound—which brought me to this place. Because of my battle with depression, I will always be able to hold any sufferer with arms that understand their pain. For I have been at the bottom. I have reached out to a silent God. I have cried tears I didn’t think I could produce. I have valued my own life so little I tried to snuff it out. And I have escaped death by two millimeters.
But I can now conjure a future—and it is in the arms of Jesus, who came to me when I needed Him most, gave me a purpose, and Who I feel more in love with now, than ever before.
• • •
Shelby will attend Columbia Bible College in September and pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in youth work.