If you suffer with major depressive disorder and feel alone in your experience, it’s impossible to read Gillian Marchenko’s description of the darkness and not see that others share the space of your isolation.
You’re not the only one who knows the pit.
I often wrestle with Why? in my struggles with mental illness. Yes, I’ve experienced trauma. Yes, some of my issues seem directly related to my experiences. But isn’t my depression out of line with what I’ve been through?
Yes, and no. One thing I found freeing in reading Still Life, is Gillian Marchenko’s remarkably unremarkable childhood. No horrific trauma that plunged her into the depths.
Like me, she has a serious glitch in her brain.
She calls it a bent mind when she refers to the catastrophic thinking that is such a part of most people’s depression. We need to be aware of what we’re thinking; we need to try to rein in the thoughts of impending disaster, or ignore them. When talking about her daughter who is most like her, Gillian says, I worry she’ll have whatever wacked gene I seem to have inherited that makes life bad and hard sometimes for no reason. I hope to God it isn’t so.
Mental illness is a complicated interplay of genetics, biology, experience, and circumstances. No one’s manifestation of depression or anxiety disorders invalidates anyone else’s. Sometimes I’ve felt I didn’t deserve to feel so bad; what I’ve been through doesn’t merit it. Not in the I’m-a-good-person-and-shouldn’t-suffer sense, but where-to-you-get-off-feeling-so-bad?
Truth is, what I haven’t been through can be beside the point.
Whether or not I experienced trauma to the level one would expect some of my reactions, they are my reactions. And if someone has experienced severe trauma and has survived PTSD-free, that is wonderful. It’s not wrong to be okay, just like it’s not wrong for my brain to not be okay.
What’s wrong for me is to just give up and not work at recovery.
I can be sadly, foolishly, lazy when it comes to maintaining healthy mental health habits. I have no excuse.
Doing the Work
Through therapy, faith, and perseverance, Gillian reclaimed her life, and rejoined her family life more consistently.
She likens the lifting of depression to thawing. At its worst, depression isn’t sadness; it’s numbness.
Thawing hurts. Being able to feel again hurts.
While I was writing this review (a longer, more drawn-out process than it should have been; there’s always something demanding my attention), I saw a tweet by the author… to be honest, I’d forgotten I’d found and followed her:
— Gillian Marchenko (@GillianMarchenk) October 6, 2016
Still Life isn’t the end of Gillian Marchenko’s battle with depression. It’s the story of her engaging in the fight and gaining territory.
That’s life with mental illness.
Some days are better than others.
There are good days. Days that take more effort than you think you can muster. And days that are just… survived.
What about Faith?
When my depression became severe, faith became like trying to hold a slippery eel.
I get that… What do you do when you can’t believe what you know is true? At times I was sure I had no faith; I knew I was beyond grace. But grace is bigger.
A fact that can motivate… or overwhelm… in depression and recovery, is that our faith, and our ability to live it, doesn’t affect only us. This is a big deal for parents and other leaders.
As someone who blogs about faith and mental illness, I appreciated reading Gillian’s perspective. You will, too.
Who Should Read Still Life?
If you suffer from depression and want to know you’re not alone, read this book. Wishing you could put the darkness into words to help someone who cares about you understand where you go when you’re swallowed whole? Buy them this book. If you love someone who suffers, and you want to better understand their struggle, read this book.
In Still Life, Gillian Marchenko gives a raw, gut-honest description of what it’s like to battle, survive, and live with depression.