After being in East Asia for a month, I woke up one night, and I couldn’t get thoughts of suicide off my mind. I went to the bathroom so as not to wake my roommate. My fingers quickly slid open my Bible, hoping to hear a Word from the Lord through whatever I randomly read from the pages within. My eyes fell on Matthew 27 and I read about Judas committing suicide after betraying Jesus. Was that what the Lord wanted for me? Was suicide the answer? Earlier in our mission trip, I had done something that unknowingly put some people at risk. I felt like Judas, like I’d made a big mess of things. I also felt alone. I hadn’t spoken with my family or anyone from home in a long time. No, I reminded myself that God had a wonderful plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11). I could clearly see that the randomness of me reading a chapter on suicide had to be the workings of the devil. At that realization, I flipped to the Psalms. I glossed through the pages to read the verses I had underlined in the past. Eventually that called me down enough so that I could go back to sleep, but the struggle with suicidal thoughts had only just begun.
The remaining weeks of the trip were a battle for my mind. The suicidal thoughts lingered and I continually went to the Word of God to renew my mind. A lady on our trip said to me about my struggle, “Becca, I’m not worried you’re going to go in the next room and try to harm yourself. You’re just having attacking thoughts.” I found it so freeing that she didn’t think I was insane, because I felt crazy! It felt like an uncontrollable obsession. She also walked me through verses like Psalm 139 where God knit me together in my mother’s womb. A few other ladies on the trip knew my struggle and walked me through some more verses. One explained Ezekiel 36:26 about how when we receive Christ, He puts a new heart within us. That meant God could change my heart and desires and thoughts! I also really wrestled with the idea of going back on medication. Was it a lack of faith if I needed medication to be joyful? Wasn’t God enough? Why could other people be happy without medication and I couldn’t? I had Jesus!
Mt freshman year at college had gone pretty well. I continued my depression medication as prescribed for that year and felt mostly like myself. I had an awesome roommate and got involved in many groups on campus. One of those groups was going to East Asia for the summer, so I signed up. After school ended, I had a few weeks before leaving for East Asia. I visited my psychiatrist during that time and she approved of me stopping my medication. I had done so well for a year. Did I really need it? Two weeks later, I left for East Asia with a group of people I mostly didn’t know.
When I was 10 years old, my left leg fell into a drain hole and I received many stitches on my shin. Later, after the stitches had been removed, the cut opened up again. We tried butterfly bandaids and what not, but nothing helped. Instead of a line, I had a three quarter inch gash of an indentation in my shin. They told me I should have originally had stitches not only on the outside of the skin, but deep within too. Since I didn’t, the skin opened up again. That’s how depression felt that summer in East Asia after my freshman year in college. The medication had simply been a temporary stitch on the outside, but it didn’t heal what needed dealt with on the inside. That would take much longer.
Fall semester sophomore year
I thought for sure I would feel better once I returned to college. I thought my depression was circumstantial. You know, foreign country, group of people I didn’t know very well, culture shock, nothing long term. Yet, it only took a couple of weeks into the school year before I realized I needed medication again. I didn’t have all my theological questions about medicine for Christians answered yet. I just knew that despite my best efforts, I felt miserable without it, and I wanted to get back to my “normal” self again! Thankfully the Lord gave me a doctor at the campus medical office who was familiar with the medicine I had previously been on. She gladly gave me another year’s prescription. She too had been on the same medication. “It’s a good drug,” she said. I felt comforted that even a doctor had been on the same medicine and it worked for her.
Since students received free counseling and I continued to battle suicidal thoughts, I also sought counseling. For whatever reason, after a session or two, they put me into group counseling! I have never been to Alcoholics Anonymous, but I imagine its similar to group counseling. We all went around the circle and said why we were there. One guy was there because he couldn’t talk to girls. Another lady was trying to lose weight. “Hi, my name’s Becca, and I’m [sniffle sniffle] depressed!” I said with the tears flowing as I identified myself by my pain. We met weekly for that fall semester, encouraged one another and opened up. I was really hesitant at the idea of group counseling at first, but I greatly benefited from it. Seeing that we had value to help others aided in our healing.
Everything seemed overwhelming to me that fall semester of my sophomore year. I had a job that was only 10 hours a week that I stepped down from. I dropped out of two classes so I only had the minimum 12 credit hours. One of the classes I waited so long to drop that I received a big “W” on my transcript (for withdrawal). My parents weren’t too pleased with me for that choice, but I felt I had to lower my stress or die. Most days I struggled with, “Should I do my homework, or figure out what’s going on inside of me?” I also had roommate issues and changed rooms halfway through the semester. When a gal killed herself in the dorm next to mine, the issue hit almost too close to home to handle. From the headlines to our classrooms to our dorm rooms, I heard about it. Even the word “suicide” or an instance like that would trigger suicidal thoughts. I would have to fight the battle in my mind all over again. I continued to be involved in Cru a great deal through Bible studies, prayer meetings, and discipleship times. I tried to get enough sleep, eat well, run, and take care of myself physically. I had learned through counseling that eating on a schedule helped lower your body’s stress. Imagine that! Slowly, day by day, moment by moment, I tried to move forward, inwardly and outwardly. Then on my drive home for Christmas break, it hit me: I had made it through the fall semester. I started to cry realizing that most days I honestly hadn’t thought I’d make it.
While the rest of my college career went much better after that, dealing with depression required constant maintenance. Many things helped. I continued medication without considering stopping. I found great freedom and healing in telling people I knew that I had depression. Their continued friendship, despite knowing my deepest pain, meant the world. Getting involved in the Body of Christ through Cru might have been the biggest instrument God used. I also went to counseling another time or two. Running and proper self care always made me feel better too. When a childhood friend committed suicide in the fall of my junior year, just one year after the toughest fall of my life, I handled it much better. Her funeral happened to be the day before I ran a marathon. The endorphins from running definitely helped process my grief and other emotions. Reading God’s Word and journaling were good ways to renew my mind with truth. I also read for pleasure from non-fiction books daily. I averaged one book a month and many were by Christian counselors or Christian psychologists. Here’s a list of some books I read in college that specifically helped with my depression and walk with the Lord.*
Connecting by Larry Crabb
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
Changes that Heal by Henry Cloud
Do you think I’m Beautiful by Angela Thomas
Captivating by Stacie Eldridge
For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhan
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
A Chance to Die by Elizabeth Elliot (about Amy Carmichael)
The Journey by Billy Graham
In the fall of my senior year, someone said to me, “Gee, with losing your uncle this semester, your roommate issues, your other family issues, and your major school project, it’s been a tough year for you.” Their comment took me by surprise and I responded, “yeah I guess so, but it doesn’t seem that way because I’ve had people to walk through all these things with me.” The Lord had enabled me to build local friendships that carried me through even the toughest trials (Proverbs 27:10). My personal walk with God and being in community with the family of God had carried me through.
I still didn’t look like someone dealing with depression in college. I won “the friendliest award” on my floor freshman year. I led a Bible study my junior and senior years. I received good grades. I coached a middle school swim team. I functioned. And yet sometimes the darkness still felt so overwhelming. While most days I felt “normal,” or “myself,” I still had to take a pill every morning. If I forgot one morning, by lunch I’d start feeling down in the dumps and then realize I had forgotten my meds. It was defeating knowing how dependent I was on those. Yet, I feared what would happen if I went off of them again, so I continued the meds without a desire to try life without them.
*I give you this list of books not because I think you should read them, but because they helped me deal with issues in college. They say depression has a cause and if you don’t deal with the root, you’ll never be healed. I was dealing with a lot of issues, just like any other college student. These books in particular helped me sort through some of those specific issues.
1 in 5 college students struggle with depression or anxiety
1 in 10 college students have attempted suicide
Focus on the Family offers one time call back basis counseling: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/