It may have presented itself when I was quite young. I would get bad stomach aches if I felt stressed or anxious. When I my sister took me to Disney World when I was in the 5th grade, she couldn’t tell if I had a good time or not.
I wasn’t diagnosed until senior year of high school when I was cast out from my group of friends, due to some poor choices I made - drinking and partying. I was always quiet, unsure of myself. Alcohol helped me “loosen” up. Sometimes too much. I paid a price.
After spending days in bed, my mom had me visit a counselor. That was the beginning of much more professional help.
I did recover from that “first” episode of depression, with time and exercise and therapy and support from my family. But then I moved to LA.
The land of rich and famous and pretty and perfect. I was neither rich nor famous, I was pretty, but no one is perfect. I played into the Hollywood scene, trying to fit in, being the girl that every guy wanted to “hang out” with. But along the way, I lost myself and control of my emotions. I cried a lot. I was no fun to be with, and I was lonely.
On Depression Awareness Day (or something like that – I remember weeping while watching the TV commercials), I went for a free screening. I was diagnosed as manic-depressive. Um. No. I was not manic, just depressed. I rejected the diagnosis, but got on anti-depressants for the first time.
I began to understand that the more times depression presents itself, the greater percentage it would come again. And so it did. Of course, the career I was in (international fashion modeling) was high pressure, and I did not take care of my body or spirit. Being told, over and over, that I wasn’t good enough, was hard of both. And I fell into the pit again. This time, the darkness was darker. And I literally couldn’t pick myself up off the floor of my Hollywood apartment . . . until my sister called me home. And back home, I saw a counselor and sought help and took care of my body and spirit. The darkness dissipated.
I thought I would come home, get happy, and go back to LA. But I came home, got happy, and realized that I didn’t need that life anymore. I retired from full-time modeling, and went to school.
Fast forward through two years of school, one marriage that took me back to LA, the divorce that brought me home again, college graduation, and entering seminary. Over the years, I would go off my meds, thinking I was fine, only to return to the pain. Add in some stressful situations, and I was back in the depths.
The last time was six months after my marrying my darling spouse, who comes from a family with no history of mental illness (unlike my own).
At seminary, I had been wronged by the “system,” spoke out for injustice, and lost. And I was a mess. I could see the storm clouds, but I pretended they didn’t exist. They did.
I missed classes, neglected schoolwork, cried, and slept a lot. Sweet new husband didn’t know what to do, and I was unable to pull myself up out of my funk. Of course, I had been there before, and “know” to exercise and eat well and journal and this and that. But when I am in it, truly there, I cannot. And the guilt and shame that goes along is rough. I felt like a crazy person. I was able to pull myself together in order to go to work – ministry – but it took every last unit of energy I had. I had nothing left for my school or my marriage.
God bless grace. With the help of God, my husband called in the reserves, my mom and my sister. He didn’t know what else to do. And he was right to get help. With their support, I was able to finish my assignments and graduate on time. I was back on meds and able to function in society and companionship again. But it was a long road to recovery. For both of us.
How we made it through that first year of marriage is a miracle. And so when I got pregnant a couple of years later, I was scared. I spoke openly with my OB/GYN about my need for anti-depressants. She was thoughtful and told me that it is important that the mother be physically and mentally healthy in order to care for the baby within. My mental health mattered to the physical health of my child. And so I continued to take meds while pregnant with no side effects for either mother or baby. And post-partum depression never came. In fact, I was happiest I had EVER been while pregnant and as a new mom.
Stressful situations still reared their ugly heads, but I was able to overcome them without delving into the deep darkness. I had a baby to feed and care for, who in turn nurtured me, body and soul.
As I continue to live in the Light, I give thanks for anti-depressants, a healthy mental state, a healthy body, and healthy relationships. I do not know if the darkness will return. And I pray to God that our daughter has my husband’s family’s genes and is not prone to brain disease.
For me, there is no stigma attached to depression, but not all mental illness is that easy to name and “fix.” I am able to share my story because I believe in Henri Nouwen’s “Wounded Healer.” I have known pain, but I have also known healing. And for that, I give thanks for God.
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.