“Can I join you?” Jenn asked as she dropped by at our little table in the corridor.
“Of course!” I replied, wiping off the tears from my cheeks. “But, give me just one minute. I have to finish reading this story.” Jenn is the sort of person who cares, and because of that, she doesn’t care if you laugh or cry. She’d been running the kids’ program for the whole week, being the manager of a team of ten volunteers who took care of 40 of our offspring. It was an impressively huge job, and she must have been tired!
Earlier that night—straight after 9.p.m.—I had a conversation with Elizabeth Musser and Fanny (Fanny at home, sorry it is in Spanish), a writer and a blogger. I had asked for some advice about my blogging, and she gave some lovely input. It was inspiring to hear and get encouraged to keep going. Elizabeth listened and gave personal advice.
She pointed out to me how lovely it is to encourage young writers (as she is encouraging me) and Let the Young Writers Tell Their Stories. I told her how I am totally with her at this point and how deeply satisfying it is to see friendships grow and flourish. The conversation came to an end. I quickly checked some emails and then found the following story in my inbox (and that is the point at which Jenn came in, finding me in tears).
This is Laura’s story. Laura is our language teacher, culture-explainer, and, most of all, my precious friend.
Depression: A Story of a Battle that Nearly Killed Me
One morning, while I was walking around my place of work, I felt anxiety. Even though I opened my eyes only half an hour ago and should have been burning with morning energy, I felt the burden of the new day. I immediately started overthinking with the usual thoughts of self-pity. If only I was different; if only I wasn’t so sensitive to other people; oh, how I wish to have more confidence; things would be so much easier for me then!
All of a sudden, I heard a crystal clear voice saying, “You do not need more confidence in yourself. You need more confidence in me, your God.” I stopped, and then my face lit up with a smile. I started to feel more and more happy throughout my whole being. How simple it is, actually. He is here, and He sees us and helps us.
When we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we rarely remember the important lines in Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I was born in 1990 in a city called Vinkovci. When I was a baby, we first lived in the city of Osijek, but when the grenades hit Osijek and damaged our rental apartment, we went to Čepin, a smaller town near Osijek. We lived there until I was five.
Since I am an educator, I know how very important early childhood years are for the later psychological, social, and physical development of a child. My early childhood memories consist of war, fear, uncertainty, and poverty, and the beginning of my schooling started while the state and the government were in a delicate transitional state.
My mother tried to be strong for me, to ensure I had a somewhat carefree childhood, regardless of the circumstances surrounding us. Because of that, my memories are not all grey and ugly and terrible.
The innocence of the child’s mind protected me in many ways, although my mother told me that as a three-year-old, I was often waking up and crying. On one such occasion, I told her that I was in heaven with Jesus and that I wanted to go back there, that I did not want to live on this Earth.
When I look back on those days, for various reasons, I find that my childhood was stolen from me. I was denied family security. The presence of my father, who was at that time a doctor in the Croatian army, was stolen, and so was my carefreeness.
Upon the end of the war, we returned to Osijek and lived in a complex that was full of war invalids, widows, and children without fathers. Our stories and games were not happy.
It is normal for a newly-born country that has just won a war for independence to be tied in a great way to the ideal of a national identity. One huge part of that identity was the metaphor in which Croat equalled Catholic. Since we were a Protestant family, I did not attend Catholic religious classes.
It was like Sunday school, but it happened in school and not in church, and wasn’t mandatory but actually was.
That was quite enough of a reason for my first three grades in elementary school to be filled with peer-on-peer abuse. Quiet and withdrawn children are often abused by peers, and being in any way different is enough of a reason for it. Abuse that I’ve gone through was psychological, social, but also physical in a way. I would come to class, and all the children, persuaded by a girl who hated me, would not speak a single word to me during the whole school day. If I would turn to someone, they would turn their head away from me, as if I did not exist. It is incredible how many children can be cruel and under the influence of evil.
Then, my first psychosomatic problems started. The morning was the worst time for me because I knew I had tough things to face. I often vomited or got a temperature. I had frequent headaches. And, then there was the trembling of my arms and legs.
I do not have to explain how much all those things irritated the other students—my absenteeism from school and me shaking the bench because my leg was trembling.On occasion, I also suffered the hostility of the teachers.
By high school, I learned how to get along with my peers. I learned that you simply mustn’t be better than them; the golden middle means peace. Although I was always a very good student, I started high school with a large amount of accumulated fear and anxiety, which led me to suicidal thoughts.
One cold evening, when I was 15 years old, an enemy of my soul, Satan, tried to intoxicate me with his lies and thoughts of suicide. I was on the Osijek’s famous white bridge. I stood there alone, ready to throw myself into the icy Drava River, crying and shouting at God: “Why did you leave me? You don’t care if I live or die!” Although I was convinced that I was alone, a man suddenly appeared behind me. He came up to me and said that God had sent him to take me home.
He said he was not an angel—he was a retired policeman—but that God also works through people and that he felt an urge inside him to come here.
That was enough for me. I could not talk. I just sobbed all the way home. I knew I would never think about suicide again.
For some time, I was very much encouraged by this miracle, but as it usually happens, if we aren’t close to Christ and His Word, we tend to forget.
Throughout my high school education, I was curious about the world that was sinful. All I cared about was being accepted by my peers and friends. I was hanging out with my friends a lot. On weekends, I usually had a lot of beers and acted like a clown, and in return, I was rewarded with panic attacks and self-destructive thoughts during the week. By the time I was a senior, things got so bad that I was on antidepressants and anxiolytics and visited a psychologist on a regular basis.
Why? Anxious concern for the future was eating me alive. Although I was very successful in school and could have my choice of colleges, I didn’t know what to do with my life, and that was draining me both emotionally and psychically.
I thought that my choice of college and profession would define me, that it would be all of me, my whole life, but I did not have the power to make any decisions. Because of the way I lived my life and compromises I made with the world I knew I wasn’t truly a part of, I thought I did not have the right to ask for God’s guidance, although I really needed it and desperately wanted it.
Finally, I enrolled in the Faculty of Social Work because I wanted to work in practical psychology and to help people. At the beginning of the second year, I gave up. It turned out that it wasn’t a good fit for me. I couldn’t relate to it, and even Zagreb, the great capital of Croatia and the vivacious city where I went to study, didn’t help me but instead swallowed me. By the end, I was afraid to even get out of my rented apartment, once again trapped by depression and fear.
Thank God for my parents because they never gave up on me. I was always in their prayers, and they’ve always been there for me.
When they realised what was going on, they came to Zagreb and took me home with them. Back home, I got ill. I got intestinal colitis, and I was sick from the shame I felt inside: What am I going to tell people? How could I give up on going to college? Everyone will think I’m a loser. Instead of returning to God’s hands, I went through extensive psychological therapy.
I went to a psychotherapist who gave me some spongy stuff that I was supposed to use to hit things around the room and scream as a way of letting go of my emotions. She also, in a way, was telling me that I hated my parents. She explained that they were guilty of raising me in the Christian spirit of oppression, and because of them, I suffered from a guilty conscience and constant fear. At one point, I did not go to therapy for a long time. I began to realize that without God, everything was empty and false.
One evening, God spoke to me strongly. I had the feeling that my soul was breaking in half. I received a testimony of my sins and a clear message that if I did not come to Him, a certain death awaited me. After that, something changed within me. I got a new strength and clutched onto Him. There were still some hard times after that, struggles and hard decisions I had to make, the loss of many friends and solitude, but God always rewarded me for fidelity, and nothing separated me from Him.
I began His therapy at His school of faith, and He did another miracle for me. I somehow managed to enrol in the Faculty of Teacher Education just by replacing one university for another, which otherwise is not possible and cannot be done without an entrance exam and retaking some other exams. I enjoyed myself at the Faculty. Lots of creative things that I was doing have reminded me of my values, virtues, self-worth, and opportunities that lay ahead. While this was happening, I got married at twenty years old. God made sure I did not have to go through life alone anymore. He gave me a companion, love and a true friend. Together, we grew in our faith and enjoyed getting to know God and also healing through Him.
He restored what was taken from us. I finished my finals pregnant and graduated. God gave me a beautiful son, and we called him Noah. Why Noah? Because I want to teach him the importance of faithfulness to God. Noah from the Bible, who firmly believed in God and was ridiculed because of it, was rewarded for his loyalty, and we are all generously blessed through him. Motherhood has made me a much stronger person and a hundred times happier.
Now, I’m back to some kind of a life. Although it’s difficult for me at times, I don’t allow myself to fall. One thing is for sure: our God is there for us. He is faithful and always the same. We are the ones who depart from Him; we are the ones who welcome fear and depression.
Sometimes, young people who—like me—grew up in a Christian family are thinking of how to postpone surrendering to Jesus. They think, “I’m going to be a true Christian when I’m older. Now, I just want to enjoy the world.” Although Jesus is gentle and patient with us, Satan does not care how old you are. He just waits and uses every opportunity to damage your life, steal your joy, and capture your soul. My current turning point has to do with the question of a practical part of our faith—not just believing in God but living by faith. That’s why it’s called faith. If we do not build a relationship with God and do not know Him or His will, then we will not do what is right but what seems logical in the eyes of the world.By accepting fear and depression into our lives and living a so-called “go with the flow” way of life, we can completely miss our goal in life and our purpose for the Kingdom of God.
In Romans 12:2, it is written, “Do not adapt to this world! Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind so you can notice what the will of God is: what is good, pleasant, and perfect!”
Every talent God has given us is not there to make us great in the eyes of the world but to serve God with it. How will we serve as the Light of the World if we do not shine with joy, faith, and trust in Christ? Do not get tied up with the past, the wounds, and the bitterness, because fear and depression are never from God. Although we are living in this world, we are not a part of this world. We are servants and maids of the Father of Heaven, and our goal is the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is the third and last post in a series of three: Tabletalk
1. Breakfast talk, key point, and confirmation
2. Coffee conversation, exploring old and new ground
3. After 9 p.m. talk, Laura’s story