Tears were rolling down my face. “I’m not good at all.” I blurted to my mom. 

My mom got a pencil and drew a little stick figure. Around the stick figure, she wrote words like: “kind”, “determined”, “caring”, “smart.”      

“Hannah, just because you had to come home from college, just because you are depressed, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that you suddenly have no identity. You are still all of these amazing things. Your brain is just tricking you right now.” 

I scanned across each word on that page and didn’t believe a single one. “What if I am not all those things? I don’t even feel like I am anything good anymore.” 

After being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at 18 and descending into a deep depression, I felt like a shell of a person. I dropped out of college, stopped working out, had no job, and was quickly gaining weight. All of the ways in which I had previously defined myself—an athlete, a student, a productive person, a fit person—were suddenly stripped away. I was desperately grasping for a lifeline, something to calm the fire in my mind, something to live for. 

In all honesty, I am not sure why I pressed on. This may seem dramatic, but my depression was that severe. I would wake up, eat breakfast, and go back to bed— pulling the covers up and trying to fall asleep again so that I could escape consciousness. When I would wake up, I’d numb myself with endless hours of Grey’s Anatomy and too many doses of chocolate (trust me, it’s possible). Though I had been a follower of Christ since I was 5, I pushed my faith aside. I felt forgotten, insignificant, and lame (a word that often plagued my mind).

Since that day 5 years ago, I’ve struggled immensely through many manic/depressive episodes. In the midst of such times, it truly feels like my identity has been hijacked. And, when I look inside to myself, I only become more and more confused.

I’d begun living my life thinking that, one day, I would be able to say something like: “But Hannah graduated College and became a speaker. But Hannah wrote a book. But Hannah became a writer. But Hannah became a wife.” Surely these outcomes would make me feel valuable again. I would be able to redefine myself and be good enough…right? 

In all these scenarios, I had to either produce something or become something. I had to prove to myself that I was good enough, or that I had “overcome” my struggle with Bipolar Disorder. I wanted to finally reach the end, to see the bigger why, to understand the purpose of my struggle. 

Friend, I want to pause here and preface what I am going to say with the fact that God provides for us in so many ways. The “just pray about it” or “just trust God” responses to mental health struggles are often more disheartening than helpful, leaving many—including myself—feeling like, “If I just prayed better or trusted more, everything would be okay.” I believe wholeheartedly that God has blessed us with a variety of resources like therapists, nutritionists, psychiatrists, medications, etc. My journey included, and still includes, a mixture of these resources. But, a step-by-step guide to curing mental health issues is non-existent. 

Instead, I’d like to offer some hope. I hope that my story helps you to walk away with a deep trust in God.

It’s interesting… I always wanted to see the redemption of my story, but I never truly embraced the reality of The Story; the redemption of all through God sending his son Jesus to save us from our brokenness. The brokenness I was so desperately trying to “fix” on my own.    

This is the redemption Peter writes of when he says:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

When I emphasize the ways in which I might be redeemed by the world’s standards, I fail to acknowledge that God is, and forever will be, the redeemer of my story.  There is no title I can gain and no achievement I can attain that will give me a never-ending identity— one that won’t fade with time, circumstances, doubt, and even death. “Redemption” that comes from worldly pursuits leaves me feeling uneasy and restless. It’s precarious and established on temporal accomplishments or feelings. Redemption from God is sure, true, and can never be requited. While we may doubt and falter in our faith, our redemption and relationship with God and eternal life can never be revoked.  

Instead of looking at myself and saying, “But Hannah,” I want to approach each trial with a “But God” mindset. This mindset is one of acknowledging that the pain we experience is only truly and deeply remedied by God. This remedy may not always change the way we feel, but it changes the way we experience pain— having the hope and assurance that one day all things will be made right by him.     

This relationship between our pain and God’s healing is seen in Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Here, the Psalmist acknowledges their weakness both physically, emotionally, and spiritually; in doing so, they’re able to recognize that true strength is found in God. My shortcomings and insecurities can actually magnify my hope and peace because they remind me of my ever-present need for hope in Christ. 

Friend, I’m not sure what has brought you to your knees. What has caused you to feel detached, disillusioned, depressed, forgotten, worthless, or unlovable. I don’t know if it’s a physical illness, a mental illness, the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, unfulfilled dreams, broken promises, or betrayal… But God. 

I am weak, but God is strong.

I am confused, but God is not surprised.

I am not enough, but God is enough for me.

I cannot do it, but God can.

I am devastated, but God will comfort me.

I am crushed, but God will heal me. 

The girl I was half a decade ago needed to hear this. Not because God would have changed my circumstances, or removed my weakness, but because this reminder would have caused me to look past who I was and what I was going through, and instead look to who God is. 

I must look to the character and promises of God rather than my own strength and confidence.  Jesus chose to die the death I deserve so I might walk in newness of life. This promise gives me the hope I need to press forward in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances.    

Does it remove the pain? I’ve found the answer to largely be no. Knowing that God is for me and that I am ultimately destined for eternal life doesn’t take away the pain and confusion of current circumstances. 

Again, I want to reiterate: mental health struggles are not a result of a lack of faith in God, and the pain they cause is not easily taken away. God has provided and blessed us with practical resources like therapy, medication, nutrition, and medication to deal with the very real daily struggles we encounter.

But while the sting of our struggles may remain, our hope is in the sureness that God is for us. My pastor said in reference to a moment of intense suffering, “It is in this moment that I know I need God. I need him, not as the answer to a question or a solution to a problem, but as my Father who also wants my pain to be over, so he can be with me, the way he knows it should be…” God has already assured us that one day there will be no more pain and suffering and that we will forever dwell with him. 

This is the hope that I cling to each day. In the midst of every circumstance that seems to be condemning is the space to say, but God.