My First Tattoo

In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day 2018 and in memory of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in California: 

Not long after I turned 18, I got my first tattoo. You probably know someone with this exact same marking as it has become unfortunately cliche in some circles, but nevertheless, in May of 2013 I got the word “Beloved” inscribed on my left wrist. I’d wanted that ink since I was 14 and I didn’t care that it wasn’t necessarily unique because at 14 I had entered into my first bout with depression and began struggling with self harm. There were extenuating circumstances that heavily contributed to that season of my life; things that were done and said to me that eventually became the demons who continued to play a starring role in my story for far too many years. The word Beloved was the very first weapon I picked up in what would turn into a long-standing battle for my life. I wanted to permanently brand myself with the only Truth that could disarm that darkness; I am loved. I wanted to believe it so badly. But as much as I thought scarring my skin with this reminder would give me victory over the scars I had already inflicted upon myself, that feeling of triumph was short-lived.

My teenage years had ups and downs just like everyone else’s. The darkness I encountered at 14 eventually seemed to dissipate by the time I was 16, and especially by the time my faith started to become my own. By senior year I had gained enough confidence to stamp myself as Beloved as I felt that was an appropriate way to celebrate the end of that chapter.

Little did I know that in the 2 years that followed, the enemy would come uncomfortably close to stealing my hope, killing my dreams, and destroying my life altogether.

When I was younger it was easy to pinpoint circumstances as the obvious cause of my feelings of shame and despair, but the older I got, the more confusing and infuriating it was for me to be feeling these things with seemingly no cause. But that’s the thing: depression is not always cause and effect. 

When you’re running on little sleep and poor nutrition, it makes sense for you to come down with a cold. But sometimes even though you’ve been sleeping and eating well and washing your hands, you wake up in the morning feeling sick. But if you’re sick, you’re sick. Whether it makes sense for you to have a cold or not, you take medicine and take it easy until you’re back to 100%. And we HAVE to start looking at our mental health in the same way. Sometimes circumstances validate our thoughts and feelings, sometimes they don’t, but that doesn’t mean we leave our feelings unattended and beat ourselves up for having them. Much can be said for circumstances and lifestyle choices, but the bottom line is that some people have weak immune systems for no fault of their own. And in the same way, some people’s mental health is more at risk for no fault of their own. And that’s okay.

When I moved to college, anxiety was absolutely eating me alive, I just didn’t know how to identify it at the time. The pain I had been carrying for years resurfaced and turned into anger. And the anger was so terrifying I just tried to numb it with anything I could get my hands on. My mental state was massively unhealthy but I felt so confused, alone, and shameful, I never spoke up. What was supposed to be the beginning of the best 4 years of my life turned into an all out war for it.

Things were hard, but not impossible, and I was still clinging to the hope that the Lord would bring me some relief. I didn’t give up. Well, not at first. At first, I continued to pray and seek God, but when months went by and things had not only not gotten better but had become even worse, I stopped looking to Him for help. In fact I stopped looking for help all together and instead I accepted the darkness I had tried for so long to defend myself from. I was just so very tired from fighting- weary even. My hands, hanging on to the rope of belief that better things were on the way, cramped up so severely, I finally relinquished my grip.

When I stopped fighting, it didn't take long for crazy thoughts to make their way into my mind. I started to make choices that were out of character for me and lived recklessly as if I had no concern for my life at all. 

What I would like to tell you happened next is that some catalytic reality-check type event shook me awake and suddenly all the pain and self loathing lifted and I went on to lead a happy, healthy, easy life... 

Yes, by His grace alone I came back to Jesus on hands and knees, confessing and repenting, begging for relief and YES He gave it to me tenfold (hallelujah!), welcoming me back with not an ounce of condemnation but rather with perfect love, and that miracle story of rescue and redemption is one that will forever make me grin from ear to ear, one I will tell as long as there is air in my lungs, and is the reason why I can hardly contain myself in worship....

But again, that very next year I encountered a type of heaviness that confined me to my dorm room and most days, to my bed, for the better part of an entire school year. This time I didn’t give up. This time I didn’t shut God out. This time I got help. I started going to counseling. I started talking more openly about all of this. And I learned how to better navigate these treacherous seas. 

Since then, life has been a learning curve in the practice of caring for myself. I made some huge strides towards that in 2016 and for the most part feel like the past 2 years have been the healthiest 2 years I’ve had in a decade. Still, at times my thoughts wage war so incessantly it can be exhausting spending so much energy maintaining my mental health. And some days it still scares me how badly I wish I could just turn my mind off.

I’ve been hanging on to this story for years now, waiting for the right time to share. I’ve typed posts similar to this one on many occasions and deleted it. I don’t know if my story will be helpful or give hope to anyone, but I do know that keeping quiet is a sure bet for not helping or giving hope to anyone, and after hearing of the tragic loss of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in California over the weekend, I can no longer risk not helping.

I share because I genuinely believe my life is a miracle and I’m proud of my story- not because of anything I have done, but because of everything He has done. I share because I believe stories of redemption are a shot of hope in the arm of both the believer and the unbeliever. And I share because although I have known this to be true for many years, it has recently become more apparent to culture at large that no one is immune to mental illness or the evil schemes of the enemy- not husbands, not wives, not dads, not moms, not young people, not old people, not pastors, not Christians, not worship leaders. No one.

But I also share because I have been at this for 10 years now and although I still have a ways to go, I have learned a handful of things:

Ask for help. It's been said a million times, but still we suffer silently. Help can be counseling or even checking yourself in somewhere, but it can also just be asking for grace or for prayer. We all need a little help some times and there’s no shame is asking for the things you need.

Hope is real. It really is. It really, really is. Staring darkness in the face and coming out on the other side has proven this to me. The light always comes. It might be slow, but it will come, and it is worth sticking around for.

God is real. There is no way- absolutely no way I should be who I am, where I am, doing what I’m doing today but for the grace, rescue, and redemption of Jesus in my life. No chance. He is our hope.

The threats are real. The threats of the enemy in John 10:10 are legitimate and should be taken as such. Like I said- no one is immune. You have a target on your back with a 3-step execution plan called “kill, steal, and destroy,” so double down, bulk up, learn how to fight, and go to war- not for yourself, but for the glory of Christ in your life. Fight for that. 

The warnings are real. Guard your heart. Be careful- take genuine concern for what you listen to, who you listen to, what you watch, what you meditate on. “Stay vigilant over the affections of your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23

When you don’t have any fight left in you, there are people who will fight for you. Don’t shut people out. You don’t have to be able to explain or articulate yourself perfectly to tell somebody you’re not okay. Your people don’t have to understand you before they go to war for you, they just need to know you need to be fought for.

I fully believe that God has the power not just relieve us from our pain, but to altogether free us from it, but I also believe we live in a broken world, in broken bodies, and that the Christian life would be far less meaningful- bordering pointless- if we had no struggles through which we could come to know the depth of the mercy and hope that is promised to us in Christ. 

Be kind. Take care of yourself. Take care of one another. And never give up. Never, never, never, never.

You are His Beloved. And so am I.

- MM

If you need help, call 1-800-273-8255 any time day or night. 

Mary-Michael McCathren