The Painful Truths About Invisible Childhood Illnesses

This is part 5 of the series “Invisible Illnesses.” To read the previous post, click here.

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Parenting is tough.

It’ll chew you up and spit you back out. It’ll wring your heart out until it’s dry. It taxes the mind, burdens the heart, and dominates your prayers—all while demanding constant creativity. You become a strategist, investigator, and commander, as well as a comforter, counselor, and coach. You must be fair, patient, willing to be inconvenienced, diligent in training, and protective of your child’s innocence.

Every decision has major consequences—from how you give birth to how you choose to educate. To survive, you develop a thick skin against both tears and tantrums while bearing up under the scathing criticism of everyone—from your own family to the irritable lady at the grocery store.

Are you ready for the hardest part of this gig?

These kids have free will.

You could do everything “right” and they might still choose wrong.

Parenting is a challenge under the best circumstances.

Now, throw in some three- and four-letter word disorders and you’ve just added both a labyrinth and a minotaur into the mix. Continue reading

“What It’s Like Explaining Depression Meds to Many Christians” by To Save a Life

img_2605Hello dear readers!

I am in the middle of working on some upcoming blog posts for this week,  but I saw a great post today that ties in beautifully to the past several posts regarding invisible illnesses. I’m including one of the graphics, but you’ll have to click the link to see the rest:

 

http://tosavealife.com/mental-health/depression/what-its-like-explaining-depression-meds-to-many-christians/

May the peace of God dwell with you today and always.

Depression: What it is and How to Fight Back

This is part 4 of the series “Invisible Illnesses.” To read the previous post, click here

depression post

The problem of depression and the Christian is complex. As with PTSD, we need to educate ourselves before rushing to errant judgement.

Depression can be split into two categories (although they frequently often overlap): there is depression caused by physical/chemical triggers and there is depression as a state of the mind. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s an important distinction. Continue reading

Depression: The Big Conundrum

This is part 3 of the series “Invisible Illnesses.” To read the previous post, click here.

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The heavy beat of drums and the wail of electric guitars blared through small white earbuds. Her cold, trembling fingers pressed them deeper into her ears, attempting to drown the screaming and thumping echoing down the hallway. Another uncontrollable tantrum. A tantrum over… what, exactly? She couldn’t put her finger on the triggering moment.

Continue reading

The Number One Myth Surrounding PTSD

This is the second post in the series Invisible Illnesses. To read the first post, click here.

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Humans are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are complex beings, an intricate tapestry of mind, body, and soul. Advances in research continually enhance our understanding of the mind-body connection, yet scientists and laymen alike continue to minimize the power of this perplexing organ.

As Christians, we believe in the unseen. We have confidence in the power of God to heal. We know the war of the mind rages daily. The bitter irony, then, is how we treat those with “unseen” mental injuries as though they are weak-minded sinners:

“If you just had more faith, you could be healed.”

“You need to pray more. That will fix your depression.”

“That guy simply needs to stop making excuses for his PTSD.”

As if it’s so simple…

If I were to say, “That cancer patient is downright lazy. He needs to get on his knees, start praying and have more faith in God’s power to heal,” what would happen? Death threats. Accusations of insanity. Disdain. Derision.

Why?

God, in His infinite wisdom, does not always give us healing. It might be our time to go home and be with the Lord. It could be our “thorn in the flesh” training us to patiently endure. Yes, faith can move mountains yes, prayer is powerful; but God’s will is the final word. Sometimes the answer is “no,” or “not yet.”

The world we live in is plagued by diseases of all kinds. We conquer one outbreak only to be assaulted by another. Tuberculosis used to be the great killer, now it’s cancer. People feared Polio, now it’s autism. We strive endlessly to circumvent disease, but the world has been the realm of hardship since the first sin.

Mental illnesses are invisible diseases, often created by physical stimuli, but we (particularly Christians) treat them as though they are self-inflicted wounds, controlled by our will alone. We completely ignore the physiochemical side of the issue.

It is far too complex be treated so lightly.

The #1 Myth of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

During the tumultuous election, I numbed to the cringe-worthy statements from the-candidates-whom-nobody-wanted. Then, out of the blue, Mr. Trump said something in total ignorance—and I was no longer numb:

“When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of folks in this room have seen many times over and you’re strong and you can handle it but a lot of people can’t handle it. They see horror stories, they see events you couldn’t see in a movie, nobody would believe it …”

Donald Trump, October 3, 2016 (emphasis mine)

Open mouth, insert foot.

Mr. Trump merely stated what most people already believe—PTSD only happens to the weak.

That would be Myth #1.

PTSD results from traumatic stress, hence the name. Furthermore, nobody has been able to crack the code of the human brain to determine why one person gets one set of symptoms and another person does not. One thing the experts all agree on is this: PTSD is NOT the result of weakness.

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) states: “PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control.”

The VA estimates that eleven to twenty percent of veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD. They also estimated the number of Vietnam Veterans with PTSD is only slightly higher—about fifteen percent. I’m a little skeptical of their numbers because most people—men in particular—are reluctant to admit there is a problem due to the social stigma surrounding PTSD. Furthermore, the needs of veterans returning home from Vietnam were ignored (read: treated like garbage) and so it is likely that number is also inaccurate.

What I am about to state in this paragraph is purely my opinion, based on my eye-witness observation and reading: PTSD—particularly when manifested in military veterans, law enforcement, and first responders—is a sign of deep courage, conscience, and compassion. We were designed to desire justice and mercy simultaneously. It is not in our nature to find joy in death and destruction. If one sees rampant devastation and remains unmoved, something is seriously wrong.

We watch movies and TV shows of people going through trauma. After each life-threatening situation, they move on with life as though unfazed. Consciously or subconsciously, we consider these characters tough. In real life, we would think they were sick and twisted at best. One cannot be confronted with such high, unremitting levels of violence and remain unaffected, unless there is some underlying sociopathy. We civilians cringe at the sick humor of doctors, nurses, soldiers, and cops thinking them to be callous. They are not unhinged— humor is their coping mechanism. They are deeply affected by what they see day after day, month after month, year after year.

People with PTSD are not weak, and Christians in particular need to grasp this truth.

Some Facts About PTSD

According to the DSM-5, the following is the Stressor Criterion:

The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows: (one required)

  1. Direct exposure.
  2. Witnessing, in person.
  3. Indirectly, by learning that a close relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. If the event involved actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.
  4. Repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). This does not include indirect non-professional exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures.

Symptoms of PTSD:

  1. Irritable or aggressive behavior
  2. Self-destructive or reckless behavior
  3. Hypervigilance
  4. Exaggerated startle response
  5. Problems in concentration
  6. Sleep disturbance
  7. Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories.
  8. Traumatic nightmares.
  9. Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) which may occur on a continuum from brief episodes to complete loss of consciousness.
  10. Intense or prolonged distress after exposure to traumatic reminders.
  11. Marked physiologic reactivity after exposure to trauma-related stimuli.

Getting Treatment

 

The biggest obstacle to recovering or coping with PTSD is failure to get treatment.

What do we do if we have a bacterial infection? We usually go to the doctor and get an antibiotic. If we get in a car accident with severe injuries, we don’t stand around bleeding. We go to the hospital and get help! PTSD needs proper treatment just like any other bo`dily trauma. 

What is proper treatment?

I am not a doctor, so I would first advise you to find a medical professional with specific experience in counseling trauma victims. A marriage and family therapist is not usually an expert in this area. Be specific in your search. You wouldn’t see a gastroenterologist for an eye problem. Don’t see the wrong kind of therapist for this either.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an emerging form of therapy making waves in the mental health industry. There is, of course, disagreement about it’s effectiveness, but I’ve heard from both professionals and patients of it’s amazing results.

Other forms of treatment include (but are not limited to): Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medication, family counseling (for the family affected by PTSD), and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Click the link to read more in-depth.

If you are a war veteran suffering from PTSD, I highly recommend getting in touch with Headstrong, a non-profit organization created by Veterans committed to helping fellow veterans recover from PTSD by getting them connected with EMDR therapists. I connected with them last year to inquire about help for my best friend, but since his PTSD wasn’t connected with his military time, they couldn’t help. However, the person I spoke to—a vet who had personally gone through this therapy and recovered—went out of his way to get me the names of clinics using EMDR therapy that he had personally vetted.

Don’t leave God out

We pray for healing of our illnesses, we pray for help with our struggles, and we ought to pray for recovery from mental illness with the same conviction. If you have a family member suffering from PTSD, you also need prayer and support. Give your pain over to the Lord—He is a safe harbor in the storm. Like any illness, we pray for healing, good treatment, and wisdom for the doctor. We pray for God to do His work and we also do what is within our power to do.


If you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, take heart. There is hope for you to lead a happy and full life. Do not succumb to societal pressure to ignore the problem. Get the treatment you need and lean on God for support.

 

Invisible but deadly

qpe5988qvom-quin-stevensonHe cradled his head in his rough, battle-scarred hands, breathing heavily. The accelerated pace of his heart drummed so loudly he could hear nothing else. Sweat beaded on his forehead as blood pounded in his temples. He inhaled deeply, attempting to calm himself. He was thankful to have found this temporary refuge, even if it was a grimy old bathroom. The grinding of the pneumatic impact wrench securing nuts on wheels sounded eerily similar to the battle zone. Before he could acknowledge the trigger, he’d felt his body go into a tailspin. With herculean effort, he stood very slowly, making a deliberate B-line for this small sanctuary.

This was all so humiliating.

Stupid, stupid STUPID! Why did he have to be weak like this?!?

None of the guys from the hundred and first had this problem! They were still smoking and joking about the war like it was some video game. Only the weak ones contracted this illness.

His hair brushed back and forth over his hands as he shook his head, acknowledging the lie as it snaked its way through his thoughts. Hadn’t he just been to Jameson’s funeral? Continue reading

The Overlooked Truth About Depression and Faith.

depression post

Did I just hear that correctly?

Yes. I did.

It was the phrase, “Christians shouldn’t ever be depressed.”

Ouch.

I sat gloomily, feeling the weight of the statement and sinking deeper into the pit that was my depression.

I chewed on that statement for weeks, wondering if I wasn’t right with God. I debated in my own mind about whether my depression was sin, trying to decide if I had allowed my weakness to conquer me.

The problem of depression and the Christian is complex, and I address it in this post because I am confident there are many who have asked themselves the same question.

I have yet to find a verse in the Bible that reads, “Thou shalt not be depressed.” There is an abundance of verses that tell us to rejoice always and to count it joy when we are persecuted or fall into trial.

Then, there is the book of Psalms, the book of Lamentations, the book of Job, the book of Ecclesiastes, the verses about being grieved by various trials, the verses about weeping enduring for a night and joy coming in the morning, verses that tell us to be firm and endure, and verses about going to the Lord for refuge.

I pray that what I write here is helpful to anyone battling this problem.

Depression can be split into two categories (although they often overlap and work together): there is depression caused by physical/chemical triggers and there is depression as a state of the mind. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s an important distinction.

1) The physical causes of depression.

Depression is categorized as a mental illness along with PTSD, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Mental processes are impalpable. Because we don’t see our mind working and processing (like a computer) there is a tendency to forget that a great deal of this intangible process comes from the tangible part of our body called “the brain” and is heavily influenced by our hormones. Our brain is a functioning organ like our heart, and as such is prone to malfunction. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are dysfunctions in the brain. These diseases afflict elderly Christians. Are they no longer right with God because their brain is malfunctioning?

Over four years ago, a very dear friend of mine introduced me to the Weston A Price Foundation. Dr. Price was a dentist in the 1920s that was curious as to why so many of his patients had dental deformities. Fortunately for us, the man asked solid questions and did considerable hands-on research. He found isolated societies from different places in the world—Switzerland, Alaska, Africa, the Outer Hebrides etc.—whose inhabitants did not eat modern foods (i.e. white sugar, white flour, canned goods). Instead, they ate the foods available to them. Organ meats, fermented foods, fresh raw milk from grass-fed cows, fresh seasonal vegetables, bugs (in occasional places), fish oil, fat and grains that were sprouted or fermented. They did not suffer from tuberculosis (the disease of the day), their babies were round and happy, they had broad faces and—in spite of having no dentists—they often had perfectly straight teeth and little to no dental decay. They possessed a high level of optimism and had generally cheerful dispositions.

As soon as roads were built that connected these societies to the modern world and the displacing foods were brought into those communities, the following generation of children were born with narrower facial structure and suffered dental deformities, tuberculosis and, yes, depression.

Without getting overly technical, my understanding is that a narrower facial structure can affect the formation of the brain, which in turn affects the hypothalamus and the lymphatic system impacting hormone production and immune system function. It isn’t just a dental issue or a physical issue—it’s a mental issue.

In effect, the way our parents ate when we were in the womb, affected our development in utero; the way we ate as babies and developing children affected our facial structure, which in turn impacted our brain development. In essence, the reason depression is so much higher today than 50 or 60 years ago can be traced to poor nutrition! Check out the comparative pictures in the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A Price.

If you are suffering from clinical depression, it goes beyond a “state of mind” or “attitude.” It is highly likely that you may be dealing with a chemical or hormonal imbalance.

Consider that for a moment.

If you were to be diagnosed with cancer, would that make you less of a Christian? Would God see you as a sinner because you suffer from a physical malady not brought on by conscious choice? Again, with Alzheimers and Dementia—are they less Christian than the elderly who still have full possession of their faculties?

What did Jesus have to say about that?

In John 9, Jesus and his disciples came upon a man who had been blind from birth. The blindness didn’t come because he was playing with matches and gunpowder. His parents didn’t beat him senseless or use illicit drugs that caused blindness. The man had been born with his blindness—a physical deformity.

Jesus’ disciples asked him the age-old question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

What did Jesus answer? 

“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Have you ever stopped to consider that your physical battle with depression might be an opportunity for God to be glorified?

I have read it, heard it and felt it implied that people who are depressed just need to “get over it” or “snap out of it.” For the Christian suffering from depression, being told that we should “get over it” and be paragons of joy can be even more discouraging because it amplifies existing feelings of inadequacy and weakness.

What did Paul say about his weakness? He called it his “thorn in the flesh.”

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.

For when I am weak, then I am strong.

~2 Corinthians 12.7-10

Look at your depression as an opportunity for God to manifest His strength. You may not feel like you can face the day. Your present circumstance and the way you feel at this moment may be so overwhelming you can barely get out of bed each day.

Allow God to be your strength when you have none.

Allow God to give you joy when you feel none.

Allow God to lift you up when the burden feels too heavy.

Do not allow your physical struggle with depression to define you.

Allow God to transform you.

If you live your life each and every day, fighting to find something to give thanks for, actively seeking for the good that can be found, working to heal the physical problems of depression and handing over the uncontrollable and overwhelming emotions to God when they rise up, just think what a difference that can make to your approach to life. If someone discovers that you are doing all that while battling depression, just imagine what a faith-building impact that can have!

One person’s obedience + God’s power = Victory.

A caution: Depression is no joke. It takes more than simply your own strength of will to overcome. Because it is a physical issue, there are steps that must be taken to deal with it. I personally do not advocate SSRIs, but that is a decision that you should make for yourself after doing research and consulting with trustworthy health professionals. Depression can lead to suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse. Do not hesitate to seek help.

My fellow blogger, Sean Croxton at Underground Wellness did a whole series called The Depression Sessions in which he conducted interviews with a broad range of health professionals addressing the problems of SSRIs and suggesting natural approaches to depression. You can check it out here. He also has these podcasts that might be helpful:

Furthermore, some lifestyle changes may be in order. Less sugar in the diet, lower carbohydrate intake, more magnesium and an increase in Vitamin D (just to name a few) are small changes that have been shown to counter depression in a big way.

2) The “Woe-is-Me” mentality.

There is a character in the fiction of A.A. Milne (popularized by Disney) named Eeyore. Eeyore is a gloomy donkey who lives in the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh and friends. His voice always carries the “I’m down in the dumps” tone. On Eeyore’s Birthday, Pooh discovers that Eeyore is gloomier than usual, only to find out that it’s Eeyore’s birthday and nobody has remembered.

Can’t you see? Look at all the presents I have had.” He waved a foot from side to side. “Look at the birthday cake. Candles and pink sugar.”

Pooh looked–first to the right and then to the left.

“Presents?” said Pooh. “Birthday cake?” said Pooh. “Where?”

“Can’t you see them?”

“No,” said Pooh.

“Neither can I,” said Eeyore.

Pooh is moved with pity and rounds up his friends to get presents for Eeyore. It all turns out well… it is a children’s story after all. But the fact is, Eeyore is always gloomy. Things could be going great and he would still find something to mope about.

His outlook is pessimistic. Life holds little joy for him.

His gloominess is caused by the way he has his mind set.

Here is where I split the hairs.

There are definite physical and chemical causes to depression, but there is also an attitude of depression. What I mean by that is some people have trained themselves (often unwittingly) to have a depressed outlook on life. They set their mind on the negative and sad. It isn’t a difficult task considering all the suffering around us.

The clinically depressed often have greater trouble with this (this is where physical and attitude can run together) because they are already fighting the uncontrollable feelings brought on by the physical issues mentioned earlier. They have to fight harder than the average bear to set their mind firmly on good things.

This is the critical point: they must fight. Often, they need help. They have to seek counseling, naturopathy, homeopathy and/or medication in order to reach that point where they can mentally choose to stamp on those negative emotions and feelings.

For the past 20 years (maybe more), our society has slipped into this mindset: “I have this problem therefore I can’t help but be this way. It’s my parents’ fault, my hormones’ fault, and my job’s fault it’s got to be someone else’s fault. Because of all these problems, I can’t do things any differently. Just accept me the way I am because there is no way I can change.”

It’s time we stop thinking like that.

I’m not telling you simply to “get over it.” Believe me, that mindset does not help anybody. (It has certainly never done anything but make me feel worse!) What I am telling you is that you have to do something about it. Don’t wallow in it, look for a way out of it.

We’ve been watching the old A-Team show lately. Yes, it’s a hokey show, but nearly always good for a laugh. In pretty much every episode, they find themselves in some nearly impossible situation and they have to engineer their way out. B.A. (played by Mr. T) ends up doing some welding, soldering or hammering, turning old jalopies into armored vehicles and barns into booby traps and inevitably they wriggle out of their danger with their cleverly devised solution.

What most people see as junk and scrap, they see as potential tools for success.

Think of the depression mindset as your nearly impossible situation.

How can you engineer your way out? How can you look at this from a new angle?

1) For starters, who is on your side?

It’s not a trick question.

Ok, I’ll give you a hint: The One who created the brain and body of the human being.

That’s right! God.

How do you ask God to help you? By praying. Every time those feelings and thoughts rise up and threaten to immobilize you, ask God to help you overcome those feelings. Don’t let them have dominion over your mind.

2) What other tools do you have on hand?

The Sword of the Spirit aka The Word of God aka the Bible!

How often do you use that tool? If it’s just sitting in your toolbox collecting dust, it’s time to pull it out, dust it off and start using it. How are you supposed to get your mind off all the negative things in this life if you aren’t filling it with the positive?

Consider this passage in Hebrews:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

Hebrews 4.12-16

The Word of God can help us train our minds and hearts to discern what is rational and irrational in our thoughts and feelings. I have had days where, for no apparent circumstantial reason, I feel depressed, heavy, gloomy, and moody. I can actually recognize the irrationality of my feelings and I attack it vigorously. Again, this came with help and counseling. I tell my spouse, “I’m not feeling right, I feel heavy, I need you to bear with me and help me through it.” I pray minute by minute about it. I fight it. I dig deeply into God’s Word… especially the Psalms. It takes time to recognize the gloom for what it is, but it can be done. I also make sure I watch my food intake closely on those days, try to do some exercise if there’s time and intensely guard what I say. I am not always successful… I am human after all… but it has been an illuminating experience. I didn’t get to this point without a lot of assistance. I used counseling, acupuncture, homeopathy, dietary changes, exercise and healthy activity. It was gradual, but highly effective for me.

3) Training.

Like anything in a Christian life, godly characteristics do not come naturally. They take training and practice. Trust takes training. Patience takes training. Joy comes with time and training.

When dark, pessimistic thoughts come on, do you stew and brood about them? What does the Bible advise?

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4.8-9

You have to practice seeing the negative for what it is and then finding the positive and resting there. If you see something bad, ask yourself, how would God see this?

Take for example the Supreme Court decision that has dismayed so many of us. Many of us feel some degree of dismay, righteous anger and fear. We fear coming persecution, imprisonment, job loss and other such things.

What is a positive angle to this? How can we keep from being gloomy about the state of the Union?

  • This World is not our permanent home. We long for a heavenly country. This incident is an excellent reminder that all that we see is temporal, not permanent. Thank you Lord for stirring my desire for heaven!
  • There is an opportunity to talk to people about the Word of God. I know that most people don’t want to hear what we have to say, but we should be speaking anyway. I have been called stupid on more than one occasion, but it’s been an opportunity to stand up for the Word of God and demonstrate that a Christian can argue their faith lovingly and respectfully.

4) What other helps are available?

Other Christians who have suffered from depression may have some invaluable insights on counselors or treatments that have helped them. Counselors (especially those with a Christian mindset) can be invaluable helpers. Do not brush aside counseling. So many people feel that they are too good for it. Don’t let your pride be your downfall. Get a counselor to help you train your mind and address the physical problems with depression if they exist.

Don’t forget the websites and podcasts that I mentioned above. They could be very helpful for you. I will be attending the Weston A Price Conference in Anaheim this November and if you are interested in making dietary changes to help with depression or other illnesses, this may be the stop for you! Sally Fallon, the president, does an excellent presentation every year on the work of Dr. Price and it is illuminating!

My very dear friends, do not allow someone’s misguided or uninformed statements plunge you into a deeper depression. The Lord knows our every weakness. Sometimes our depression is purely attitude, more often than not it’s physical, and even more often, it’s a combination of the two. If you are battling depression today, please know that there is hope and there are plenty of us who want to help!

If you have overcome depression in the past or know of someone who has, please share that story to inspire hope for those who are feeling hopeless.