Angela delivered her opening line slowly and with great emphasis to the thousands of women gathered in the auditorium of the Roanoke Civic Center.
"Depression is cruel. It has the power to kill, and it is impartial to its victims. I know this because I personally battle depression."
Angela always paused briefly at this point, offering a silent prayer to God that He would use her story to help others learn to effectively recognize and treat the crippling disease that many people still find hard to discuss.
Ten years ago, I experienced my first battle with depression. There had not been a death in my family. I had two healthy children and a loving husband. I was financially comfortable. Anyone looking at me from the outside could have easily assumed that I had the perfect life had it not been for the unhappiness that surrounded me like a cloud.
Angela took a sip of water and then continued.
Some of my symptoms included feeling unusually sad and being tired all of the time. I lost the ability to think clearly or communicate effectively. As time went on, the symptoms became worse. I had thoughts of suicide and felt that I was worthless.
My breaking point finally came when my supervisor approached me one morning after a meeting at work.
"Angela," Mike said when he walked into my office. You know that I don't like to pry into the personal business of my employees, but is something going on that is troubling you? You have not been yourself in months. You keep your arms crossed and shut people out. Your shoulders always sag and you never seem happy anymore. This is just not like you."
Angela looked at the audience, connecting with them and allowing them to see the emotion. To my great embarrassment, I burst into tears!
Luckily for me, Mike was an experienced manager who understood depression and he was a caring supervisor. He provided me with a phone number for a psychologist and I made an appointment the next day.
From that point on, I became a student of depression. I learned many ways to cope with the symptoms. Some people experience bouts of depression that are caused by stress or illness. Unfortunately for me, depression is ongoing, but I've learned to accept it as my cross. Through my personal experience, I have learned how to take care of myself and also to recognize the warning signs in others.
Reading someone's body language is one of the key factors in identifying depression. A depressed person isn't going to wear a sign that reads, 'Hi, my name is Jim and I'm depressed,' the audience laughed.
We need to learn to watch for the signs and have the willingness to approach someone whom we believe may be dealing with depression. My story has a happy ending, but for so many others who leave depression untreated this is not the case. More than 30,000 people in the United States died from suicide last year.
My prayer is that you will leave here knowing more about depression and that I have raised awareness about the need to discuss it and get treatment.
I believe that depression can be used by Satan to prevent us from serving in the capacity that God has in store for us. The ten minutes that Mike spent with me years ago were priceless and I thank God every day that He used Mike to point me in the right direction.
As Angela wrapped up her session to the sound of applause, she thought again about the book of Corinthians. Over the years, she had read chapter 12 often. Paul suffered a great affliction which he begged God to remove, but God denied his request. God's response was that His grace was sufficient and His strength was made perfect in Paul's weakness.
God had brought Angela to a point of understanding that depression was her affliction. Like Paul, she also had begged God to remove this thorn from her, but instead He had led her on an amazing journey that enabled her to speak at conferences all over the United States. This opportunity had brought so many wonderful people into her life and it allowed her to use her suffering for His glory.
Perfect peace. Perfect joy.
Angela had no doubt that she was serving God in the capacity that He intended and that certainly was nothing to be depressed about.
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