Imagine thick black mud hugging the backs of your feet, dragging your every step. The air is dense and bitter. Every breath feels muffled and like you have only gotten enough air to survive, but not enough to relieve the stinging in your lungs. The bags under your eyes sink into your hollowed face and though you have not slept in days, you cannot shake the feeling that you have been asleep for the past four years.
Depression can be difficult to describe to someone who has never experienced it. It is kind of like a person following you around pretty much ruining everything in your life, but no one else can see him. You feel crazy because no one else seems to have this big bad guy following them and since no one else can see it, it is not always taken so seriously.
I first started struggling with this big bad guy my freshman year of high school, when I entered a very manipulative, toxic relationship. From there the big bad man made his entry and even after the relationship was long gone, my new friend decided to stay awhile, like a guest you never invited over but wouldn’t get the hint to leave.
There were always good days, sometimes even good months. I can look back and remember happy sleepovers with my friends, theater rehearsals filled with jokes and laughter, family dinners full of love. But by the time winter rolled around, I always seemed to default to this sinking feeling I could not shake.
So I learned to breathe with half my lungs and ignore the pit in my stomach.
I struggled with this depression up until my sophomore year of college. This is the point where I hit a wall. I had always been very high-functioning and able to plaster on a giant smile on demand. I greeted my anxieties with an outgoing personality and drowned myself in work in order to hide from myself.
But my sophomore year, everything came crumbling down. I was a student at Southern Oregon University and lived in Ashland, Oregon. My anxieties were heightening and I could not shake the feeling that this small, sleepy town was closing in on me. Upon the entry of a new relationship, I suddenly felt completely out of control of myself, and stumbled upon constant triggers that made my lungs collapse.
The previous year, a therapist suggested that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (which was later officially diagnosed) and this was enough to crack my porcelain mask. I could not pretend I was okay anymore and I could not ignore the symptoms. I found parts of my trauma wedged into the cracks of life everywhere I looked. I hated it. My new label forced me to face myself and I could not stand what I saw. I struggled to stay afloat as the good days became more and more scarce.
There were days I simply could not get out of bed. Those days turned into weeks and when I finally summoned the strength to walk down my apartment steps, I found myself in tears by the time I reached the front seat of my car. I wasn’t going to my classes, I stopped talking to most of my friends, and I let the big bad guy take over my life for a while.
Honestly, I hit rock bottom. I had little desire to live. I could not shake the creeping feeling that I was a burden to everyone and that the world would be a better place without me. I spent hours sitting in the bathtub, hot droplets beating down my neck, watching water swirl into the dark drain and picturing myself getting sucked along with it.
I felt like I had tried everything, and nothing worked. Therapy was always a battle because the idea of facing events in the past seemed too painful. It eventually got to this point where I simply felt numb, like my brain was doused in thick maple syrup and I could barely summon the energy to continue breathing, let alone reach out to others. My spirit was broken and felt like I could not go on anymore. I had run out of rope.
But one conversation saved my life.
I had a kind friend who knew I was struggling. He suggested that I pray.
This idea seemed disheartening and funny to me, simply because I had prayed before. My grandpa had baptized me Christian as a baby, and my childhood was coated in lukewarm of memories singing grace before family dinners. When I was little, my mom would sing and tell stories to my brother and me before bed, and then we would always pray.
My grandparents and mom would take us to church. I didn’t remember much other than that I was not allowed to pick my nose there, the pictures of a man hanging on a cross with bloody nails dug into his hands terrified me, and that someone named God lived in this building and I couldn’t help but wonder if He minded all the people walking in and out of His house.
Beyond my childhood, my family was not particularly religious. We would still pray and say grace before meals, but we never went to church, and we did not talk much about God. Throughout high school, I had a burning desire to know if there was a God. I had grown up with my best friend, who came from a religious family. They were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and went to church every Sunday, prayed often, and went to many fun church events. I tagged along to many of these activities and always felt slightly envious of the security and community found in her church. I wanted something like that so badly. I wanted to feel understood and not alone.
But I did not feel anything when I went to my church. I would go through spurts where I would attend with my grandma, but I always felt awkward and out of place in those stiff wooden pews. When everyone closed their eyes in prayer, I could not help the aching in my gut as I watched everyone feel something I was not a part of.
I tried many different churches. I went to a Christian church that worshiped on Wednesday nights, religious summer camps, and Catholic services with friends. I can recall services I felt touched by and quiet moments that seemed to skim the surface of something extraordinary. But my spark of curiosity never ignited into a flame because I never felt like I fit in. It was like an unexplainable spiritual yearning that no church ever seemed to satisfy.
Overall, I had tried church. I had tried praying. I had tried and wanted with every part of my being something larger to believe in. But it was not happening. There were elements of so many different religions I respected and found beautiful! So many beliefs that sang to my heart. But at the end of the day, I could not feel what they felt.
So when my friend asked me to pray, I sighed with the same feeling of not belonging that had resided in me for many years. I told him I had tried. I explained to him some of my experiences.
He promised me that if I prayed to Jesus, I would receive an answer. That it was very important that I tried praying to Him.
Just pray that your heart is open to Jesus, he told me. He had so much confidence that I would receive some sort of answer, and I met his confidence with equal spite. How could Jesus help me when I did not even understand who He was?
I mostly started praying to prove him wrong, but there was a small seed of hope and curiosity within me; a small flicker of belief that perhaps something would happen. I started praying every night, at first halfheartedly.
But then I started pouring out my soul. I started praying deeply each night. I prayed not for my friend, but for me. I prayed not to prove anyone wrong, but genuinely for help. I truly opened my heart, hoping Jesus might be there.
And one night as I prayed deeply, the same prayer over and over, My heart is open to you Jesus, suddenly, a light erupted from behind my eyes.
Startled, I opened my eyes, believing someone had entered my room and turned on the lights. But to my amazement, the pallid white light was all I could see. I blinked my eyes, wondering if the light would dissipate, but it flooded unwavering throughout my whole room.
Suddenly, a door appeared directly in front of me. I watched the door open, and more light flooded brilliantly into my room. Beautiful tendrils of light cascaded out of this white door that had swung open quickly, as if the power of the light could not be kept inside for a second more. I felt amazement and wonder and love. The door opened almost as quickly as it had appeared.
The door slowly faded along with the white, golden light. I was left sitting upright in my bed, staring at my wall through the dark. Amazed and breathless, I slowly lay back down with a racing heart.
The image had penetrated itself into my heart and mind. There was no way I could pretend it did not happen and I knew it was not a dream. I had been wide awake when I saw it. Thoughts of wonder galloped through my head as I slowly drifted off to sleep.
The next day, I told a few people about my experience and it was lightly brushed off. But I knew. I knew I had received a vision. An unexplainable gift I did not yet understand but that would change the direction of my life forever.
And this was the moment my heart began to heal.
“Ask, and it shall be given onto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened onto you” (Mathew 7:7).
As a homegrown Portlandian feminist, Lauren Mckinnon sometimes wondered how she fit in as a new member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — but through her testimony and everyday experience, she realized that no matter how different we may feel, we all belong in Jesus’ flock.