Seeing a psychiatrist saved my life

At the end of 2016, my mind took a dangerous turn onto the road of suicidal thoughts. Experts say that if you have developed a plan for how to kill yourself, it’s an emergency. I had developed a few plans. I knew that if I didn’t get help, my family would be burying me long before they would ever want to.

It’s hard to write that, but I need to write it because someone, somewhere is on that road right now. And I beg you, go see a psychiatrist.

I found my psychiatrist on Google and chose him because his office was conveniently located. At our first session – two hours long – he asked great questions and listened well. Soon after, he recommended this book:

Feeling Good was transformative for many reasons, but key among them is that it is not written from a Christian perspective. This may seem like an oddity to those who know of my deep Christian grounding. But the fact is, incorporating medical practices into our spiritual ones is not the opposite of Christianity. The two complement each other well. The Bible offers amazing inspiration on how to rejoice, release anxiety, and fight negative thoughts. I know those scriptures like I know my name. But Feeling Good helped me to apply those truths in a way no pastor or Christian counselor had ever communicated to me.

First, the book offers up a very practical tool for diagnosing one’s level of depression. This was a great way for me to measure my progress. I was also drawn in by stories of people who struggled as I did with perfectionism and absurd feelings of guilt and failure. Burns also made clear that overcoming depression requires work, “a systematic training program that employs simple concrete methods you can apply on a daily basis.” These concrete exercises and the tough-loveish demands to get a grip on my negative thoughts, enabled me to turn my mind around. My psychiatrist had a tough-love approach too. It was a great mix of encouragement and push like your favorite coach might offer .

Many people shy away from mental health services because of stigma and the fear of appearing spiritually weak. Others are suspicious that talk therapy is a means for therapists to make more money by slowing down the process of healing. My psychiatrist was just the opposite. His no- nonsense approach was efficient, yet caring. I never sensed he wanted to string me along forever, neither did he allow me to wallow in the ways I felt victimized by my upbringing. I wanted to talk more about my past and he would not allow it.

In fact, my doctor actually lost money by recommending the book to me because I used it so religiously. He knew I had quit my job, giving up a $65,000 annual salary just to survive. Yes, my mental decline was an emergency and there was no expense too great, but he also sensed this $15 book would work. It took only six months for me to really turn a mental corner. I eased my way back to work with a part-time job that has become a dream job with nearly the same pay I had before.

It was hard, but I’m glad I finally took my depression seriously. I urge you to do the same if you are severely depressed. This article can help you figure that out. If you’re concerned about someone else, please encourage them to see a psychiatrist. Realize that when someone is contemplating suicide, it’s not because they can’t cope with what’s happening to them. It’s not just because they hate life. They may actually hate themselves for not being strong enough to cope. They may feel they don’t deserve to live.

I am now three years removed from feeling this way. I could never have imagined the amount of joy and mental strength I have now. I am feeling good, really good. I pray the same becomes true for you and those you love.

3 thoughts on “Seeing a psychiatrist saved my life

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  1. Thank you for your willingness to share your story. It is powerful and poignant, and may very well save the life of someone who reads it.


  2. Oh Mary, thank you for writing this, for being so vulnerable. That costs something. Suicide attempts have marked every generation of my family, and in the last year, in two branches of what is a very Christian family. I think we need to share our brokenness in the Church, and that brokenness comes in many forms. We’re not alright, despite appearances, and we need to get past the surfaces. Bonhoeffer, in his chapter on confession in Life Together, says that unless we’re willing to be sinners in front of one another, we can’t receive the gospel. That strikes me as really true and important. Are being a sinner and being a broken human being the same thing? Not exactly, but closer than they’re often given credit for.


  3. Mary, thank you so much for your honesty. There is some severe mental illness in my family and we too have benefitted from secular psychology, God has given us medical science to heal us. We even saw a Christian counselor who said that many of his therapeutic practices were not particularly Christian, but they were based on the science of the brain. We had no problem with that.
    What we did have a problem with is hearing from the pulpit of a former church that you don’t need medication for depression. This is taught by well-meaning pastors who have no medical training and I am sure no direct experience with mental illness. Just pray harder. This may work in some cases of spiritual malaise but could be fatal to a clinically depressed person.
    Perfectionism and guilt are so pervasive. I feel your pain as I watch my loved ones struggle. And I am thankful for your testimony which encourages me in the fight. I ordered the book immediately. Always open to things that have helped others.
    I so enjoy you sharing your life in your column. Blessings always.


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