Editor’s Note: We’re delighted to welcome Gillian Marchenko as our guest blogger this Spring. Her new book, Still Life; A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression publishes in May and her work has appeared in numerous publications including Chicago Parent, Today’s Christian Woman, Literary Mama, Thriving Family, and MomSense Magazine. Her first book, Sun Shine Down, was published in 2013. She lives near St. Louis with her husband Sergei and their four daughters. Connect with her at her Facebook page.
I have a new book coming out in May called Still Life, a Memoir of Living Fully with Depression. People who know I am a writer sometimes ask me “What are you working on these days?” “A memoir about my major depressive disorder,” I say, and they usually look at me out of the corner of their eyes. Many don’t know what to say. Why would anyone want to write, or for that matter, read a book about mental illness, I decide they are thinking.
But I know why I wrote the book.
I wrote a book about my depression, an illness that in its entirety is usually a part of my life under lock and key, to defuse a bit of the ugliness that so easily entangles me.
But also, I wrote this book because the stigma about mental illness in our Christian circles is alive and well. How can a believer in Jesus have suicidal ideations? How can a Christian often feel no hope? What about fullness in Christ?
With Still Life, I am attempting to give myself a little more freedom in my battle and to let other Christians know that if they struggle with mental illness, they are not alone.
I have depression. So how can I glorify God with it? I think it is by opening up my safe and letting others see in.
Most of us have safes tucked deep within our hearts. It’s where painful parts of our stories hide, stuff we don’t necessarily want others to see: hurts, insecurities, jealousy, fear. For me, it is the illness of depression. A lot of our outward struggles stem from this hidden safe within us, and we end up spending whatever amount of energy we have for life hiding the safe, and trying to show others and ourselves that we are okay. We can do this. We don’t have struggles, or at least we don’t have struggles we want others to see.
One of the biggest problems with the church today is that too many of us show up on Sundays with our safes under lock and key. We hoard the hard parts of our lives because Christians are ‘supposed’ to be joyful and faithful. This is the most dangerous type of hoarding. If we can’t be honest with each other about what is in our safes, we will stunt our communion with one another and with God. Annie Dillard talks about this in regards to writing, but I think it is true for life, too:
“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Anything we do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to us. I firmly believe this includes the dark parts of ourselves we’d rather not share. One day, we may open our safe and find ashes.
Why must we hide? Why must I hide? I am a Christian, a mother, a writer, a friend, a pastor’s wife, and a lot of times I hoard my secrets in a safe. Some days, my illness swallows me whole. I don’t know how to parent my kids. Prayer is hard. I think way more about the bottle of pills in my medicine cabinet than about Christ. I can’t get out of bed.
But let’s not miss the lessons here. The concepts of darkness and light are eternally connected. How can we know one without the other? And how can the light in us shine if we are preoccupied with keeping hidden in the dark? Did you know that Jesus is with you in your darkness? If you are his child, you are never alone, not even if you lock yourself up in a safe. Did you know that your darkness can lose some of its power? It can. It loses power when it is put in the light.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
I hope today we all can be brave enough to tell someone about the things under lock and key in our lives, to bow and talk to God about it, and to allow our lives to open up a bit more, for His glory, yes, but also for our sake, and for the sake of our universal church where far too many people show up on Sunday mornings under lock and key.
“I stand on the edge of a cliff in my own bedroom.”
In Still Life, Gillian Marchenko continues her description of depression: “I must keep still. Otherwise I will plunge to my death. ‘Please God, take this away,’ I pray when I can.”
For Gillian, “dealing with depression” means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In these pages she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed?
Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.
Still Life is available here for pre-order from IVP Press.