You Are Not Alone

This is Part 2 of My Friend Sondy, The Miracle.

Sondy Knitter came into my life when I needed her. God knew I needed her.

I first heard her story in April of 2011 at a women’s bible study group. Sondy shared about her struggle with a laundry list of medical conditions, including:

Severe rheumatoid arthritis,

cryptogenic organizing pneumonia,

rheumatoid interstitial lung disease,

fibromyalgia,

sleep apnea,

chronic fatigue syndrome, and

severe restless leg syndrome.

Because her medical conditions rendered her permanently disabled, Sondy had to quit her passion: teaching English to high school students.

The thing that amazed me the most about Sondy’s story was that she wasn’t sad as she shared it. She was joyful. I’ll never forget when she said, “Everyday is exciting because I’m alive.”

To be honest, I was a little depressed leaving the group that evening. I knew I didn’t possess the joy Sondy had, and I wasn’t sure why. Why shouldn’t I have joy? I wondered. I haven’t been through a tenth of what that woman has been through. Do I need to have a near-death experience and see Jesus face to face to experience the joy Sondy has?

Around this time, I was experiencing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. I would come home from work in the evening, change into my pajamas, and climb right into bed. I stopped attending church and bible study regularly. I stopped eating lunch and socializing with my co-workers. I wasn’t eating much at all, actually. I didn’t call my family much because talking with them only made me miss them (I live in Kansas and they are in Massachusetts). When I attended social gatherings, I drank beer or liquor until I felt more comfortable socializing.

I tried therapy. I tried medication. I tried God. I tried praying. I tried giving up alcohol. I tried working out twice a day. I tried eating right. I tried all the vitamins that can help with mood. Nothing was working.

I began to wonder if I had a brain tumor pressing on my brain, because I could not understand why I wasn’t happy. There was simply NO reason not to be happy, especially since I haven’t been through anything like my friend Sondy had been through. This made me even more upset with myself. I was so embarrassed. I hated myself even more as I shared my “first world/white girl problems” with my therapist. I hated that my husband, who is fantastic, felt like he must not have been making me happy enough. It wasn’t true. He was and continues to be the best thing in my life.

Even though I didn’t go to bible study as much, I communicated with the ladies via Facebook and asked them to pray for me as I sought treatment.

One day, near the beginning of 2012, my frustration reached its peak. I was doing all the right things, and nothing was working. At my wit’s end, I  began to write a note. I was in such a psychotic state of mind that I gave no thought to my loved ones as I wrote it. It began, “I am in a losing battle with mental illness….” Then I began listing some of my possessions and whom I wanted to have them. I felt like there was no escape but death. I didn’t know what to do.

When I recognized I was out of my mind, I picked up the phone and called a mental health center (different from the one I was already seeking treatment through). I needed to be seen. They said they would get me in the next morning. I thought, Okay. I can’t kill myself because I have an appointment tomorrow. Then I crawled into bed to wait until the next morning.

Because I trust the ladies I go to bible study with, I shared what happened and again asked them to pray for me. Sondy immediately sent me a message, saying that we needed to get together. Her book, Not Ready to Die, was coming out soon, and she wanted me to read an excerpt from it and get my opinion. I agreed to meet with her.

Sondy is one of those people I love being around. She is a true “sanguine” type personality, meaning she is naturally bubbly and she makes friends wherever she goes. Her smile is contagious and she truly has the joy of the Lord in her heart. She is the kind of lady I have always wanted to be.

That’s why I was floored when she told me that she had been through the same thing I was going through. In fact, even after she saw Jesus at the hospital and survived her illnesses against all odds, she tried to take her own life. Feeling like a burden to her family and convinced that people, like the police, were coming after her (she did not have a rational explanation why they were coming after her), she took 80 pain pills, went to bed, and waited for death. She took a knife to bed with her in case the pills didn’t work.

Luckily, Sondy’s family members found her and immediately took her to the ER. She was given a medication to make her throw up. Then she was transferred to a larger hospital 30 miles away, where they gave her more medication to make her throw up.

Due to another miracle of God, Sondy lived. The doctors took a biopsy of her liver because taking that many pain pills causes liver damage. She had no liver damage. Again, another miracle!

After the pain pills were mostly out of her system, Sondy spent a few days in a locked unit for mental health patients. Then she received treatment through the hospital’s outpatient program. She was also put on medication to help with her depression and anxiety.

The excerpt Sondy shared with me the day we met was Chapter 10 of her book, “Shocking, But True.” She told me she went back and forth about whether or not to keep the chapter in her book. She didn’t want to embarrass her family.

After reading it, I said, “Sondy… You HAVE TO include this chapter in your book.”

She told me she eventually decided to include it. Her family told her that it was worth including if it could help others.

It helped me. It described all the feelings I was experiencing.

“I want you to know that you are not alone,” Sondy told me. “And you are so loved.”

For the first time in a year, I felt hope. I felt like I could beat this thing.

After Sondy’s book was published, more people have approached her about Chapter 10 than anything else in her book, saying that they once attempted suicide or experienced depression/anxiety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 10 U.S. adults report depression. Of course, many more experience depression and do not report it because they are embarrassed to admit it or they don’t recognize the symptoms.

At a recent speaking engagement, Sondy listed off all of the conditions she has to deal with on a daily basis. She takes dozens of pills a day and undergoes regular treatments, including chemotherapy, to control her symptoms.

“Out of all of my conditions, depression and anxiety were the most difficult to deal with,” she said.

Since Spring 2012 I have sought outpatient treatment from the same mental health center Sondy did. Going to the right place made a world of difference for me. The staff there are so caring and knowledgeable. Most importantly, they listened to me and took their time. They didn’t just slap a diagnosis on me, dish out meds, and treat me like cattle. They provided me the treatment I needed. Now I am doing so much better than I was when I thought the only escape from mental illness was death.

Like Sondy, I want everyone with depression and anxiety to know that they are not alone and there is help. If you need help, call the national suicide hotline toll free at 1-800-SUICIDE. They can guide you toward local mental health resources. Or call your local mental health center.

Here are some scriptures that have been helpful to me as I’ve battled mental illness:

“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:7 NIV

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” -2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV

Have you ever dealt with mental illness, or has anyone you loved struggled with it?

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Me and Sondy, October 2012.

Sondy’s book, Not Ready to Die, is available to order through her website. (Just FYI – Sondy has sold most of her first print copies, and is in the process of a second edit and printing. There may be a wait if she is out of first print copies, so please check back later if that is the case).

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