Depression (2): My Own Struggle—If It Had Not Been...- Shades of Grace | Natalie Nichols

Depression (2): My Own Struggle—If It Had Not Been…

Depression: My Own Struggle

I’ve experienced clinical depression caused from both internal and external influences. During the first months of my disability, I became depressed by the sudden losses and changes in my life. Not doing anything…lying around sick all the time — it was a dramatic about face from college life at Baylor. During the week I had been busy on campus; on the weekends I ministered in churches and traveled out of state for pageant training. (The Miss America scholarship pageant was sort of like the American Idol for girls of my day.)

Natalie Nichols in Miss Texas

In Miss Texas Pageant

Forced to withdraw from school before graduating, unable to do anything but lie around all the time, I became clinically depressed. (In hindsight, aware that Lyme infects the central nervous system within the first hours and that I had Lyme encephalitis, there were likely physiological, infectious causes of my depression as well.)

A Period of Relief

There were days—many days in a row—that I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop thinking about death…and suicide. I was prescribed anti-depressant medication. After trying a few that made my symptoms worse, I found the right one. It helped tremendously.

That doesn’t mean that I never become discouraged, or weary, or sad. I spent many hours before God weeping and pleading for relief from my confinement and isolation. (It was a huge deal not to be active and moving forward in life—not to see the sky, or sunshine, or talk with friends, or have something to enjoy in life.) But God always met me, took my burdens and replaced them with His joy and perspective. He gave me inner peace. My crying and mourning over the situation were more normal, lasting only hours, not days. I had enough normal brain chemistry to feel pleasure.

Natalie on Outdoor Bed

My outdoor bed.

My family found fun things for me to do even while confined to bed—putting jigsaw puzzles together with the aid of a special puzzle board for bed; reading books using a stand that held them above my face; watching birds on my back porch from an outdoor bed.

Tortured Beyond Description

Two years later, as the Lyme bacteria further affected my brain, I began to feel electrocuted or burned alive…but where one feels thoughts. It was the most torturous, horrific thing I have ever experienced! It was more excruciating than the sum total of bodily pain and sickness I had endured over the years! I had been confined to a wheelchair and to bed—with a host of painful symptoms keeping me there—but it was nothing compared to this.

My brain chemistry was far from normal. Depression returned…and so much more. For the first year, I also felt buried alive. Nothing appeared normal. Rooms felt smaller…darker. Ceilings seemed closer. I felt smothered. Trapped. Restless. Like I was in a nightmare that never ended. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. The nightmare continued twenty-four hours a day.

Natalie Nichols after high dose steroids

After high-dose steroids.

Encephalitis was suspected. So after a few months, I was put on high dose steroids, which (because I had undiagnosed systemic Lyme infection) made me a thousand times more ill in body too. I felt intense bodily pain, labored for every breath, was too weak to talk above a whisper…and yet, it was nothing compared to the sensations in my brain.

A year later, the nightmare still continued. Only now, I was off of steroids and although I couldn’t sit up or be “vertical” in life, I had a more strength to respond to the torture.

Imagine that you were being electrocuted or burned alive. What would you do? You would scream bloody murder. What would you do if the torturous sensations never stopped? You would continue screaming…for hours…days…weeks…months…and years, if it lasted that long. That’s what I did. Although I was too weak to sit up throughout the day, the feelings were such sheer torture that the screaming reached record decibels.

In preparation for this post, I read my journals from those years. It was difficult to do—reliving the torment.

The entry below describes my screaming volume…that could be heard outside my brick home.

March 17, 1997: “I screamed so high and loud it made the dogs [in the neighborhood] bark….I cried and cried for Jesus to help me.”

My brain chemistry was so screwed up that I hadn’t laughed, even casually, in years.

March 3, 1997: “I am extremely weak. Hot, skin burning. Neck pain and head almost unbearable….I am really hurting inside. Asked the Lord for a small thing—maybe just to have one thing to look forward to, even just if for one hour—something my brain could enjoy. Or even just laughter. I heard [my spouse] and his friends laugh in conversation while I was sick in bed….A deep, piercing hurt turned my stomach. I couldn’t remember what it was like to laugh. It has been so long. I want to laugh.”

At times, any input—television, reading, hearing sounds, concentrating, or seeing anything at all—was too much.

January 19, 1997: “Today, loss of brain function. Input so much that it overloaded my brain. Just opening my eyes and seeing things in the room. Hearing someone talk, TV, etc. Too much.”

This lasted for not a month, six months, or a year…but for three years. It was serious mental illness—a result of meningoencephalitis caused by Lyme Disease.

Over those three years, I probably spent half the time lying on a floor crying. Lying on the floor in a dark closet, crying non-stop. Lying on the floor in my bedroom, crying. Lying on the floor in the living room, screaming, hitting my head repeatedly with my fist (see my interview on Life Today).

In the midst of all this, I was also depressed. I wanted to die (stemming both from imbalanced brain chemistry and sheer lack of endurance, feeling death was the only way to stop the torture). I was angry and had fits of rage. I imagined all kinds of crazy scenarios—leaving in my bare feet and pajamas, climbing out a window, stealing the car, running away from it all (to what, I don’t know). I contemplated serious, graphic means of taking my life. Yet, God carried me through it all. At the end of the day, or the episode for that day or week, He would tenderly speak and let me know He was working His wise, loving plan for my life.

February 27, 1997: God wants me to learn to be in oppression but not be oppressed; to be in captivity but not be a captive; to be in prison yet not be a prisoner. I am more than a conqueror in all things. This is not done in the flesh. God makes it impossible for me to do much in the flesh—if I ever set out to do so, my weakness and craziness stop me….

October 21, 1996: “Yesterday I tried to leave in the car (after yelling and cussing at Mom) to kill myself. No keys in the car. Tonight, I still [want to take my life]….My only option, my only chance for a break, is death….

Every day is filled with detest,
Never even a moment’s rest.
I know each thought’s a continual lie
But it no longer matters if I live or die.
All my reasons for living no longer remain;
They can’t outweigh the loss and pain.
No plans, no purpose, no promise for bliss
Could ever be worth such suffering as this.

But it’s not my life, it’s not my choice,
He feels my tears…and it is His voice
That said you’re mine and your most noble demands
Can’t be more perfect than my richest plans.

October 29, 1996:

It’s a sobering realization
That life here on earth
Will never be what I dreamed—
I planned for success and mirth.
Life demands reliance, hope, and strength
In order to survive,
But God supplies through constant Grace
The drive to stay alive.

This isn’t the best piece of poetry ever, but it shows that through it all, God gave grace upon grace upon grace…upon GRACE!

He felt my tears. He understood my pain. He comforted me and assured me of His good plan for my life—a plan that would exceed anything I could imagine. He gave me His strength and endurance.

I Understand

I hesitate to mention so casually in a blog post that I considered taking my life, lest it encourage someone else to flirt with the idea. The suggestion of suicide is a lie from hell. The devil came to steal, kill and destroy! Jesus came that we might have life abundant—no matter what our brain chemistry or situation in life is. (See John 10:10.) To even begin to agree with the devil and his line of thinking is dangerous!

I share openly about the depths of my depression to say this: I understand. I know what mental illness feels like. I understand minor depression caused by circumstances, major depression caused by physiological imbalance, and I understand agonizing mental illness that seizes your sanity.

Vulnerable to the Enemy

I also know firsthand how Satan and his demons seize on vulnerabilities in our brain chemistry. Our mind—our thought life—is already a battle field, even for those with perfectly healthy brain chemistry. It’s a struggle to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and fight the lies of our flesh and the enemy. BUT, when you have an imbalance in your brain chemistry it seems to create vulnerabilities—easy points of entry for the enemy. It’s as if there are gaping holes in the walls of a fortress granting him instant access. Any other time he might have to be strategic in finding a way in, but with brain chemistry imbalance, the normal walls of our thought life have holes—places that leave us unusually susceptible to his attack. Or, at least to that kind of enemy attack—to that particular set of lies.

When my brain chemistry was abnormal, I had evil, graphic thoughts of harming myself—thoughts I never would have had on my own. Thoughts I wouldn’t even begin to entertain now. Yes, part of it was physiological imbalance. But demons jumped on the bandwagon for easy transportation into my thoughts…with the ultimate goal of stealing, killing…destroying.

Imagine a thick, stone wall around an old city—only someone blew holes in the wall large enough to drive tanks through. At a time when the city is the most depleted of resources its enemy drives a fleet of military tanks right into the heart of the city. Instead of attacking the inhabitants through the front gate with a pistol, the enemy takes advantage of the access, rolls tanks in and blast away.

“Aha!” the enemy cries. “We’ve invaded. The inhabitants are beleaguered, wounded, and out-armed. They’ll surrender for sure!”

But, Jesus is more powerful than the enemy’s worst weapons! He has conquered all! And, He has given us weapons of warfare that are not carnal but mighty in God for demolishing strongholds and everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God! (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

If It Had Not Been

As a teenager, long before this torture began, I sang a song called If It Had Not Been. When I hear it now, I sing along with a different perspective. If it had not been for the Lord on my side, tell me where would I be?!

If God in His grace hadn’t given me two sedentary years spent steeping myself in His word, I wonder what my refuge would have been during the years of mental and physical torture that followed. If He hadn’t given me grace to take refuge in His word in the midst of that torture, what would have become of me?

I still struggle occasionally with mild depression. Regardless of whether you struggle with discouragement and sadness caused by circumstances or with depression caused by a chemical imbalance, it is imperative that you take refuge in the Word of God! Imperative!!

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9).

In a later post, I share scriptures that have been a refuge for me. Not because they were temporary thoughts to fill my mind—but because God’s word is alive and powerful. Because God is faithful to fulfill His word in our lives!

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it’” (Jeremiah 1:12).

We have mighty weapons of warfare! We have the powerful word of God! And we have Him fighting for us on our side! Yes, if had not been for the Lord on our side…

“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters. Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth! We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!  Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:2-8).

A Moment of Worship: If It Had Not Been

Helen Baylor: If It Had Not Been

From the album Helen Baylor Live

Questions: If it hadn’t been for the Lord on your side, where would you be? In retrospect, how can you see God’s hand—His grace upon grace upon grace keeping you and carrying you? It might not have been depression you experienced, but like the Psalmist you experienced something that threatened to swallow you alive. How did God deliver you?

Just as He delivered you from that torrent, He will deliver you from the trouble you’re facing today!




For More Information on Neuropsychiatric Lyme Disease:


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