What You Never Saw When You Looked At Me

I grew up a Christian. I declared my belief in Jesus as my savior when I was five-years-old. I loved Jesus. I embraced faith so easily when I was little, because the faith of a child is incomparable. It’s absolute. It’s flawless. There is no room for doubt in the heart of a child. It’s only when they get older that doubt creeps in, that they start to believe the hurtful things that people say. That they let themselves believe that maybe they’re not as worthy of love as they once thought.

This is what you never saw when you looked at me.

I’ve been battling depression since I was thirteen.

It started small. I didn’t even realize what it was at first. It was like a heavy feeling, falling on my shoulders, burdening me. I let people convince me that I was just lazy. That I just needed to get out and do more things. I let people judge me and convince me that there was something wrong with me. And there was. But I couldn’t tell them. Because if I told them I was depressed, then that meant I wasn’t a good Christian.

How did I get this idea about myself? Based on religious views and the comments of others, I came to the conclusion that if someone said they were deeply depressed, it meant that there was something wrong with them SPIRITUALLY. That only made me more depressed, because apparently, there was ALREADY something wrong with me spiritually as I didn’t always agree with what others around me believed. I didn’t feel wrapped up in love, like the love Christ tells us to have for each other. I felt wrapped up in judgment and it was killing me.

Even when I would encourage others who came to me for advice, to be themselves, to believe what was in their hearts and trust it as God’s guidance, I was depressed. I would advise others, but then not take my own advice for myself. Because I had let depression convince me that I couldn’t be rescued from myself. That I was what others said I was. That there was simply something wrong with me and I had to examine myself (over-examine myself), to figure out what it was and fix it. I conformed myself to what others said I should be instead of thinking about who I was.

I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t in a serious relationship by the time I was eighteen. I thought I was ugly. I was body-shamed, but not in the way you think. I was offered diets when I didn’t think I needed them. But I was happy with my body…until I wasn’t. Until I was convinced I shouldn’t be.

I was treated strangely for the curves God had given me. One moment I was told I was fearfully and wonderfully made by God; the next moment I was made to feel ashamed of the fact that I had a well-developed bust for a teenager. Like I should be ashamed of it and try to hide it. I had people coming up to me all the time, telling me to pull up my shirt. The problem? If I’d pulled up my shirt any more, it would’ve been up against my chin. I wasn’t even showing cleavage! But I was ashamed of my body. Of something about myself that others (I’ve been told by family and friends alike in more recent years) wish they had.

I remember one time, years ago now, I was sitting outside one night with my dad and a friend. He was a young man, just a couple of years older than me, and he and my dad were talking about serious stuff. I can’t even remember the subject. At some point, my dad got up and went inside, leaving me alone with this friend. I was shy and insecure, unsure of how to approach any subject, but I’d been doing research lately and I was excited to share with someone. I’d just gotten the courage to say something, when the friend stood up and started to walk away, without a word to me. In a moment of pure frustration, even anger, I called after him and said, “You don’t have to go inside. I have interesting things to say too, yah know!” In response to this, he laughed and continued on his way, leaving me all alone. He laughed. Like I had made some big joke about my own intelligence. Like it was a joke to think I might have something to contribute to the conversation; something interesting and smart to say. He probably doesn’t even remember doing that to me and most certainly didn’t mean it the way I took it. But I remember. Because it crushed me. It affirmed all my insecurities that I wasn’t interesting; that I wasn’t smart.

The influence of people who aren’t even family on the teenage mind can be damaging. Because while my family reminded me every day that I was beautiful, talented, smart, and a good Christian, it was other people who had my ear. Other people who convinced me that my family and I were wrong about me. I still struggle with these thoughts every day. I was so convinced that there was something wrong with me, that I let those ideas become me. I lost my strength. I lost my fire. I lost all desire to make myself better because I let depression convince me there was nothing I could do to change what I’d become.

Yet with all these feelings roiling inside me, I smiled. I put on a façade. I convinced everyone who knew me that I was a happy, faithful person who was trying to be what they thought I should be. My mouth smiled at you; my eyes screamed for help. I laughed with you; my heart was shattering. I sang with you; my soul was crying.

This is what you never saw when you looked at me.

You said I was shy.

I felt WORTHLESS.

You said I was quiet.

I was ASHAMED.

You said I was easy-going.

I was DEPRESSED.

Depression is real. In many people. In all religions. In all aspects of life, depression is real and no one—NO ONE—should feel ashamed to say they’re depressed. No one should be made to feel that there was something WRONG with them, because they’re depressed. No one should ever feel that they aren’t a good Christian because they’re suffering from depression. I suffered for years and kept my mouth shut, because I was so afraid of being judged by people who said they cared about me.

Maybe, to some, this sounds harsh. Maybe you’ll even take offense; feel defensive. But my thinking, in the depths of depression, was based on things I was being told. On things that people said, sometimes directly to me. So, I kept quiet. I suffered in silence. I endured. But it was painful. I was devastated. I couldn’t drag myself out for a long time. I can’t undo my past, but I can move forward.

Because I’m pulling myself out now. I’m overcoming. I’m conquering and for the first time in my life, I’m happy with myself for WHO I AM.

God is my JUDGE.

The Holy Spirit is my GUIDE.

Jesus Christ is my SAVIOR.

This mighty Trinity is all I need to move forward. To keep going. My story isn’t over. It’s just beginning. So I ask only one thing of you.

Look at ME.

SEE ME.

See me for who I am. Not what you want me to be. Not what you think I should be. My name is Erica Marie Hogan. I love to write dramas and romances. I like vanilla lattes and chocolate. I change my hair color twice a year, just because. I think that if a tattoo is pretty and tasteful, there’s nothing wrong with it. I think nose piercings are pretty (I got one last October). If I could, I’d have a whole farm of cats and dogs, all mixed breeds, rescued and loved. I watch old movies, I love I Love Lucy, and I have ten-thousand books 😉 (half of which I haven’t even read yet and half of which aren’t Christian Fiction or religious based). I’m 24-years-old and in no rush to be in a serious relationship with anyone; I’m happy being single for now. I’m the best introvert I know, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love my friends and family. It just means that crowds make me nervous, I’m more comfortable one-on-one with a friend, and I prefer being at home. I’m a bit claustrophobic.

I believe that, no matter what I do, no matter how bad things get, God is on my side and Jesus is here to save me.

This is me without my makeup on. This is me, vulnerable and exposed. This is me, unashamed to say that this is who I am and if you think I’m weird or in sin, then it’s your loss. I’m not going to be ashamed of who I am anymore. I’m not going to pretend to be like you, just so you’ll like me. I’m not going to let myself fall into that pit again.

Being depressed didn’t make me a bad Christian. What made me a bad Christian, was letting others whisper in my ear what was wrong with me instead of listening to the other Voice that told me what was RIGHT with me. God was always with me, I just forgot how to look for Him. The voice of depression told me I wasn’t worth it. It told me I wasn’t worthy of love or friendship. It told me to run away from someone who wanted to help me. From the first person I confided my years of battling depression to. I ran, because I didn’t think I was worthy of his help. I ran, because I didn’t think anything would actually help. I ran because I was afraid of being judged again. If that person is reading this, then he knows who he is and I hope he can forgive me. For cutting myself off. For going my own way.

The voice of depression told me that people who said they were my friends, didn’t really want to be my friends. That they tolerated me, instead of actually liking me. It told me I was annoying, ugly, full of sin, completely unworthy of God’s love.

But that’s not true. None of it. Not for anyone. The truth is, if we were all faultless, then we wouldn’t need God’s mercy. We wouldn’t need His forgiveness. I was led to believe that because I didn’t think the way others did, because I didn’t do things the way others did, it made me a bad Christian. I was convinced that I needed to change who I was in order to have a place in God’s heart and house. I didn’t believe that God—or anyone else for that matter—could love me for just being ME. I thought I had to be better than myself to be loved and have friends. But what’s the point in having that kind of love and friendship if you’re miserable? It isn’t real, none of it.

I thought things you’d never imagine I would think. I considered actions you never thought I’d consider. I kept secrets. I fell far. I was told that there were a lot of people far worse off than me and I should be grateful.

No one should have their feelings belittled. No one should be made to feel guilty for feeling. If you make a depressed person feel guilty, that just makes their depression worse. Trust me, I know. Guilt & Depression are old friends of mine. They work together like a poison, wrapping themselves around you like a snake, trying to squeeze the life from you. I felt guilty for being depressed. But no matter what a person is going through, no matter how small you think their troubles are, depression is still depression. It doesn’t matter if you think that person shouldn’t feel depressed. It doesn’t matter if you think they have nothing to really be depressed about. You don’t know what’s really going on inside. You don’t know what they’re thinking. You don’t know about their health. You don’t know about what happens behind closed doors.

They are not yours to judge. As Christians, we are to love each other. Forget about the splinter in their eye and look at the plank in your own.

God is their judge. God is my judge. He did not appoint you to judge me. He did not give you the authority to tell me what you think is wrong with me.

Jesus said:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Nothing I say here, is said in bitterness or anger. Writing like this is how I heal. This is how I move forward. Some would say they told me the things that they did because they love me. But I can’t believe that. Telling someone over and over again how they’ve failed, how they’re sinning, how they should be more like you, isn’t being loving. Loving someone is helping them; telling them that you think they’re a beautiful person, no matter who they are or what they look like. Telling them they aren’t in sin just because their opinion differs from yours; their choice of dress differs from yours; their choice of living differs from yours.

Yesterday I did something I never thought I’d do. I got a tattoo. But not just any tattoo. I went out and got a semicolon on my wrist. It’s small and barely noticeable, but it means everything. It’s quirky, because I’m a writer ;). But it means something, too (if you don’t know what I mean, Google ‘Project Semicolon’). That’s why I chose it. Because you know what? My story isn’t over. Far from it. I’m moving forward now, with a new sentence. A new chapter. A new life. I’m pulling myself out piece by piece, with God’s help, a loving family, and friends.

For the first time in a long time, I like myself.

I am not ashamed. I do not feel guilty.

I’m me, exactly as God made me.

And it’s the best feeling in the world.

If you were at all offended by this post, then I am sorry. But this is me. I am finally saying what I’ve been screaming inside for years. Forgiveness is a powerful thing, and that’s what this post is about. I am moving forward now, which means—in simple terms—I am ‘over’ the past. If you decide to remove my friendship on your social media because of this, then I am sorry. That is your choice, not mine. If you wish to leave a comment, then please leave something positive. This post is not meant to start debates or arguments. Any negative or defensive comments will be deleted. This post is meant to encourage any and all who have suffered with depression; to show that you can conquer this. That this point of your life shall pass. That you are loved and cherished, no matter what the world tells you. God is always with you, even in your darkest hour. Even if you don’t believe it.

I am LIVING proof of that.

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9 thoughts on “What You Never Saw When You Looked At Me

  1. I am so proud of you Erica. I have always loved you and supported you no matter what you did and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I’m just so sorry I didn’t know what you were going through but you have handled it wonderfully all on your own. You have accomplished so much in your young life and that is something YOU should be proud of. Keep doing what makes you happy and what makes you be yourself.

  2. Wonderful post. Depression and anxiety are nasty nemesis! When they tag-team you it’s so hard to bear up under it. But Jesus carries us along if we let Him. And even when we don’t, He’s still there, waiting. Sometimes He brings encouragement through others, through kindness and love of friends and family… Or through medications that can help us gain distance and perspective… Or through a timely written, transparent and bravely shared blog post. 💟

  3. Wow. Thank you so much for being open, honest, and sharing your heart. I had no idea but can relate on so many levels. Love you and praying for you….and would love to get to know YOU better.

  4. You’ve done a beautiful job expressing yourself here, showing us an incredible woman of love, faith and courage. I believe my daughter and I can both relate on different yet, many levels (she’s got the same tattoo as you too.) Thanks so much for wearing your heart on your sleeve and warm hugs to you. You’re awesome!

  5. Dear Erica,

    Wow, I’m so inspired by your story. You are a strong woman and as Mandisa would say in song, “You’re an overcomer”! Look up that song by Mandisa on YouTube. I believe that you’ll love it.

    And another resource that I believe will encourage you is this:
    Overcoming hopelessness | Nick Vujicic | TEDxNoviSad

    Stay encouraged! 🙂 Speaking of encouragement, have you heard of (in)courage ministries and Holley Gerth? Look that up too.

    God bless you! 🙂

    Sincerely,

    Alexis

    P.S._Read Jeremiah 29:11

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