by Josephine Jael Jimenez
We were in the car, my mother, my sister and I. My mother started talking about someone I love and how poorly their life had turned out because they decided not to follow the Lord the way she had. It’s the same thing I’ve heard over and over again throughout my life, but then she started talking about how sad they were sometimes.
“Her depression never goes away because she doesn’t follow the Lord. That’s the only cure.” It sounded better in Spanish, kinder almost, but that’s how they get you down in my grandma’s village. They make ignorance sound so sweet.
My mother and I used to fight all the time, mostly because I was never the kind of kid she wanted. I was never the sheep that blindly followed the shepherd or the kind that went with the other sheep. She was the kind of shepherd that demanded that.
We would fight about cleaning my room mostly, but as I grew up, we started to fight about religion a lot. My parents aren’t the type of people that ask too many questions. If the book says to do something and the guy at the pulpit give it the thumbs up, then who am I to question that? Well, I’m the type of person that asks too many questions, according to my dad. He says I’ve just gotta have faith, I say I like tattoos.
The fights that hurt me the most were always the ones about my depression. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that if I truly loved God, if I truly believed he was real and good, then He would take my depression away. All I had to do was ask. I spent a lot of time asking God to make me happy, to take away the demons in my head, but He never did. For years and years, I thought I wasn’t good enough to be healed, cured of my sadness. I thought maybe it was because I didn’t like to kneel, it hurt my knees too much. As I got older, I thought it was because I didn’t clean my room like my mom said. But then when I grew up, I realized that I didn’t need to be cured of depression, I needed to be cured of my expectations and of the image of a God that would choose to leave my brain broken. The cure came after that thought crossed my mind and I found a God that held my hand through the pain and the fog. We all suffer, She would say, and you are no exception. You are not so special that you would be exempt from pain. It’s the same song she’s been trying to get me to sing all along.
I didn’t like that at first. It made me angry because I couldn’t see that I was being selfish and stupid. But I was constantly reminded that other people suffer worse. Would I prefer their suffering?
It was never supposed to be about praying away the illness in my brain, it was about allowing the pain to make you really enjoy the times it’s not there. Joy and happiness are sweeter now. There are no highs without lows. Life can’t be beautiful if it is not also disgusting sometimes. It’s about balance.
My mom went on and on in the car about my loved one’s kids and the lives they chose to lead, judging the success and the happiness that they found for themselves because it didn’t look good to her. She blamed that on not following God her way, too. Normally, I would have blown up and yelled up to high heaven about depression and fate and how you can’t control your kids, but I was tired. I was tired from all the years of having to find peace with God despite the painting of Her my parents had created and hung over the mantel that was my life. I was tired from painting over the image of someone they should have taught me to see the right way in the first place. I was tired from trying to convince them that my painting was also beautiful because it taught me how to see the beauty and majesty in life. But then she said something awful.
“People with depression kill themselves because they didn’t have the sense to ask God for help.” This is when I spoke up, when my God whispered in my ear to offer a different perspective, that’s all I needed to do. So I told my mother she was wrong, again. I told her of the fleeting thoughts in my deepest valleys of how I could get rid of my pain, how easy it was in certain seconds of my life to think of crossing that thin line. It wasn’t about loving God, because I do, it was about seeking help and dealing with the fact that I was a little bit broken, that my brain didn’t work the way it was supposed to and that it had nothing to do with how many times I prayed. She stopped talking soon after, I think the realization got to her. Once your kid tells you they’ve thought about trying to meet God, something starts to click.
The conversation left me wishing that these conversations didn’t need to keep happening, that maybe one day I wouldn’t have to fight for the validity of my ailment. I wish I didn’t have to write a whole dissertation style speech every time someone told me it was all in my head or to just do things that make me happy or to just pray the sad away. Maybe one day we’ll get there, but for now it’s my cross to bear. But who am I to think I’m too special to do it?
Originally published in our IN SICKNESS issue, January 2019