On a crisp afternoon, Denae sat in a coffee shop surrounded by the noise of normal. In-between the whirring of espresso makers and sporadic laughter, she began to explain what led to her planning suicide.
“I was numb to life and especially apathetic to God,” she said with eyes drawn to her hands. “I would spend hours crying in bed only to get up and eat and then return to bed.” Over the course of her adolescence and into adulthood, Denae had continuously wrestled with depression and suicidal thoughts. An adopted daughter into a Christian family, she had unconditional love and support, but still struggled to silence the war inside.
It wasn’t until Denae was in her young twenties that the internal struggle combusted with external reality. A young newlywed of only nine months, Denae lost three people close to her within three months. In this season, the depression that had plagued her her whole life took on a different shape; something darker, stronger.
“There was a period of nights when my husband Joel was up all night, basically just babysitting me. I'd tell him how I had thought about how I'd kill myself and where. He didn't have any sleep until he started recruiting friends to stay the night with us.”
It didn’t take long to realize that Joel couldn’t shoulder it on his own, and they began to seek additional support and extensive medical care. “As much as I needed rest, Joel might have even needed it more,” Denae explained. After an unsuccessful week-long stay at Overlake’s psychiatric hospital, they made a decision for Denae to relocate to Menninger’s psychiatric hospital in Houston.
With Joel by her side, they flew across the country to complete a nine-week inpatient program. “I just kept saying to my husband, ‘I’m sorry’, over and over and he just told me that getting the help I needed was the greatest gift I could give him.”
The life-changing environment at Menninger’s was a faith walk for both Joel and Denae. Joel initially flew down every other weekend to visit, but ultimately decided to quit his job to be there full time. Joel was a rock–supporting and loving his wife unconditionally with Jesus as his example. “Hope.” She smiled. “That was the theme of my stay.”
At Menninger, a series of one-on-one therapy sessions, proper medication and lots of simple prayers allowed Denae the tools to slowly manage her illness. Additionally, the chaplain at Menninger would be a catalyst for her rediscovering a crumbling faith; peeling back the layers of what Denae did and didn’t believe.
“Depression, and other mental issues that I've struggled with and still struggle with can feel like death; like suffering. However, the gospel became more relatable to me through my battles with mental illness.” After her stay at Menninger, Denae and Joel began piecing back together their marriage with Christ at the center, but Denae fully disclosed that any recovery is a process.
“Let people pray for you, let people inside–even into the ugly parts. I've had people lay in bed with me while I was crying, people who send me encouraging texts or just checking in.” In times of relapse, when she’s been assaulted by dark thoughts or compelled to hurt herself, the importance of being in community is undeniable. “Sometimes I've been afraid to reach out for help again as I think I wear people out. This is a lie from Satan. He would love you to suffer alone, to be quiet and to keep things inside of you.”
With a glance out the window and a pause to gather her thoughts it is clear that Jesus has held her hand through it all, “He constantly reminds me that He is trustworthy. When I have anxiety over particular things and events or life situations, He shows up in huge ways. He is so faithful. Joel and I constantly point back to all the things He has done for us.”
Joel and Denae now lead a Group. In it, they have seen the hands of God working in many ways, including the restoration of Denae’s heart and marriage. “People in my Group and on the church staff have faithfully prayed for me and my recovery process. Likewise, I feel super safe with the community there. I feel free to share my story with individuals, knowing they can be trusted, even with the darkest parts.”
The afternoon light turned to dusk and Denae ended her story with a thick brushstroke of hope. “I feel through Jesus’ faithfulness, it only increases my trust in him. When He could say ‘I don't have to prove myself to you anymore’, or ‘I'm leaving you since you keep struggling with doubt’, He leans in and proves his love and faithfulness even more.”