When I was a child, Christmas was truly a fun and magical time. Everything thrilled me from living in a decorated house, to Christmas activities at school and church, to attending Knoxville’s Fantasy of Trees, and then of course counting down the days until the big 25th of December. Christmas Eve itself was full of excitement. I remember swearing I could hear the reindeer land on the roof. Santa was certainly at my house!
However, that was when I was a child. As an adolescent, Christmas slowly began to lose its magic. Some of it was naturally the result of growing up and letting go of much of that childlike wonder and curiosity. The rest was the result of a yearly progression towards depression. By the time I was a freshman in college, I was determined I did not like Christmas much at all. Christmas was during the winter when it was cold and dark outside, and I didn’t believe there were any warm fuzzies to be felt about it. I simply did not like winter, and I did not like Christmas. That was that.
What I didn’t realize at the time of being a depressed young college student was that God had a plan in mind to lead me through my own personal season of advent. That never would have occurred to me during my early 20’s because during the “off season,” when Christmas was far from the mind, I was doing pretty well. I was doing ministry in places such as Fitzgerald, Georgia during the summer, and I was thriving.
Despite many good experiences as a young adult, by age 22, I was not only depressed during Christmas season, I was depressed every other day of the year. For many years life has often times felt scary and hopeless. At different moments over the years, I would describe myself as: tired, unmotivated, paranoid, sad, scared, and, yes, even suicidal. All I could do was wait for God to respond with hope and love and see the scary advent of waiting to an end. So, where was God in this time of waiting for relief? Where was the Christ Child, Son of God, during multiple hospitalizations where I sought peace in the midst of a storm? Would the peace and reassurance of a Savior being born to Save the World be felt in my heart once again? I knew through it all that I was saved, but that fact did not prevent me from questioning my faith.
Luckily, I have had some wonderful people in my life over the years who have served as excellent encouragers and listeners. Close family, friends, and ministers have never given up hope in my ability to tackle personal demons and move forward. My Sunday School class has also embraced and loved me for who I am, and I am grateful.
You may be wondering, Brad are you past your season of doubt and darkness? Has the magic of Christmas as a time to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child amidst the cold and darkness of winter retuned to you? The answer is… it is a work in progress. This year has been a blessing as I finally graduated from college. I have had more “good” days the past year than I have had in a handful of years past. And, I do, indeed, look forward to celebrating Christmas this year.
So, Brad, is the darkness gone? Is your advent of waiting for your mental health to improve finally over? The answer is that I am still struggling day to day. At the time of writing this article, I feel mostly well and am enjoying “good” days frequently. That doesn’t mean though that the advent, the waiting for Christ to move in my life, is over. Far from it. I still battle frequently with anxiety and depression. Some days do feel like a step backwards. However, my faith in Christ - that Christ will push me forward when I fall back - is something I have regained belief in. I still wait for the day I feel healed and that the advent of waiting for mental illness to end finally occurs. That advent may last until I’m called home. If that is the case, I hope my life story helps and inspires others to keep their faith in times of struggle. God may never deliver a permanent solution to a deeply difficult and personal problem, but He will always be available for guidance and answered prayers in the midst of the journey. For that fact alone, Praise You, Jesus!