My Greatest Battlefield: The Mind

(c) Hannah Presley Photography

Hey yall. This is going to be a long post but it is my testimony, and it has been a long journey!

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in 2013 while I was at the Naval Academy.  Hypothyroidism is a common autoimmune disorder for women, and it runs in my family. I was relieved to hear this diagnosis because I was experiencing terrible bouts of depression, and these symptoms are common side effects of this disorder. After being treated for my thyroid, my symptoms cleared, and I figured I was done dealing with depression.

After commissioning from the Naval Academy, I deployed a couple of months later on a Navy Destroyer.  Shortly after deploying, the enlisted leader in my division (who was supposed to be my partner) was charged with sexually harassing my Sailors. As a result, he was promptly removed from the ship. Now I found myself trying to do two people’s “day” jobs while standing five hours of watch a day and studying for my Surface Warfare Officer qualifications. Between these duties I had to squeeze in other important activities like eating, sleeping, working out, emailing my family, and reading my Bible. I quickly became sleep deprived, over-stressed, and homesick, and I felt the storm clouds of depression ominously closing in.

Unlike my first experience with depression, I could not blame these feelings on an autoimmune disorder – my thyroid levels had been stable since graduating college. This posed a problem because I honestly thought that depression was either a word people threw around in order to get out of work, or it was purely a psychological problem caused by a lack of faith and hope in God’s sovereignty and goodness. Therefore, I determined my developing depression was the result of both my inability to handle the rigors of the military and my lack of faith. As time progressed I lost interest in my favorite activities such as working out, reading, and spending time with friends. I dreaded waking up in the morning and it took all of my strength to get out of my rack (bed) and do my job on the ship. My depression also took a heavy tole on my marriage and my relationships with family and friends. Furthermore, these negative thought patterns and change of behaviors resulted in a major identity crisis. I was always known as the “bubbly, upbeat” person who others liked to be around. Now I was not. The promises of God no longer seemed like enough for me. I wanted more. I wanted to feel like “myself again.”

After returning from deployment, through the help of my family and church community, I started going to regular counseling, and I later went to a psychiatrist who prescribed me with medication. After a couple of months, I felt the immense weight of sadness start to dissipate.

This reprieve lasted for the next year or so. I completed my second ship deployment during this period, and I did much better. While it was still very difficult to be isolated from my family and Christian community, I did not have any major breakdowns (minor breakdowns were common though!). While the medicine was clearly effective in treating my depression, I was ashamed to admit to anyone that I was taking medication for depression. I still believed that my depression was due to a lack of toughness and especially, a lack of faith.

After returning home in June 2017 from my second deployment, I made the decision to start tapering off the antidepressant because I was feeling so much better. I worked with my psychiatrist and we came up with a plan to slowly taper off of the medication. By December 2017, I was no longer taking depression medication.

In January 2018, I left for my third and final deployment. This would be the worst deployment of the three, by far. In fact, 2018 would prove to be the darkest year of my life. Not only was I finally learning about the depths of my own sinfulness, but I fell back into a deep depression that was worse than ever before. For the first time, my depression not only affected my personal life, but it started to impact my ability to perform my duties while deployed. I found myself oversleeping, refusing to go on watch, and feeling completely hopeless that I would ever feel myself again. I started seeing the psychiatrist aboard the ship, but his world view and lack of Christian morals led me to feel justified in my sin and self-pity. I knew I needed my family and church community to repeat the truths of the Gospel to me, but I was halfway across the world from them.  Praise God that my friend, Grace, intervened on my behalf. She went to my boss and told him about my depression; she even recommended that I be sent home early from deployment in order to receive medical treatment. I was horrified at the idea of leaving deployment early and making other people stand my watches and complete my duties. This was the ultimate failure in my mind – other people having to pick up my slack. Thankfully, Grace and my boss were determined to get me help despite my protests, so I was sent home a month early.

It is hard to express the shame I felt when my husband picked me up from the airport. He was so sweet. He arrived at the terminal with a bouquet of flowers and then took me out to eat at our favorite local restaurant. But, he could tell I was clearly not myself. Though I was reunited with him, I was deeply ashamed of my sin and failure. I did not see how I could live with myself, going forward, and now that Garrett knew the truth about my inner ugliness, he certainly wouldn’t want to live with me either.

I was not okay. I met with my Pastor and a Christian counselor and spent lots of time in community with family and friends who love Jesus. I then went back to my psychiatrist, and he diagnosed me with “reoccurring major depression.” My psychiatrist told me that my body needed extra help producing the normal levels of serotonin. Just like I take regular medication to regulate my thyroid, so I now needed to take medication to regulate the chemicals in my brain.

While the psychiatrist may have addressed the chemical imbalance in my brain, he could not address the heart issues…

It was the Lord, through His Holy Spirit, that started to transform my heart. Embracing the fact that I was weak and unable to heal myself through my own strength was really really hard. The deceitful sin of pride led me to find my identity in my performance at work – I was a tough, resilient, female military officer! And for a period of time, I did experience many successes in the military that allowed this identity to fester. But my depression, which led to my ultimate failure as not only a military officer but as a wife, daughter, and friend, woke me up! God was not content to let me live in my world of self-reliance because there is no God in that world! Instead, because of how much God loves me, he used what the devil intended for evil – my battle with depression and the subsequent shame I experienced – to pierce me with the reality that I need MORE JESUS.

A theme of my life has been this seemingly paradoxical coexistence of immense pride and shame. In fact, I think it was my pride in my identity as a “tough, resilient, female military officer” that caused me to experience shame when it came to admitting to myself and to the world that I struggle with depression. BUT our perfect, King Jesus loved us so much that he humbled himself by taking on flesh and living a human life filled with every temptation and trial that we could possibly face. He then was publicly put to shame, left naked and exposed on a Roman cross, abandoned to die, and ultimately judged as guilty by his own Father, so that I do not have to be ashamed of my depression or charged as guilty for my pride and sin. Amazing!!

I am still in recovery but my God is with me and He will never let me go. I now need the Holy Spirit to help me chip away at my pride all the while I rejoice in the freedom of NO SHAME! Jesus has clothed me with his righteousness because he bore my shame on the cross. My nakedness has been covered by the royal robe of Jesus. Nothing of my own doing can bring me this freedom. Only the sacrifice of Jesus. The greater I realize my need for Jesus is, the more I AM HUMBLED before him. Less of me. More of Jesus. And no more shame. Only freedom in Christ. No need to hide my weakness from others because Jesus has seen me in all of my sin and shame and he still calls me Precious. Thank you Jesus!

Post by Brynn Gray

Want more?
I have so much more to share about this topic. Select the “Mental Health” category for more.
Also, be sure to check out Gavin Ortlund’s post, “Naked and Unashamed.”

3 thoughts on “My Greatest Battlefield: The Mind

  1. Thank you Brynn for sharing your story! I typically think of “testimony” as the story of when you first come to know Jesus, but this journey of discovering your sin and how much you need Jesus is so beautiful, and I praise God for it and for you! 💜 Amen to God using awful things for good!

  2. This is such a good testimony! He is so faithful to cause ALL things to work together for our good. I loved how you shared your journey as a process of coming into more freedom. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for your comment Alisa. It has been a tough journey but the Lord has been faithful and patient with me, even when I doubted His good promises. I am so grateful for Jesus and for my church community who continue to remind me of the truth during the tough times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.