Image courtesy of Sue Hoeksema Schwabauer
Neuropsychologist Dr. Michelle Bengtson has been on both sides of depression. After sitting in the physician’s chair for so long, she was shocked to find herself on the other side of the desk—in the seat of depression.
Seeds of Depression
It didn’t show up suddenly either. In fact, the seeds of depression—as she calls them—were being planted and nurtured long before Michelle ever lost her footing on depression’s slippery slope.
As a young girl, Michelle was afflicted with an illness that rendered her foot disfigured. It made her different from her peers. Children—and sadly, adults—teased her. Made her feel like an outcast. The lies people said to her began to sink their hooks in and take hold little by little.
“No one likes you because you’re different.”
“You’ll never be as good as they are.”
“Nobody will ever love you the way you are.”
There was plenty of strain at home to add to the mounting pressure at school. Michelle’s mother was depressed—a depression that lasted the majority of Michelle’s childhood. In fact, depressed relatives surrounded her. Michelle nursed the wounds of childhood pressures and confusing signals from her mother into her teens, when she suddenly lost her father to a massive heart attack.
The string of trials kept coming into adulthood and continued after she got married. And tragedy was waiting in the wings shortly after they welcomed their first baby to the family.
“That monumental event was quickly followed by Mother’s diagnosis of cancer,” Michelle said, “Then my husband was diagnosed with a very rare form of abdominal cancer. We were warned of a very real possibility he would die in surgery, but if not, to get our affairs in order because he had only two years to live.”
And the darts kept coming.
Michelle lost her second child. And with the grief of her miscarriage still fresh, she was forced to carry the load of caring for both her husband and mother while suffering debilitating physical illnesses of her own.
She had been fighting hard to keep everything from crashing down. But the miscarriage, her husband’s aggressive chemotherapy regimen, losing her mother to the ravages of cancer, everything else that she pushed through—it was too much for Michelle. Struggling physically and crumbling underneath the pressure—weakness sank its jaws in deeply.
“I was no longer able to do. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t eat or drink. I was kept alive on IV fluid and nutrition while my body dwindled to a skeleton of its former self—at its lowest, weighing a mere 74 pounds,” she remembered.
The illness brought Michelle to the end of herself. For what seemed like an eternity, she was no longer able to do what she had done in the past—persevere and work hard. Michelle was on a constant loop of sleep, pray, read, listen to praise and worship music or sermons online, repeat. She had been on the run her entire life, and depression brought her to a place of feeling completely helpless—but not without hope.
Never without hope.
Hope for the Hopeless
Depression had arrived, and even though she didn’t recognize it when it came knocking, Michelle was finally forced to look depression in the eye. She had moments of desperation that maybe she would never climb out of the trench or that God might never help her.
“During the darkest days of my depression, I cried out to God, ‘You promise that You will never leave us or forsake us, but I feel alone! Where are You?’” she remembered.
Doubt settled in alongside depression. But Michelle knew, deep down, she couldn’t live there in the doubt. She knew she would have to trust what God said. Even though things were beyond hard, she was sinking in despair.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation to Michelle amidst all the struggle and defeat was realizing many suggestions she delivered to her patients as a neuropsychologist did not work when she prescribed them to herself.
When Michelle recognized the spiritual component of depression in herself and her patients, she couldn’t deny the importance of keeping her feelings in check with God’s truth. She began to walk toward the liberation and healing God offers to everyone through Himself.
“I had to choose to believe God rather than my feelings. I ultimately found comfort in the truth of God’s word, not in people or possessions,” she explained.
“In my 25 years as a neuropsychologist, I have seen that when we treat mental health issues such as depression, but we fail to address the spiritual component, we do nothing more than apply a Band-Aid and hope that it’ll get better,” Michelle said. “Once I became aware of the spiritual aspects of depression, the curtain was pulled back, and I found new ammunition to fight the battle.”
But the new ammunition is actually nothing new. In fact, it’s about as old as it comes. Michelle firmly believes in the importance of applying the truth found in the pages of the Bible for hope and healing. And what Michelle prescribed to herself is precisely what she prescribes to her patients—the truth that they are loved by God.
It has been such a powerful truth in her life that Michelle couldn’t keep it all to herself. She authored an entire book about it.
Michelle’s book, “Hope Prevails,” teaches the reader to understand the battle they are facing while equipping them with practical and faith-bolstering thoughts. It is Michelle’s desire that through sharing her story and reminding the readers of God’s rock-solid promises that “the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace” (Romans 5:13) as we trust in Him. Michelle says she remembers being unable to see over the trial for being so far deep into it. It was only by God’s grace that she left behind her weakened state and gained the strength in Him to carry on. And now, having weathered this trial, she offers more credibility to her patients by being able to truly understand what they are feeling.
Michelle knows the fight is hard, but she always knows and believes it is not meaningless, nor is it as hopeless as it might feel. God was faithful to carry her through, and she knows He stands ready to do that for anyone who comes to Him for rest.
Michelle is a loving, tender voice, pointing us to Him throughout the pages of her book. “Take heart, my friend. No matter how bad you may feel right now, hope prevails!” she writes.