14.8 million Americans suffer from clinical depression every year. I am one of them, and maybe you are too.

My first true experience with depression came after the birth of my son. I was married to the love of my life, and I'd just been blessed with the most beautiful human being I had ever seen. At a time when I was supposed to be enjoying my life to the fullest, I was the lowest I had ever been. I was chronically angry, tired and sad. I felt mind-numbingly inadequate, and was constantly overwhelmed with worry about even the simplest things.

While I told my doctor treatment wasn't necessary because I "came out of it," I never truly did. Two years later, my daughter was born, and I soon plunged even deeper into the darkness than I'd ever been before. Finally, after much poking and prodding from my loved ones, I went to my doctor for help.

A few weeks later, I felt the first glimmer of true joy that I'd felt in a long time. It wasn't just the proper treatment that gave me that spark: it was hope. Hope that things could get better, and that one day, the darkness would dissipate and there would be light in my life again.

Since then, depression has been inextricably woven into my life. Good times have been hampered by it, and bad times have been worsened by it. Thankfully, I am now at a point where it is under control, and experience has taught me (and my ever-watchful loved ones) to recognize the signs when it starts to creep back into my life.

Through all this, I have had ample time to wonder why God allowed me to suffer from depression. Why does he let this happen to his children? I believe, from my experience, there are a few different reasons.

To instill empathy for others

I have met and talked with so many people who also suffer from depression. Because of the experiences that come with depression, we can better feel empathy and offer consolation to those in our lives who also have hearts made heavy by this disease.

We become capable of a more meaningful kind of compassion when we've experienced something that others are going through. I'm more aware of my friends who are overwhelmed by motherhood or who I know have dealt with depression in the past, so that I can be there to support them if they need me. The need we have felt in ourselves awakens our senses to the same need in others.

Jesus was a "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." That is how he can succor us when we are in need, and we can follow his example. In some small, imperfect way, we can do the same thing for others. (Isaiah 53:3)

To teach reliance

In my darkest moments, I had no choice but to cry out to my savior for his help. I needed his love, and I needed his promise that I would find peace again. My son was diagnosed with autism at age four. I convinced myself I had failed him, because I had missed the signs that something was wrong. I constantly punished myself for costing my son critical years of intervention and therapy by not recognizing his symptoms.

Trust in God was the only thing that got me through that difficult time. Faith that his grace could reach even me, when I believed in my heart that my son's "late" diagnosis was due to my inadequacy as a mother. That faith helped me overcome, and eventually gave me the perspective I was severely lacking.

Now, whether it's a good day or a bad day, I trust that God will be there for me. He wants us to come to him! He says so himself, many times. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

Please, please get help from a professional if you think you might be experiencing depression, but also allow God to help you by reaching out to him, too.

To stretch

I think it's common for people who suffer from depression to have trouble seeing the strength we are capable of. We show our true strength and our real capabilities as we persevere through the depths of sorrow.

I never knew my own strength until I survived my first real depressive episode. I felt so weak and broken in the middle of it, but when the clouds finally dispersed, I could see that in reality God had made me more powerful and brave than I ever thought I could be. He plants that strength in his children from the beginning, but often we can't see it until we've had to use it.

To refine

"Behold, I have refined thee...I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10)

God chose depression as a "furnace of affliction" for us. Not only do we become stronger as we walk through the flames, but we become purer, too. The refiner's fire is a kind of preparation for us to become closer to God. The things in our life that keep us from him fall away as we feel our need for his presence increase.

I can't say that I'm a great person now that I've been "purified" through the fires of depression. I can say that I'm made a better person through Jesus Christ, and that this "furnace of affliction" has helped me see more clearly the things that affect the strength of my relationship with him. I need that closeness with him when my mind and heart are in need of the peace only he can give.

The truth

I can tell you with certainty that God did NOT give you depression because of your mistakes, or because you deserve it or because he doesn't care about you. Don't let depression sell you that story, because it isn't true.

The truth is, I can't explain why God gave me depression. I can't tell you why you have it either.

Here's what I do know: I know joy shines brighter when you've been through the darkest night. I know growth and change require pain and struggle. I know God loves us and if he allows bad things like depression to happen to us, it is for our good.

He ultimately wants the best for us. He wants us to be given the experiences we need to grow into the absolute best version of ourselves that we can be. The person he knows is inside of us, waiting to break through.

Have courage. He is with us.

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him." (Psalms 28:7)

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