How Prayer Almost Killed Me

I sat in the bathtub, knees to my chest, sobbing as the water grew cold around me. Please, please, make it stop, I begged. The darkness was swallowing my soul again, and I didn’t know what to do. It felt like drowning in blackness. I was helpless to fight it. I didn’t think I would survive.
Pray. That was the solution they gave me. If you prayed more, had more faith, the darkness couldn’t touch you. What they didn’t know was I prayed for hours every day. I got up in the dark of morning, to have time to pray before my children woke up. I prayed while I folded laundry and did the dishes. I prayed before I disciplined my children. I prayed with them at night. How much prayer was enough?
It was never enough. No matter how much I prayed, read my Bible, attended church and served others, no matter how much religion I crammed into my life, it wasn’t enough. The dark days would come and I would fight for each breath. A blanket of despair wrapped me in its folds, suffocating me. I was barely surviving.

One day, it became too much. I was holding onto the cliff by my fingernails and I couldn’t pull myself back up. My fingers were slipping one by one. I put myself in the car and headed for my doctor’s office. On the way, I almost drove my car into the river. Thoughts of my children helped me turn left instead of right. I sat in the doctor’s office futilely trying to hold back the tears. Five minutes later I was on my way to the ER.
That was my first trip to the ER. It took three more trips and two hospitalizations to get me properly diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder, and a couple more years to find the right balance of medication. Having the right medication is a true miracle.

Maybe now you can understand why I get so angry when I hear someone telling a depressed person all they need to do is pray. Relying on prayer to treat a brain disorder is like relying on prayer to control your diabetes. Who recommends that? Yet is is seen as a perfectly reasonable prescription for brain illnesses.
Being told I wasn’t doing enough, didn’t have enough faith, when I was doing all I could just deepened the depression. Not only did your well-intentioned advice not help, it made things worse. I believed the lie. I thought it was all my fault. I was a failure, once again.
Relying on prayer to treat a medical illness almost killed me. Sometimes prayer just isn’t enough. I still include spirituality as part of my Wellness Plan. But it is only part. I no longer feel guilty for receiving medical treatment for a medical issue.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please know it is okay to seek treatment. You are not weak in your faith, you are a human with a medical condition. You need help and it is okay to ask for it. Call 1- (800) 273–8255. Talk with your doctor. Go to the emergency room. Don’t let shame and fear be the death of you.

Originally published at

Nicole Mackey writes about mental illness, creativity and fantasy fiction.

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