Christy Henderson on depression, mental health and her ultimate hope

By on March 30, 2019
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By Katie Eubanks

 

 

Pressing onward:

Christy Henderson
on depression, mental health

and her ultimate hope

 

Hammocks hang on the back porch of Christy Henderson’s home in Flowood. Her miniature schnauzer, Gracie, offers a warm welcome at the front door. Natural light fills the living room via windows on both sides of the board and batten farmhouse.

The pickup truck in the driveway belongs to Christy’s best friend and husband, Chip. He is the senior pastor of Pinelake Church, where they have served together for 20 years. They are blessed with three wonderful children: Rachel, 23; McKenzie, 20; and Regan, 16.

As an artist, Christy spends much of her time working in what she describes as a “brilliantly creative boutique full of love and life.” She enjoys other days in a messy little studio with fellow artist and dear friend Sarah — designing, drawing and painting folk-style figures, abstracts, birds and scriptures with thick brushstrokes and bold colors.

But amidst all the color, a certain darkness often presses in. Christy has battled depression and anxiety since she was a child.

“I can remember seasons of deep sadness in me as a little girl (as early as 8 or 9 years old). At times there was a gripping fear. I knew something was not right inside of me,” she says.

A lot of kids are afraid of the dark, but “I felt almost like an evil presence with me. There was a sensitivity to the spiritual realm that I don’t think every child has. Nighttime was really hard.”

Christy feared death. She feared being alone. Although she was part of a large loving family (she is the youngest of five children), oftentimes she felt very alone. Looking back now, she knows without a doubt that God has been with her every single moment of her life. Holding her. Carrying her.

 

Salvation and a period of rest

At 15, Christy went to a youth camp in North Carolina, where her camp counselor asked her some very direct questions.

“I had to think about what I truly believed. What would happen if I died? I know that sounds so campy, but I think that’s the point when I first sensed the Holy Spirit moving in my heart … calling me to follow Him,” she says.

Painting is one of Christy’s passions.

“My student counselor explained the eternal hope we can have because of Jesus’ resurrection, because of His grace. I saw God in a new way and trusted Him with my soul. With my life.” Christy went back to her hometown of Winona with a brand-new hope.

“And there was a sense of peace that came over me that I had never experienced before, and a thought that would grow over the years that there really is life after death, and (that) God is preparing a place for me.”

At that time Christy had lots of friends, plus her family, plus a church community. She was surrounded by love. So the depression and anxiety seemed to lay dormant. Through her high school years, there was relief.

 

Marriage and New Orleans

After one semester at the University of Mississippi, Christy was engaged to Chip and then was married at age 18. The newlyweds immediately moved to New Orleans, where Chip attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The first year of marriage was a mixture of joy and challenges. Christy felt some familiar insecurities and fears creeping back into her life. While Chip was busy with classwork and life as a student, Christy had no friends in New Orleans. She didn’t have a job. She became isolated.

“I expected way too much out of Chip. For a season he was my ‘little-g’ god. I would sit in our tiny apartment and just wait for him to come home, and I expected him to fulfill me and make me happy.”

From left: Regan, Rachel, Christy, Chip and McKenzie Henderson.

She felt a lack of purpose and the cloud of depression returning.

“Anyone who’s dealt with depression just knows the dreaded feeling of heaviness I’m talking about. You can feel the darkness trying to cover you. It can be a time of panic or extreme sadness.”

Some time passed and, “as a wonderful provision of God, I was offered a job in the business office there at the seminary and was invited to my first real Bible study with a group of women on campus.

“I was thrilled with the new pace of life. I was surrounded by new friends. And I went from daily isolation to a place where I could serve and learn and grow. That helped me tremendously.”

Around that time, she and Chip started seriously discussing their marriage, slowly and sometimes painfully learning to navigate life together — a process that continues even today.

“They were not always super great conversations, and they sometimes came out of intense frustration, but God was teaching us both that neither of us was designed to completely fulfill the other. Christ truly had to be the One who would fulfill us and give our lives purpose and meaning.”

 

Babies and a diagnosis

After Chip finished seminary, the Hendersons began full-time ministry and, over the course of seven years, Christy gave birth to their three children. Around the time McKenzie was born, the family moved to the Jackson area.

“They’re the most amazing children I could ever imagine,” Christy says. “Each of them so beautiful, so amazing.”

After each baby was born, Christy experienced different levels of postpartum depression. She also miscarried twins between her pregnancies with McKenzie and Regan.

Postpartum depression is not an uncommon condition and can be brought on by the physical and emotional changes inherent in bringing a child into the world — especially if you already have a history of depression.

But it still made Christy feel extremely guilty, “because I had these amazing children, these beautiful babies that I knew were a gift from the Lord,” she says, “and all I could think was, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to get through the day.’”

She talked to her ob-gyn. “That was the first time I was ‘officially’ diagnosed with any kind of depression by a doctor. It was the first time I had opened up and said … I need help.

“I also began taking medication, which I do still take. It might not be permanent, but that has been part of my journey as well.”

 

Scripture, therapy and healing

Several years ago, Christy began diving deeper into the Word of God, especially the Psalms, “to identify with people who had walked this road of darkness,” she says.

It helped her to know that strong biblical figures like King David and the apostle Paul had experienced depression. She was grasping for hope.

“Honestly, for me to be able to sit here and talk to you right now is a miracle in itself because there were times that the depression, it was so bad … I knew the enemy was trying to use this to destroy every part of me. He wanted to take my life.

“It’s just so hard to explain, the intensity of it all.”

She tells a story:

“I think one of the most frightening and darkest days that I have experienced, I was in church. The enemy placed thoughts in my mind where I doubted the very existence of God. Those thoughts came racing through my mind at church … It was shocking to me. I think that is where people can sometimes reach a point of hopelessness that is really dangerous.

From left: McKenzie, Rachel, Christy, Chip and Regan Henderson. Photo by Robby Followell.

“I just literally had to choose to believe something I did not feel in the moment. I was fighting with everything in me to tell the enemy, ‘I reject every thought you are giving me. And I do believe God is my Father and I am His and He is mine.’

“Many days and nights I got on my face on the floor, asking God to heal me, to touch me and take away the mental anguish.”

Eventually, she says, “I began to hear sweet whispers of hope. All from Jesus. Declarations of truth. I began scribbling all of these on little white cards and posting them on my wall as reminders of God’s goodness and His faithfulness. His promises. His thoughts of me. I began to learn to fight spiritually at a whole new level.”

Clinging to the Word and praying and talking with other believers has been a world of help. So has talking to mental health professionals. About four years ago, that’s what Christy started doing.

“I knew it was time. As many prayers as I had prayed — and I knew God was able to take this from me — He opened my eyes to a strategic path. On this path He placed people that He would use to bring me to a brand-new level of deliverance and to a place of continued mental, emotional and physical healing.”

She saw a psychiatrist and began “doing some really hard work” with an amazing therapist, she says.

“I started taking steps God was leading me to take. I began meeting weekly with my spiritual mentor. We still meet to this day. She is such a gift from heaven. A key element in my healing.”

The path forward has not been easy. There have been days of temptations to self-medicate, to give up the fight, “to lay down all that I know to be true,” Christy says. But along the way, she has grown tremendously in her confidence and faith.

One of Christy’s pieces sits on her front porch in Flowood.

“I believe with all that is in me that God is using and will continue to use the fire that I’m walking through to refine me, and to give others who suffer a picture of hope and strength and endurance. For His greatest glory.”

Another amazing way that God continues to work through Christy’s life and ongoing battle is through a strengthened marriage.

“Bless him. Chip has gone through several different phases of dealing with my fight. He has gone from totally not understanding the complexity of mental struggles, and therefore thinking I should (in his words) ‘just snap out of it,’ to resentment and disappointment because of the persistence of the disease, to totally surrendering me to God … fighting for me spiritually, holding me physically, vowing to walk with me through the darkest of days.

“The distance and division I felt for so many years in our marriage have been replaced by God’s grace with an unbelievably strong, healthy emotional bond, a new compassion in my husband’s heart and a commitment to an intentionality to grow together. This kind of redemptive love, I believe, only comes through the crucible of life.”

 

Isaiah 58 and using her voice

Christy used to feel like she was voiceless, but God has given her the courage to, “without fear, go to individuals and speak (about my struggle),” she says. “Everything had to come out of me, or I knew it was going to destroy me.

“Oftentimes people living with depression, anxiety and mental illness are so afraid to let people know they are struggling. I can only say God has given me a voice through the entire process.”

She’s used her voice to get help for herself — and to help others.

“God allows us to suffer so we can empathize and say, ‘Press on. It’s going to be worth it in the end.’ I can’t tell you how many people have approached me after I’ve opened up … to say, ‘Thank you for just revealing this.’ For people to know I’m dealing with this on a daily basis, it normalizes it to a certain degree and makes them know they’re not alone. ‘She’s fighting and I can fight. The Lord is for her, and He is for me too.’”

One night, Christy couldn’t sleep. She read Isiah 58, which describes the kind of “fasting” the Lord most wants his people to partake in — and it isn’t so much a physical fast:

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (v. 10-11)

Reading that scripture that night spurred Christy to participate in global missions. She wants to give herself away to reach the hurting, wherever they might be.

Ironically, many times when Christy is ministering to someone who’s in darkness, she herself doesn’t feel the weight of depression.

“Isaiah 58. That love is the cure. In those moments, God brings restoration, God brings healing, God brings strength.

“You can’t share that love with people who are in darkness if you haven’t had a taste of it. And I’ve just had a big taste of it.

“I only boast in Christ in all of this. There is not one step I could’ve taken in all of this without Jesus Christ. Not one. And I press onward till the very end, when He will wipe away every tear and there will be no more darkness.”