I feel God leading me to write another open letter to a celebrity that has impacted my life. I wrote one a few years ago to Michael W. Smith about the way he eased a difficult time in my life. Now, I need to write another…
First, let me say that I have been a fan since seeing you on one of the few seasons of American Idol that I actually watched. I have cheered on Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and you.
The main reason I am writing is to say thank you. Your music pulled me through a very dark time in my life. I have written on my blog about my depression, but I have never thanked you personally.
I had known I would be a teacher in some form my entire life. My sister found something I wrote in the first grade saying I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. Generations of my mother’s family before me had been teachers. Unfortunately, my mother passed away exactly one year before I began my first teaching job. She did not get to see me graduate with my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education with honors from her alma mater. She did not get to help me set up my first classroom. She did not get to help me pick out my first day of school outfit. However, I still felt her with me each year. One small way I knew she was there was that each year I have had some form of the name Catherine in my class – Mom’s first name.
Fourteen years into my career, things got turned upside down. I was told I was a terrible teacher by an administrator. I was the only full-time income in my house since my husband was staying home with our then two-year-old twin daughters. Our 10-year-old son was a student at the school where I taught. In hindsight, I was probably still dealing with post-partum depression that had turned into general depression and daily panic attacks. However, I was devastated and terrified of not being able to provide for my family.
Then the real blow happened. An administrator told me that my students “deserved better.” She meant that they deserved better than my depressed state and was trying to encourage me to seek help. However, in my mental state at the time, I took it to mean that they deserved better than me. The next morning, in the midst of a severe panic attack, Satan took that phrase and convinced me that my husband and children also deserved better. In fact, my brain told me, they would all be better off if you were not here, so just end your life.
The blessing was that Jesus gave me the clarity to call my best friend. She talked to me while I got ready for work and the entire drive in. When I told her I was in my classroom and she knew I would be fine, she hung up with me and called my husband to let him know what had happened. By the time I got home that afternoon he had scheduled an appointment with a Christian counselor.
The rest of that school year was an hour by hour fight with my depression and, it felt to me, for my sanity. During this very dark time I would listen to your music all the way in to school and until my first class arrived. I would listen again during my lunch time. Your music gave me hope and the strength to make it through a few more hours. Mostly, I listened to your Overcomer CD. I would literally turn on the CD, put my head on my desk, cry and pray “Help me, Jesus.”
Three years later, I am seven weeks from finishing my seventeenth year teaching. My daughters are now in school with me and my son is finishing middle school. New administration values my teaching experience and expertise. My depression and anxiety are pretty well controlled with counseling and medication. However, your music still holds a very special place in my heart. Satan sometimes creeps back into my head with thoughts of how things would be easier if I would just end my life, but I quote Scripture, and some Mandisa lyrics!
A few weeks ago my daughters and I were driving to school when you came on the J93.3 The Joy FM in Atlanta. My girls recognized your name and started singing Overcomer! I was shocked to hear that you had also been battling depression, and even during the time I had been battling the same thing! Knowing that, I felt it was time to tell you how much your music had helped me through.
Mandisa, God used your music to pull me away from the edge of suicide. Looking at my children, both personal and in my classroom, it saddens me to realize how close I was to that terrible mistake. Thank you for the part you played in my endurance and healing. Thank you for letting God use you and your amazing talent. Thank you for being so open about your struggles and your humanity. I am here today partially due to your willingness to be used.
Living with anxiety
An open letter to Michael W. Smith