One of depression’s ugly tricks is deceiving us into thinking we are all alone. It whispers in our ear that our lives are hopeless, no one cares about us and there isn’t another soul alive who could possibly understand what we are going through. It’s a characteristic of depression, and other mental illnesses, that makes it disheartening because it is so easy to buy into its lies.

The public perception of mental illness doesn’t help matters. There is stigma attached to every diagnosis which makes it very difficult to ask for help. The very nature of the disease causes us to keep our thoughts to ourselves and suffer in silence due to fear of judgment or shame for having such thoughts in the first place. We believe others will think we are crazy, selfish, dangerous, ungrateful or weak. We are convinced we are a burden or unworthy of love because we can’t escape the dark cloud that relentlessly follows us everywhere.

For over 30 years I was convinced that there couldn’t possibly be another person in existence who felt as messed up as I did. My thoughts and feelings were shameful, negative and what I believed to be wrong which kept me quiet for a very long time. I was positive that if I told anyone — even those closest to me — how I felt or what I was thinking they would either laugh at me, run away from me, freak out or judge me and those prospects were downright terrifying.

But guess what? None of that is true! Not even close!

It’s taken me a long time to realize but I am not alone in this. Not even for a second. NEVER. When I shared my first blog post two years ago describing my experience with mental illness, I’ve heard from hundreds of people who’ve said they have felt the same way or that they know someone who does. And ever since then I’ve witnessed more and more people speaking up and sharing their experiences with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, self harm, eating disorders and addiction. Each time that happens it opens a door for someone else who was feeling alone and ready to give up. We become a light in the darkness and that life draining black cloud loses some of its grip when we let others in.

Every time I’ve shared very difficult moments or seemingly outrageous thoughts when the initial panicking thought was “Oh my gosh, what did I just do? What will people think?” I’ve been reassured by comments from others — whether a friend or stranger from across the globe — saying they are grateful I shared because it helped them realize they are not alone.

That has encouraged me to keep going because I know there are others out there in the same boat as me looking for a weapon to help combat those voices of doubt. If we’ve learned how to be victorious we need to be willing to share it. This is so powerful! When we realize others have been in our shoes and they are still here to talk about it our hope is renewed and the desire to fight is strengthened. Stigma weakens when we talk about it. Shame lessens when we realize we aren’t the only ones going through something.

I truly believe that God is at work in all of us. Whenever I look back on the times I’ve shared my struggles I can see how perfectly timed it was. At just the right moment another person heard my story then was prompted to reach out to me providing precisely the right encouragement I needed to keep going. Every time one of us obeys the conviction in our hearts to step out and take a risk through encouraging words or actions something magical happens. A chain reaction is set into motion that we may not even be aware of, but by following our hearts and then reflecting upon it, God’s hand in it becomes more apparent each time. God is always there, working among us, prodding us to reach out to each other with compassion. He is always there guiding us and cheering us on.

There have been times I was convinced God had given up on me, but it was never long before something would happen to make me realize how far from the truth that really was. A perfectly timed phone call, message, song on the radio or even a post on social media that was just too perfect to be a coincidence. We’ve all had these moments. When I actually force myself to stop and reflect on those I am reminded without a doubt that the Creator of the Universe has my back. My stubbornness and impatience more often than not hinder my ability to notice it, but when I strip those away it’s so obvious to me that He is there waiting patiently for me to ask for help.

That’s why it’s so important to reach out to others without being ashamed of our stories. There is someone out there right now who needs to hear they are not crazy or weak or worthless and they need to hear it from someone who gets it. If you step up to the challenge God will make sure the right people receive it and in return you will be encouraged. Countless times I have been blown away after hearing from people who have read  my posts and responded to me by sharing their own struggles. They remind me of how beautifully God orchestrates our lives and all the people in it. Who in your life is struggling right now? What obstacle have you overcome? What are you willing to do to start a chain reaction of people reaching out in love to help change the world? Will you take that step and become a light in the darkness?

Joshua 1:9  Be strong. Be brave. Be fearless. You are never alone.

Psalm 34:17-18 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Isaiah 41:10  Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you,  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.