“Clinically depressed. You’re going to need to take medication, an antidepressant, which I will prescribe for you today.”
Wright and her husband, Robert Wright, who is currently the bishop of the Atlanta Episcopal Diocese, had just welcomed their fifth child and she was working in a good job as a college professor when she fell into a blue period.
But that blue period became darker over time.
One day in 2005, she kissed her kids and husband and started on her way to work. She considered running her car off the road. She wanted to die. Instead, she drove to the college and told her students that she could not teach them that day. Then she drove herself to a psychiatric hospital and checked herself in.
She was 32 at the time.
“I had no idea what depression was or having a mental illness,” Wright said. “I had all these assumptions about what it is to have a mental illness. I thought it happened to other people. I thought you had to go through some kind of trauma in your life or you may have grown up in a traumatic family with alcoholism or domestic abuse. … I thought it was only wealthy people who had the luxury of being depressed and taking Xanax. I did not know that depression was an illness.”
Always strong in her faith, Wright started to wonder if she prayed enough, if she weren’t Christian enough or whether she had, somehow, brought this on herself.
She said the recent suicide of comedian and actor Robin Williams has encouraged more well-needed conversation about depression.
“It broke my heart,” she said. “Here is yet another life taken by this illness that could have been prevented. It could have been treated. Suicide is real but it’s not the answer. I remember that moment I wanted to die. I felt I was being kind to the world if I weren’t here. Everyone else would be fine.”
But she asserts now that everyone “deserves life.”
Wright is the author of three books and is working on a fourth, a collection of poems and spiritual meditations, which is expected to be released next year.
“The poems will reflect my story, my narrative but mirroring the life of Jesus Christ,” she said.
Two of her books — “Me? Depressed?” and “10 Things I Wish I Knew About Depression Before It Almost Took My Life” — deal with her struggle.
She will sign copies of her books and talk about surviving depression from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 3 in the bookstore of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta.
Even in today’s world, there’s still a stigma attached to depression. It took her three years and a near suicide attempt to seek help, even after a friend said she thought she was struggling with depression.
“Many of us don’t get the help we need because of the stigma and assumptions about having a mental illness,” she said.
Wright said her strong faith played a major role in helping her survive depression.
“There are too many stigmas attached to having a mental illness,” she said. She encourages others to share their stories. “Part of the healing can come in telling those untold stories.”
After one of her talks, Wright said people will come up to her and thank her for sharing. They’ve had sisters, mothers, aunts, fathers struggle with depression or they’ve struggled themselves.
Depression, she said, does not discriminate.
When she was hospitalized, there were blacks, whites and Asians there, as well as bankers, lawyers, the educated and the uneducated.
“Even in that space, people were afraid to talk about it,” she said. “They were ashamed and embarrassed. How can we not talk about it?
“This story must be told. You cannot pass on it,” she said.
Wright said it’s important for the faith community to do what it can to help its members and community recognize that depression is an illness. And while prayer is essential, it is not the sole answer to its treatment. The answer to prayer can indeed be “go to a psychiatrist.”
And there are signs the faith community is listening. She’s been invited to numerous churches to tell her story.
Perhaps this is her ministry.
Even if words fail you, like they did for her during her darkest moments, God will intercede through your moans and groans.
In her case, “I know that God interceded.”