Normalizing mental health has been on the rise, and it is in part thanks to the brave individuals willing to share their own journeys with mental health despite the topic that can still feel taboo. One of these brave individuals is Stacy Daniel. Over the course of time, Stacy has become increasingly vocal in sharing her journey with mental illness, while always coupling her struggles with the hope she has in Jesus. Throughout Stacy’s life, both the triumphant milestones and mundane moments, her mental health has played a part.
“I struggled with mental illness since I was little; that theme is woven throughout my whole journey. Brad and I have done a lot of work. It is a big part of my story – besides Jesus. When I was younger people didn’t talk about [mental illness] or understand it.”
Stacy grew up attending church with her family and chose to follow Jesus when she was in fifth grade. Growing up in a small town in Missouri, where everyone knew everyone, she had always known Brad, but they eventually fell in love and married, and soon after Amberlie was born. When she was two, Brad’s job moved them to Seattle.
Once they got there, Brad and Stacy began trying to expand their family again and during that time, something significant happened. The mental illness Stacy had been unknowingly struggling with her entire life was finally given a name – depression.
“To have a psychologist diagnose me – to have somebody who knows, give me an answer and say, ‘Hey this isn’t anything you’ve done. This is just what it is.’ That was huge. It’s not sadness. That’s what a lot of people think it is. It’s a chronic illness.”
Despite the depression, Seattle played an important part of God’s future callings on Brad’s and Stacy’s lives.
“Seattle was a key to a lot of things I think. That’s where we grew up in our marriage. We got connected with a community group at a church there. That’s where adoption started. One of the couples was in the fostering-to-adopt process and one of the other couples – she was adopted. It wasn’t anything I had considered before, but that’s where the seeds were planted. And China became heavy on my heart during that time. I didn’t know why then but I do now. God also planted seeds in Brad and began giving him a heart for students. So a lot of seeds were planted at that church.
But it was a discovery.
The infertility, the depression, and ministry.”
Brad and Stacy never conceived the second baby they were trying for and after two years in Seattle, they moved back to Missouri. Brad had a lot of health problems and most of them were ear infections triggered by allergies to pine, mold, and other vegetation in Washington. After a few ear surgeries, Brad’s doctor told him he needed to move back to Missouri. They settled in the Kansas City area. Not only would Brad’s physical health benefit from this move, but Stacy’s mental health would, too.
“The first thing I noticed was how blue the skies are. We were in Seattle in a bad winter. I knew that fall used to get to me but I thought it was because of going back to school and I hated school. But then there was no one going to school in my life and it kept happening. I learned that blue skies and daylight are important for me. I can tell you exactly when the days are getting shorter. I can tell you even before the news people do. Winters are like hibernation for me.”
When they moved back to Kansas City, they began attending Pleasant Valley. Brad began serving in the student ministry, and Stacy served in the nursery. Then, the seed planted for students in Brad, began to grow.
“Brad wasn’t content at work. We knew his job was going away, and he started feeling disconnected. He had talked to some people and said to me, ‘I may be called to ministry’, and I said, “No I don’t think so. I don’t see us ever doing that.” Through that process, he got a part time job [at PV] but when he became full-time is when I really hit rock bottom.”
When Amberlie was around seven, and shortly after Brad accepted the position of Junior High Student Pastor at PV, Stacy’s mental health took a turn for the worse. Her daily routine consisted of waking up to take Amberlie to school, sitting on the couch and staring or taking a nap until it was time to get Amberlie, then do what she needed to do until bedtime. But when bedtime finally came, Stacy couldn’t sleep.
“Something was really wrong, and it wasn’t going away. When Brad went into full-time ministry I wondered “How can this be happening? If I’m like this, I can’t be a pastor’s wife.” Plus the struggle of having a baby. Infertility didn’t help the depression. I had adopted this ‘I’m not a good mom’ mindset. The enemy uses anything to make you feel like: ‘I must not be a good mom if I’m not getting my blessing.’ Then the spiral goes down. But at that point I was almost too numb to feel anything. The depression played into the idea that I was wrong and I was flawed and I wasn’t good enough. But also, I felt during that time that I can’t do anything for God anyways. How can I be worthy? I couldn’t see the light.”
One day Stacy was in a very dark place when Brad made the decision to call Stacy’s doctor because he knew she couldn’t.
“I remember opening my Bible and praying, ‘Okay God, I can’t feel You and I’m not sure You’re there but I know that You are.’ My Bible was opened to “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” [John 1:5] I felt a lot of fear. That was my first panic attack. I was really scared. I felt like something was going to consume me.”
After Brad made the call to Stacy’s doctor, she began going to counseling and taking medication. It was a long process to discover which medications worked best for Stacy’s body, but soon, things began to change.
“It took quite a while until I was able to see color. One day I woke up and was able to see things. I felt like I was seeing in black and white and now I’m seeing color. Medication is what helped me. I still had work to do though. Medicine isn’t a magic pill. It just gave me the energy and ability to do the work and continue to heal.”
As Stacy’s life became more vibrant and she walked towards healing, she began praying about adoption again.
Stacy continued to go to therapy, and her doctor shared that the medication was almost like she was in remission from the depression. There were times Stacy wanted to be done. She wanted to be done taking medication and done talking to a therapist, but she learned that her body doesn’t work that way. She doesn’t get to decide that she’s done having a chronic illness.
As their adoption process continued, there were times they wondered if it would happen because the timeline kept getting pushed back. However, when Amberlie was 11, she and her parents flew to China for two weeks to adopt Emma – the one-year-old baby they’d been praying for who completely captured their hearts.
After Emma got home, Stacy learned to give herself more grace for the seasons she isn’t able to pour herself out as much as she might want to. Stacy has learned that every fall and winter she has to step back from being as involved in activities to give herself room to make it through the winter.
Throughout Stacy’s journey, in the darkest of moments when she felt like God was nowhere to be seen, she clung to the fact that she knew He was still there. When she couldn’t see the light, He reminded her through Scripture that the darkness has not overcome the light. She could not be consumed.
“God’s just been there. He’s been so good and so kind to give me glimpses of that grace when I need it.”
With Stacy’s struggle through depression, one of her biggest convictions has been something the Lord spoke to her…
“He said to me, ‘I created you and I decided when you were born. I am the only One who gets to take your life.’ He’s told me this more than once. There’s a firmness. ‘I gave you life and I’m the only One who can take it.’ It doesn’t sound like kindness, but it is. I know some people laugh when I say my favorite verse is ‘Jesus wept.’ But for all of the weeping I’ve done, just to know that Jesus is God and in His humanity, He gets me…”
Stacy’s voice trails off as she fights back the tears, her hand reaches up to tuck her hair behind her ear.
“I can’t grasp it or comprehend it, but His kindness… I get to see Him in the little things. In the tears – that’s where I feel like I connect a lot with Him.”
Stacy’s journey has not been an easy one, and she still struggles with seasonal depression every year. When she feels like the winter will never end, when the depression is feeling especially heavy, Brad reminds her that she’s felt this way before, and she’s always made it through the winter. As Stacy prepares for the darker days each year, she holds on tight to the peace Jesus brings her.
“In fifth grade, when I said I want to follow Him, His peace is what I wanted and that’s what I continue to come back to.”
“Jesus is my peace.”