Author shares lessons from saints who have 'walked through the valley of depression'
Diana (Stottlemyer) Gruver did not plan for her book "Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt" to be released during a pandemic.
But lessons from the lives of the revered figures speak to the depression and anxiety many people are feeling today, according to the 30-year-old Greencastle resident, whose book came out Nov. 24.
"They, too, have walked through the valley of the shadow of depression," said Gruver, who shares her own journey with depression in the 184-page book.
"It's a vulnerable thing to open up my life and story with depression through this book. But getting messages from other people about how much it's connected with them and seeing ways people are emboldened to share their own experience or to finally seek help for their depression reminds me why I started writing this book in the first place. If my words can offer someone else a bit of hope, it's all worth it," said Gruver, who lives on East Madison Street with her husband, Scott, and their daughter, Lydia, who is almost 2.
A 2008 graduate of Greencastle-Antrim High School, Gruver was a senior majoring English and biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, when she first applied the word "depression" to the times when she was "down," "in a funk," "struggling" and "low." In the introduction to her book, she wrote, "I survived. With the help of therapy, medication, a good support system and God’s grace, the light slowly dawned. Life gradually became easier, the days less daunting."
Lessons from the darkness
It was later while working toward her master's degree in spiritual formation at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts that she "recognized something in my professor’s asides about different historical figures. These brothers and sisters were like friends whispering to me from centuries past. They too had been plunged into darkness. They too had been depressed. So I set out on a journey, to get to know them and others like them, and to learn the lessons they might offer from the darkness," she wrote.
"Each offers a main theme of advice for others walking through depression," she said. "I've learned from them and adjusted how I care for myself."
For example, the main message from Martin Luther, a prominent figure in the Reformation, is to "Flee Solitude (Find company who can distract you from your thoughts.)" Gruver explained depression makes people want to isolate, and isolation makes depression worse.
Another favorite theme is from poet William Cowper: "Embrace the Rescue of Art and Friendship (The importance of earthy, tangible, generative work/hobbies and of the relationships in our life.)" Cowper spent a lot of time outside gardening and walking, pouring himself into things that were fruitful, fulfilling and tangible.
"If I have a rough day, I go outside, dig in dirt or take a walk," Gruver said.
The other "companions" and their lessons are:
Hannah Allen, writer, wife and mother: "Attend to Body, Mind, and Spirit (Get the medical help that you need.)"
David Brainerd, missionary: "Leave a Legacy of Faithful Weakness (Keep going, even when you don't see the impact of your life yet.)"
Charles Spurgeon, preacher: "Cling to the Promises of God (The Bible won't cure depression, but it can still be an anchor of hope in the midst of it.)"
Mother Teresa, nun and missionary: "Follow Jesus, Not Your Feelings (Depression can make us feel as though God has left us, but these are feelings, not the truth.)"
Martin Luther King Jr., minister and civil rights leader: "Drink from the Reservoir of Resilience (Importance of humor, music and spirituality in cultivating resilience.)"
"I've come to realize that the stories we choose to tell communicate something," Gruver said. "The stories in this book need to be told so that we can be heir of the wisdom and comfort these brothers and sisters have to share. They need to be told so that we find the courage and freedom to tell our own stories. They need to be told so that we are reminded that God can still use us, that depression will not be our life's epitaph."
Gruver began working on the saints' stories and her own in small pieces while still in seminary, started writing in earnest at the end of 2017 and signed a book contract in 2018.
"When I graduated from seminary, I had to sit down and decide a career path," she recalled. "There weren't many jobs in churches in 'discipleship and spiritual formation.' Things fell into place beyond my wildest expectations."
She admitted there was a pretty steep learning curve concerning the process of publication. The manuscript was due in the summer of 2019, just before the family moved from New England back to their native Pennsylvania. She is the daughter of Barry and Mandy Stottlemyer of Greencastle and her husband's parents, Wayne and Stacy Gruver, live in Shippensburg.
The follow-up included several rounds of book development, editing and details like cover design.
Being a first-time author was already tricky and the pandemic has limited travel and the chance to speak at events.
"There are some virtual opportunities I wouldn't have had otherwise ... we're needing to think creatively to share about the book when we can't go through some of the normal avenues," said Gruver, who also is the communications director for the nonprofit Vere Institute, which focuses on whole-life discipleship.
"Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt" is published by InterVarsity Press and is available at booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.