This post is the second in my blog series, Broken, about my personal experience with depression.
As we venture into the forest of my mind and traverse my innermost thoughts, feelings and fears, know that there were moments when bright sunlight shone through the trees. Fleeting though some of those rays may have been, they were present. I didn’t always recognize it at the time, but that light was God illuminating the mountain trail I would climb. God was there all along to give me hope and comfort me even in my darkest moments.
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT
I mention hope because there is hope. It’s just hard to find when you keep running into trees. Well-intentioned friends and family may remind you to “choose joy,” but when you’re depressed it’s not that simple. In fact, for some it’s counterproductive and may even intensify the devil’s lie that you’re not good enough. I tried to find happiness among the everyday challenges for more than a year, but I kept failing at my quest.
My bout with depression likely began with finding out that my husband and I were expecting our second child much sooner than anticipated. I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom just two months before and at the time planned to go back to work part-time after a six-month sabbatical. I’m the mom who planned out when her son should be born, so maternity leave wouldn’t interfere with busy season at work. So you can imagine the shock it was to find out I was pregnant again on the morning of our son’s first birthday. Surprise!
As a first-born perfectionist who likes to be in control, this news took me a while to digest. So during my pregnancy I processed my thoughts through writing about our unexpected blessing in “I’m Not in Control” and “Lessons in Blessings” in August and November 2014, respectively.
Yet every week, like clockwork, my husband and I would fight. Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones? We had been to couples counseling before, so were past issues resurfacing? Why were we having such a difficult time finding peace?
I vividly remember an epic fight that my husband and I had in December 2014, when I was pregnant with our daughter. Dave and I were on a day date when he mentioned that he needed 20 minutes to himself when he got home from work each day. Not only was I offended by this, but I quickly became intensely angry. I seemed to always be drawn to the worst possible scenario. I perceived Dave’s time alone as my being abandoned to simultaneously care for a toddler—soon-to-be two children—and make dinner while my husband relaxes with scotch on the rocks. When would I ever get a break?
The argument continued into the next day and escalated into my threatening divorce. With tears streaming down my face, I paced on the back porch desperately praying to God for help. Up until this point, I had never talked to anyone besides my counselor about our marital issues. God placed it on my heart to call my friend, Michelle Vanderwater, who just happened to be driving to church separately from her teenage children. Through sobs, I told Michelle everything that had transpired. She and her husband, Jim, drove straight to our house and started counseling us that very morning. The Vanderwaters, who are part of our church and RighTrak families, continued to meet with us weekly through the following spring. Shortly thereafter, it became clear that I needed to seek professional counseling.
As we prepared for and settled into life with two under two, I struggled. I realized we were in a season of needing to work on ourselves as a family rather than concentrate on our non-profit, RightTrak; our church plant, Oikos; Dave’s entrepreneurial endeavors; or anything else we thought God might want us to do at the time. We recognized this even prior to Lexi’s birth in March 2015, as we set a goal as a family to not start anything new in 2015—well, nothing new other than having our daughter and adjusting to life as a family of four.
In doing a personal Bible study with the book, A Girl and her Warhorse, I discovered that I was waiting for Lexi to go to preschool, so my life could begin again. It took a lot of counseling professionally and otherwise to come to the conclusion that my identity was wrapped up in what I do. Who I am, however, is a beloved daughter of God. That realization of identity would come much later.
So just weeks before Levi’s second birthday, I wrote the following to process my thoughts and called my counselor to schedule an appointment.
Journal Entry July 9, 2015:
Post-Baby Funk Kairos
Issue: I have been having a difficult time letting things go when challenges arise and have been feeling physical discomfort when I’m unable to keep up with all the housework and take care of two little people by myself at the same time. My attitude has been affecting my husband’s mood and causing marital strife, as he has been trying to anticipate what might upset me and fix it before it does. No wonder he’s exhausted too. I’m so thankful for him!
- Family as mission1
- Ashley Phelps also calling [the same Christian counselor I did] for a related issue within days of my doing so. Jason [Ashley’s husband] mentioning to her that we are going through same thing and need to talk more frequently about our struggles.2
- Used to have time to myself when Levi was at preschool until Alexia was born
- Interacting with other adults in person improves my mood
- Read blog post about the year kid #2 is born is hardest year, sent to Ashley Phelps. Following morning Ashley Stoll sent me an encouraging email that she was thinking about me a lot lately and having two under two was the hardest year, but that they play well together now.
Email July 9, 2015:
This is not the first time God would send me an email through Ashley Stoll at just the right time. As you might infer from my response above, on the outside I appeared to be much more stable emotionally than I really was. I’m not exactly sure why, but even with counseling and church friends investing in Dave and me, I still had a hard time describing the turmoil going on inside of me. In discussing this later with my counselor, he mentioned that I always appeared to have everything under control. I certainly thought I did, but there was much more going on under the surface.
So if you keep running into trees and can’t find those rays of hope, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It just underscores the importance of having travel companions who can see what you can’t. This is not a journey you want to sojourn alone. You need God, and you need a supportive community to encourage you to keep placing one foot in front of the other, to point out those rays of sunshine when your eyes are shut so tightly that all you can see is the darkness.
Chapter 2 Footnotes:
- The concept of “family on mission” comes from Mike and Sally’s Breen’s book, Family on Mission. You can read more about related iterations of this on Mike’s blog here.
- My friend’s postpartum depression diagnosis is one of the reasons I started Googling depression symptoms. I identified with how she felt.