It’s cold, wet, dark, and dreary. The wind is not gentle but feels assaulting as the raindrops splatter against my face. It’s unrelenting. I cannot seem to move as my duck boots are stuck in the sinking mud. My feet feel heavy as led, along with my heart sinking further and further into what feels like emotional quicksand. With an outstretched hand I desperately search for something to grasp, but alas this sinking feeling persists. Will there be no end to it? Further I slip into an all consuming sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Why can’t I pull myself out? Those I love are desperately offering me their hands of hope, but their fingers are just beyond my reach, so close yet so far away, ever increasing the sense of complete chaos brooding from within and without. A quiet desperation and resignation is all I find at the end of my outstretched hand. This is how it is and how it always will be, I declare. The air I breathe becomes heavy and thick. I can’t quite fill my lungs. The sheer panic sets in; the ever present reality that I am suffocating… each breath becoming more labored than the last… my battle weary heart beats wildly, in an attempt to keep me alive and moving. Don’t sink! my heart cries, keep fighting, keep trying. No matter how hard I try or fight I’m still stuck, the rain and the wind still unrelenting, never ceasing, not even for a second so I can catch my breath.
This is the hopelessness of depression often accompanied by anxiety.
The ever increasing cycle of shame, loneliness, isolation, anger, frustration, and fear threaten to consume the very lives of those held captive by it’s grip. I know because I’ve been there. The body, mind, and spirit are continually running on pure exhaustion from the battle that often feels impossible to win.
For most of my life I have struggled with depression. However, I didn’t become aware of it until I became pregnant with my first. I spent my young adult life masking and self medicating my depression with an over abundance of drugs and alcohol. Even after I had been freed from that lifestyle, the illness was still there, lingering just below the surface. With every subsequent pregnancy my depression only worsened. With my first pregnancy, it was easy to explain away my mental state to the fact that my husband was deployed and life was difficult. Soon after my husband returned from his first deployment, we became pregnant again, only to discover that he would be getting deployed once more just after baby number two was born. The overwhelming terror I felt could be explained away by the fear of being left alone with not just one but two babies to raise by myself. Life was not working out like I had hoped or planned as a wife and mother.
I remember my husband telling his mom and sister how scared and concerned he was for me. I’ll never forget how scary it felt. If I went too long without answering his calls he would call his mom to come and check on me. How could I take care of my family if I couldn’t take care of myself? What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy? The guilt and shame were never ending as I dragged my loved ones through the mud with me.
We made it through those difficult years with many ups and downs, twists and turns, and broken hearts to mend, mostly my husband’s and my eldest.
Fast forward four years, and we were surprised with baby number three on the way. I struggled through the first three months, vacillating between hot tears of anger and rage to tears of sorrow and shame. I had to make a decision. Do I get on meds at the risk of my unborn baby, or continue to destroy my family? The choice was not easy, but in that moment it was the only one I had. I took a low dose anti-depressant that was safe for the baby, and I noticed a difference right away. I quickly realized that I had never seen life from an un-depressed perspective.
Our youngest is two now, and I am no longer on meds. My heart and mind have received the deepest healing I have ever known, but there are still questions that beg for answers as I grieve by how this affect others that I love. What do we tell a parent whose heart is gripped by fear as they watch their beloved child struggle through the darkness? What do we tell the wife and child left alone after dad decided he would be better off with Jesus? Do we tell the one who’s struggling to get on meds or to reach out for help? What happens when neither of those work to relieve the pain and pressure? Do we say, I’ll pray for you? What do we do when that doesn’t help? What do we do??? Our hearts cry out for answers, yet the helplessness persists in our feeble attempts to offer help and hope to our loved ones struggling.
I have no easy answers or quick fixes, because there are none. There is no sense to be made for someone’s dark night of the soul. I also offer no solutions because the cause and effect in each and every person is so personal. There are, however, significant new studies on epigenetics that would suggest a generational link. It may be worth looking into.
All I have to offer the conversation is a heart that grieves with the hurting, and also what has helped me in my own journey. If you have had any source of trauma in your childhood or life it changes the way we perceive the world. EMDR Therapy is changing the landscape of mental health. The reason it is so effective is that it rewires our brains. It was developed to treat war-torn veterans suffering with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Our mind and body holds memory in every cell, in an effort to keep us safe. I never knew it was possible to see the world the way I do now. This therapy was the catalyst for my own healing.
I know… I know… you’re tired of trying the next new thing but to no avail. It’s exhausting. I understand that struggle as well. I would not have had the strength to heal emotionally if my mind hadn’t been healed first. Once my brain began to heal, I finally felt safe enough in my own body to heal the wounds I still carried there. I was finally able to let go of the secret shame, self-loathing, and condemnation I felt towards myself, for feeling how I felt.
There may be a factor that nobody talks about; sometimes the things that we feel are so deeply entrenched as our own because we don’t understand that we can feel the pain of those around us. If we are energetic beings, and energy is all around us, it can be difficult for us to not absorb the heavy energy that abounds. I have a friend that wrote a book on this delicate balance. It’s called the Light and Easy Yoke by Andrea Sandford Bareither. This book illuminated the spiritual aspect of burden bearing and the heaviness that comes along with such a gift. It is well worth the read if this sounds familiar in your own life; if you’re struggling under the weight of heaviness and despair for seemingly no reason.
Sometimes it’s a matter of hanging on through just one more second of a minute in an hour throughout the day. I understand the journey feels long, dark, and all-consuming. I hope that my own life can testify that there is hope to be found… maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day.
Last night I held my babies close, held the grief even closer and wept, for all who feel the sting of tragedy, loss, and separation from those they love who are suffering. I have no clue what to do or how to bring comfort. For now, I can’t take one second for granted. I am going to capture every moment of spontaneous joy and delight that bursts forth from innocence, because I know it may not always be this way. The future and what it holds seems so uncertain, and nobody is immune to the effects of mental illness. We have no idea the secret struggles people carry with them. May this be an invitation for gentleness in the things and people we don’t understand. May kindness and compassion become our anthem.
If this is a part of your own story, may these last few words bring comfort. I am now 42 years old and I no longer struggle with depression. The journey was long, but Love and Goodness held me through every season, even and especially when I couldn’t see it or feel it. Looking back, I can clearly see that the God of love sustaining me… never once shaming me… never leaving me alone in my depression, even though that’s exactly how it felt at times. Love never wastes our pain, and it may not make sense today, but one day it will.
As always, I would love to walk alongside you in your journey, as a friend who has been there, especially if you’ve found yourself struggling with depression.
Much Love, Angela