Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

Living in Michigan most of my life, except for a year plus in my early twenties, and now for the past 12+ years in Austin, TX, I experienced various degrees of depression for months every year.

Even as a child, I would struggle with this from December/January until April.  I recall distracting myself with upcoming holidays, interesting books, whatever would help me to get through the hopeless grey.    My father had a similar affliction and there was so little sunlight, that it just seemed normal.  Because of the dynamics of my family of origin, I taught myself to hang on until spring, and in the meantime, I spent a lot of time not sleeping from insomnia, and writing in my journals to attempt to keep my emotions from boiling over because the sadness was so overwhelming and there wasn’t really anyone to talk to.

In my twenties I married (twice), gave birth to 4 children and continued to struggle with depression.  My father gifted me his old sun lamp when they bought a winter home in Florida and it helped some, but by then my depression was starting in October and lasting until late spring and then some, because of the brokenness in my family of origin and because I was not allowed to express any anger or strongly negative emotion in my marriage.  I spent several years pulling myself up by my bootstraps, beating myself up because I had such a beautiful family, home, friends, church, etc.  There was so much shame in feeling so sad when so many others had much more to deal with than I appeared to.  Finally, in 2004, I believe, I went in for an annual physical and when my doctor began asking me questions, my veneer began to crack.  I began apologizing for crying, for being so weak, for being so sad when I had no right to and she told me that she had time to listen so that we could figure out how to make this better.  I walked out of her office with red, puffy eyes, salve on my wounded heart and a prescription for Cymbalta.

It took me a few months to fill the prescription that she gave me in January… I think I filled it in May.  I felt like a loser because I couldn’t overcome my sadness with Jesus or by being grateful for all of my blessings.  Some friends told me that they thought it was sad that we live in a culture that medicates everything else, but mental health has such a stigma.  So, I filled the script and began taking it.  My sadness began to melt away, and then I noticed my other emotions were on the down-low, also.  I wasn’t feeling much of anything.  I’m a pretty emotional girl – ask my family of origin, who reminded me on the regular that I was “always too emotional” – so, the fact that I was almost null and void of any emotions was kind of weird and a little scary.

After about six months, I knew I didn’t want to spend my life not feeling any deep emotions, so I stopped taking the Cymbalta.  The depression was terrible the following three years while we lived in Michigan and the first year we lived in Texas was only a bit better.

Then my husband’s betrayal happened and the emotional rollercoaster made the depression of the past feel like a walk in the park.  For the first time in my life, I was suicidal.  I was desperate to end the pain I was living in.  I had gone to counselors in the past to try to deal with the depression, but this time we were going to try and save our marriage.  My husband was ready to be honest and humble in a way he never had before.  We talked about his bullying my angry and sad feelings away and how that affected my emotional health.  We discussed how I tend to believe that my worth is based on what I can do for others and not who I am as a person (pre-awareness of my enneagram 2 identity).  There had been a lot of gaslighting in our marriage and being told the truth brought a lot of emotions, from anger to relief and then freedom and finally I felt a new confidence in who I was and where my worth lies.

I have not struggled with depression in 12 years.  It has been GLORIOUS!

I’ve had sad days.  I’ve had really sad days.  But, depression is a whole different animal!  It falls over you like a shroud of grey hopelessness.

It fell over me a few weeks ago full of grey hopelessness.  I’m incredibly sad for what seems like no reason at all.  I tried to run from it when I first let myself, just for a nano-second, consider that this was happening, again.  Outwardly, I put on a happy face and stayed home as much as possible.  Inwardly, I’ve been shaming myself for feeling sad when I have SO much to feel blessed about.

And I do have SO much to feel blessed about.  But, it’s been a year… we lost our sweet Rocket puppy of 16 years in October.  I found out I have a grandson (unexpectedly) and we care for him two days a week, every week.  One of our children got engaged and then they weren’t.  My stepson and his children went through a divorce.  This fall will mark 5 years of my oldest son refusing to be in relationship with me.  My parents’ health is worsening and they have no desire to have me in their lives.  My younger (adult) children have gone through so much this year and continue to struggle with various things and I can’t make it all better like I used to.

So, last week I was on my fourth night of almost no sleep because when I am in the midst of depression I am exhausted, while simultaneously unable to sleep.  It’s torture, I tell you!  I decided that I had to do something different because smiling on the outside while shaming on the inside was NOT working.  So, I summoned all of my courage, typed up a message on my phone asking for prayer in my struggle and hit send through big, ugly tears.  I sent it to my life group friends and the following day I shared where I was at with my group that meets at my house on Monday evenings.

I have felt their prayers.  I have had truly lovely moments of reprieve in the middle of some dark days this week. 

Today was a tough day.  My husband wants me to explain to him why this is happening so that he can fix it.  He wants me to go out with him and stay busy because he thinks this is helpful and he loves me, so it’s hard to watch me be so sad and not be able to make it all better.  I told him that I don’t have the energy to figure out the why.  I don’t have the energy or drive to shower, get dressed, etc. to go out in public where I don’t have the energy to be around people.  I have nothing left in this season. I explained to him that as much as he wants to fix it and make life happy, again, I think the more important thing is to trust that this is something I have to walk through.  I’m not praying for My Pappa to take this away as much as I’m asking Him to show me what I need to deal with and how.  I am definitely praying that He protects me from the enemy’s attack because I know he likes to kick us when we’re down, but there’s something here that My Pappa wants me to grow through and I want to go where He leads me, even through this darkness that feels hopeless.  I know that He is walking right next to me and I have seen what is on the other side of the hard stuff.

I’m not saying that I’m not unbelievably discouraged that this is happening to me after 12 years of emotional health and growth, because I am.  I’m acknowledging all of the awful junk.  I’m also remembering all of the hard work I’ve done through the 12 steps, counseling, inner-healing prayer, enneagram, strengths finders, etc. and I have a HUGE toolbox FULL of things that I can use to get through this with my heart, hands and eyes wide open.  In this moment of reprieve I have hope that My Pappa is walking me through this valley and bringing me to a new place of confidence in Him and who I am in Him.

This song gives me such comfort.  It’s lovely when I’m wading in the deep hopelessness and reminds me that My Pappa is unrelenting in the best way, always.

If you are struggling with depression, I pray you reach out to someone or ones that you can count on to lift you up to Our Pappa.  Lean into Him and ask Him to protect you and show you the truth of who you are in Him.  Ask Him to release you from any shame you are feeling from this depression.  You are His Beloved.  He will fight for you and show you what He wants you to learn during this time.  There is HOPE because He is HOPE.