The Grove – Hope

It’s Danielle, here to welcome a very special guest to The Grove today.  If you’re at all part of the blogging world, then you already know her.  Perhaps you’re one of the 79,000 her followers.   She’s the founder  of The Art of Simple, and is dedicated to the art and science of living simpler.  If you don’t have it yet, you’ll definitely want to get her new book: Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Intentional Living in a Chaotic World.  

Tsh Oxenreider is here with us today, because she has a heart for women like us.  She’s been in our overseas shoes, and she’s here to share how she came to through her own dark tunnel to find hope again.

    *****

I remember how vividly upside-down my world turned when I first became a mom. It felt like my life changed overnight—I distinctly remember thinking, “Welp, I guess my life is over” during those early weeks of nonstop feedings, diaper changes, and paranoia about every little sniffle and snort from the crib.

I eventually grew to love that little kid, but it wasn’t overnight. I wasn’t one of those ohmygoodnessIlovethissomuch sorts of mamas. And I didn’t even know I was dealing with postpartum depression until two years later.

Fast-forward twenty-six months, and we’re in our living room in Turkey, our new home of six weeks. This was something we had been working toward for years, living abroad as a family, and our time had finally arrived. I had dreamed of doing this since I was 18—my husband and I even met working overseas in the former Yugoslavia, in fact.

And the moment came when I admitted that I didn’t actually want to do this.

I remember feeling nonstop lethargy, an inability to think clearly, a heavy malaise of nothingness. There was one afternoon when I felt like I literally (and I use that word literally) couldn’t get out of my chair—it felt like I was glued to the seat cushion and my body forgot how to stand up. I couldn’t read, couldn’t smile, couldn’t look someone in the eye more than a few seconds. I certainly couldn’t hold a conversation. All I could do was stare at the wall and… just stare. I wasn’t even really thinking.

One night through mustered-up tears, I told my husband Kyle that I regretted our move to Turkey, and admittedly sensed a still, small voice telling us during the months leading up to our big transition that it wasn’t the best idea. But I thought I just didn’t have enough trust in God, so I choked up my doubts and swallowed them.

And now, here I was, miserable. Actually, I wasn’t miserable. I felt nothing.

We talked to our bosses (and when I say “we,” I mean Kyle—I sat there and pseudo-listened), a lovely older couple who’d lived overseas for years, and they agreed with our assessment that I might have some sort of depression (we self-diagnosed myself, thanks to the good people at Google). Serendipidously, we had a work conference in another county in just a few weeks, and there would be a psychologist there we could talk to.

I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that in my meeting with this doctor, he used a checklist of eight symptoms to determine if someone has depression, and that if someone showed five of the eight signs, he diagnoses them as depressed. He said I had all eight signs, and severely.

Well then.

This story is a long one, one that involves us going to Thailand for two months to meet intensively with a therapist, to get on meds (Zoloft) and give them time to see if they’d work, and to spend a lot of time in prayer over whether our family should return to our new life in Turkey.

We ultimately returned to Turkey, armed with acknowledgement that not only was I dealing with depression, but that I had most likely had it since I birthed our daughter over two years prior. I had mistakenly assumed my sense of dread, lethargy, unhappiness, and general malaise were typical early mama drudgeries.

And they are, in small ways. But not in the huge, nonstop ways I dealt with.

In those early months, I had simply rolled up my sleeves and assumed this was my life now. Looking back, I can see how much postpartum depression veiled my eyes to what I could have had but assumed wasn’t mine for the taking—better health, a reasonable disposition, a realistic outlook on life. It’s obvious to me now, having since birthed two other babies without the aftermath of PPD. But I just didn’t know back then.

I was able to go on living and serving in Turkey for years. Meds and therapy eventually helped me enormously, and I stayed on both throughout our years in Turkey.  I also started a blog as part of my therapy, which was a significant part of my healing. And today, I continually carry with me the knowledge that I have a high chance of returning to depression. But at least now I know what to look for; I know how it looks in my life.

I’m better now, at least for the moment. We currently live in the States, I’m not on meds, and I don’t regularly see a therapist—I’m doing well. I know that regular sunshine and exercise help tremendously. I know to find regular grownup time with girlfriends and to eat well. I know that when I’m feeling blue for more than an afternoon, I need to seek out some of these everyday therapies. These things combat my depression tendencies. (They did overseas, too, not just back in my home culture.)

If you think you might struggle with depression, please don’t brush away any feelings of “the blues” and assume it’s no big deal. It might not be. But you may not be able to clearly see the cloud hanging over you, and there are helps that’ll make a lot more pleasant. Especially when you’re  juggling it in a cross-cultural environment.

Life overseas tends to exacerbate any issues you had before and bring up ones you never imagined you’d have.  If you’re stuck in a rut of hopelessness (whether it’s labeled “depression” or not), get help.  Find someone to get help for you.

Because it doesn’t have to last forever. I know it’s hard to believe in the thick of it, but you will get out on the other side, if you get help, and there are better days ahead.   You’ll be able to hear God once more, and you’ll look back and see that Jesus was with you all along.

You’re not alone. You’re not without hope.

How about you?  Have you ever regretted moving overseas?  Have you ever admitted you don’t want to do this anymore?  Are you finding hope?

*****

Now it’s your turn to share on “Hope.”

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Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc

29 Comments

  1. emily thomas April 10, 2014

    Your honesty and the hope you share are invaluable.  My time overseas is over now but had some intensely rough patches and it would have been so fantastic to have gotten this message back then.  So thankful others will hear it today!!

    1. Tsh Oxenreider April 11, 2014

      Yes, I had one other friend overseas who walked through depression as well, and her companionship was invaluable. Thanks for your kindness!

  2. Laura April 11, 2014

    Tsh, thank you for sharing how you struggled, how you were able to find hope and how you were able to keep serving, even after you questioned the decision to serve overseas. I always find it encouraging to hear other women’s stories about living overseas because some days I tell myself that everyone else is doing fine and I’m the only one who is struggling with life overseas, even though I know this isn’t true.

    1. Danielle Wheeler April 11, 2014

      Isn’t it crazy how we do that?  We assume everyone else has it all together, that we’re the only ones flailing.  So much comfort in knowing we’re not alone.

      1. Cecily Willard April 13, 2014

        Could it be that the reason that we are feeling this way is because these are things nobody talks about? Is that what vulnerability is–the willingness to say these things even though we imagine all kinds of risks in doing so?  One of the hardest parts about this “cross cultural” life is that feeling of isolation.  But now I see that I need to be courageous and began to talk about it.  Maybe that is the key that will unlock the door to my solitary confinement.

  3. Jennifer April 11, 2014

    Glimpses of Hope
    Hope
    Light shining in the darkness
    Hope
    Arms holding us as we cry
    Hope
    A quiet encouraging word
    Hope
    A hand to hold in the valley
    Hope
    A precious gift
    From the hand of God.

  4. Kimberly Todd April 11, 2014

    I sampled your “Notes from a Blue Bike” this afternoon and couldn’t put in on my wish list fast enough. I ride a blue bike, too. Thank you, Tsh, for being here today.

  5. tami April 11, 2014

    Welcome, Tsh!!!  Nice to see you here; I’m an Incourage.me reader, and enjoy you there, too!  I had PPD, after my first, while living overseas, and it took 8 months to get a diagnosis.  I’d say to new mom’s out there, that PPD doesn’t have anything to do with discontent about your baby, or not loving your baby…it is your chemicals out of wack.  Talk to someone (a doctor, a mom who has had lots of kids and might have had PPD) if your world seems dark and you can’t seem to be ‘yourself’ for days at a time.  Talk to someone!!  🙂

    1. Tsh Oxenreider April 11, 2014

      Absolutely. I think that was part of why I didn’t notice it for so long—I adored my daughter, so why would I be depressed? Talking to someone is absolutely INVALUABLE.

  6. Kristi April 11, 2014

    I wrote this in December of 2012 when my hope was like a smoking flax.

    There’s Hope in the Shadows

    It almost has weight

    This shadow overhead

    Like an icy hand

    It reaches down

    First touching my shoulder

    Then bearing down with a force

    Not seen but felt

    Deep inside my soul

    Seeking to obscure

    The touch of Your hand

    The weightiness of Your work

    But…there is hope in the shadows

    O, my soul, look!

    Look behind the shadows for

    there can be no shadow

    But for the Light

    Behind the veil of fear…courage

    Behind the fog of despair…hope

    Behind the darkness of death…Life

    Behold, the Light has come

    To bring hope in the shadows

     

    I wrote this in February of this year.  I had no particular audience in mind when I wrote it.  Today I think I am the audience.  Maybe you are too.

    From Me to You

    Things may seem frozen

    Solid and formidable, unchanging and unchangable

    Your heart is cold, jagged, and hard

    Nothing moves you

    Hold on

    Don’t give up

    The Spirit of Truth will come

    I know

    I have felt His life-giving breath

    Winter will end

    Spring is near

    Your heart will thaw

    Love will burst forth

    Joy will spring from deep within

    And hope will flow from you to another

    As it flows

    From me

    To you

    1. Danielle Wheeler April 11, 2014

      I love the power of “will” in the second poem.  Hope is a promise.

    2. Shelly April 11, 2014

      Good words when we need to “talk back” to ourselves, eh? (Remembering something you shared with me recently.) I thank God for you – that he He inspires you to write, and that He moves you to share. These two speak to me today.

  7. katie musser April 11, 2014

    tsh,

    amy young mentioned you were going to be featured here and i love how small the world really is–full of connections.  some of these women i served with overseas (who post and comment on VA).  i recently met you at your book signing in encinitas–let’s see if you remember–i was the tall one who accidentally held your book in front of your face and it took me and my friend about three tries with cell phone cameras to GET a photo! ha ha….oy. 🙂

    thank you for posting.  as someone who has and still has off balance in chemicals in my body AND takes medication–i am so thankful for the openness the Church is starting to break forth in with mental illness’.  we have a journey still to go but man…the resources and the help that is out there NOW as oppose to back just awhile ago…is HUGE.  one thing i appreciate is you actually NAME your former medication.  i appreciate that.  maybe it’s because i take zoloft/sertraline so it’s an immediate connection?  not sure.  i have seen women who i know would benefit from medication and it still has a stigma and i’m not advocating everyone “pop a pill” (which isn’t even the reality/i know the debate…i LIVE in that world). 😉  but i can only attest to the power of counseling and medication combined in that the medication has allowed my brain a way to process what i NEEDED to learn in counseling and when i do get close to the “breakdown” as i call them, the medication gives me that one EXTRA step i need/pause to gather what i know is true and prevent a breakdown from occuring whereas before they just bam happened.  i know we tell each other as women it’s okay and ask for help BUT–in addition, i’d say we as women need to have courage (and be educated in this) and have the strength to reach out and perhaps tell a woman–you know, i think you could benefit from x and y.  i know this is sensitive ground–but i look back and my journey with medication was i went on, weaned off, and then needed to go back on.  the reason i went back on is twofold:  2 women had the GUTS to tell me (as they witnessed how i was acting), you need to go back on your medication and i realized for the sake of my oldest she needed a stable mother (she started to realize and SEE when i’d have emotional breakdowns as i used to call them) and THAT got me over the “i thought God healed me and gave me victory without medication” (grew and realized i still had a stigma on the med part).

    i know there are others out there who will read this and i just want to share–don’t be afraid to get medication under the guidance of a doctor and counselor.  there is NO shame.  what i found is that the tools i used to deal with stress/life worked “dysfunctionally” well until i went to china and then encountered some particular stressful situations and people and it felt like i was brought into a corner where God showed me how this way of dealing with life has gotten me this far but it is time for an upgrade and then when we came back i began to learn, unlearn and re-learn tools–upgraded my beliefs and found so much freedom in Christ–true freedom!  that isn’t to say our journey back to the states was a walk in the park (husband was unemployed for 10 months), my first born was pretty underweight and pretty much avoided food (whole different stressor for a mommy!) and we were adjusting to American culture.

    i could write so much more on my specific experience and to those who are out there in the process of getting help–you WON’T regret it. <3  it is so true that some of the strongest people are those who say, “i can’t” and recognize they need help and get it.  if you need motivation–think of your family.  get the help for yourself for them too.  if you are going through this, consider this a hug for you and one of my favorite verses of all time is psalm 139:14 (i think) where it says, “Where can i go from your spirit?”…basically it says if i go down to the depths you are there, the darkness isn’t dark to you and night is as bright as day–radically changed and rocked my world when i realized that God never changes and my “darkness” doesn’t scare Him away or alter Him.  I can’t “scare” God.  may sound funny?  but to me, i know i have scared my husband before. and this truth for my particular struggles was HUGE in empowering my faith.

    lastly, amy young posted some great resources for anxiety and depression awhile back and i read up on some of them and they are great! <3

    much love to you tsh for sharing and please keep sharing!  and whenever you need some more sunshine and warmth…get on down here to southern california! 🙂

    1. Tsh Oxenreider April 11, 2014

      Thank you for sharing, Katie, and of course I remember you! 🙂 And yes to all you said. There is NO SHAME in taking meds when you need them. I About halfway through my time in Turkey I tried to go off, and about two weeks into that stint, Kyle looked at me and said, “You need to go back on your meds.” I’m so grateful he said that—he could see things I couldn’t.

      And don’t you worry—I absolutely loved Encinitas! Would love to find any excuse to go back. 🙂

    2. JulieB April 13, 2014

      Amen Katie!  Thank you for using your experience to encourage other women.  While depression is not something I struggle with, I have many friends who do!  Thank you for your courage to share!  God does not waste our experiences of suffering!  Your voice is an encouragement to many!    I love you dear friend!

  8. Amy Young April 11, 2014

    Katie, what I love about your comment (on top of your sparkly personality!) is that you are a part of the wave that is taking down the stigma and normalizing help coming in various channels (your friends, medication, counseling, sleep, to name a few). The gift of your story and the paths you have walked will be a glass of cool water on a long dusty path. Thanks for offering us — YOU!

  9. Malia April 12, 2014

    This is powerful and a message so needed. Thanks, Tsh!

  10. Sarah April 12, 2014

    Love this – so much spoke to me within this post! As we look to move to Central America in the next year to start new ministries I’m overwhelmed and grateful for this resource of velvet ashes and the LOVE, the heart, the sweat and tears you ladies put into it! I’ve known what it is to LIVE ministry and to pick up and move and be far from family – I’ve called MN, WI, WA, FL and Australia “home” already – but overseas in a poverty stricken community… With a family now of my own – this shall be a different kind of season and in the books as something only God could call us to-

    As I still am learning how having a baby completely shakes your organized little world – I related to your first lines of “I guess my life is over” , but I feel like by now (11 months) most new moms have it down- the “routine” and sanity that their once childless life possessed. We co- sleep and I still breast feed so she is very much still attached so I struggle with the “when will I get my life back” ( geez Id settle even at this point for a 15 minute hot shower) saga in my head- to read, to understand and to be reminded there is HOPE of a new season is refreshing

  11. Mel @ Trailing After God April 14, 2014

    Tsh – I’m a little envious that you are living in my home town! Love Bend and Central, Oregon. Not a fan of the valley, I’m in Salem and have lived in the Willamette Valley for 25+ years. 🙂 Love what you shared. Depression is so dangerous when we don’t see that that is what is going on in our lives. Thank you for sharing your heart. We’re not m’s, yet. Hubby and I leave for Haiti on the 30th to work for ten days at an orphanage where we have been asked to come and manage as cross-cultural workers. I am looking forward to returning to Haiti and taking my husband for his first time. 🙂

  12. Sarah Moulding April 15, 2014

    My journey of hope.

  13. Sarah Moulding April 15, 2014

    My journey of hope. (Second attempt)

  14. Sarah Moulding April 15, 2014

    Here’s hoping!!!

    1. Sarah Moulding April 15, 2014

      or not!

  15. Adora Palmer April 24, 2014

    Hi Danielle,

    Hope I’m getting this right to comment. I’m a newbie, but a very seasoned traveler to foreign places while juggling kids and making the best of circumstances. Your Mom has come into my life and is ever so special as I’m sure you know well. She has been with me through the goodbyes to my soul mate and lover of 50 years. She hopes and inspires that I should do some additions to this incredible network you have established. So for now I’m just saying Hello.

    Love in His name,

    Adora

    1. Danielle Wheeler April 28, 2014

      Adora, so glad you said hello! I share my mom’s hope that you’ll share with us here at Velvet Ashes. I ache to know that you’ve had to say goodbye to your soul mate. Praying His comfort and peace will hold you close. Look forward to having you share with us…

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