I’d prefer not to tell you my whole story. Just the good parts – you know, the parts we write about to our family and friends back home. The parts that will make you like me or admire me, and prove I’m on the road to glory. But THIS is the story He’s led me to tell as a way of introducing myself to you.
Early on in our overseas life, my husband and I went through a big season of transition. Within a twelve month period, we returned to the States after finishing a three year project in Africa, I gave birth to our first child, visited six states in three months, spoke to countless groups of friends and supporters, and then packed up our life once again and headed off to East Asia.
I was not ready for the move. My firstborn’s birth was difficult and the transition into motherhood was more laborious than I’d imagined. I felt out of control – my body had changed, my emotions were all over the place and our future work suddenly felt daunting.
My type A, organizer, multi-tasking, administrative self confidence took a huge nose-dive. As my hormones surged, I was incredibly overwhelmed by all the ‘things to do’ with this new little life in my hands. People began asking us when we were moving back overseas and what would we be doing when we got there! I couldn’t ‘handle it all’ and within just a few weeks of my son’s birth depression creeped in.
As a nurse, I realized I had postpartum depression (PPD) right away- even my midwives and friends discussed it with me. I reassured my worried husband that it was ‘just the blues’. But as the days drew closer to our move to East Asia, the fears increased, the depression deepened, and anxiety crept in. I had dark thoughts, I cried uncontrollably in secret, I couldn’t sleep, and I felt guilty for feeling disconnected to my sweet boy. I kept ignoring all the warning signs and was determined to ‘push through’ somehow. My sixteen-year-old-cross-cultural zeal still pounded hard in my soul – and I wasn’t about to let God down… I would go to East Asia and everything would be fine.
It wasn’t fine. It was so different than the other two countries and cultures we’d lived in before. I longed for the ‘rural life’, and was stuck in a big city where I had to learn a very difficult language. The postpartum depression was not lifting and I had willingly removed myself from the resources and people who could help me through it. A few months in, I began to spend a lot of time staring out our 5th story bedroom window looking down, wishing the protective bars blocking me from doing anything ‘crazy’ weren’t there.
Looking down, I felt very, very alone and the pavement seemed to be calling my name. The thoughts racing through my head scared me…I had never experienced them before. I would snap myself ‘out of it’, but then find myself staring out the window once more, nervous, swaying, almost dizzy, looking down, then quickly turning away.
I felt trapped and useless in this new place. My resentment about being there fed my sadness, and turned into anger. The anger made me feel ashamed, which made me question my spiritual maturity, which made me feel like a failure, which made me feel like…maybe I wasn’t of much value to anyone for that matter. So, why go on living?
At the lowest of my lows, a neighbor in our building had passed away, and his funeral tent was ironically set up right below our apartment . The coffin lay inside the tent, directly 5 floors below our bedroom window. For days, people huddled inside and outside the tent, playing music, talking, and eating. Firecrackers went off at all hours of the day and night, making me jump and sending chills down my spine. I would wake up at night and walk over to the window and wonder…wouldn’t it just be easier, if…?
The questions grew… Wouldn’t they be better off without me? What good am I here? Maybe I should be in that coffin down below. I would back away, crying tears of shame and despair, so desperate for relief. I was so in love with my husband and little one…but felt so empty, tired, and useless inside. Strangely, I knew Jesus was with me – even in my despair. Yet none of that really made sense. This wasn’t me. I was afraid, terrified of who I was.
My sweet husband knew things weren’t right, and would pursue me, beg me, and even cry for me to just let him know what was going on… I reassured him that I was just going through culture-shock, and would be fine. At one point, he said, “we’re going home and getting you the help you need” – I responded in tears, begging, and reassuring him I was really ok.
I DID NOT want to be a ‘failure’. I didn’t want to be seen as a bad mother. I refused to get the help I needed, because of pride and fear. I began to keep the panic attacks, the ‘window visits’, and the crying sessions to myself. I hid the suffering and put on a brave face, excelled at learning the language, began to build relationships, participate in ‘ministry’, and ‘get to work’. I needed to get back ‘to me’.
Slowly the loneliness and sadness began to wane. I can’t pinpoint the actual shift, but getting a handle on the language, exercising, making expat and local friends, and turning toward the Lord in my fragile moments began to move me out of the lonely place. The Psalms became my constant companion- they expressed the words that I couldn’t verbalize. Many of them start with desperate cries for help and end in praise – so I began to choose praise and trust in His unfailing love. Psalm 13 for example:
“How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”
I pressed into the Lord’s goodness and love for me through singing praise songs even when I wasn’t ‘feeling it’. I shared my pain with one friend, an older woman in our city, who prayed over my fears and anxieties. Then with the birth of my daughter, things really changed. I can’t explain it, but somehow, some way, God redeemed all the trauma, all the depression, and all the pain I had experienced between leaving Africa and moving to East Asia.
Later, we moved to the countryside, and though the depression and suicidal thoughts were no longer an ‘issue’, I still struggled with a variety of fears and anxiety in different seasons. Once in awhile I would remember those ‘feelings’ I got in our first year in East Asia – then remind myself I was okay now, and re-bury the PPD. Besides, I genuinely was happy and loved the people and work we were doing. No one needed to ever know… it was in the past; God and me had dealt with it, privately.
But not really. Honesty was calling my name.
Last year, while home for our first ever Sabbatical (after 15 years of overseas work), I finally told my husband the whole truth – all of it, the ‘windows’, the thoughts of harming myself, and all the shame that was tied with it. It broke his heart, and there were a lot of tears. I had to ask his forgiveness because I had kept a secret from him for almost ten years. Though I was in better emotional condition, and much healthier- it still took time to process through it as a couple.
I would never recommend handling PPD the way I did. And that’s why I share this story with you. I was so afraid to be honest for fear that I wouldn’t be able to ‘follow through’ with the commitments I had made to God and serving overseas. I didn’t want to be judged as incompetent or unstable. I didn’t want to abandon ‘the work’, our team, and the people we had come to serve. I let my pride, my fears, my image and agenda get in the way of regaining my life. I had work to do, good work…but at what cost? Staying silent created tension and hurt in my marriage, made adjusting to motherhood more difficult, and made everything more overwhelming for myself.
I should have told my ‘inner circle’ who I know would have loved on me, protected me and advocated for me. I should have gone to counseling, and addressed the depression right away. I should have talked to my doctor who could have prescribed medication if necessary. I even knew several women who had benefited from medication or supplements to get re-balanced and on top of their depression or anxiety. I should have asked for help.
Should have. Didn’t.
I take responsibility for ignoring myself, my nursing education, my own counsel to others, and all the signs screaming for me to get help.
Telling the truth and letting the walls fall down were the beginning of true healing for me. Being honest. Being real. Going through counseling was an important part of my journey back to whole health, and learning more about what can trigger depression in me. Even reading Velvet Ashes posts reassured me there were women out there who could identify with me. And resting in the Word in quiet moments- letting Scripture sink deep down inside me gave such nourishment to my weary soul.
I know I’m not the only one that has gone through this. Since sharing my story with my husband and others, God began to bring women into my life who were struggling with many of the issues I faced years ago. As I listen to these beautiful women express unrelenting sadness in the depths of their soul, I want them to feel accepted and loved, not judged or inadequate.
Maybe some of you reading this have experienced something similar to my own story, or maybe you’re going through it right now or walking with someone who is. Maybe you’re afraid to tell for fear that you will be judged unfit for ‘this work’. Maybe you are hiding and need to be reassured that coming into the light will be the best thing for you. Maybe you just need someone to come alongside you and listen.
If you are struggling with loneliness, depression, or have suicidal thoughts… you are not alone. There is HOPE. There is LIFE EVERLASTING. It may not seem like there is hope right now, and you might not be able to pick up the Bible, or even whisper a prayer… But don’t give up. you are valuable, loved, and a treasure in Your Father’s eyes. Speak this truth: ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God’, for ‘from His fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)
The Enemy wanted me to be hopeless, depressed, and ultimately to end my own life.
But Jesus never gave up on me. He fought for my soul, conquered the Enemy and carried me off of the battlefield. He gave me freedom indescribable. He won’t give up on you. Don’t let go of the Story He is telling in your life.
Lately this song has challenged me to be open about my own story. It’s a reminder that my story is not about what I’ve done, but about what Christ has done for me. “To tell you My Story is to tell of Him”:
So I’m Monica. This is my part of my story and I’m going to sing it, all the day long. It’s wonderful to meet you.
What part of your story is the Lord asking you to release for His glory in your life?
Consider your own attitude and understanding of depression or mental health disorders- what can you learn about it?
If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, think of someone you can talk to.
The National Institute of Mental Health describes Postpartum Depression as: “a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others.”
There are caring doctors, therapists, and other resources to help women through postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and psychosis. There are differences between these disorders depending on the length of time and the intensity of symptoms. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms related to the above disorders, please tell your doctor, a counselor, your spouse or friend. There are a number of Christian support groups for PPD, as well as other resources for treatment and recovery.
This article acknowledges that loving moms often do experience PPD, and ways in which a woman can take inventory and get support: http://www.crosswalk.com/936514/