This is My Story: Recovering from the Dark Places

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/

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml

http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-depression-anxiety-in-plain-mama-english

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/basics/symptoms/con-20029130

27 Comments

  1. Jodie October 9, 2016

    Monica, thanks for sharing not just the good parts of your story. I so respect your transparency and your desire to help those on a similar journey through the deep darkness, fighting pressure from the inside and the outside to push through and try to just be stronger. God is honored through your dependence on Him and your authenticity.

    1. Monica F October 10, 2016

      Thank you Jodie, I’m so grateful for your support and friendship- I appreciate you walking the journey with me most recently. Giving God the glory!

      1. Jodie October 10, 2016

        God is so good, isn’t He? What a blessing that He allowed our paths to cross through our connection group. You are a real inspiration to me and I’ve been blessed by your friendship!

        1. Krista October 11, 2016

          I love that you two know each other. 🙂 and Monica…….thank you.

  2. Vivian October 9, 2016

    Dear Monica,
    I feel so sad for what you had to deal with on your own for so long. By God’s grace, it sounds like He ministered to you through the Psalms and gave you the grace to endure. I am very glad you were able to unburden the secret you kept for so long. I had difficult moments myself as I am sure many others do. I moved overseas with two small children. I experienced a lot of stress as a young mother trying to adjust to another country and learn a new language. There were many times I felt very alone and like there was no one to help me. What I feel that does not get talked about much is the extra pressure that we and others put on ourselves to be the “superwoman”. I really appreciate your bravery and vulnerability to share your story so that others would know they are not alone and to seek help. Thank you, dear sister!

    1. Monica F October 10, 2016

      Unburdening myself of the pain was really the first step in truly recovering Vivian. Letting Jesus take the burden sounds ‘easy’, but it was a battle- a daily giving over and surrender of myself so that I could move forward without fear. As you said, it’s very stressful moving overseas with little ones in tow, and navigating a new culture, language, and role in life. Many of us work hard to be that ‘superwoman’, but it can really be our downfall. Thank you for sharing and for your encouragement!

  3. Julie October 10, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your journey and your pain, Monica. As God has prompted me to share the secrets of darkness in my life, He has allowed those experiences not to be wasted but to be used to encourage others and build up the Body. And to bring Him glory for His rescue, redemption, and restoration. Beauty for ashes. He is faithful and I praise Him for His work in your life.

    1. Monica F October 10, 2016

      Isn’t it amazing Julie how sharing our pain, the darkness, and the suffering we experience releases us to heal and also minister to others?! Yes, beauty for ashes- He is so faithful! I love what you say about our experiences not being wasted, but rather used to encourage others and build up the Body. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and ‘real’ I think it can be so freeing and beneficial to others who are hurting as well. Thank you.

  4. Tracy October 10, 2016

    Thank you for sharing. My son is over a year old now, but the depression is not getting better. For me, it’s been a combination of things that have contributed to it: I moved to Madagascar, I got married to a Malagasy man, I was in culture shock, my parents back home were/are sick, I had my first child here in country and the pregnancy/birth were not smooth, and trying to raise a child with the little that I know from my American background while struggling with how Malagasy people do it, all within a year and a half. We are going back to America this month, and I’m excited and terrified for it. Excited because I need my old friends and confidants to help me, but terrified because I’ve lived overseas for two years now, so I know I’m not the same person anymore. But I know I need help, and I thank you for sharing the fact that it’s ok to ask. Sometimes I feel shame like you shared, because I’m a Christian, an overseas worker, a mom, I should be strong, so I feel guilty a lot, but I know that God is good and He WILL bring me through this. Thank you also for sharing Psalms 13. I will print it out and have it on my desk to read everyday! I really believe (like you) that sharing is the best medicine, so thank you for sharing your story and thank you for letting me share mine. Many blessings.

    1. Monica F October 10, 2016

      Dear Tracy, thank you for sharing some of your story here…what a stressful season of life you’ve had. I can imagine you are experiencing all sorts of emotions as you prepare to ‘return home’ but not as the same person you were before. You’ve experienced so much stress in such little time, and my prayer is that you will ‘find ‘freedom and release’ as you share your heart with the people you love. May you encounter acceptance and love, as well as rest and recovery. If you need to, meeting with a counselor and unpacking some of the things you went through emotionally while overseas could be very beneficial and nourishing to your soul. Blessings to you; we are not alone!

    2. Patty Stallings October 16, 2016

      Tracy, all that transition in such a short timeframe! I am praying for you right now that you will experience tender care from our Gentle Shepherd and others in these coming months. May your soul be refreshed and sustained by His love. May you be surrounded by others who care for you in tangible ways.

  5. Jenn October 10, 2016

    Thank you for sharing the dark places and the hope! I’ve learned that ‘women overseas workers’ feel a greater pressure to be ‘perfect’ than many others seem to. When we factor in the isolation, cultural stress, and change, it is no surprise that our brains struggle to keep up. I think recognizing that stress damages our brains and causes depression helps us acknowledge the facts of depression (and I realize that not all depression has a stressful event as a trigger; learning about children from hard places taught me so much about my own self, my brain, and why I respond the way I do) that need to be addressed instead of ignored.
    Thank you for being brave to open up this discussion!

    1. Monica F October 10, 2016

      Good words Jenn, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this issue of stress and depression that many M’s face. My hope is that people in the M community/Body will talk more about it- that it will be addressed instead of ignored, as you said. Thank you!

  6. Christine P October 10, 2016

    Monica, Thank you so much for your willingness to pull back the curtain and share your heart and life with us. You most definitely are not alone! As one who has had their life turned upside down by severe burnout, so much of your story resonated within me. Not reaching out or opening up, as well as my inner dialogue of “I can do this” was a huge part of my downfall. And like you, counseling and brutal honesty within myself and with God has been a huge part of my healing process thus far.

    1. Monica F October 10, 2016

      Oh Christine, I’m so thankful for your words. We never have to walk this journey alone, and yet we feel like we have to… which can be one of the causes of burnout you mention in your comment. That “I can do this” mentality is a lie that eats away at one’s heart, leaving us so empty and lonely-feeling. We CAN do life when we are in step with the Lord, and are open about our suffering, hurt, pain, or limitations. So glad you are in a healing mode and reach out and opening up! Thank you for sharing!

  7. Brandie Green October 10, 2016

    With everything you know about me, friend, thank you.
    Where there is truth there is freedom. Your story, allowing us to see the truth of hard times and the redemption that followed them, frees those of us willing to read with open hearts and minds. For the truth of His redeeming love in your life, thank you for sharing and glory to God.
    Love, perfect love, casts out fear. Thank you for showing us all the ways shame can be overcome, your husband, a trusted older friend, your inner circle of people, counselors, especially Father God ~ and especially so when we can grasp even a fraction of the love they have for us.
    We are called to weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. Thank you for letting us weep for you even after the fact, and for letting us rejoice with you even as time has moved on from that point of your journey, and for doing the same with those you have walked with.

    My prayer is that all who read Monica’s post today will a) see and reach for the freedom in being vulnerable (telling your true story), b) accept the shame-destroying-love of this community and the community important to you, c) walk with other ladies around you in times of despair and in times of health.

    1. Monica F October 10, 2016

      Brandie, thank you dear sister for your words….you know what they mean to me. Sometimes it can be hard to share with the ones we are closest to- our colleagues, team mates, friends. Thankful for perfect love and that we don’t have to be the perfect ones. I love your prayer at the end, that’s been my prayer as well. Thanks for walking the long road, and being real too. Love you!

  8. elizabeth October 11, 2016

    Thank you for your vulnerability, Monica. The line between persevering/enduring and really not doing well is cloudy for me right now. Can you give me your thoughts on this?

    1. T October 12, 2016

      Good question! And, I wonder if Patty would have time to reply to this, as well, since she is like our resident counselor?

    2. Monica F October 13, 2016

      Dear Elizabeth, thank you for sharing- would love to sit down over a cup of tea with you. The line between enduring/sacrificing and not doing well was cloudy for me too. I desperately needed help and I pushed myself to persevere because I was scared to reach out- I didn’t want to appear weak. I don’t believe though that God wants us ‘to not be well’. There are situations in life where persevering or endurance is required in order to gain wisdom, grow in faith or become more obedient to Christ. However, in other situations, ignoring a dangerous or unhealthy situation/condition (physically, mentally, or emotionally)- for the sake of ‘ ‘enduring’ can actually lead to burnout, broken relationships, or destruction. When in doubt seek help. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a realistic and healthy approach to taking the first steps in recovering from whatever circumstance or condition one is facing. I don’t know what you are facing today Elizabeth- but know that I have prayed for you today. May the Father give you clarity, insight and courage to know yourself and your needs. Praying for you!

  9. Asha October 11, 2016

    Thank you so much for your beautiful, powerful and heart-breaking words. I appreciate your vulnerability and know that God is and will continue to work in and through your suffering. I love you dearly.

  10. Phyllis October 11, 2016

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and offering these resources! I had a similar story, during pregnancy, instead of after it. It was more than a decade ago, though, and I really felt like I had no way to get help. Part of that was the darkness speaking, but also it was real isolation and lack of resources.”There are caring doctors, therapists, and other resources….” Not then and there where I was, and I couldn’t have gotten to them then either. 🙁 I feel like there’s more available now, and I echo what is said here about asking for help.

    1. Monica F October 11, 2016

      Thank you for your comments Phyllis. The lack of resources and real isolation makes getting help extremely challenging- especially when you are to tired or troubled to reach for it. I knowingly removed myself from resources when we left the States for Asia in the midst of my PPD. Even though we were isolated from resources- I wish I would have taken a time-out and traveled to a place for counseling services, or even skyped our family physician. But like you, that was over a decade ago, and I can’t go back and change it. Sometimes those resources aren’t even close by- as you mention above. I think what I would encourage women to do in that situation, knowing what I know now, is to talk to someone- a team mate, spouse, friend- just for initial support and encouragement. But it’s still hard, and not ideal. I am grateful for resources that are out there and that more people are talking about it. Asking for help, like you say, is so important and can be life-saving. Thank you again for your comments.

      1. Phyllis October 12, 2016

        Yes. There were no teammates or friends then for me. No Skype yet. Spouse was as baffled as I was. But God was there!

  11. Sara October 13, 2016

    So beautifully written, Monica! I was reading this post, not knowing it was you, but it made me miss you and think of you and then I realized it was you! Thanks for inviting us all into genuine fellowship by sharing your story. You carry a treasure in that earthen vessel. Sending lots of love!

  12. Patty Stallings October 16, 2016

    Monica, I am so moved by your story, your courage, your trust. May the richness of the truths born in your journey give hope and wisdom to many!

    1. Monica F October 16, 2016

      Thank you so much Patty- I am grateful for the opportunity to share!

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