I walked into Ella’s six-month doctors appointment with my shoulders slumped and no life in my eyes. I felt like I had a 600 pound weight on my back. I knew something was wrong with me but I had no idea what it was.
I remember looking at the doctor, who was actually my childhood pediatrician, silently pleading with her to ask me how I was doing. Then I could tell her. I could tell her that I felt sad, down, unmotivated and confused. I would tell her and then she would help me. I felt frozen to start the conversation.
I had a beautiful, healthy and happy baby. Why did I feel like this? The shame, confusion and darkness along with the fog that had settled in my brain, kept me quiet. On the outside, I responded like a mom who had it all together. But on the inside I was continuing to crumble bit by bit. I never said anything to the doctor that day. I walked out of the office feeling worse than when I walked in. The depression had deepened because I isolated from others and couldn’t find the courage to speak up. The enemy took full advantage of that crack and led me to a place of shame, believing that my pain was my fault and I was defective in some way.
Ella (@ 6 months) & I, February 2007
A short time after that appointment, after falling deeper into the depression, I opened up to my mom. I couldn’t hide it any longer, I couldn’t keep living the way I had been for the past several months. I was completely honest with her about how I was feeling. It was then that I recognized that I was experiencing postpartum depression and decided to get help. Since becoming aware of that postpartum depression almost 12 years ago, I have since realized that I had experienced depression prior to that time and have continued to experience it.
It seems so ironic to me now that I didn’t recognize the depression sooner. I have a degree in psychology, had done so much reading about pre and post-pregnancy and postpartum depression is not an uncommon experience. How did I miss it? How have I continued to miss it in the years since?
Depression, just like many other mental health struggles, can be very difficult to put your finger on. They can be very subtle and can manifest differently from person to person. Plus the affected individual has to recognize there is a problem, and they are often the last ones to recognize the reality of their situation.
Looking back over the years, I see that my depression as often flown under the radar until it has gotten unbearable. Sometimes this has been because of my inability to see myself clearly and unwillingness to be completely honest with myself and others. Other times I see that I have “coped” by numbing myself with alcohol, drugs, overeating, under eating, exercise and busyness. I now see those things just made the whole situation worse.
I have also fallen prey to self-reliance, thinking that I should be able to fix the situation myself accompanied by my reluctance to ask for help. I believed the lies that I was defective and shame crept in and clouded everything. I also believed some of the cliché solutions I was given, “just pray more”, “just have more faith” and “you just have to let it go”. I believed that I had failed morally and spiritually and never entertained the idea that the roots of my depression were beyond my control.
My world kept getting smaller and bleaker as time went on. I thought that if I did just the right Bible study I would crack the code and feel better. If I just got the perfect combination of vitamins then it would be OK. Once I got a job then things would turn around and the depression would be gone. Eat the right foods, get exercise, do things you enjoy, spend time with supportive people, get outside. Those are all things that I was told and did during some of the periods of my darkest depressions. But I was still missing the mark; I was frustrated, confused and discouraged because the depression was still there despite my sincere and determined efforts to break free from its grips.
It was 2014 when one of my worst fears came true. I was at the total end of myself. I was suicidal and didn’t feel safe with myself. Just the thought of going to a mental health hospital gave me chills up my spine. I saw “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and I knew what all those crazy people in the mental hospital were like. Now I was going to be one of them and although that scared the heck out of me, I had a peace in my heart knowing that was the safest place for me to be at that time.
My hospital stay and intensive treatment afterwards marked a real turning point in my life. I started to understand my depression a little better; it’s causes, the things I can control, the things I can’t control and how to live a full life despite it. I learned a lot of reasons for my depression. I saw that my depression usually began with high anxiety that was not properly controlled which then spiraled into depression. I saw how I was consumed by unhealthy relationships which had led me to abandon myself in losing my identity in others. I also became aware of and accepted the fact that I cannot change my own brain chemistry.
Most important of all was that I realized there were still many parts of myself that I was keeping from God. Allowing God into every aspect of my life has been an ongoing challenge for me but it has resulted in a huge change in direction for my life. Prior to this revelation, I relied on myself the majority of the time only calling God in for back-up when I was really desperate. I saw that my way wasn’t working for me. I made a decision to make a 180 degree turn. I began to accept that relying on God 100% of the time and letting Him into everything is the only way to true life, joy and peace. I could’ve said all that to you prior to having this revelation, however I only knew it at the head level. Now the revelation was in my heart and I was putting it into practice the best that I could. It certainly isn’t always pretty, actually most times it’s more of a hot mess, but thank goodness God sees and rewards our hearts.
Some Unlikely Encouragement
As I began to search the Scriptures about depression, God led me to read about Elijah and David. God showed me that they both had experienced some very real depression too. He showed me the love, protection and care that He gave to these men in their time of sorrow. God also gave me other insights from the Scriptures. God showed me that He wrote about depression because He knew that we would experience it. God took the shame away from me and replaced it with self-acceptance and love. God also comforted me and met my needs in very deep intimate ways. He did and still does cradle me in His arms like a young girl and whispers to me that everything will be OK. Through all the pain, my intimacy with God has grown to a place I never would’ve imagined. He is the loving father that I go to when I feel depressed today.
I also had two pastors from my church speak to me in very unexpected ways. One morning after church I was sitting in the pews with a good friend sharing about my pain and desperation to feel better and my fear of the direction I was headed. I thought we were the only ones in the sanctuary at that time. To my surprise, our lead pastor walked by and must’ve sensed something because he walked over to us and asked if we needed anything and if he could pray for us. I shared about the debilitating depression that I was experiencing and then he told us about his own ongoing battle with depression. Wow that was eye-opening, I never would’ve thought a pastor of a very large thriving church who has been walking with God for decades would experience depression. He prayed with us and gave some encouragement. His vulnerability, authenticity and compassion meant the world to me and helped me to have a little healthier perspective on my situation. Not too long after that, my pastor shared about his depression with our entire congregation. I have no doubt that other people were touch just as I had been.
My two weeks in the hospital seemed extremely unbearable at times. The support of my family and friends during and after that time played a huge role in my recovery. One of the highlights from the hospital stay was when one of the pastors from my church came to visit me. We had a relationship through small groups and he baptized me. I don’t remember a whole lot about our visit, but I will never forget one thing he said to me. He looked me in the eyes very intently and said “Shannon, I can’t say this to everyone but I know that you’re going to make it”. At that point in time I didn’t feel so sure about what he said, I felt like a vulnerable, weak, powerless little girl. I had no idea how I was going to go back to my life and then actually function well in it. But I made a decision to borrow his faith in that moment and hold onto it.
Where I Am Today
Today I am very grateful to say that I am no longer living in bondage to depression. I have never gone back into a major depression and have not needed further hospitalization. I feel so blessed and speechless about God sparing me from living a life in the pit of constant chronic depression. I know many people who do live in that state and their lives are consumed by doctors appointments, medications, hospitalizations, therapy and simply surviving. My heart breaks for them as I see they are not enjoying a full rich life like the one I have been blessed with.
I like to say that “I am recovered but not cured”. Although I’m not living in the pit of depression anymore, it has not completely left me. I still do go through periods of depression, especially during the winter months (Seasonal Affective Disorder). However each year I have more experience and tools to put into practice to try to minimize the depression effects. Each year I am also more spiritually mature and and better able to draw close to God and use spiritual warfare to fight the enemy.
It’s a one day at a time perspective and process living with mental health obstacles. But it doesn’t mean that our lives can’t be full of rich relationships and experiences. It doesn’t mean that we can’t or won’t experience true peace, joy and freedom. Connecting with others, especially very safe close people as well as others who can totally understand my experiences, has been so healing and positive for me.
If you are looking to speak to someone about any mental health challenges you face, please contact me. This is completely confidential and I would be honored to connect with you!
If you missed last weeks post on anxiety, check it out here.
Next week Wednesday we will continue our Silent Killer series. I will be going more in-depth into what depression looks like for me, its causes and what I do now to stay healthy.
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Lots of love,