I am in the middle of a story about my experience with seasonal depression. Begin at the beginning right here.
Heading into winter 2010-2011, I tried hard to keep things upbeat. I meant to use my lamp. I really did. But I didn’t start until I crashed into a black weekend—Thanksgiving. I tried fitting in lots of fun activities at Christmas, like I’d done the year before to keep things buoyant. As if that were a magic key…
This year it was too much. I had a four-month-old baby. I was homeschooling my five-year-old in kindergarten. My three-year-old was at nearly the height of his mischief, and we were trying to come to terms with what was driving him. We were living in town, our house on the market for three quarters of a year, with no offers. We faced church-related stress.
All year, I could handle this… sort of… but not in the winter.
By mid-December I could feel myself falling into darkness. I felt trapped and depleted, and had frightening drops into thinly-veiled panic on several fronts. I felt anxious, lost, inadequate, teary, worthless. I was exhausted. I was lonely. I couldn’t seem to get together with anybody… everyone sick or out of town or snowbound.
The world looked so ugly to me. I can’t describe this well to anyone who has not experienced it… and I will not try, completely. But all I could see was the ugly. Power lines and asphalt roads alone were about enough to drive me batty—the whole earth choking in technology and vulgarity. Town was the worst. I could not go grocery shopping for my family without experiencing despair and inner panic. What kind of world do I live in? Here I can buy pre-packaged Colby cheese: I can buy it in a chunk. I can buy it sliced thin for sandwiches. I can buy it sliced thick for crackers. I can buy it cut into cutesy shapes. I can buy it mixed with Monterey Jack. I can buy it shredded, or crumbled, or cubed. I have ten pre-packaged choices for how I want to buy my Colby cheese, and all around the world there are people starving to death.
Well, it is true: the world has some nasty undersides. But I could not see Jesus in it. All I could see was irony and despair, and they left me incapacitated, with no path forward. What cheese should I buy? What store should I stop at next? I had several town-triggered emotional crashes that winter, in which I ended up sobbing in my car in some grocery parking lot.
I thought about death a lot. I wrote in my journal, Wintertime has made me want to die, but even in my best times, I feel that I would welcome death.
I heard about an old friend of mine, under 30 years old, pregnant with her third child, who was diagnosed with pretty severe cancer… and I wished it was me. I could think of death in any form and feel no fear at all. I would check in my mind—If someone held a gun to my head, what would I feel? If I were in a car accident? If I were in a burning building? I don’t know how I would have felt if placed in real danger, but in my mind I could never feel anything but gentle humor, relief, and peace.
I yearned to go. Death looked so easy, so welcome. I thought of making it happen. In early February I wrote in my journal It is hard to be honest with him and hard not to be. I wish I could take his face in my hands and say “Honey, don’t be frightened. Couldn’t you please let me go?” I feel trapped, held against my will to live here so long, so long. Jesus doesn’t give me a choice. Seems if I want to be with Him I have to stay. Why did He make it so long?
All this time I was getting up in the morning. I was eating fine. I was sleeping fine. I was appearing at social functions.
Ryan worried about me. Talked with me. Encouraged me to invite some women into the darkness with me.
So I went to church one awful weekend in mid-February; went to Sunday school with the good ladies of my church, and said “I am feeling a lot of blackness…” I began to cry so hard I could not go on. They were so kind to me. Cried with me. Prayed with me. And offered things. One lady ordered me a huge boxful of vitamins. One gave me a Bible verse to cling to. One suggested I see a doctor.
I met with a mentor, for the first time—taking Ryan’s suggestion seriously.
But seeing a doctor? “You know, honey,” he said, “that might not be a bad idea.”
(The way I feel now about that week is this: Wheels of deliverance were finally in motion.)
So I scheduled an appointment with my family doctor, and this is how I framed it to myself: I’m going to get some health advice. It’s the only way I could make myself go through with it. I felt so afraid. What if she would ask me if I’d ever considered suicide? What if she’d ask me if I had a plan? No, no. That’s ridiculous. I’m listening to fears. I’ll just go see her like a rational adult, and get some health advice.
You already know what she asked me. “How bad is it in your worst times?”
“Well… in my worst times I have to make myself stop thinking about ending my own life.”
“How would you do it?”
That was the most awkward doctor visit of my life. I spoke with irritation laced in my voice. I pushed back on her. I got red-faced and resentful—something I never, ever do with a non-family member.
But I told her.
She pushed me really hard that day, though I assured her repeatedly I wasn’t going to carry out my plan. She asked me if I’d thought of what I’d do with my children. Would I leave them provided for, or what? She asked me if I’d ever gone out and bought supplies. NO, I replied firmly. I’m not going to do it! (Besides, we already had the supplies at home. I knew exactly where they were.)
She made me go on medication. Made is perhaps too strong, but she really pushed. And she told my husband to keep a close eye on me.
The rest of that day, I was so angry I could hardly think straight. Angry about the medication, yes. She was supposed to tell me to eat more broccoli and oranges, for heaven’s sake! Angry that she took me seriously, when I wanted her to laugh it off—”Well, who doesn’t come up with a little exit plan now and then?” Angry most of all at the doctor herself, for forcing me to say what I didn’t want to say. For goading me into betraying my secret. I wasn’t going to do it, but now I couldn’t. There was no doubt in my mind. Once I had told my plan, I could no longer go out by that route. And I was furious.
The medication kind of threw me for a loop. It was the right dose, and worked extremely well for me in the long run, but at first it throws you into a fog—six weeks to feel the full effect. One week later I was sober when I went back to the doctor for a checkup. Sober, and beginning to feel the first twinges of fear.
At some point I had spent a lot of time thinking about this plan.
I had considered and laid aside a lot of options, until I found what felt like the perfect way out. I knew where I would do it. I knew what I needed. I knew how long it would take. I knew what I would do with the children.
But I wasn’t going to do it.
I felt not a twinge of fear. I felt no inhibition, save one: it was forbidden. I wanted so badly to go to Jesus. That’s how I thought of it, like going home. But He said it was no-no, and this made me angry. It looked so easy, so welcome.
It was weeks, maybe months, before I began to really process what I felt and what had happened. We all knew that I needed to get better before I could think it all through.
I met with my mentor regularly—once a month. And I headed into the most difficult summer of my life. We moved three times in eight months. We had two family weddings and a week-long trip to Oregon. We made tough decisions about my oldest son’s schooling. We fought and fought my second son and his issues. We faced intense personal struggle in relationships. But we hung in there, and I did not go under.
Incredibly, I stabilized…
I want to thank each of you for your kindness this far in listening and responding to me. I feel Jesus in your grace. You have made it easier than I thought to tell my story, after all. I still have two questions I want to explore with you: “What took me to that place of darkness?” and “What brought me out?”