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?”
I love you. Proud of you, too. Glad we’re in this together.
I am learning so, so much about myself, my fears, my inner plans as I read these posts. Thank YOU for listening to the Spirit and entering into such a vulnerable battlefield – putting yourself in open fire, if you will. No one would ask to be so fragile, so desperate, so small… yet it is beautiful to listen in, and to believe that I too can learn to live. I am shoulder to shoulder with you, girl.
I don’t want to sound all dramatic here. But your story parallels my own so closely that it’s uncanny to me. The babies being born and life being unstable, so you chalk it up to that, the deja vu as winter darkness closed in, the UGLINESS of the world. For a while all I could see was the trash by the roadside. It’s like my eyes were magnets for anything ugly and I couldn’t shake it off and forget it. Death thoughts were a little different for me. I prayed to go, too, but mostly because I knew the world would be a better place without me.
Thank you so much for writing this. I can’t wait to hear your last points. Love you!
Thank you for sharing your story. It helps me understand SAD/depression so much better.
Thank you for having the courage to share it makes me appreciate you all the more
God bless you Shari for being so honest & vulnerable. I have no doubt you are bringing a lifeline to some who have been struggling in secret. I hear these stories, but have not experienced it. Your way with words is helping me feel the utter darkness & hopelessness in a way that I never have before. Keep on sharing your story in His grace & strength.
I need to re-focus. As I’m reading, all I keep thinking is, ‘She needs to put this in a book and get it out there!’ but perhaps your calling is just to help a select few. I of course don’t know the ultimate plan, but your sharing this is incredibly educational on many levels. Have a good day ~
I am grateful for this window you are letting us peek through into your heart and your journey.
I resonate with you.
I love the openness and honesty in your writings!
As you know, this is not new to me or my family. And so I read your story with a lot of understanding………
God bless you for sharing. I have very much enjoyed learning to “know” you again.;-)
So good to hear from you, Ginny… What a sweet surprise to get your family picture from Mom at Christmastime! I haven’t seen you since J was newborn, and here she’s teenage, overnight. Your children are beautiful.
Thank you for your kind words! Love, Shari
I echo the rest of the comments–Thank You. Thank you for opening up your messy, broken world, the darkness in your soul, so you can share the ways that love and Jesus brought life and healing to your heart. We need stories, stories that reveal God-with-us. Thank you for sharing yours. I’ve been comforted so many times knowing Jesus came into our dark, broken world, knowing that He still does, and experiencing Him enter my darkness through people who have been with me and shown me His love.
You are doing good, sweet Shari. Please keep going, OK?? People need to hear this stuff.
I’ll say with the others, thanks for sharing your story. I’m one that honestly does not have any idea what it is to walk in that kind of black. Thanks for helping me get a glimpse of the darkness and gain sympathy for others.
And I’d agree that you could write a book.
Thanks for sharing your story about the blackness/depression, Shari . . . My husband is gone for several days again, so I’m reading your blog like a book . . . Except not in the order it was written ? . . . Randomly, subjectly?( Is that a word?) . . . I like to do extra things when he is gone to make the time go by more quickly . . . Anyway, you have become a friend dear to my heart as I’m getting to know you . . . Sad thing is that I miss the “you not knowing me” . . . Not that I am anything or anybody special to know, but that same warmth isn’t there when it’s all one-sided – if you understand what I mean . . .
I lived at Faith Builders years ago for about three months and helped in the bakery . . . Got to know Beatrice ( more, I went to church with one of her brothers in VA growing up) . . . Also know Shaunda and Jolynn a bit, more so one of their family friends Michelle (Funk) Fisher who is my twin (same age same birthday, different parents lol) . .
I so love the way God has gifted you with writing . . . I praise the Lord for it! . . . Communicating is so vital to reaching out to the community . . . And our own people . . . I open my mouth/pen whatever not because I can day it well, but because I am trying to reach people and share and walk along side . . . But I still don’t do this very well . . . But I try to be brave – for His sake!
Hi Aimee. Thanks for introducing yourself and making some friendship connections too! You’re right – one of my complaints about blogging is that while people get to know me, I don’t get to know them back. 🙁 When we meet up in person I’m at a distinct disadvantage.
I’m sorry I can’t fix that piece, but I’m glad to hear from you and wish you grace and joy! Your words blessed me.