This post has been ruminating throughout my brain for several months. Every time I started to compose the words, I would find myself unable to adequately express the feelings inside me without making others go on the defensive. While browsing Pinterest the other day, I came across the above graphic. The words echoed that which my heart was experiencing, and I knew I had to write what has been on my heart regardless of how others perceive its intentions.
Eighteen months ago I entered an emotional desert. I didn’t go looking for it, nor did I really want to be there. I don’t know any people who have planned a girl’s weekend or a guy’s retreat to a desert. It just doesn’t offer much in the way of amenities. It seems fitting during this time of year, a time declared Mental Health Awareness Week, that I finally try to put words to the darkness I was in all those months. This was not my first desert experience. I have battled the demons of depression and anxiety many times since I was a teen. This particular desert experience, though, was very different than any I’ve had in the past. One of the reasons for that, which I would never have admitted then, was the fact that I decided I no longer needed nor wanted the anti depression medication I had been on for several years. I did my own research on the meds, read several books on the dangers of antidepressants, and decided that the meds were poisoning me. Given the plethora of medications I have taken over my life, I felt myself enough of an expert to discontinue these without aid of a medical professional. As I weaned myself off these mood altering drugs, I sensed that maybe my brain really did need these drugs. Each time that thought crept into my mind, I would beat it back down with facts from a particular book. That book became my bible. It also nearly took my life.
Prior to the entrance into this desert, life was flowing about as smoothly as life for us flows. When my health allowed, I kept busy by spending time with my grandson and daughter. They lived twenty minutes away and did not have a car. Anytime I needed something from the store, I would text my daughter to see if she and the baby wanted to go with me. For me, that meant driving past two grocery stores and a Target. I would get to their place, get the baby ready for an outing, strapped him safely into his car seat, and drive yet another ten miles or so to a Walmart in the town where we used to live. It was worth the extra drive to me to spend time with them and to know I was needed. That need disappeared, though, when my son-in-law lost his job, and they decided Minnesota was too expensive for them to live in. I kept my grandson overnight on September 29, 2016, while his mommy and daddy loaded a UHaul. When they came to get him, I sobbed as we said our goodbyes and gave lots of grammy kisses. As they drove away that day, I felt my heart break completely in two. The dark clouds of depression became visible on my horizon. With few friends and now losing my daughter, who was my best friend, I spiraled quickly. The darkness enveloped me as I felt my feet sink deep into the desert sand. I wrote some very painful entries during those months. I thought I would literally die from a broken heart.
One aspect of depression that can only be understood by someone who has walked that dark road is the aspect of isolation. There is still, even in this twenty-first century America, a stigma surrounding mental health issues. One theory I have is the fact that a person, deep in the throes of depression, does not have the ability nor the desire to carry on a conversation. I have experienced this so often due to the number of depressive episodes I have suffered through. Making small talk is nearly impossible when the darkness is thick around you. In an effort to safely guard one’s heart, the only choice seen by the depressed person is to shut everyone else out. To allow anyone in puts that person in jeopardy of being hurt further. One example that quickly comes to mind is the person, no doubt with good intentions, tells the depressed one that “everyone gets down now and then”. Perhaps the well meaning individual quotes Scripture to the depressed one, thinking they are helping. Even more so, and this is the absolute worst thing anyone can say to one who is deep in the darkness of depression, the well meaning (although by now I’m doubting if they mean well or not) individual tells the depressed person to “just snap out of it”. They rattle off a list of activities that could be mood increasers–go for a walk, read a book, put on a favorite movie, etc. Again, well meaning, maybe, but extremely unhelpful.
As I lived in this oppressive darkness, wanting desperately on more than one occasion to end my life, I could not run the risk of being hurt even more. I knew it would take very little to push me off that cliff. I did what most depressed people do–I pushed everyone away. I allowed one friend into my dark world, and I only did that because she was a person who didn’t try to make me talk. She just let me be silent, and she was silent alongside of me. She didn’t mind the awkwardness that can come when two friends just sit together in silence. She loved me where I was. She didn’t lecture me about skipping church. She didn’t quote verses to me. She didn’t try to make me go for a walk outside. She just loved me. Perhaps there may have been others who, if allowed, would have done the same thing. I couldn’t take that chance, though.
Fast forward to present day. There is way too much that happened in the space between the last sentence in the above paragraph and the opening sentence of this one. Suffice it to say that I finally took measures to find my way out of the darkness. I no longer care if medication can kill me. Without it, I would be dead anyway, so I have nothing to lose. I found a doctor knowledgeable in mental health. She has literally been the BEST doctor I have ever been to. She listens to me, she appreciates my input, and she promises she will work harder than me to help me feel better. In the few months I have seen her, she has, we think, come up with a combination of mental health drugs and MS drugs that can work together with little side effects. (Note: one side effect has been weight gain. This is sending me back into a depression. I plan to discuss this with her next time I see her.) I also found a part time job with a Christian company to give me something worthwhile to fill my time. The ladies I work with have been amazing–they are very much like my family. When I had surgery in June, three of the four managers came to visit. They brought soups since chewing was out of the question for a while. They brought gift cards for future use or for Dave since I wasn’t cooking.
What does all this have to do with the graphic at the top?
Pushing people away for the length of time that I have been suffering, leaves one without anyone who really cares. It is awkward for me to go to church, knowing that so many there saw the rawness of depression’s effects. I no longer feel like part of the “family” there. I’m also not sure how to fix that, if it is even fixable. My health has been quite bad since that surgery in June. I have been hospitalized twice in six weeks. The last hospitalization last 5 long days. In those 5 days, besides my husband, the only visitors I had were a friend from high school who I haven’t seen in thirty years and my daughter-in-law’s mother who was in Minnesota to help my son and daughter-in-law with their new baby. It meant so much to me that these two women took the time to see me. I realize that I am not part of the church family because I am the one who stopped attending. Again, though, the risk of hurt is still there, although I am happy to say that I am no longer enveloped in darkness. There are still difficult days, most of which occur because of my MS. I have not been able to work in three weeks because of my health. The last few days have started what we hope is a turn in the right direction. I actually managed to grocery shop alone this week. I couldn’t get everything (cat litter is heavy) but I managed to get much that has been drastically needed.
I know I run the risk of being ostracized even more by writing this honestly. I calculated the risk and believe it to be less than the risk of not getting these thoughts out, and in turn, staying away from church even more. I do see some light in this tunnel. I pray it is not an oncoming train, but rather the light of days that will once again hold meaning.