Sometimes when you read someone’s story, the honor you feel that they let you in this far, moves you. This is how I felt reading Jen share her story here. She boldy opens up pages that many of us would skip over to protect ourselves. But she doesn’t. She allows us in because she knows we have some of those kinds of pages in our stories. I love her boldness, courage and her call to not fight but rather lean into the Light. So good! Enjoy- Willow
Five years ago this fall, my little girl was 3 and my boy was 6. I was a stay at home Mom. I was living the life I thought I had always dreamed of. There was really nothing in my life that was “wrong”, “unwanted”, or “negative”, yet there was something not quite right. I was very good at running from my feelings and putting on a mask. I was voted “Most Friendly” in high school, darn it. I was bubbly Jen. I was the life of the party. I always put on the happy face. I did what I thought the world and my family expected of me. My natural bent is to wear my heart on my sleeve. But growing up I was taught that it was not safe to share my feelings. Crying was not ok. Be strong. Don’t ask for help. Keep your problems to yourself. Run, run, run away……that’s what I did. I kept running away from my authentic self.
I had struggled with post-partum depression with both of my kids, but this was different. This was darker and deeper. There was a dark cloud following me, and I couldn’t run away from it. The waves of depression were crashing over me, and I was fighting it. I knew I couldn’t fight it anymore, so I called my Dad. I told my Dad, “I can’t do this anymore.” Without me even explaining, he knew what I was talking about. I was so very thankful that he could relate to what I was going through. He too had struggled with the same thing in his life.
I had waited too long. I was finally willing to face the darkness in my soul, but the darkness had all but taken over. That’s what it felt like anyway. I saw a nurse practitioner. She told me I was clinically depressed. I cried. I didn’t want to take medication. She felt I had no choice. I started the medication. My depression actually worsened. It was like giving it a voice allowed me to finally feel what had been going on in my body for such a long time. I couldn’t run from it anymore. I was curled up in bed and staring at the wall. I couldn’t eat. The medication wasn’t working. We tried a new medication. That one didn’t work. By this time, I was losing a lot of weight. I was seeing my nurse practitioner, a counselor, a psychiatrist, and a dietician. At one point, my husband had to take time off from work to be with me because the psychiatrist did not feel I should be left alone. She wanted to hospitalize me, because I was suicidal. I begged to be able to stay home. So, my wonderful husband stayed home to take care of me. It was all I could do to get dressed and eat. I couldn’t take care of my family. I needed help to do that. It was the most humbling time in my life.
Having this humbling experience was probably one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Romans 8:28 says, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose.” It may sound corny and rosey, but I have always found that God brings good out of really tough things in my life. After failing out of nursing school, God taught me hard work and persistence. I still became an RN. At the age of 24, I went through a divorce. Had I not gone through that divorce, I would not have been as thankful for the husband I have now been with for almost 13 years. This husband was used by God to teach me about true grace. Then, there has been the depression. God has brought much good out of that as well.
I grew up in Bellingham, Washington. Many summers, my family and I headed to California to do some camping, Disneyland trips, and playing in the waves. By far, my favorite times were spent boogie boarding and bodysurfing. I would stay all day. My parents would have to pull me out of the water to eat lunch. I had no idea that I was learning important life lessons. Especially after storms, waves can be extremely rough and there can be lots of rip currents. When you find yourself in one of these rip currents or when wave-upon-wave is crashing over you, your natural reaction is to fight. This is not how you are to handle the waves. If you find yourself being caught by a wave you are supposed to relax and not fight it. The crashing waves will eventually let you go. You will float to the surface, and on that surface, there is light.
This is one of the many valuable life lessons that depression has taught me. In darkness, there is always light. There is always hope. There is always a way out. For me, it was my friendship with Jesus that grew richer and more meaningful. It was my family and friends that accepted me, even when I was at my lowest. I exercised. I read. I did yoga. It was a long healing process. Honestly, I still struggle. Sometimes, I struggle with anxiety as well. Sometimes I try to fill that God shaped hole that only He can fill with other things like wine, watching television, or eating too much.
The most wonderful lesson in all of this, I think, is that I have become my authentic and true self. I am willing to share my messy life with safe people. I think sharing our authentic and true selves with others can be a gift to them. If they are able to relate, they feel like they are not so alone in this sometimes very challenging and difficult world. God has used my depression to strengthen both family and friend relationships. He has even used me to help others that are struggling with the same thing.
Life is still far from perfect, and is still very messy. I went back to work last fall, and this has been a very difficult transition for me. Most of the time, I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water. I feel like I’m barely getting by. Yet, I’ve learned another very important lesson. Sometimes, just showing up is the most important part of life. Two of my favorite authors currently are Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton. They both talk a lot about the importance of just showing up. In the beginning of her book, Daring Greatly, Brown quotes a Theodore Roosevelt speech. There a few things in that speech that resonate with me:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again.…. If he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….”
There are many days where I still struggle and the dark cloud is chasing me. I have learned that I don’t need to run from it anymore. I let the darkness teach me a lesson. 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light and that in him, there is no darkness at all.” So, I don’t run from the darkness, I just lean into Jesus who is the Light. I have learned to not run or fight the pain of life. It’s still messy. I am sometimes marred, sweaty, and bleeding. I mess up all the time, yet the most important part is that I’m showing up again and again. I just show up in all my imperfection, knowing that God loves me and that I’m covered by His grace and His light.