I don’t know what you would call what I’ve experienced these last two years.
I don’t know what you would call it. I’ve called it depression. It was the term that felt right—that locked in—some twenty-four months ago, though I never got a counselor’s diagnosis. I wonder if this is a common thing that happens with mental health: a word just resonates for us or for someone we love that helps the fog make a little more sense.
I gave birth to my son through a long and intense labor process that made me wonder if either of us would be here without modern medicine. (Thank God for modern medicine.) This alone ushered in a lost sense of invincibility and a new awareness of mortality. I had a lot of pain, difficulty, and fear surrounding breastfeeding that caused me to feel alone and very anxious. The month before we brought our son home, my husband and I moved out of a ministry house and into an old bungalow for some added privacy and decreased stress. With the move from a residency that covered many of our expenses, our bills doubled right before our laundry and responsibilities did as well. We dipped into our small savings every month for the first year of our precious boy’s life.
A spot in daycare was hard to come by with most of the quality and (almost) affordable places having 24-month waiting lists for infants. And staying at home was not an option for either of us because of our diminishing savings and insurance needs for our baby whose weight I was unable to increase with the milk from my own body. In addition to all of the new ways that we were being deeply stressed and stretched, the intentional community we had helped begin and were employed to run was facing obstacles we could not seem to reconcile. My son was eleven months old when we held our last event, and I took a new job at a place that offered comparable insurance and a decent day-care opportunity.
Fleurie has a song called Hope Where Have You Gone? It’s opening lyric, the same as its title, is set to the sound of the ocean collapsing and retreating, back and forth. The first 31 seconds of the piece encapsulates what I felt for months and months and months: waves.
It would surprise people when I’d tell them that I thought I was navigating depression. It would surprise them even more when I would say it again months later. I was not incapacitated; I could get up for work and be relatively present at home and with friends. I enjoyed a good, small group of people (eventually, after the ever-present social anxiety would wear off). And we were able to, over time, increase our child’s weight, and build our income, and properly grieve and process the ending and beginning of things. I was still friendly and still growing and deepening in important areas of my life. And I guess this made my sharing about depression startling: I think any trace of positivity and progress in one’s day-to-day can be confusing to people when you tell them that you have not felt like you in a long while.
Depression for me was not excess sleepiness, complete isolation, or visible withering. It was a lack of passion and vision and the always-droning fear that I may never have them again. It was the quick breathing and the fights picked with my husband before a staff party or before I went out of town because I could not bridle the anxiety that accompanied social obligations or travel. It was the deep, confusing, and dull but overwhelming sadness that kicked me in the back of the knees when the sun would go down on a good day. It was not being able to decide on my birthday or meal planning; it was sitting in the grocery store parking lot and crying over a blank list three weeks in a row. It was being called an introvert at my new job a year into working there; it was wondering where the extrovert in me had skulked off to when she got opened up on that OR table. It was identity and career crisis at thirty years old, and feeling good and normal and then not, over and over again: waves collapsing and retreating. It was wanting peace so badly I could feel it in my teeth, and watching the world turn around me as I reached out and let my fingertips thump up against it like a child’s stick on fence posts.
It was foreign and subtle in public and an unwelcome guest whose leave-date remained frustratingly ambiguous.
But, as is typical in the realm where I think hard things work together for good, it was also on some level sweet. And special. And truly meaningful. Despite my past efforts of planning and redirecting when things get hard or feel wrong, my unavoidable pain (and the length of time that it lingered) offered me a pathway to see the pain in the lives of others. By looking my fears and my wounds in the face, I began to recognize within me the ability to better hear and comprehend the fears and wounds of those around me despite where they fell economically, politically, religiously, etc. And for the first time in my life and faith, I thought that maybe I understood mercy; not because I received a pastor’s diagnosis, but because it was the word that resonated.
This past month, two years after I said the word “depression” into an empty room, I woke up and wondered if I could see parts of me (that I feared maybe never really existed) showing up once again. I joked with a guy at the hardware store and neither felt stressed nor tired afterward. I mopped my floors in preparation to have people over and didn’t pre-regret their coming. I had a tiny vision for the future pop into my head, and it didn’t seem like a cheap band-aid that I’d labored to conjure. I thought about flying to another city, and I waited for the fear of dying to overtake me, but it never fully came; it only mildly taunted. I daydreamed about making something bright and lovely, and that alone felt more like welcoming hope back home rather than wondering where it had gone.
I hesitate to say that a veil has lifted or that I’ve turned some distinctly marked corner. But my brain feels different and so does my chest. My soul feels as if someone of whom I was rather fond—who left without warning—just pulled up a seat again at my table and said with a knowing smile, “Hi.” My heart feels as if it has been on a journey through loss, and mercy, and, hey, maybe beauty. And today, I am celebrating and lamenting a thousand parts of depression’s waters: how they can flood us, where they can take us, and who we can become as they baptize us into our own pain and the pain of the rest of humanity to whom we are deeply connected.