When I walked into the therapy office, I was surprised that it looked different than I expected. “Where’s the couch? I thought I was supposed to lay down,” I thought to myself. And as I waited in her tiny office next to her corner desk, I scoffed at how ridiculous my current predicament was.
“Why are you here?” she asked me.
“I’m here because my sister is a therapist and I think she’d be pissed if I didn’t come.”
I had set up this appointment several times and canceled after second-guessing my primary physician and the psychologist. But after talking with a friend and my sister, they convinced me to call again. It was one thing to be diagnosed with postpartum depression three months after Eleanor was born, but as time lingered I was desperate to blame any and all medical conditions on ANYTHING but depression or anxiety.
“I’m apparently a mental illness trifecta shit storm,” I said to her.
“And do you believe that?”
“Sometimes,” I replied. “But sometimes not. I think I feel my brokenness way too deeply, and while I’m on the edge of the pit of sadness, I still can breathe. I feel like I move along just fine. I wake up in the morning being reminded of God’s gift of a new day. But then another part of me sits in guilt because I let hopelessness be a louder voice.”
I am not depressed. I don’t have anxiety. I don’t have OCD. I am just like everyone else. Everyone gets sad, anxious, stressed, frustrated. Everyone feels like this. I have two beautiful children, a wonderful husband. I love my job. I have numerous friends and family that bring me so much joy. I told myself over and over, especially late into the night when the shame and doubt seemed to be the loudest.
She listened quietly, but continued to write notes quickly on her yellow pad. When she stopped asking questions, the silence became deafening. So… I just kept talking. And talking and talking. About Lucy and Eleanor. Being a mom. Being a working mom. Having a special needs child. About the panic attacks. About not being in control. About rewriting my lists until they are perfected. About my incessant planning and perfect scheduling. About feeling unrecognizable to myself.
And after all of that I thought to myself, “Oh. Well, maybe this all makes sense.”
I left the office not feeling relieved or better, but confused. The flood of self-doubt came rushing over me. Maybe these three dark labels were part of me. Maybe they were consuming. And I could finally see what I hadn’t before. I began to feel the walls I built out of fear. I had stayed inside these walls because the darkness felt safer and it allowed my heart to hide amidst its mess.
It seems way too easy. There should be more to it. But as Psalm 34:17 says, “The righteous cry out and the LORD hears them. He delivers them from all their troubles.” It’s right there in the book of Psalms. And I totally believed it- I really did, but it took me a long to decide to act upon it.
I had believed depression was suicide attempts and the inability to wake up before noon. I thought anxiety was not being able to be in crowds of people or slowly breathing in and out of a paper bag. I had no idea what it could look like in myself so I refused to accept I was sliding down the slope. I believed that I didn’t deserve the practically perfect life I was given… because what kind of person can be given all of these people, all of these things, all of these experiences and still be unhappy? I thought if I said it out loud God would take it all away from me.
I was so afraid of getting caught in the lie of who I wanted to be that I was unable to lay it at the cross. I was afraid that my brokenness was too deep. I was afraid that if I acknowledged these labels, it would become all encompassing. The truth just seemed so much harder than the lie.
But when I let it go and gave it a name, I gave the darkness a voice to say the words I was afraid to say. The shame and stigma of mental illness ripped off of me quickly the more I spoke about it- giving others a chance to share their stories. It gave us all a chance to bring our brokenness together, with no walls and no lies.
Life is so much easier when you’re not walking around as a shell. When you can lay it all out there and say, “This is what I bring to the table. It’s kind of shitty. It’s certainly not perfect. I am broken. I’m a mess. But this is me.” And even when there are days that are harder to see it, the love will always shine brighter than the darkness.
“If it’s so common then why doesn’t anyone talk about it?” I asked the therapist.
“Well…maybe you should be the one to start the conversation.”