When I was in college, I really struggled with WHY I was there. I wasn't one with big career goals. I wanted to get married and have a family...that was my dream job. I knew that I should have a 'backup plan', so that's why I got my dental hygiene degree. But deep down, I knew God was calling me to motherhood as my profession.
Fast-forward a few years...we had those babies I had dreamed about. After Annaliese (#2) was born, I started feeling 'not right'. My OB/GYN diagnosed me with postpartum depression. I wasn't in denial about it...it was a very real thing. I learned (after hearing countless times, "Why are you depressed? You have a husband that loves you, two beautiful children, a brand new home...what do you have to be depressed about???") that depression is NOT circumstantial. Yes, circumstances can contribute to it, but it is a chemical, physical, REAL disease. I took my medication and felt like I was doing pretty well after awhile. When we found out we were expecting baby #3, my dr. suggested that I should stay on the medication throughout my pregnancy and for at least another year after giving birth. I did. When Adam was around a year old, I figured that since I had done so 'well', I didn't need to take it anymore, so I weaned myself off. Big mistake. Long story short, I crashed hard. I was put back on medication and have been on it ever since. When Sam was born (#4), I felt great. No big emotional dips, no harmful thoughts. I was hoping to be able to wean off my meds shortly after his first birthday, but then we found out we were expecting a surprise...Tessa. :)
My pregnancy with her was pretty typical. No big complications, just the typical pregnancy discomforts. After she was born, I was so happy...and then, it happened. I started feeling completely overwhelmed. Everyone kept telling me "Wow! You have FIVE kids?!?!? You must be a superwoman!!!". For the sake of any of my friends out there with large families, PLEASE do not say this to us! It only puts pressure on us to BE a superwoman! Everytime I heard someone say this, I felt like a fraud. Sure, when you see a mom out with her kids, and they're dressed decently and are semi-well behaved, you think she's got it together. What you don't see (or at least what is true for me) is the mom that screamed at her children that morning because they were being irritating. The mom who screamed at and belittled her husband for something very insignificant. The mom who was mad at God for giving her what she asked for. The mom who looked for every chance she had to escape, practically running out the door the minute her husband came home from work and often didn't return until well after the kids were in bed. The mom who looked around at the house that looked like a bomb went off in it, but didn't know where to start, so she did nothing. That was me.
This past summer was not at all what I'd hoped it would be. I did the bare minimum each day. Breakfast for the kids. Check. Lunch. Check. Naptime. Check. The rest of the time, I was checked-out. We made the weekly trip to the park, swam at the community pool, had lots of playdates with our friends. But I did nothing to engage my kids at all. I was resentful of them, honestly. I felt unappreciated and invisible.
Around the time of Tessa's first birthday (in September), I had a complete breakdown. I don't even remember what sparked it, but I lost it. Thankfully, the kids were outside, but hateful words were said, things were broken, and I hit bottom. I sat on the floor of the bathroom, sobbing, thinking of ways I could escape my life permanently. I was terrified. My poor husband didn't know what to do with me...I can't imagine how horrified he was by what happened, how angry he must be at me, how frustrated he was that he couldn't help me. I will say this...God gave me an extremely patient, forgiving, and loving husband. Neither of us are perfect, but we know God knew what He was doing when He brought us together.
I have also been blessed with an amazing group of girlfriends. They have been a huge support to me though this whole journey. They encouraged me to get help. I called my doctor, but was told I had to wait a week to get in. During that week, another call was put in to them, and they increased my medication dosage. By the time the appointment came around, I was a pile of tears every day. As Jared and I sat in his office, I was overcome by the reality of it all. I had to get help...I couldn't try to do this on my own anymore. My dr. made a phone call and got me an immediate appointment with a counselor in the same building. Again, as I told her what was going on, all I could do was cry. She set me up for the following week with the counselor I would be seeing on a regular basis. It helped to be heard, but I still didn't see how things would get any better.
After my first appointment with my counselor, I began to feel freed from the guilt I was carrying around about the summer. I beat myself up pretty badly over that. She reassured me that the kids probably wouldn't look back on the summer as the worst one of their lives, and reminded me that we did do SOME fun things along the way. I looked forward with anticipation to our family vacation, which was planned for the end of September. Destination: The Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Most of you know the story...we got there, settled into the rental home, and Annaliese developed pneumonia in both lungs and was hospitalized for the fourth time since June, an hour and a half away, for the rest of the trip. I was devastated. The ONE thing I looked forward to with our family and THIS is what happens??? To be honest, I STILL struggle with this one. I'd love a do-over.
So, since September, I've been seeing my counselor every two weeks. She's helping me understand myself better, and I'm learning how to take time for myself that is beneficial, not just to escape. I've had a couple of 'dips' since then, where my medication kind of levels out a little for a couple of days, and I feel pretty down and just want to sleep. Thankfully, they happen on the weekends when Jared is home to pick up the slack.
I think one of the things that frustrates me most about depression is not knowing how long I'll have to deal with it. It could be for this season of my life. I could be for the rest of my life. I may need to take medication forever. And I'm okay with that. There is a huge stigma attached to medication that I wish would just go away. Taking it does not make one weak. It doesn't mean that you are a failure. The goal of my treatment is not to get me off my medication...it's to keep me healthy.
If you read this and see yourself in something I've written, please know that you are not alone. You may feel like the worst person on the planet. You may want to escape your life. You may feel like you're worth nothing to anyone. I remember sitting with a friend at church one Sunday the past fall, crying my eyes out. I looked at her and sobbed, "I just feel like my kids would be better off with another mom, and that Jared would be better off with another wife!". She looked me right in the eyes and said, "Amanda, that is a lie from the pit of hell...I don't EVER want to hear you say that again!". That was just what I needed. Someone to speak TRUTH to me. I'm thankful to have some very Godly women in my life. Maybe you don't have that. Please don't be afraid to reach out.
There is a lot more I could write, and I feel like some of this may be a little dis-jointed. I'll have a lot more to say about depression and helping someone you love who is struggling with it, but I will leave you with this for now:
Be gracious to me, O God,
be gracious to me.
For my soul takes refuge in you;
and in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge
until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
to God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples on me.
God will send forth this lovingkindness and His truth.
Psalm 57: 1-3