I have depression. This is an objective fact. I don’t know how long, exactly, I’ve struggled with it, but I do know it became unbearable back in January; a side-effect of postpartum hormones and lack of sleep (it was the first round of teething, which was a doozy). I began to think troubling, suicidal thoughts, and worried over my ability to care for my son. I was afraid I would scream at him or possibly even hit him (I never did either, but the worry alone was terrifying), and more than once I put him in his room, went into mine and closed the door, and sobbed. So I saw my doctor, explained my symptoms, and he agreed I probably had postpartum depression. He put me on an antidepressant. And pretty much overnight I felt better. The intense frustration I had felt towards my son was replaced by normal, motherly exasperation. The desperation I felt for rest or the conviction I had that others secretly would be better off without me went away.
To further help my recovery, I began daily pilates exercise and eating a better, more balanced diet, with lots of whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and veggies (and a daily piece of dark chocolate, because dark chocolate is good for you and makes you happy). And I began to read my Bible every day, in physical form, which was way better than doing it on my phone. And what else I realized was that… a weight I had no idea I was carrying went away.
You see, as long as I can remember, I’ve hated myself. Not just self-criticism. Not just body image issues. I’ve held a deep-seated loathing of myself, a sense of shame and intense dislike. Every failure, big or small, has stoked this fire over the years, and every success or kind word has been ignored as faulty.
No matter how much I’ve weighed or how I’m dressed, I’ve always approached the mirror with dread, and been embarrassed to exercise or draw any sort of attention to myself in public.
And since it’s been this way my whole life, I assumed it was normal. I’m just hard on myself. I just need encouragement.
But when I went on antidepressants, I noticed that that feeling of intense self-loathing was gone. That nagging, angry, disappointed voice that criticized my every failing, my every minuscule flaw, was silent. For the first time in my life, I realized that not everyone had a voice like that in their head. I felt… free. Sure, I still wanted to work on myself, but I felt like I was finally doing it for me, not to try and win the approval of that nagging, unsatisfied voice in my head.
I had no idea that all along, that voice was depression speaking. My tormenter that I’d tried to ignore and live with for so long had a name and a face now. You can’t imagine how incredible that was to realize.
And how horrible it was when it came back.
Through a series of mistakes on the part of my pharmacy on refilling my prescription just after my son’s first birthday, I went three days without antidepressants.
The only thing worse, I think, than struggling, unknowing, with depression for untold years, is tasting the freedom of living without it, and then suddenly being plunged back into it at top speed. You can’t mess with psych meds, as any doctor will tell you, as the side effects can be catastrophic. I rammed face-first into a solid wall of bleakness, that voice screaming at me that I should kill myself and spare everyone around me the trouble of dealing with my existence. When my son woke up, bewildered, from a nap, I sobbed and felt like if I had to face him I would lose it. You’ll only hurt him. You hurt everyone. You’re a horrible mother. You’re a horrible wife. You’re garbage and you always have been. You can’t do anything right. You are trash. You are trash. You are trash.
I tried, hard, to continue my daily routines. My pilates stretches. My good food. My Bible readings. I collapsed into tears halfway through a workout, convinced I could never do it again. I went on a food binge that would have made the Karly of six years ago proud. I stared unseeing at the Bible, unsure how any of its words applied to me.
I did know, of course, that it was just the lack of meds. That everything would readjust once I finally got my prescription. But having that torn away from me left me unmoored. I wondered if this was who I really was after all. This dark, destructive person, this awful, nagging, hateful voice. What if the medicine merely whitewashed over the awful person I really was, put up a functional facade?
I begged God for help, in abject agony. In some part of my mind, even after going on meds, I wondered if I could have beaten the way I was feeling if I had more faith. If I prayed the right prayers. I sobbed quietly, trying to rock my son to sleep, as my mind tread these paths. “God, what am I doing wrong? Why can’t you help me? I’ve begged and begged and you’ve never helped me.”
Oh Karly, I heard Him say. I am helping you.
And instantly my mind pulled up those Bible stories of deeply human, deeply flawed individuals; Paul with the thorn in his side that God would not take away, Jacob with his limp, David and his weeping and doubting in the Psalms…
“But what about the people Jesus healed?” I asked.
What about the people I did not?
I don’t get it. I’ve seen it myself, that God can heal some people instantly. I’ve seen people released from lifelong addictions and diseases in an instant. I know it happens. I know God can and does do miracles. But not for everyone. For many of us, God lets us struggle. He may heal us through medication. Or not at all. I don’t know why. I will never know why.
But I do know in that moment that my doubts were silenced. The nagging, angry voice still threatened to overtake me before I finally was able to get my prescription. I still struggled and fought and worried I would not succeed in time. But I did not doubt anymore that it was my fault; that I could pray this away or that I struggled only due to a lack of faith.
In my life, I’ve seen wonderful things, inexplicable things that I can only say are miracles. And I’ve seen many hopeless, senselessly tragic things. I don’t understand any of it. But I guess I don’t have to.
As a writer, I think, I am able to process this better than some. I too do things that would baffle the characters in my stories––but in the end it will all make sense. If my characters were able to read ahead, they’d know it all worked out for the best in the end, that everything had to happen to them the way it did in order to get there. I believe the same for life.
“Life,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkien, “is a tragedy with a surprise happy ending.”
I don’t know why I’m depressed or why I have to be on medication. I don’t know if I’ll have to be on it for the rest of my life or if I’ll ever be healed. But I know one day, when the veil is parted, it’ll make sense why it happened this way. Why everything had to happen this way. Why it couldn’t happen any other way.
Amen and amen.