Depression holds people under water just long enough to make their lungs sparkle with water, but not long enough that they disappear. I believe that’s the aspect of it that makes it so painful. Suffering for long periods of time gasping for air, but unable to articulate your needs.
There is a bittersweet emotional tension between depression and the desire to be immersed in efforts of self-help.
Can I cure my depression by eating a vegan diet?
Maybe I can go through years of intensive therapy and learn to fix myself.
I’m not trying hard enough.
The meds aren’t working and I’m more tired than I’ve ever been.
Maybe more podcasts, encouraging books, exercise, time with friends, and sleep will help me to get my head above water.
All of those things are wonderful, but when you overload yourself with the best of intentions when you’re in survival mode you will fall.
Maybe you cycle through self blame, self help, and self sabotage. The truth is that depression isn’t a destiny at all. It’s a journey. It may not be one that you set out for, but you are on the road with a painful yet magnificent teaching tool.
The truth is that the best effort you can put forth in dark times of depression is the effort of not giving up on yourself.
Focus on the fact that your lungs are filled with air. It doesn’t make the pain evaporate, but it will be enough to get you through one day at a time.
You aren’t failing. As a matter of fact, you can and will thrive.
I began a kindness initiative nearly one year ago. Little Hope Notes was born from compassion, creativity, and the desire to make a small difference. I remember how easily the words came to me when I would sit down and write a little hope note. The opportunities ahead seemed limitless and I’d smile at the thought of someone discovering a note and it being an encouragement to them.
Instagram seems to be a place to present polished versions of people. Those people share their victories and at times they share their struggles. I didn’t know where I fit in and I didn’t know how to make Little Hope Notes an encouraging platform when I was struggling so desperately with my own mental health.
I began to avoid all social media for my own well being. It felt impossible to be positive when I was comparing myself against every account I scrolled past. I hid.
I didn’t just hide on screen, but off screen too. My own depression gripped me so tightly that I stopped writing little hope notes. I stopped sharing about it. I stopped showing up for myself. Under I went into a place that I can only refer to as the darkness.
When I was down there I thought about how desperately I wanted to feel alive. I wanted to feel peace and have a deep understanding of myself. Then, a moment came when I realized that all of the Little Hope Notes I had written for others really spoke to me as well.
Was it possible that I had been writing what my own heart needed the whole time?
That depression clung to me for a long time, but as the sun began to thaw the outer edges of my heart I began to see. I saw those that were struggling and I knew right then and there that it wasn’t just enough to share encouraging words with others. I had to show hope. Sometimes hope doesn’t look promising at all. As a matter of fact, hope tends to push us out of the soil when we are at rock bottom.
There are 5 mental health confessions that I need to share. These things occur when I am at my worst and I am realizing that isolating myself in a confessional booth isn’t what hope looks like. It’s coming out into the open and sharing it with you because maybe you’re hurting, too.
I distance myself from the people I love most. I never feel guilty about it because my trauma response of wanting to self preserve is stronger.
I have been in therapy for 5 years and I only started telling my therapist the truth two weeks ago. I wasn’t blatantly lying, but was so defensive that I didn’t even know what my truth was. Years of self sufficiency can make it hard for vulnerability to move in.
Suicidal thoughts come into my mind often. Although I have a strong support system and a safety plan, it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
I’m learning slowly that I deserve love and peace. I am in this strange place of showing myself tenderness and grace. Sometimes that’s too uncomfortable to sit with so I keep running.
I’m a peacemaker. I always have been. That quality has led to a lot of pain in my life–trusting too much too quickly. When I feel that people aren’t trustworthy I enter a place of self sufficiency and swear them off before they even had a fighting chance.
If there’s anything that I can say I know about you for sure it is this.
You are safe to confess what you struggle with. You’re loved simply because you exist and there’s nothing that can extinguish that light inside of you. Hope is always there. See if you can find her the next time a storm rolls in. She’ll be the one waiting on the shore for you.
Mama, I see you. I see beyond your pajama pants and messy bun in the school drop off line. Two panes of glass separate us–yours tinted darker than mine. There, in the shadow that the morning sun is casting on your face, I see the dark circles under your eyes and the taut thin line that your lips create just above your chin.
I look in the rear view mirror at my daughter.
She’s talking about how she doesn’t need her coat because the sun is out. It’s 34-degrees outside. I catch a glimpse of myself in that rear view mirror then I look back over at you. I see myself in you. We’re tired, aren’t we? Being a Mama is hard.
Nobody told me how hard it would be to navigate motherhood. No one took me by the hand and showed me that I can live with Major Depressive Disorder and still be a good mom.
Maybe you’re reading this as you’re rocking your newborn to sleep. Maybe this is reaching you as you’re sitting on your bathroom floor crying while your toddler throws a tantrum just outside the door.
I am writing this to you wherever you are, Mama.
I am writing this to me.
I know what it’s like to be full of enthusiasm and greet the day and your child with wide eyes and sweet kisses. The day ahead like a blank canvas–yours to fill with color and memories. Breathing in the scent of your kid as they lean in for a tired afternoon hug feels like magic.
Then there are the other days. Those days.
I know what it’s like to be full of dread and greet the day and your child with a hurried pace and tired eyes. The day ahead like a burden–yours to crawl through. Catching your breath at the end of the day as you lay your head on your pillow feels like magic. The regretful rush, lack of patience, and short temper sit heavily on your chest. Hot tears form in your eyes, but you never feel them fall because you’ve already fallen asleep.
Most Mamas can fully relate to both scenarios.
There’s the other days. The days when everything in the external world is just as it should be, but the storm rages inward. There’s a cloud so dark and heavy hanging above you and you can feel yourself fading–becoming it.
Then, there are the times adjusting to a new psychiatric medication. There’s the initial hope followed by the deep fatigue and other symptoms that creep in and take over for the weeks following. Finally, the medications sync with your system and you feel some sort of relief from depression’s weight and anxiety’s grip. You’re left wondering if the weeks of investment are going to pay off–the torture of adjusting to new chemicals swimming in your body.
The stigma associated with medication seems to find you on a cellular level and although you’re happy to feel more like yourself, you’re also struggling with feeling like a failure for having to need help.
All of this is so difficult. Yet, only the faithful few–sometimes the faithful one–check to see how you’re doing.
Motherhood is an all encompassing, invigorating, and absolute “play it by ear” song and dance. For those living with a mental illness it feels impossible to care for yourself–not to mention the tiny human that God has entrusted you with.
So, we prioritize those we love and let whatever treatments that may or can be wait on the horizon for another day.
Mama, this Little Hope Note isn’t a list of things you can or should do to make your mental illness more manageable. Thankfully and also ironically unfortunate, there are enough of those blogs awaiting you in your next Google search.
What can I give?
I just want to acknowledge you. I want you to know that you’re lovely and you are loved–as you are.
You aren’t broken.
There isn’t a day that I don’t think of you. In fact, acknowledging that you exist means that I’m not merely existing, but am part of a community–a tribe of Mamas suffering, but loving deeply despite it all.