I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a long time, but I could never find the right words to describe it. I know there are many others who go through the same thing, but don’t have a name for it either. It’s like water slowly rising all around you, until your feet are off the ground and you struggle to keep your head above water. Pedaling and treading and paddling for days and days, without anything solid to hold on to. You choke, you swallow water, sputtering and gasping, you get so tired. But you can’t stop moving, because you know that if you do, you’re going to drown.
When things got really, really bad when I had my baby, I decided to read more about what I was going through, and talked to friends who have gone through treatment for mood disorders or mental illness. I stopped short at seeing a professional, mostly because 1) Treatment is freaking expensive and 2) How do you place mental illness/mood disorder in a life that is supposedly anchored on Christ?
The first time I remember ever acknowledging this feeling was in high school. I asked a good friend if she ever felt inexplicable sadness. The way I described it to her was a “heavy blackness that just takes over, and you feel like you’re going to choke.” She told me that sometimes, yes, she feels sad for no reason, but we shouldn’t let it take hold of us because we should lean on Jesus. That I needed to pray more. She was well-meaning, and I took her advice to heart. I quashed every feeling of darkness that came my way, ignored it or covered it up, afraid to bring it up with anyone else because I didn’t want to be seen as someone who didn’t have faith. Someone who didn’t love God enough.
They say the first step towards healing is always acknowledgement, giving your pain a name. Hiding it and keeping it inside just made me miserable. I did a really good job at doing so though, cause everyone always thought I was happy 24/7. My energy was always through the roof. But there was a very short time where I resorted to hurting myself, finding comfort in short-lived romances, electrifying nights out that turned to mornings, and just filling my days with constant activity. I was terrified of being alone, because that’s when it hurt the most. Hurt for no reason. Sad for no reason.
Things got better when I met my husband-to-be. Niki is straightforward, uncomplicated, EXTREMELY PATIENT, and so God-fearing. He was such a calming presence in my life, and it balanced out so much of my instability. During my relationship with him, I found enough peace to renew my relationship with God. I really thought I was okay, that I had matured and all those dark days were just a result of youth and hormones.
Then we got married, I got pregnant, and gave birth to the most wonderful, adorable, lovely little boy. Elon is my heart. I loved him so much! Which is why I didn’t understand why I was so terrified to be alone with him. When I look back at my first year as a mom, what I remember the most was the darkness, the fear, the terrifying realization that I had no idea what I was doing and I was probably failing. It didn’t help that Elon is the world’s worst sleeper, and the lack of sleep plus breastfeeding drove my hormones through the roof and I was an inconsolable mess. Niki often came home to a woman he didn’t recognize- angry, afraid, sometimes crying heavily for no reason. I didn’t understand other women with their bright eyes and makeup, their photos of clean homes and brightly lit, cooing babies. I felt so different from them, and it made me feel even worse.
I had read about the baby blues, which was supposed to last two weeks. I waited for the feeling to go away, but it never did. Weeks turned to months, and the next thing I know, a year had gone by. I prayed and prayed and prayed, but there were some days when I just could not handle it. I was drowning.
During one of our middle-of-the-night feedings, I decided to join forums and research on postpartum depression and anxiety. My western counterparts were a lot more aware about the effects of hormonal changes on mood and mental well-being, and I found a lot of information that made it easier to understand what I was going through. Slowly, I felt less and less alone. Knowing WHY I was feeling the way I was feeling helped me work through it, process it, and fight it.
And then one day, as if someone turned the light switch on, everything just changed. A cloud lifted, a window was opened, and I could breathe. My feet found the ground, and slowly, I walked back to shore. The sun felt good on my face, and everything felt different. Just like that, without warning or anything measurable – I simply felt better.
The day I knew that my hormones were definitely the culprit was when I decided to quit breastfeeding. After 26 months, I decided it was time to stop, and then the madness began all over again. I read up on it and many women have given testimonies about their depression and/or anxiety come back when they stopped breastfeeding. Thankfully, that episode lasted for only 2 weeks, and then the feeling of drowning was gone again.
I still have my episodes, but this time, I know when they are about to come– and it’s always 1-2 weeks before I get my period. Damn you, hormones!!! It’s at that time that I need to eat well, exercise, and get lots of outside time. The episodes still come, but every month I get better at managing it, and knowing what to expect has really, really helped. Having a partner in life who is with me every single step of the way, and will take me out for impromptu trips to see light shows, also makes it easier. And my family, my amazing support system, helps me in ways they don’t event know. Sometimes, knowing they are there is more than enough. I hope to speak to a professional someday soon, because I also believe in the physical as much as I do in the spiritual, and I know that kind of insight/ a proper diagnosis will take me a step closer to healing.
Where does God fit in all of this? How can I be a Christian, and yet suffer from anxiety or a mood disorder? I’m not afraid of that question anymore, because I realized that it’s the reason why He came to die on the cross in the first place: because He loves me and I need His love. My body fights me, but it is not all I am. Maybe it’s the thorn on my side, the way apostle Paul had one too. But I hold on to God’s promise that healing is in His hands, and it is never far away.
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
1 Corinthians 3:10-15