“What don’t you have?” my husband asked me out of sheer bewilderment. He stared at me from the other side of the couch as I fumbled for an answer that had eluded me for more than six months. “I don’t…I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m sorry. I just…I just don’t know.” This kind of rambling had become like a second language to me. Too many incoherent thoughts without the energy to sort them into making sense left me exhausted and clearly made him frustrated as well.
I revved up to try again but all I could get out was, “It’s too hard. I must be doing something wrong.” That was my only explanation. That was my reality. I saw other people doing it, but instead of being motivated to do the same, I felt broken because I didn’t feel like I could. Juggling all the pieces of my life had left me paralyzed when everybody else seemed to be thriving in their roles as moms, as wives, as Christians, and as women. It all seemed heavy. Life felt like something that needed to be carried instead of something that was meant to be enjoyed.
“Are you not happy with everything we have?” He asked a seemingly different question, but it wasn’t really. I understood what he was asking. Why, if you have everything you’ve always wanted and ever asked for, can’t you be content? After all, I had two beautiful kids, a hardworking husband, loving friends and family, a social life, and a fifteen-year career! What piece is missing that could stop the tears and lift the inexplicable weight I carried around every moment lately? I knew the things that would help:
- More Jesus.
- Eating healthier.
- Not constantly numbing my brain with a device.
- Not constantly filling my schedule with things that took my energy but didn’t replace it.
But all of those things felt embarrassingly out of my grasp, like they were just outside the boundaries of what I could make myself do every day.
Part of the pain of it all was the weakness I felt for not being able to move past it; it felt like a physical barrier that I could see the edges of but couldn’t see over. Beyond the pain of feeling weak was this ocean of shame—the inescapable shame that, as a mother, I should be able to do anything for my kids, yet I couldn’t get past this for them. I felt the real possibility of slipping beneath the surface when I realized I couldn’t move the invisible obstacle in front of me. I wanted to feel better, even if only for my kids. I wanted so badly to be a good example of how to control my emotions, to find joy in everyday things, and to feel blessed instead of burdened in every situation. But the shame I felt only fed the darkness looming just at the edges of our shiny, wonderful life. Why couldn’t I do this for them? I would do anything I could for them! But this? I couldn’t shake this.
The crazy thing is that I had beaten stage four breast cancer for them. From the second I was diagnosed, I knew that although I might be okay with dying, I was not okay with leaving my babies without a mother. So, I fought. I did whatever it took. I endured four-and-a-half years of chemo, going bald, and working full time while filling their little lives with as much magic and excitement as I could. If my time with them was going to be short, then it was going to be memorable. The cancer continued to disappear and I continued our life at full capacity until I lost my job in November of last year. I was fired unceremoniously from a job that I was incredibly good at, which was a blow in and of it itself. But what came next—the quiet and the stillness of not running 100 miles per hour every day—was like a dark curtain being drawn over my spirit. It blocked all the sunlight and forced me to slow down when all I wanted to do was keep moving forward. I wanted to move away from cancer, away from dying young, and away from leaving my kids mommy-less. I had been running for so long because I had to feel as alive as possible. Now that the race was won I didn’t know how to not be a runner anymore.
I was completely unprepared to face the trauma I had been running from for so long, and now here was this big bad monster that followed me around like a shadow. It was always present and always threatening. If you think cancer is bad, at least it has a name and a playbook. What I was feeling was nameless. What I couldn’t reckon with wasn’t fully formed or touchable. I had no plan of attack and nowhere to start because it felt like the call was coming from inside the house. The only thing that could right the ship was me, and I was in no shape to captain my own course. This was a kind of being untethered that I hadn’t felt during cancer. I had an identity during cancer. I had a purpose and a goal to not die. This was different. It stripped away who I was. It made things less vibrant and less enjoyable, unlike the cancer that made every teeny, tiny thing exquisite. This was the opposite of cancer for me. Fighting an invisible force left me tired and confused. I was swept away from the anchor that battling cancer provided and lost the certainty of being able to do whatever was asked of me for my children.
My previous survival strength left me with an unsympathetic audience. When I tried to mention to others what I was feeling, it made them uncomfortable. They didn’t want to see me struggle, so I quit trying to explain it. Their belief in my ability to tackle anything just stung in a way that embarrassed me. Obviously, my husband couldn’t brush by whatever was holding me hostage since it was living in our house with us. “You need to talk to someone,” was his best advice. The inability to make sense of the disconnect and his growing concern for my hurting heart stopped him from trying to force me to make sense of the situation. I was somebody’s puzzle to put together now, so I went to therapy. Because I was desperate, I made the appointment. I showed up on time and sat on the couch. Then, I started rambling. When I stopped to take a breath and embarrassingly catch the therapists eye, I saw understanding for the first time in months.
“Has anybody ever talked to you about depression?”
There it was. The word spoken out loud. It was yet another diagnosis. Depression was a word, like cancer, I had heard so many times before yet never expected to have to wear it like a name tag. The words I was able to squeak out in response changed my life. “Can I love my life and still be depressed? Is that a thing?” The next words were the first time I was able to put my hands on the curtains to let the smallest sliver of sunshine into my soul. “Yes. Definitely.”
I wish I could say all was well when I walked out of that office, but it was only the first step to getting little bits and pieces of myself back. Just being able to admit that loving my life and being depressed weren’t mutually exclusive was such a relief. But it was also hard to know that I was entering a new phase of my life. It was one where I had to accept my healing and discover what it meant to be alive again. I’ve been so grateful to be alive, but I never stopped to recalibrate what life looked like when I wasn’t constantly terrified of dying. The loss of fear left a vacuum that depression crept into, and it took over. I don’t know who I am if I’m not the stage-four-cancer girl. However, I’m so blessed that I’ve been given physical healing so I have the time to work on mental healing. Like I previously sat in that chemo chair every three weeks and let the drugs heal my body, now I will sit on that couch every week and let therapy heal my soul. I’ll do it for me, for my husband, and especially for my kids, who don’t deserve a mom that is just living and breathing. They deserve a mom who is healthy and whole in every sense of the word.