Darkness. It is a setting which existed even before the formation of the earth. Before there was light to oppose it, to shine into it. Before the two entities were separate, there was only dark.
It only takes the tiniest bit of light to penetrate the dark. A candle, a flashlight. A kind word or an unexpected smile. But sometimes, we simply cannot see it. Our vision is obscured by negative thoughts, the seemingly futile circumstances surrounding us, and self condemnation. Our glass isn’t just half empty. It is bone dry.
For over a year after having my first child by means of an emergency c-section and losing my grandmother the following day, I lived in the dark. Although I’d battled a cycle of depression for most of my life, the events surrounding the birth of my son sent me into a pit so deep I thought I would never clamber out of it. I had a loving husband who treated me with the utmost respect and a beautiful child who was healthy and the most flawless thing I’d ever done, but none of it could permeate the desolation that followed me everywhere. We lived in a gorgeous area of Northern Utah surrounded by majestic mountains and vistas through every window of our home, but I felt as though I was living in a black hole.
Mental illness is not a subject which many people like to discuss. Some people shirk around it, try to make jokes and belittle the matter, and others simply ignore it. But it is real. It affects people in various ways and the symptoms are vast, but a chemical imbalance in the brain is not a condition you can simply snap out of or escape by just trying harder. No amount of busyness could improve my mood, and when caring for a newborn, there is plenty to do.
At my six week check-up, I told my doctor about my emotional state and was prescribed an anti-depressant. Although I have heard of many success stories from people who take one regularly, it did not work for me. My state of depression progressed to nearly suicidal. I couldn’t sleep, I barely wanted to eat, and was dismally attempting to care for an infant in my zombie-like state.
A year after my six-week check-up I had a regular OBGYN visit and my doctor noticed I was still suffering from PPD. He prescribed another pill, which gave similar results, and at that point I decided to see a therapist. For me, making the decision to talk to someone I didn’t know about my emotional and mental state was more scary that taking a medication which altered my brain. I was terrified. There was pain which I had buried so deep for so long that I was convinced that if it was brought to the surface I would crumple right there on the sofa in the patient room. But admitting you need help is not a sign of weakness. It shows strength. A faith in something you may not be able to see just yet.
I would be lying if I said it was easy. There were some fervent tears shed on that couch, but I can honestly say that seeking professional help was one of the first steps I took toward seeing the light again. I was able to cope with issues I kept hidden for most of my adult life and receive objective advice and perspective from someone who was not involved. Other steps forward were finding a supportive group of moms and reaching out to the community around me, becoming involved in our church and serving others. Each of these actions opened my eyes to the big, bright world around me. But the biggest step was surrendering all of my burdens to a God who is greater than my fears, anxiety, or self-loathing. He is a God of peace, love, and mercy.
For several years, I never shared this experience with anyone except for my closest friends and family. Now, I share with anyone who asks. I want people who feel as though the light will forever elude them to know there is hope. Even when you don’t see the light, it is still there.
I believe in a God who often uses medication and science to heal, but this method clearly didn’t work for me. Sometimes the most difficult step toward healing is admitting you need help. Saying no, I’m not fine, and being okay with that. The worst reaction you can have to depression or mental illness is to ignore it. Restoration begins with admission that there is a problem.
Acknowledging the dark is the first step toward seeing the light.
“‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12