Whew, this is a tough one. Am I depressed? Yes. No. Was. Let’s just say the babies took their toll and full on postpartum depression turned in to real life threatening, suicidal, change your personality type of depression. I am not ashamed. I never thought I would admit this out loud or let other people know, and for the longest time I didn’t even let my husband know how I was feeling. The thing is, I didn’t even understand what was going on. I was so confused, so overwhelmed, so not me, so dysfunctional, so struggling to JUST SURVIVE, that I couldn’t fully analyze or assess myself. What happened to Holly? Where did she go? I didn’t care. I let my husband in a little bit on how I was feeling in January but continued to try to push through and make it on my own. I tried so hard to be okay, to make myself better. But it didn’t work. I had no idea that a chemical imbalance would be an insurmountable mountain. I went to the doctor in March, and they prescribed an antidepressant. I took it for two nights, but on the second night I had crazy dreams/half reality, I don’t know, but whatever it was, I was freaked out! I hate medicine, so I thought I didn’t want to mess with that stuff. Counseling was really good. I started that in April. My counselor was phenomenal, and it turned out I had a lot of junk to work through. But it wasn’t enough.
Our next big move, second in a year with two toddlers, was happening in July. In June, we went on the most wonderful, relaxing vacation with Thomas’ mom and the kids to San Juan Island. We couldn’t believe that out of all of our world travels, this was our favorite trip, and WITH KIDS!!! But what really blew my mind and threw us for an unexpected loop, was that on this island, surrounded by bald eagles, a hot tub, and a serene bay where harbor seals glided by eyeing us with their giant round puppy dog eyes, I started having panic attacks. I had never had one before, so I had no idea what it was. The first night on the island I started twitching- constant muscle twitches all over my body. It was a scary thing! In high school and college I often had a random muscle twitch in one spot that would last for a few days. My college roommate was seriously worried that it was caused by a brain problem, and of course I thought that was hilarious. I laughed it off, but when this started in June and didn’t go away, I started to worry the same thing myself. Do I have ALS? I wondered. Pre-vacation I had suffered from extreme exhaustion and a mysteriously damaged knee that didn’t want to get better, so it seemed like a possibility despite my young age. The third night on the island, I laid in bed for hours struggling to breathe. My chest hurt and I couldn’t seem to get enough air. I finally got scared enough to wake up Thomas. My arms felt dead, and I couldn’t hold a cup of water. We were all seriously worried. We would have gone to the ER if we hadn’t been on a tiny, isolated island. It was a scary time for us. We went to the doctor when we got home, and he thought it sounded like a panic attack. He prescribed Hydroxazine for whenever I felt stressed or struggled to breathe. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t.
The move was busy and distracted me from everything I was dealing with. Moving cross country with kids and staying with family for a few weeks was a wild, but fun reprieve from real life. Even with little responsibility on me, the muscle twitches were always there, making me nervous and annoyed. Breathing was still an issue too- I felt like my lungs were constantly over-inflated. I knew I was on edge, and I was so ready to get to our new home. And finally- hellooooooo Ohio! It was luscious and green with lovely wooded neighborhoods that I felt at home in immediately. Finally, everything would be better! I could settle down in my new home, get all cozy, do some nesting and decorating, and all would be normal. So I thought. After two weeks there, fully unpacked, and confident that I was in as good a place as any (my husband did GOOD picking the house, and I am still so proud of him!) I hit rock bottom… After an all nighter of suicidal thoughts, I told him in the morning that we had to go to the ER. I couldn’t do it anymore. This was an important step for me. I totally threw up my hands and said, “I can’t do this on my own anymore. I need help.” I’m a prideful person, so it took a long time to finally admit it. Friends came over to watch the kids while we went to the nearest emergency room. They evaluated me and then sent me over to the psychiatric ward at a nearby hospital where I stayed for two nights.
Driving away from the ER, strapped to a gurney, in the back of an ambulance, was the most humbling experience of my life. The EMT in the back with me was so nice. He told me he had been in this very spot before, and he told me his wife struggled with a lot of the things I was dealing with right now. It was comforting, but didn’t totally relieve the bizarreness of the situation for me. I looked out the back window at the new landscape whizzing away with wide eyes, scared, starting a new and uncertain chapter. Upon arrival at the psychiatric ward, they took away all my possessions, as well as my shoelaces and the drawstring to my shorts. Thomas arrived a few minutes later, with a suitcase of stuff, expecting to hang out with me. They confiscated the suitcase and sent him away. Wait!!! We had no idea what to expect, and that is definitely the one thing we felt like the nurses at the ER should have prepared us for. They gave us absolutely no information or forewarning. It was ROUGH… STARK… I was really scared at first- open bedrooms with men walking down the hallways peering in my room to see who the new girl was, a small bloody bathroom with no locks, and cold, so cold. One sheet. I stole the sheet off the empty bed in my room, and then it got filled by a roommate at 11:30 the first night.
I grew up a sheltered kid, born into privilege, a rule follower, staying in my comfort zone. And this- this was so out of it. Most of the people in the ward, only about 8 or 9 of us total, were recovering drug addicts. Several had been in jail before and said this was only a small step up. But I realized that they were normal people. My heart ached for them. My situation was definitely an illness, definitely life threatening like a cancer and worthy of being taken seriously, but I had a wonderful supportive family to go home to. Many of them were homeless, with children, with legal issues to deal with once released, so many struggles to overcome. And even more surprising was that almost every one of them were Christians, had given their life to Christ during their darkest times, searching for the light, for hope, for help, for healing. I felt so thankful and fortunate for the supportive family that I have and for the safe home to go back to.
Once I got home, the whole thing seemed surreal. Did that really happen? Did I actually stay in a place like THAT?! I had good intentions of taking a care package to the psych ward with new coloring books and modeling clay and a bible and books and cds, but somehow the time slipped away, and I got comfortable with where I was again. The first week back, we were blessed with a week of vacation from the kids while they were at their Mimi’s house. It gave us time to paint a bunch of walls, fully settle in, and decompress. But, MAN, did those drugs work!!! They said at first the feeling could be a placebo effect, and I was aware of that, but I KNEW I could feel the Zoloft working. Because my mind felt at peace. It could rest while riding in the car without stressing about whatever. I could laugh with the kids and genuinely smile at my husband when he walked in the door. I honestly felt like a new person. And it felt too easy. You mean, all this time, all I needed to do was take some meds to magically make me better??? I love drugs! Just kidding. Haha, but I am grateful. After two weeks on the medicine, I was put to the test. Thomas went out of town for five full days, and I successfully managed the household as well as a sick baby without extreme stress, depression or hopelessness! I know I wouldn’t have survived that a few weeks before. It was a major accomplishment for me! Although I am still in the early stages of recovery, things are moving along smoothly. Out of the month I’ve been on meds, I have had one very bad day with the rest being good to excellent.
I am thankful, so thankful. That has been the word in my mind these few weeks. Thankful to my counselor for giving us the steps to take if I got desperate. Thankful for immediate medical attention. Sooo thankful for drugs that can help my troubled mind. I’m telling you- I went from extreme, roiling anguish in my mind that made me want to throw up to peacefulness. Thankful for friends and family who watched our kids while we dealt with the nightmare. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Thankful that even though I felt like he was often far away, God was there with me every step of the way.
O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in- behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go
up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
The night will shine like day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of the came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.
Psalm 139: 1-18
My hope is that my story will help someone who is struggling with depression. Please know that it is real and dangerous and something that so many people go through, often silently and secretly. I was scared and ashamed of what I was feeling, but a heavy burden has lifted from me since getting help and naming what was going on with me. Talk to a trusted loved one, a doctor, or counselor for guidance. My counselor gave me this number if I got desperate, so I’ll pass it on to you: 1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
By Holly Fister