I pulled cool air into my chest and held it, my temporary captive. With a loud and sudden puff, it escaped me. I wanted it to cleanse me, hoped it would take away the frustrations like our filter pulling dust out of the air circulating through.
As I crunched along over leaves and gravel, my eyes defocused on the trees in the distance. A wide eyed stare only saw colors and a flat landscape bobbing ahead. Surely my face looked flat, for I had no energy left for expression. I FELT flat. Squashed.
I was so far overdue for an escape that I was too numb to enjoy it. I tried to relish the sound of leaves skittering across the ground, but all I could hear was crying and whining.
Stop it. Don’t think about them, I told myself.
I found a lonely bench and sat down.
A field of dry grass waved hello, but I didn’t return the greeting. Bahumbug. Bitterness was the only companion I would allow today. I gritted my teeth and squinted my eyes against the wind.
Movement to my left. Ever wary of danger, I whipped my head 90 degrees.
Oh. Just a squirrel.
Jeepers, Holly. Chill out. I was wound tight and picked thin. How much longer til I snapped?
The squirrel hopped closer and pawed through the leaves on the ground. I watched it search.
More blank stares.
Chick chick chick chick said the squirrel as it flicked its tail.
“I won’t bother you.”
The squirrel looked at me with black beady eyes and hopped a little closer.
“My kids are diving me nuts.” I sighed. It chicked at me again.
I picked at the green, peeling polish on my nails. At its best it looked like sparkly seaweed, but now it was borderline pond algae. It had been hanging around for months, a patchy reminder of my less than stellar hygiene habits. I took half as many showers as I did pre-kids and usually wore whatever was clean or comfy instead of what looked nice. I felt downright frumpy.
“Do you ever just wish you were somewhere else? Or someone else?”
With a twitch of its tail, the squirrel leaped up onto the end of my bench.
“Woah, there!” I scooted to the opposite end and heard the crinkle of plastic in my jacket pocket. I pulled out a little baggy of cheesits.
“Want one?” I scooted a cheesit halfway to the squirrel, then retreated.
It waddled to the cracker and picked it up between its front paws. It flicked its fluffy tail a few times and chicked twice. Then it stuffed the cheesit in its mouth and scampered away.
“You’re welcome!” I called out after it. I felt very much alone. And empty. I popped a cheesit in my own mouth, stood up, and started the walk home.
Okay, I’ll go ahead and admit that this scene didn’t really happen, but it accurately describes my bleak state of mind a year ago.
And actually, minus the squirrel, this situation occasionally occurred where I got a brief break from the kids without it lifting my spirits at all.
In January my doctor prescribed me vitamin d pills and recommended a “happy light” to combat the gray Seattle winter.
Around the same time, I discovered red light therapy, which is supposed to heal skin and relieve depression. For twenty minutes I would bask in a cocoon of warm sunshine and think of happy vacations from the past. Fernandina, Florida with my whole family. Turks and Caicos with my husband. Our backyard pool as a kid. It was lovely.
But when I got home it only took a few tears from the kids to make me feel like I was drowning again. The little breaks didn’t help in the long run. Praying when my mind was in anguish didn’t relieve the inner struggle. The smiles on my children’s faces and the fun adventures we went on as a family in the Seattle area couldn’t sustain me either.
Have you ever felt that hopelessly stuck? Like you’re floundering and can’t get out of the pit? It was hard for me to genuinely smile, and laughter felt forced. There was no humor in the darkness.
I can’t even describe the relief I feel now as I look back on that time. I moved from anguish to hope to a lightness of spirit I hadn’t felt in ages. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten on antidepressants. I wonder about the women who suffered from postpartum depression in centuries past, and it makes me incredibly thankful for modern medicine.
I went from a state of curling inward like a wounded animal to an animated human again. Praise Jesus!
Since sharing the story of my postpartum depression, so many people have reached out to me and told me their own story. I learned that I am not alone in this even though I felt like I was for the longest time.
That’s why I share my story. That’s why I go public with my inner battles and dark feelings. I want people to know that depression is a common struggle.
We were not meant to slog through each day desperate for the unconscious state that bedtime brings. We were meant to LIVE!
We were created to have energy and passions and dreams. We have the capacity to feel excitement and love and jubilation.
We also feel pain and despair and frustration, but that’s what makes us complex beings. Those feelings are unavoidable sometimes, but if they dominate your life like they did mine, perhaps you should seek help.
Hang onto life. It is precious.
Don’t give up hope. It will pull you through.
Most of all, know that you are not alone.
(fun fact: Squirrel is my nickname. I kind of love them.)