To say that Postpartum Depression took my life hostage would be a gross understatement. It controlled my thoughts. It imbedded my fears. It caused me to doubt my best decisions and greatest gifts. And just like every mental illness, there is not a quick or easy fix. To give me tools to function as a person, I was taking multiple medicines, seeing multiple doctors and spending many hours working on myself in counseling. In many ways, my care and work to treat my disease was as important as eating and taking in oxygen. It was a lifeline.
Perhaps it goes without saying that every aspect of my life was impacted. As much as I wanted to pretend that I could still do all the things, I could not. Early in treatment, I began to tackle the shame that surrounded me. I felt shame about not being able to bathe my daughter because I worried about drowning her. I felt shame about not being able to enjoy dinner with my husband because I could not be present in conversation or dream about the future. And as much as I tried, I could not will myself to enjoy a lock-in or retreat or teaching Sunday School.
Things that gave me life in seasons of health, brought pain and misery in the depths of depression. I could not plan dinner for my family much less think about a ski trip that was coming in 5 months. And in my worst moments, the apathy of my heart spilled into my spirit. I could not talk to God. I was more than mad, I was broken-hearted that this thing that the world tells me will complete me as a woman took away from me, well, me.
There were two primary aspects of this dilemma. There was the task of doing my job as a youth director and the soul care that I needed as a human. When it came to my job, my ever-present partner in ministry did for me what I could not. Our unity became a magical dance in this season. When I could not hold a baby, he did. When I could not teach a lesson on self-esteem because I had none, he would take the lesson that I wrote (because I KNEW what I was supposed to say, I just didn’t believe it) and twirl it into a thing of beauty. He led the games, he brought the donuts and he encouraged me to walk in the door when I felt insufficient. So the TASKS of the job were completed.
But then there was the soul care. At that stage of ministry, I had never seen a church leader pastor from a broken and vulnerable place. Those that had been lifted high as models of ministry excellence had this superhuman ability to separate their personal life and their ministry. So as I found myself incapable and out-of-place in the arena, it was yet again another way that I was sucking it up at life. My shame at not being enough convinced me that I did not have the chops for ministry.
I can vividly recall one afternoon that I found myself in tears in my boss’s office. With the door closed and my feelings in the raw, I confessed that I was so depressed, hopeless and could not figure out how to reconcile not wanting to live anymore with teaching teenagers about abundant life. The response in this moment was beautiful and terrifying. The first words included the promise that in this season, when I did not have hope, there were those around me that would hold the hope for me. BEAUTIFUL. This was quickly followed with the instruction that I should not tell others what was really going on with me because the truth would cause parents to not “trust me with their kids.” TEEERRRRRRRIIIFFFYYYIIINNNGGGGGGGGG.
In case my shame meter had not seen maximum capacity before, it did in this moment. I was not only taken aback, I was also thrown into a world that I was not equipped nor prepared for. I knew about the face. You know the one that you paint on to avoid the truth? But this level of hiding was going to take an Oscar winning performance. And in front of some, I could not pull it off. I remember trusting a few people with my truth. And every single one of them loved me with grace and mercy and warmth. But even with that example, I was convinced that if THEY knew, I would lose my job, my heart and my passion. So I hid it. I told the lie. Everytime someone asked how I was. I would stand in the foyer of the church on Sunday with my name tag and greet and smile and LIE. I would sit with other moms and try to make sense of my pain, as I heard their tales of breastfeeding happily ever after. I would look atpregnant moms and pray that they would not ask me what it was like.
As the months passed and I gained some wisdom and courage, I began to tell small pieces of the story. I talked about how being a new mom was “hard” in ways I wasn’t prepared for. I stressed the lack of sleep. I allowed myself the ability to ask for help from trusted friends. I did these things with the constant fear that if they knew the truth I would lose it all. Sure, while my job was a concern, the root of my biggest fear came back to the belief that the need for medicine and counseling meant I was unqualified for ministry. That somehow, this was a faith issue. And from this moment on, the need for self-protection began to win over the need for honesty. If ministry and imperfection were mutually exclusive, I had so much to cover up, so I better get to work.