Each month, I highlight a woman as the Stunningly Strong Woman of the Month, I tell her story, or at least parts of her story with hope that other women will see they are not alone in their life “story”.
I interview, ask questions and write about her accomplishments, struggles, victories, losses and lessons.
However, when it comes to me, I have been hypocritical to the whole reasoning behind Stunningly Strong. After all, it was because of things that I have done, experienced and dealt with, that I started this whole movement of “more than makeup”, it’s about our stories. ALL of our story. The good, bad, ugly, redemptive and beautiful parts or our lives that make up our stories. However, I have not been forthcoming in my story and for that I apologize.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and this is a part of my story that I want to share with you.
I remember the first time I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. It was after our second child was born. We had moved to a new state when I was 7 ½ months pregnant. No family, no friends, no community or support network. I was also dealing (not very well) with some awful emotional church hurt, so it was no surprise really, that I was promptly given a prescription at my six-week postpartum check up. I mean, when you have a new mother sitting in your office saying she wants to drive her car into a pole (not with the baby in the car), the doctor has no choice. But, even with all that emotional turmoil, I let that prescription medication sit in my pantry. I refused to take it.
You see, I grew up around an environment where depression and anxiety were looked at as weakness, or a lack of ability to control ones emotions. I was told that you had authority over your mind, your thoughts. If you had depression and\or anxiety, it was because you weren’t praying ENOUGH, reading the Bible ENOUGH or going to church ENOUGH. If you were being tormented emotionally or mentally, it was because you weren’t ENOUGH. I didn’t want to be “not enough” so I didn’t take the one thing that would help me. I stayed miserably depressed.
I look back at that time in my life and I’m so, so thankful for my husband. He was so worried and scared and isolated. He did the only things he knew to do. He prayed and he called my parents. At the time, I was enraged that he could have shared my deep dark secret with them, but my dad got on the phone and said “Stop letting your pride keep you from being the mom and the wife you are called to be. Take the pills.”
Pride. That’s really what it came down to. I was too proud to admit that I needed help. I couldn’t fix me. I took the pills, and I started feeling better and things got better, and I was “ME” again. After that, with the other pregnancies, my doctor, my husband and I knew what we needed to do in order to make sure I was okay, we went into each delivery with a game plan, and came out with a prescription.
Here’s where my story changes. I had been on and off various antidepressants for the past seven years. First, it was to combat postpartum depression when our youngest was born, then my family went through some things and knowing myself, knowing how I am wired, I knew enough to say to my doctor “I can’t do this. I’m spiraling, and as much as I hate to admit it, I need a prescription.” Through close monitoring and talk therapy she has been amazing at helping me navigate what I thought was “situational” depression. Then, six months ago, the blood work, the tests, all pointed to chronic depression.
Chronic Depression. Chronic. As in a long-lasting condition. Hearing those words numbed me to my core.
Do you know what it’s like to sit in the doctor’s office and to be told that you have a chronic condition? And not just a chronic condition but one that is a mental condition? Maybe, for some, it would be sweet relief, finally knowing what is wrong, why they are sad all the time, irritable or exhausted.
For me? It was devastating. Because in that moment I felt like a failure. I felt broken and damaged. Like I couldn’t take good enough care of myself and in someway I caused this issue. Maybe I didn’t exercise enough, pray or read the Bible enough, because if I had done ENOUGH of those things, I could have fixed all the serotonin levels and the chemical imbalances in my brain. It was easy for me to accept depression when there was a “reason” for it like giving birth, the seasons, or going through something traumatic. But to be told that I had Chronic Depression that wasn’t brought on by any of those things was devastating. I felt LESS than.
In that diagnosis, I heard
- “You are forever damaged”.
- “You will never be good enough to accomplish what you want because your brain is broken.”
- “You are not strong enough to overcome your emotions.”
- “You are a weak woman.”
- “What kind of mother are you? You can’t even control your mind.”
- “What will your husband think? He doesn’t deserve to deal with your issues.”
- “You are incapable.”
- “You will not be listened to because you are the poster child for the stereotypical over emotional weak female.”
In that MOMENT I thought all those things. Felt all those things. I desperately wanted to be told, “You’re just tired, you need a week of rest and you’ll be okay.” or“ You have _______________disease, here’s the treatment we need you to start immediately.” I wanted it to be anything except what it was.
I do NOT doubt the power of prayer. I love the Lord. But, I also know if my leg was broken and someone prayed that it would be healed, that healing could very well come in the form of a cast or surgery.
I think those of us who profess Christianity and believe in healing live a double standard and are hypocritical; when we believe that physical healing can manifest itself in miracles or through modern medicine. Yet we shun modern medicine for those who need mental healing and instead make them feel like they are less than because they aren’t doing MORE than.
I would never ask a cancer patient to give up chemo or a diabetic to stop taking insulin. I wouldn’t ask someone with fibromyalgia to discontinue their pain medication or ask someone who has eczema to quite using his or her steroid cream. My brain, my physical brain that sits within my skull doesn’t produce serotonin the way other people’s brains do. I need the meds. I know this, and yet I still struggle with the idea. Why? Some of it is control issues, and pride. Some of it is un-forgiveness towards myself. I feel like I should be punished. I did awful things, hurt people, and I therefore deserve to feel awful all the days of my life. It’s a vicious cycle.
There are days when I feel like Hester Prynne, like I have a scarlet letter sown to my chest telling the world that I struggle. I don’t want my husband to think I’m weak. I don’t want my children to know I am sad. I don’t want my friends to know that I sometimes cry myself to sleep at night because I felt like I missed the mark.
I have to tell myself everyday when I swallow those pills “THESE. THESE do NOTdefine me.”I am NOT defined by the prescription medication I take. I am MORE THAN a diagnosis. I am NOT defined by what my patient chart says.
I WANT to tell you that I have overcome, that I’m strong and I have fortitude. But what I HAVE to tell you is that some days, weeks, months are great. I’m good and I have no problem owning everything about me including low serotonin levels and a chronic depression diagnosis, then out of nowhere, I’m slammed with shame and guilt, hurt and pride and I start comparing myself to others and thinking that no else feels this way or has this issue and I’ll stop taking my medication.
I isolate myself. I shut down. I’m not the wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister that I could be because I allow myself to believe the lie that says I can do this on my own. I allow myself to think I can fix this, I don’t need help, I don’t need meds. I don’t need to be vulnerable with my husband. I don’t need to text a friend and say, “I’m feeling sad, please pray for me.” I don’t need to get out of my house and around other people. I let those lies take me prisoner for a day or a week, until my husband looks at me and says “You are worthy and that medication doesn’t make you any less worthy so please, please take it.
The strength and fortitude that I exhibit, is because I have to make a conscious decision to get out of bed each morning, take the meds, tell myself that I’m not defined by my body’s lack of ability to produce what I need it so I have to get it some other way.
My prayer life, my love for Jesus and other people is not weakened or less than because I have to rely on modern medicine to help me. I have to remind myself that I am not alone. That I am not weak and just because I have to take medication; I am not disqualified from the dream and plans that have been placed in my heart.
Listen to me sweet girls. You are NOT defined by a number on the scale, or a size in your jeans. YOU are NOT defined by your past (I’m preaching to myself) you are NOT the sum of your mistakes. Every single day I strive to be strong. Strong enough to take the medicine I need. Strong enough to admit that I need help. Strong enough to get out of bed. Strong enough to know that I am not less than, but that I am so much MORE. I am worthy. I am Stunningly Strong. And You. You. Are worthy. You are Stunningly Strong. Tell your stories. WE need to hear them.