The Dreaded "D" word...
Today on Oprah, Brooke Shields bravely told the story of her severe post-partum depression following the birth of her daughter. As she lay on the operating table after her emergency c-section, as her doctors tried to put her uterus back into place, as she watched her husband bond with their newborn daughter, Brooke was overwhelmed with rage and fear, and went on to harbor feelings of self-loathing for months. Eventually she was able to find a doctor who helped her, advised her to take medication, and she has emerged from those dark months of dark moments willing to tell her tale and encourage other women to seek help, to not try to manage their anguish alone. Oprah and the studio audience applauded her courage to tell her story not only on television but also in a new book called Down Came the Rain. There she sat, the Hollywood beauty, the tall, thin one, the model, the actress, the one I have come to admire over the years – there she was on international television admitting to having visions of the death of her child, her own suicide, and eventually wishing her daughter lived somewhere else. Anywhere else, just not in her house. The audience was quiet. Oprah was quiet. I was quiet. And from the midst of the quietness, the truth rang out loud and clear.
We all have times of severe depression. We all have times when we can envision the deaths of those around us, even the people we love most dearly. We all have times when it seems like the best answer to the biggest questions in our lives is: escape. We all wonder about our career choices, parenting choices, our choices of spouses or significant life partners. We look back on childhood and wonder if we were adopted. We look at ourselves in the mirror and wonder who it is that is gazing out at us. What brought us to this position in life? What mistakes have we made that landed us in this place, with this job, in this house, with this spouse, and with the future that seems to loom ahead?
Okay, Gail, enough with the “royal we” thing. I will tell the truth. I too have suffered from depression. Way back when I was a sophomore in college, I broke up with my first “real boyfriend.” Well, he wasn’t so much a boyfriend as he was a college professor I had gotten involved with. Anyway, it was over. He moved on, and I moved into the gloomiest basement suite of Hotel Depression that was ever rented out. I spent countless hours weeping in my dorm; I’m glad I had a single room. I stayed awake many nights in a row with an aspirin bottle in one hand and a pillow in the other. I screamed curses at him at the top of my lungs into my pillow and kept the aspirin close at hand in case the need arose to take 20 or 25 at a moment’s notice. I was in a bad way for weeks. I lost weight. I missed classes. I spent several nights at the college infirmary talking to a nurse who assured me that if I allowed myself to cry freely eventually the tears would stop and I would be better. At first, I didn’t believe her. Then I gave in to the sorrow, and a few weeks later, I emerged from my period of mourning as a new woman, brought back from the very brink of death.
While I have never felt that type of despair again since then, I admit to many bouts of post-marital, post-motherhood, real life depression. There are mornings when I wake up that I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to cook or clean or do laundry or homeschool. The only thing I want to do on those days is run away. I want to pack a bag, grab a few books, my journal, some pens, and hit the road. No turning back, no turning back. There are times when I look at my husband and wonder why I married him. Or more accurately, I wonder why he married me. I look at my children and wonder what I was thinking when I begged Steve for children. I look in the mirror and wonder what on earth I’m here for. Perhaps I have kept Steve from marrying the woman he was really supposed to be with. Perhaps these children would do better with a different mother, a more loving, kind, more interested mother. I sit with my Bible on my desk some mornings and wonder exactly what would happen if I stopped pretending that I love the Lord and that I believe all that is written in the Bible. What if this really is a colossal waste of time and energy? What if I reneged on my life and walked away from all of it? I could find an apartment in a small city overseas, find a job, buy a few new skirts, a great pair of boots, a good hat, and get on with what my life was really meant to be.
On those days when the dark clouds roll in, I make a big mug of tea, eat a lot of chocolate, cry a lot, watch television, write in my journal, and wait for night to fall so I can try again another day. I write in my journal a lot about the life I would live if I ran away from this life. I write about the man I’d be shacking up with somewhere in Europe, the fantastic life we’d lead, the motorcycle we’d buy and zip around on, and the trips we’d take around the world. Because of course he’d be filthy rich, I’d be free of the stretch marks that make me look a lot more like a zebra than a human being around my midsection, I’d have bigger breasts, a smaller waistline, and he’d adore me relentlessly. When I finish describing my fantasy in all its sordid details, I close my journal, finish my tea, cry a little bit more, and then I get on with my life. This life. This wonderful life. I remember that my depression doesn’t change the fact that mine is a glorious life.
Fortunately, the bouts of depression don’t last long. Most of the people who know me have no idea how deeply I go during those tough times. But if Brooke Shields can tell the truth publicly, so can I. Life doesn’t always look like what we think it will look like. It doesn’t always work out as we expect and plan that it will. Perfect pregnancies end in emergency c-sections. Good marriages end in divorce. Nice Christian girls contemplate suicide. Hard working students cheat at school, get caught, and lose college scholarships. Kids get cancer. Friends disappoint. Churches fall apart. Yet we try desperately to keep our secret moments of despair to ourselves because we are convinced that no one else feels as we do. And since we are convinced that they don’t, we know that they will be really disappointed to find out that we do.
Let me rephrase that: there are many moments when I am convinced that no one else feels like I do. No one else looks at their children and wonders what would happen if I left them asleep in their beds and headed for the airport. No one else loves God as much as I do but still struggles with repetitive crises of doubt and fear of completely wasting my time with this “religion” thing. No one knows the trouble I’ve seen. Today Brooke reminded me that many people have known the trouble I’ve seen. Many have suffered the same sorrow. All of this is the stuff of life. Some write books about it. Some write blogs about it. We all need to come out of the closet about it. I just did. Who’s next?