She said, “I know you may not think you need it, and maybe you don’t, but I have written you a prescription in case you need it…please call me if you need to at any time, if you have questions, etc.” I had just walked out of my six week postpartum appointment in Ft Worth, just across the street from Cook’s, where our 6 week old critically ill son was. I felt extremely alone, depressed and sad. I had every reason to feel those things. Everyone had gone home; Nick, my parents, Ava of course. I did not have anyone to be with me during the days at the hospital, the postpartum hormones that one naturally endures were very evident, my son was not home yet(as we thought it would be a few weeks and then home), and he was not in any condition to go home any time soon. I had no idea was life looked like from day to day. I missed my toddler little girl. I missed my husband and best friend. I missed my family, my church, and friends at home. I missed home. I missed normal. I was extremely buried and constantly walking with a cloud overhead. I did not know what purpose I served, why I was asked to walk this road and certainly struggled with why my child was not getting better. I had called my doctor in Amarillo and asked her about the possibility of her prescribing me an anti-depressant because I couldn’t shake any of it.
I did not end up taking it during that season. Knowing it was available was helpful and a whole new thing for me. I never filled the prescription. I just knew it was there if I needed it. This is my story and my experience.
We continued to walk the 5 month road until Noah’s death in February of 2013.
I walked through the first year after his death with as much hope as one could, filled every day with things, and continued to write/share to help my grieving heart. I began singing on the worship team almost immediately upon return to Amarillo. I had a hard time feeling at home, in the home we had lived in since 2009. I just didn’t belong there. I didn’t know what each day would hold, how to fill my time, I missed all my friends I had made at Cook’s. I didn’t exactly know how to mother Ava because I had missed 5 formidable months of her life. There were big holes that I tried to fill with numerous things. I finally ended up starting a part time job, because it seemed right. I think I was still filling holes that I didn’t know I had. What was my purpose? Ava lived and even thrived at times with me completely absent from her day to day life when we were separated from each other. I lived alone, isolated from my home/people/comfort and I found new normals/routines. I learned to live without Nick’s presence in my life daily. I learned to rely on God so much more and at the same time myself as well. I had to grow up a considerable amount in those 5 months. So when I got home, I just didn’t belong anywhere.
I worked a part time job, sang on the worship team, we sold our home and bought a new one, Ava started preschool, we served and did things with friends, we found a new pace to life. Life seemed to be fine, brightened and hopeful. and it truly was in so many ways.
We chose to try for another child in 2015 and by December that year, Ana Rejoice came. We had this new bundle of absolute joy, redemption, hope, beauty and comfort. She brought with her so much healing. She never could and never will replace our son, but she filled some places in my soul that were so very empty. I felt as though life was going so great! It was, too. I just didn’t know that underneath all the “normal” and “happy” was some stuff that hadn’t had time to heal, or be processed through. I wouldn’t know this until years later.
Not everyone who deals with mental health is on medication, or even has a diagnosis of any sort. Not everyone who deals with mental illness talks about it or wants to talk about it. Not everyone who has suffered from some form of mental illness will experience it for life. Not everyone who has had an anxiety attack will continue to have them. Not all people who have walked through deep grief automatically deal with mental health issues. This is my story and my experience.
I have known and walked with Christ since the age of 7. I have never doubted that I am His and He is mine. Even through the darkest times of my life, he truly has been my life line. I don’t doubt that God’s hand is sovereign in my life. It’s ok if you have doubted that. I have doubted many other things about God and have cried out and asked multiple things at multiple times that I did not understand. He can handle it.
What I started to experience, when Ana was about 2, was a disconnect from both girls. I couldn’t quite explain it, but I just had trouble bonding (I still deal with this in various ways/times/forms). I believe due to the experience and the trauma of child loss I will always, to some extent, struggle in this area. I wasn’t always interested in being present for them, with them.. I didn’t want to do bedtime routine (thankfully Nick is the pro at this), I didn’t want to give them my attention. I started experiencing different times of disconnect from them, they would get on my nerves so quickly, I didn’t know why I was so easily ticked off, impatient or even snappy at them. I was much more content doing something else than tending to the girls. It wasn’t constant, but it started happening enough that I began to feel so guilty about it.
I started noticing myself getting anxious about things at work, things I didn’t have control over. I became cynical and sarcastic, ALL the time. I had an attitude, I had reservations, I didn’t trust anyone. I was negative. I assumed the worst, so much of the time. One might say lots of circumstances could have caused it, but none the less, I was not able to shake it. Sometimes I wasn’t even aware of my behavior. I started these dialogues in my head that weren’t always true and certainly exaggerated. I was experiencing some extreme circumstances as I worked in the office of our church. I knew that ministry was hard, but I was beginning to understand more so. I just thought it was normal to struggle as a mom, (and it is!! There were things I wasn’t quite aware of yet) I thought the stress of church work was a lot. (and it is!! I didn’t know the half of it yet)
Forward another year or so and I began to have these moments where I would snap at Nick or the kids, have to find a way to let out a ton of anger/compressed energy and it began as just hitting or yelling into a pillow or pinching myself really hard to just release the tension and anger. It then grew into hitting my legs until I bruised. I just needed an outlet, to not scream at the kids or nick, let it out and go on with life. I was finding myself isolated from friends, coworkers, and in turn they saw it as me pulling away without any reason at all. I found that I could not be in a group setting without getting frustrated, nervous, in my head about every little thing, self conscious, moody, and tired. It took so much work to be in groups of people, whether it be a game night, an outing, family time, staff meeting or an event. I just always felt so alone, even in a room of many. There were times when even in a group of my closest friends I felt alone and vulnerable. Joking around wasn’t joking around to me. It felt hateful. Laughing and being silly seemed immature and tiring. Not getting to the point of the meeting, sermon, appointment, etc was numbing. When one of the girls would get sick, I would completely tank and felt as though the world had ended. A simple plumbing issue or flat tire and I was in a funk for DAYS. None of this really seemed alarming. I had reasons, justifications and I knew that certainly I wasn’t the problem or had a problem.
I soon found out, in February of this year, that I did, indeed, have a problem. I caught the flu. Flu A, being a ferocious beast of a virus put me in the bed for 3-4 solid days. Multiple trips to the doctor, medications, sleepless nights, 2-3 showers a day for the body aches, etc. I almost took myself to the ER at one point. Ava stayed with my parents for 3 days. I was literally unable to work/sing(for WEEKS), be a mom, take care of my home, myself, anything and felt as though I was never going to get better. I had to rely on my fellow staff members to completely set up, take care of and clean up an entire volunteer appreciation event. I was tanking personally because I was not useful, I had ample time to just sit, think, be frustrated… I broke. I literally broke. I yelled at my household, went to the bathroom and yelled and screamed and laid on the floor and wept and yelled and screamed some more. I screamed so violently that I damaged my vocal chords. Thankfully, not permanently. I hit my legs repeatedly until I was so bruised. I ended up on the floor for a long while, Nick had to wrap me in his arms and help me breathe. I had never experienced that before. A full blown anxiety attack…as close to one as I had ever been…
I needed help.
I was a “pastor”, a ministry leader, someone who was on the stage week in and week out, proclaiming God’s grace, goodness, faithfulness and here I was on the floor of my bathroom, weeping, screaming, hitting myself and needing assistance to calm down. Where in the world would I go from here? Was I to quit, remove myself from ministry, and find help by going somewhere else? Was I to just keep pretending everything was ok? I could find a book I bet, or pray more… I could just change some habits and hope for the best…
Or, I could reach out and ask for professional help.
6 years to the month of Noah’s death and I was laying on the floor, Facebook messaging a trusted counselor I sort of knew, asking her if she had any openings soon, how much it cost and if she would even be interested in visiting with me.
“Yes, of course. Would Friday work? We’ll discuss cost when you come. I’m looking forward to visiting.”
I felt something shift.
I pulled up to my childhood church home. I walked in and it smelled the same. I knew exactly where I was, what God so graciously had done in my life in that house and I took a deep breath. I sat down and said, “I know you know that my son died a few years back and I’m not really here for that. I’m here because I am experiencing behaviors in me that I have never experienced and it is affecting every part of my life.”
Yes, I came in with an agenda and my how God has always made that time useful for exactly what He knows I need. Sometimes that has been about Noah and his death, the things I have not yet processed, even this many years later. It has also been a space for me to process so much more.
That was 8 months ago. I am in an entirely new place in life, mentally, spiritually. Nothing has changed and SO MUCH has changed.
I am not currently on medication, I do not have a diagnosis of any sort, but I do have tools to help me with behaviors, tendencies and bad habits that were beginning to plague me, my relationships, my work/career, marriage and mothering.
Here is what I want you to know…
Mental health looks different for everyone.
You don’t have to be afraid to ask for help.
There have been people who you see on stage, in leadership, teaching and serving in many capacities, that see a counselor regularly.
I am that person that many people saw on stage and still see and can easily think that I have it all together and don’t deal with real things. I’ve been the person that hid all my struggles because I honestly thought I was just “going through a season”, or “have a hard job”… we all have seasons and we all can have hard jobs/rolls. But you know if it is more than that.
I want to just extend a hand and tell you that you are not alone. One does not have to be prescribed something or diagnosed with something to qualify for time with a counselor.
I was that person that thought because I wasn’t actually depressed and could find myself being “ok” so often that I didn’t qualify. I didn’t need to seek help with a counselor, I just needed to try harder… such a lie.
I have found so much support, advocacy, freedom and tools through being vulnerable enough to take the step to talk to someone.
Be brave friends. If I can help you take the step, please reach out. There is no judgement here and I know that you will find support and equipping when you let yourself admit that its time.
I’m done hiding behind the stage presence and the “happy face”. I’m telling you that I have reached out, received help and I’m better for it. No diagnosis, no RX, just bi-weekly time to process. I’m thankful that those who are dealing with an entirely deeper level of mental health can receive help, RX, support, etc. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT.
I am also truly wanting to reach that person who just feels so alone and desperate, but doesn’t think they are worthy of the support. I see you. I’ve been you. Reach out. Today.
I can’t promise that you won’t have some fear. I can’t promise that it won’t hurt, cut deep, be hard, bring up layers and layers of stuff, cause you to stretch yourself, etc. What I can assure you of is that you are worth the fight. You can walk in that room with fear and nerves and all the feelings in between and you can walk out, maybe not the first visit, but sometime later knowing you are healthier, whole and you can be what you are called to be.
**To those of you in ministry of any sort, paid or unpaid, clergy or lay person…. DO NOT believe the lie that you don’t have time or you are supposed to have it all together. Shove that thought out of your way and do what your soul needs. You aren’t supposed to carry the burdens of your church on your shoulders and alone at that. Sometimes that faith we need more of, is the faith it takes to say, “I can’t do this on my own” and then letting others come in and do it with you.**
You. Are. Loved.
Here are some resources:
There are multiple counselors that I can get you in contact with, TODAY. Don’t hesitate.
Many pastors at churches across town can meet with you to visit, but I strongly urge you to seek a licensed professional counselor.