On Growth and Grief

My “One Word” theme for 2016 is “Grow.” I picked that word while stifling a smile; I had hoped to literally grow a new baby and therefore literally grow in size this year. I thought I was so clever. But that’s the funny thing about how God works; He so rarely works in the ways we think He will (or should).

Growth never comes through comfort. And there is nothing comforting in change.

The growth of this year has come through discomfort, as it always does. 2016 has been a tremendously difficult year: starting the year off grieving a friend’s suicide, watching my sister and brother-in-law mourn the loss of his father before they had children of their own, hospitalizing my mom for her depression and anxiety long-distance, and now I am wrapping up the year with a miscarriage. (But hey, how about them Cubbies?!)

The strange thing is… I knew. When it comes to my pregnancies, my intuition has been strong. With all three of my girls, I knew it was a girl. 90% of my friends and family guessed Hannah was going to be a boy, and even though I felt like my first was going to be a boy before I got pregnant, the instant I actually was pregnant I just knew she was a girl. To both Becca’s and Lizzy’s ultrasound, I wore the exact same pink maternity sweater because I wanted everyone to know that my vote is “girl.” So when friends asked me about this pregnancy, I wasn’t sure how to answer, because I had absolutely no instinct as to the gender, only the sinking feeling that it wasn’t going to matter because I would never know the answer to that question.

I tried to convince myself that it was the mild depression I was battling that caused me to feel such doom and gloom over the pregnancy.

But it wasn’t. I just knew.

I told quite a few people that I was pregnant because I started showing almost instantly and couldn’t hide it even if I wanted to. But even though this pregnancy had almost the exact same schedule as my pregnancy with Lizzy, I watched the date that I announced that pregnancy on Facebook come and go through my Memories feed yet could not bring myself to announce this new pregnancy because I knew it was futile.

My mom kept pestering me to call her parents to tell them, but I kept procrastinating because—my exact reasoning was—I didn’t want to have to call them back when I miscarried.

I read a fantastic book by Brene Brown on the importance of vulnerability, but the only quote from the book that I transferred into my journal had to do with preparing for loss instead of loving fiercely.

I wrote a prayer on October 1 acknowledging to God that I want to hold my children with open arms (versus clutching them to myself), knowing that they are only mine to grow for a time and then to give back to Him.

When I caught a cold that caused me to pee my pants every time I coughed too hard, I wore pads for several days, and every time I changed one out I thought to myself, oh good, this will also catch the bleeding when it starts.

Not if; when.

And what do you know, that is exactly what happened.

When I did start bleeding, the first thing I felt was not horror but relief. Is that awful? I felt as if I had been holding my breath the entire pregnancy, just waiting to miscarry, and so when the time came I felt as if I could finally exhale and put that stifled energy toward doing what I had to do to get through the miscarriage I had been waiting for all along.

I suppose some may say that my negativity impacted the pregnancy, but I don’t believe it did. I just think I knew from the start that something wasn’t quite right.

I. Just. Knew.

Of course, knowing doesn’t make it any easier.

But I was ready. On multiple levels. Even as the prognosis deteriorated, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly thankful for my past experiences with PPD because of all of the friends I made who also had experienced a miscarriage or two. Though I felt and continue to feel a lot of things, I do not feel alone. I am so thankful for two friends in particular that weren’t afraid to tell me the very graphic details of their own miscarriages, even though the doctors weren’t sure yet that that was what was happening (even if I was).

In this case, knowing the details of the “worst case scenario” was what I needed. I knew how to “do” the best case scenario if the bleeding turned out to be harmless, but I didn’t know how to “do” a miscarriage. Hearing the stories of other women who have been through it and are now standing on the other side of that experience in strength is what I needed to feel strong going into my own miscarriage experience. Their knowledge gave me strength.

So how am I doing? Pretty well, I think. Some days are harder than others, of course. I feel super overwhelmed by my other kids right now, which feels awful because then I go down the road of “If I can’t even take care of the kids I have, maybe it’s better I don’t have another.” I am trying to counter those thoughts as best I can, though not stifle them entirely, since I am guessing this is probably a normal part of the grieving process, to believe it’s better this way.

And yet, as strange as it sounds, grief actually does feel better than depression, in my opinion. In almost all of my depressive episodes I experienced, I never felt like I had a good “reason” to be depressed. But for now there is a very distinct reason why I feel the things I feel, and that feels so very different. And so much better. I don’t know if that makes sense to others, and I don’t mean to downplay grief. Grief is HARD work. But it feels more… purposeful? I’m not sure. I’m not sure what exactly makes it feel better, but it just does.

Perhaps it is because this kind of grief isn’t as all-encompassing as depression. When depressed, there is no relief. Everything is flat and gray. Everything is lifeless. Everything is joyless.

But with grief, it is more of a rollercoaster. I have emotional whiplash a little bit, but it is a much “lighter” sadness because the joy is still accessible, and laughter still feels good. When I told the older girls that the baby died, they asked me exactly three questions; first, “Why did the baby die?” then “Will we have another baby?” And from there one of them immediately asked in all seriousness, “Can we have gummy worms now?” I laughed. I laughed my head off. It was just hysterical.

That, to me, is the difference between grief and depression. In grief, I can still laugh at things that are funny. In depression, nothing is funny. In fact, that innocent question would have made me feel horrible, either like they don’t even care about the pain or even as if I were a bad mom for not teaching my kids to have more empathy for those who are hurting. There are a million reasons the depression would rob me of any lightness in that moment. But in this grief, I belly laughed, and then we all ate gummy worms together.

I still feel tired. Physically, yes, and also what I refer to as being soul-weary. I still want to sleep for hours and hours and hours, but even then, it doesn’t have the same heaviness as depression. As one friend said, “Grief is exhausting work.” It is indeed.

I wasn’t prepared for how badly I would feel FOR others around me. I felt (and still feel at times) so sorry that I am “doing” this to those around me. It took me several days to accept their grief and give them room for their grief without trying to place it on my own shoulders to carry.

I understand now why people wait to announce their pregnancies. Before this miscarriage, I always believed I wanted everyone to know that I was pregnant because I wanted their support even if I lost the baby, as I have done now. My next pregnancy, however, I don’t think I will share with so many people. Having to chase down everyone that knew and update them about the loss—especially in the midst of the most intense period of grief—was absolutely heart wrenching. For my own heart’s sake, I don’t think I could bear to do it the same way again.

I think Chris is doing okay. I guess I don’t really know. We had a good talk right away as it happened where I asked him not to hide his grief from me thinking that it will burden me further. I told him that hiding it will only make me feel isolated and alone; sharing his grief, on the other hand, will make me feel better because it reminds me that we are a team, we are on the same page even in this grief, and we will get through this together. Perhaps he wouldn’t have hidden it from me anyway; I guess I don’t know. But he has cried more in the past 10 days than in the past 10 years of marriage, and it has been nice. (Weird?) I worry for him a little though, because immediately he had to jump into taking care of our kids and the house fulltime while I rested and slept it off, so I am concerned that he is going to have no choice but to jump back into the busyness of normal life without having ample time to process or grieve.

We spent last night at a local hotel just to get away from the kids and be together. Going into it, I confess I was envisioning this touching evening away where we would hold one another and just cry, but we ended up not talking about the miscarriage much at all. In fact, we mostly just goofed around and enjoyed being together. (And there was wine, because hey, not pregnant!) I suspect all of that was probably even better, and probably what we needed more. Again, joy.

I am able to enjoy and embrace not being pregnant too, if that makes sense. We have a longer getaway planned for our ten year anniversary in December, and while planning it several months ago Chris was looking forward to visiting a winery or two along the way, and I had to remind him that I would most likely be pregnant then. Well, now I’m not going to be. A 10 year anniversary NOT pregnant sounds way more fun.

One thing that is hard, however, is that Lizzy weaned pretty suddenly just a few weeks ago, which is FANTASTIC, but now I am suddenly neither pregnant nor breastfeeding for the first time since August of 2013. That is a very long time to have my body not be my own, then suddenly it unexpectedly is again. That sounds like it would be exciting except for the fact that I feel like it wasn’t my choice. I chose to cut Lizzy off, but I didn’t choose to not be pregnant. So that’s weird.

But this now means I finally have zero dietary restrictions, which is not helpful going into the holidays after the 10 pounds I already gained during the pregnancy. Ha. None of my pants fit. Oh well.

And yet, I was unprepared for how quickly my body would go back to not-pregnant-looking. You can’t tell I was 10 weeks pregnant just a week and a half ago. It feels strange to have my body “move on” before my heart is ready to.

So what’s next? I don’t really know. We will try again, yes, and probably not after too long because I am starting to feel old and don’t want to do this baby thing forever. But I also suspect I have some hormonal issues that need to be worked out first. I know blame is part of the grieving processes, so it has been my knee-jerk reaction to blame myself for not fixing the problems I knew I had or to blame the doctors that I asked for help that didn’t help me.

But I am mostly able to move past blaming now, primarily because I feel this sense of peace over the fact that this is the next chapter in my story, and it doesn’t really matter whose “fault” it is, because this is how God is writing the script and nothing I did or didn’t do changes that.

I have felt this kind of peace only twice in my life—now, and also immediately upon hearing the news that a close friend of mine from high school had been killed on his military base while trying to break up a fight. The instant I heard the news, my first thought was, “Of course. Of course this is his story. Of course this is how God wanted his story to go.” The circumstances of his death just… made sense to me? It didn’t change how incredibly awful it was, and it didn’t make grieving any easier, just like now. But it is a different mindset, I’m guessing, than when you haven’t yet accepted that this is the story that is being written. I feel as if I skipped the denial stage in both instances.

It is strange to know that a miscarriage tends to be a somewhat significant life event. Not necessarily life-defining, but life-altering to some extent. I feel a little lost in the middle, then, in-between the before and after, as if I am currently swinging from the hinges. But I guess that’s okay.

I look forward to the “after,” knowing that it is coming. Again, I see the difference between grief and depression. Depression feels permanent; it has always been this way and will always be this way. This grief, though a permanent part of my life now, will change. It’s a process. And knowing that, I feel freer to ride the waves of grief as they come, knowing that the tides will change tomorrow.

And so… growth. All of this is growth. With plenty of growing pains. But growth nonetheless. As my best friend pointed out, I am in the best place I could be to walk through the valley of grief right now. I’ve never been stronger or healthier emotionally to do this grief thing well. In the past, it would have probably swallowed me whole. But now I know more about how to live wholeheartedly, embracing all the joys and the sorrows and not letting one overwhelm me.

I want to grieve well, and live well as I grieve…

Knowing that I am okay.

 

And that even when I’m not, I will be soon.

Posted in Depression, Motherhood, Spiritual Growth | Leave a comment

Depression is My Superpower

When Frozen first came out, “Let It Go” became a rallying crying for a lot of the moms I know that struggle with perinatal mood disorders. I think the reason this movie did so well is because no matter who you are, we *all* struggle with some kind of shameful secret to which we can all sing with Elsa, “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.” The song encouraged all of us to let go of that “perfect girl” (or in our case,  supermom) and learn to stand in the light of day no matter the storm inside.

It’s too bad that depression isn’t a cool superpower, though.

Or is it?

Do you ever have those moments where your entire reality suddenly shifts, and now nothing looked the same as it did before?

I am in the process of birthing such a paradigm shift right now, and it’s a doozy.

I’ve been frustrated lately with my continued struggle with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which—in laymen’s terms—means PMS from hell. Instead of your average PMS that is made up of some irritability and mood swings, I face a full blown depressive episode laced with intrusive (sometimes suicidal) thoughts that lasts for about three to five days and then disappears as quickly as its onset. One day I am fine, the next I struggle to care for myself or my kids, and a few days later I am completely fine again.

I couldn’t seem to figure out what God is “doing” with this PMDD thing. I think I understand some of God’s purposes behind my previous major depressive episodes and can see the fruit that they bear—the growth of my faith and my character, the life-long friends I’ve made, the strength of my marriage, etc.—but what is the point of being too depressed to function for a couple of days a month, EVERY month?

Every month I try to outsmart it. Maybe if I exercise more or eat better or take more vitamins or sleep more or pray more or get my thought life under control, maybe this month will be different. Maybe this month I will finally figure out the key to beating this thing once and for all.

And every month stays the same.

So what do I do with this?

Enter Matt Chandler, who had this little gem tucked into a sermon of his: “There are times that difficulties aren’t there to be solved but are there as a measure of God’s grace.”

I can’t even link to the sermon that came from, because I have no idea now. All I know is the second I heard him say this, I paused the video, wrote that down, and collapsed onto my kitchen floor and sobbed. (It was during those three to five days, okay?)

During those days, it doesn’t feel like grace; it feels like torment.

I have always viewed my PMDD as a thorn in my side, something that I continually plead for God to take away just like Paul:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10)

We love this passage. It makes us feel good. It reminds us that God’s grace will carry us through whatever is burdening us and that He will be our strength when we feel weak. All good things. I need to remember these things.

But look at the reason Paul gives as to why he has a thorn in his side: “to keep me from becoming conceited.”

Yeah, ouch.

“There are times that difficulties aren’t there to be solved but are there as a measure of God’s grace.”

So then, is not the thorn itself a measure of God’s grace too? Is God turning the tables by using what in Satan’s hand is a tool of torment but in God’s hand is a tool for grace and growth, just like Job? It’s all grace! It’s grace that gave me the thorn, and it is grace that will give me the strength to carry on with the thorn still embedded in my flesh. One that may never be removed, and indeed, it would not be to my benefit to have it removed!

There is the paradigm shift: what if it is better for me to continue to have PMDD every month than to conquer it?

Is it time to stop fighting my depression but instead to work with it?

The more I treat depression as something to be conquered or overcome, the more I fight, struggle, and resist it like an enemy, the more pervasive it becomes. The more I loathe and despise and fight it, the more I loathe and despise and fight that part of who I am. Is it time to stop wrestling it into submission but rest in acceptance that this is a measure of God’s grace and an essential quality to my person?

Depression, like whatever Paul’s thorn was, most definitely keeps me from becoming conceited. Its pressure exposes my brokenness, my dark places, my doubts, and my insecurities. It keeps me humble and dependent on Him. It reminds me just how poor and needy I am and requires me to constantly stare my sin in the face.

But it does more than that. As I see my sins laid bare, I can work to excavate them. The hard work and struggle strengthens me for spiritual battle, building my endurance and growing my character. It leads to compassion, empathy, humility, and a nurturing spirit I otherwise might not cultivate on my own.

It is a painful process to dig up and cut out the bad so that the good may flourish, but a very necessary and very beneficial process that I would be remiss to prevent. C.S. Lewis agrees in A Grief Observed:

Suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us?

Nothing less will shake a man—or at any rate a man like me—out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses.

If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards…. [God] always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down….

A measure of God’s grace. A painful one—to watch all you’ve built come crashing down—but gracious nonetheless.

The problem is I keep trying to rebuild my house of cards. As soon as my depression lifts, I get to work rebuilding it almost immediately.

If my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better.

In my case, the sooner—and more often—it is knocked down the better. So, how does once a month sound?

Ideal, actually.

Paul Miller in A Praying Life might call this process of knocking down our house of cards “life in the desert:”

The desert is that middle ground between hope and reality, where you try to hold onto hope for something different yet facing the reality of the same. Every part of your being wants to close the gap between hope and reality. We will do anything not to live in the desert.

God takes everyone he loves through a desert, customizing it for each of us. It is his cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden.

There we slowly give up the fight. Our wills are broken by the reality of our circumstances. The things that brought us life gradually die. Our idols die for lack of food.

The still, dry air of the desert brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer. You come face-to-face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. Life is crushing you.

Suffering burns away the false selves created by cynicism or pride or lust. You stop caring what other people think of you. The desert is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic self.

Desert life sanctifies you. You have no idea you are changing. You simply notice after you’ve been in the desert awhile that you are different. Things that used to be important no longer matter…

After a while you notice your real thirsts. While in the desert David writes, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; My soul thirsts for you; My flesh faints for you, As in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)

The desert becomes a window to the heart of God. He finally gets your attention because he’s the only game in town.

You cry out to God so long and so often that a channel begins to open up between you and God…. The clear, fresh water of God’s presence that you discover in the desert becomes a well inside of your own heart.

God uses the desert to humble us, to make us more like his Son, to save us, to wake us up spiritually, to call us back to himself when our hearts bend away from God. In the desert I can no longer do life on my own. I need Jesus to get from one end of the day to the other. I ask for a loaf of bread, and instead of giving me a stone, my Father will spread a feast for me in the wilderness.

Psalm 23 says that God prepares that feast for us in the presence of the enemy. Satan met Jesus in the desert. So what is Satan’s role in all this then? I used to blame him for my PMDD, and perhaps he still is to blame, “a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” But now I see God’s grace in it too, and if this is God’s tool to sanctify me to Himself and make me holy, of course Satan will do everything in his power to do the opposite. I am more vulnerable to spiritual attack when I am weak and weary.

The temptation is to respond to the crushing weight of depression in sinful ways. I don’t think the depressed thoughts and feelings—like hunger and thirst—are sinful in and of themselves, but how I respond to them can be.

So what does it look like to honor God when I am in that place? I guess I don’t really know yet. I just know that every month I get another chance to figure out how to “do” depression in a way that honors God better than I did last month.

I don’t think it means pretending I don’t feel the way I do. I think it is okay to lean into those feelings, as long as I lean into them with the purpose of pushing them before the Throne of God. I think it is okay for me to rest on those days, to lower my expectations and shrink my to-do list accordingly, and to simply sit at God’s feet and just be. To weep if I must weep, to groan under the weight of the darkness.

But here is where Satan lies in wait. I think he tempts me to make my groaning something more sinister. As Kevin DeYoung posted on Facebook recently:

A groan is one thing, a grumble is another. A groan says, “Oh God, this is really hard.” A grumble says, “Oh God, you are really hard.” A groan says, “Oh Lord, I would like something different.” A grumble says, “Oh Lord, I wish you were someone different.” Do you see the difference? The Bible isn’t against groaning, but it is against grumbling.

So what is the antidote to grumbling? Kevin again to the rescue:

God anticipates and even welcomes a godly groan, but to prevent that groan from becoming a grumble means to remember all that God has done for you in Christ and all that he has promised to you in Christ.

In other words, gratitude. To flee from Satan’s temptation to grumble, find gratitude even in the groaning. Gratitude, I’ve been learning, is a cornerstone of Christian maturity:

Gratitude is the ultimate virtue, undergirding everything else, even love. It is synonymous with holiness. Gratitude not only defines sanctity, it also defines maturity and is the ultimate fuel for generativity. We are mature to the degree that we are grateful…. The real task of life then is to recognize that everything is a gift and we need to keep saying thanks over and over again for all the things in life that we take so much for granted. (Sacred Fire,p. 244, 249)

It’s funny, gratitude is the anecdote to grumbling in the midst of depression, and at the same time, gratitude is also a byproduct of depression after it lifts. That, without a doubt, is one of the ways that depression is good for me: gratitude. When I have spent so much of my time lost in a world that is flat and gray or altogether drowning in a sea of blackness, when I finally emerge from that darkness I can see the colors of life in a way that I think those who do not suffer from depression cannot. It is as if I have put my glasses back on after losing them for a while; I can see colors and details that I couldn’t see before, and as a result I do NOT take them for granted as easily as someone who has always had 20/20 vision.

I think those who suffer from depression have a certain kind of depth to their lives that many others do not. (Though perhaps this depth is something in common with all of those who have drunk deep from the cup of suffering.) I don’t mean that to be an insult, as if I consider those who don’t suffer from depression to be shallow. I just think life is simpler for those who have not tasted this kind of darkness. I often envy that simplicity, to be frank. I see the way my husband Chris dances through life and rolls with the punches like it’s no big thing. His lows are definitely not as low as mine. I do think, however, that his highs might not be as high as mine as a result. I do think this is one of the best gifts of depression. The cost is very steep; don’t get me wrong. Those valleys are very far down and very dark. But the deeper and darker the valley, the more spectacular the view from the uppermost peaks.

Is this not exactly the way of the gospel? Jesus had to pass through the darkness of Gethsemane and Good Friday first, for if he had not, there would be no Easter?

And so, every month I die a little more to myself. It’s painful. Pruning always is. But it is so necessary to remove the dead parts in my heart to cultivate even more growth. Perhaps by leaning into this pruning process little by little each month, I won’t have to uproot the entire tree and start over as often. What if it really is the best thing for me? I have the opportunity to take down the cards one at a time as quickly as I start setting them up again. What a tremendous measure of God’s grace!

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord…. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God. (Ps 84:5-7, NLT)

 

You know, maybe depression is my superpower. It is the power of God in me, because it keeps me relying on His power. His power is made perfect in weakness. For me, His power is made perfect in my depression.

 

Posted in Depression, Spiritual Growth | Leave a comment

On Christian Maturity & Immaturity

I started a fun little exercise recently—well, fun for nerds like me, anyhow. I want to learn more about what distinguishes a mature Christian from an immature Christian, so as I read my daily devotions I have been writing down different traits or behaviors I see in Scripture for each.

Writing up a list of immaturity is a bit confusing; some of these things are marks of unbelievers, but I think immature Christians aren’t necessarily exempt from these. They should be, and if they were more mature they would be working to eradicate these from their lives, but even mature Christians are sinful by nature and will do immature things from time to time.

Take a look at the two lists below. They are extremely long. Because I am an overachiever like that. But the lists are humbling, if you take the time to go through them. There are many words and descriptors in both columns that make me wince. I have a long way to go.

(Please note these lists are alphabetical and are not listed by opposing traits. It got too complicated otherwise.)

 

Mature Immature
Abiding Abuse
Acceptance Addicted
Accessible Adulterous in deed
Action Adulterous in thought
Admirable Afraid
After God’s own heart Aggressive
Ambassador Anxious
Appreciate Approval-seeking
Approachable Argue
Approve Arrogant
Ask Ashamed
Bear all things Ask with wrong motives
Bear good fruit Assuming
Bear others’ burdens Attack
Bearer of Light Attention-seeking
Behind the scenes Avoid
Believe Avoidance
Bendable Back-stabber
Blameless Backslides
Bless Belittling
Boast of weakness Betray
Bold in confidence Bite and devour others
Bold in prayer Bitter
Bold in speech Blame
Bonded Blemished
Born again Blend in
Bow down Blind
Brings good, not harm Blown here and there by every wind of teaching
Brotherly kindness Boast
Builds up Break Sabbath
Calm Breaks covenants
Captivating Breaks promises
Care for others Bribe
Cares for poor, orphans, widows, prisoners Bring harm, not good
Carry burdens Broken
Carry others Burdens
Change Callous
Cherish Cheater
Child-like Claim innocence
Christ-like Clinging
Clean Heart Closed off
Cleansing Coarse joking
Clear Cold
Comfortable Cold-hearted
Comforting Complaining
Committed Conceited
Compassionate Condemning
Complementary Conditional
Complete Conditional love
Confess Conflict
Confession Conformed to pattern of this world
Confident Conforming
Confrontational (of sin) Conformist
Connect Contradict
Connected Controlling
Considerate Convenience
Consistent Corrupt
Content in all circumstances Covet
Controversial Coward
Convicted (of sin) Crabby
Convicting Crooked
Correct Cross
Correctly handles word of truth Crude
Counsel Cruel
Courageous Curses
Covenantal Darkness
Covers over a multitude of sins Debauchery
Creative Deceitful
Dedicated Deceptive
Defender Defeated
Delayed gratification Defensive
Delight Defile marriage bed
Delight in God’s Law Defiled
Delights in the law of the Lord Delight in evil
Delivered Demand
Determined Demeaning
Devoted Deny
Difference-maker Dependent
Different Deserter
Dignity Deserving
Discerning Despicable
Discipled Despise
Disciplined Destructive
Discipling Disagreeable
Distinguish good from evil Disappoint
Do good to everyone Disbelief
Eager Discontent
Ears to hear Discouraged
Edify Dishonest
Effective Dishonor
Effort to add to faith Dishonor authority
Embrace the “other” Dishonor parents
Encourage Disloyal
Endure all things Dismayed
Enjoy Disobedient
Enriching Disrespect
Equip Dissatisfied
Equipped for every good work Dissension
Escape corruption in the world Distant
Evangelize Distracted
Exalts God Distressed
Excellent Disunity
Expose fruitless deeds Division
Eyes fixed on Jesus Divisive
Eyes to see Dominating
Fair Don’t ask God
Faithful instruction Double-minded
Faithfulness Doubt
Fears the Lord Downcast
Fellowship Drains
Fight the good fight Drunkenness
Find Easily angered
Firm Easily offended
Flexible Easily shaken
Flourish Egotistical
Forget what is behind Embarrass
Forgive Empty words
Foundation on the Rock Enemy of righteousness
Freedom Enmity
Fulfilled Enslaves
Full of grace Entertain sin/evil
Full of truth Envy
Gentleness Exalts Self
Genuine Exclusive
Gift Faith versus deeds (instead of both/and)
Giving False testimony
Gladness Favoritism
Godly Fear of controversy
Good deeds Fear of men
Goodness Fearful
Grace Feels threatened
Gracious Fight
Gratitude Filth
Growth Fits of anger
Harmony Flight
Hates sin Foolish
Heal Foolish talk
Heart of Flesh (not stone) Forceful
Helpful Forgetful
Holiness Forgotten cleansing of past sins
Honest Foundation on shifting sand
Honor God’s name Fraud
Honor marriage Fruitless
Honor parents Fruitless deeds
Hope Frustrated
Hope all things Give up
Humble Gloom and doom
Humility Gluttony
Hunger and thirst for righteousness Gossip
Identity rooted in Jesus Gratify sinful nature
Imitator of God Greatest vs. Least
Impartial Greed
Inclusive Grumbling
Influence Guilt
Insight Haphazard
Instruct Hard-hearted
Intentional Harm
Interdependent Harsh
Internal Beauty Hates enemies
Intimate Hatred
Joined Heart of stone
Joy Hesitant
Joyful in trials Hidden
Keep marriage bed pure Hoards
Keep the faith Hold grudges
Keep the Sabbath Hordes wealth
Keeps promises Hurtful
Kind Hyper-Sensitive
Kingdom-oriented Hypocrite
Knocks Idle
Knowledge Idolatry
Lacks nothing Ignorance
Laugh at days to come Ignores
Leader Ill-equipped
Learned Immodest
Least = greatest Immorality
Least of these Impatient
Lends aid Imprisons
Life-giving Impulsive
Light of the world Impure
Light shining bright Inconsistent
Like God Incorrectly handles word of truth
Live by the Spirit Indifferent
Live in the light Ineffective
Living Influenced by evil
Living sacrifice Infuriate
Love Insecure
Love for the “other” Insist on own way
Love neighbor as yourself Instant gratification
Lovely Intolerance
Loves deeply Irresponsible
Loves enemies Irreverent
Loyal Irritable
Made new Isolation
Magnify God’s name Jealous
Make disciples of every nation Judging
Make most of every opportunity Keeps record of wrongs
Make music from heart to the Lord Lazy
Malleable Liar
Meek Limiting
Merciful Listen to word but don’t do what it says
Modest Lose faith
Moldable Luke-warm
Motivated Lust
New creation Manipulative
Noble Mean
Nourishing Merciless
Nurturing Misery
Obedient Mistrusting
One body Misunderstand
One mind Misuse God’s name
Open Nagging
Opportunistic Narcissistic
Partaker Near-sighted
Participate in divine nature No fruit
Partnership No self-control
Patient Objectification
Pays attention Obscene
Peace Offensive
Peace-Maker (active) One-Up Others
Perceptive Oppression
Persevere Orgies
Petition Over-indulgent
Pious Overcommit
Pleasing to God Overzealous
Praise Owed
Praise-Worthy Pain
Pray for enemies Passive
Prayer Passive-aggressive
Press on Peace-“keeper” (passive)
Prioritize God Performance-based
Prioritize others Permissive
Proclaim Persecute
Productive Plot evil
Protect Polluted by world
Provides Possessive
Pure Pout
Put God’s word into practice Pressure
Put off sin Prioritize self
Put on righteousness Prisoner
Quick to Listen Problem of the “other”
Quiet Proud
Reaches out Provoke
Rebirth Quarrel
Rebuke Quick to anger
Reconcile/Agent of reconciliation Quick to speak
Refine Quit
Rejoice Quitter
Rejoice with the truth Racist
Relational React
Renewal Rebellion
Renewed mind Redefine
Repentant Refuse
Representative Rejection
Resourceful Rejoice in wrongdoing
Respect Rejoices in injustice
Rest Resentful
Restoration Reserved
Reverent Restless
Revival Right to…
Right spirit Rude
Right with God Run away from danger
Righteous Sadness
Roll with the punches Scheming
Rooted in love Secretive
Run to win the prize Self-identified
Sacrifice Self-indulgent
Safe Self-justification
Salt of the earth Self-promotion
Sanctification Self-seeking
Satisfied Selfish
Scripture in heart Sensitive
Secure Sensuality
Seek Set traps
Seeks unity Settles
Self-Control Sexist
Servant Sexual immorality
Serve Shaken
Sexual purity Shame
Share Shaming
Shepherd Short-cuts
Shine before men Short-sighted
Shine like stars Show off
Sincere Sinful
Slow to anger Sins of Omission (know good ought to do but don’t)
Slow to speak Slander
Soldier Slavery
Sound mind Slow to listen
Source is God Sorcery
Sowers of the seed Sorrow
Speak in psalms, hymns, songs from Spirit Source is self or others
Speak truth in love Spend on own pleasures
Speak up Stiff-necked
Spirit-filled in all of life Stir up trouble
Stand out Stomach = God
Stand up for others Strays
Straight Stressed
Strain toward what lies ahead Strife
Strives toward perfection Stubborn
Submissive Sulk
Submit to Christ Superiority
Submit to one another Suppression
Support Swaggering
Surrender Swearing
Take every thought captive Take
Take Responsibility Take advantage
Tamed Tongue Take for granted
Teachable Takes easy way out
Teacher Tears down
Team-oriented Tense
Tender Tension
Tender-hearted Terror
Test and approve God’s will Test others
Test own work Thoughtless
Thankful Threats
Thoughtful Tossed back and forth by the waves
Thrive Trembling
Time for others Trouble-maker
Train in righteousness Troublesome
Trained Unappreciative
Transformed by renewing of mind Uncircumcised Ears
Trust Uncircumcised heart
Unashamed Uncommitted
Understanding Undercommit
Undeserving Underperform
Unfailing love Undisciplined
Unhidden Unforgiving
Unified Unfulfilled
Unique Ungrateful
United to Christ Unholy
United to spouse Unjust
Unreserved Unkind
Unseen Unloving
Unshaken Unmerciful
Unveiled Mind (belief) Unmoved/Unmovable
Upholds Unproductive
Value Unsafe
Victory Unsound mind
Voice in the darkness Untamed tongue
Vulnerable Unteachable
Walk in the Spirit Untrained
Walk with God Untrustworthy
Warm Unwilling
Watches over Unwise
Well-intentioned Unyielding
Willing Upset
Winsome Veiled Mind
Wisdom Violent
Without blemish Wasteful
Word hidden in heart Weary of doing good
Worker Withdrawal
Worship Withholding
Yielding Worry
Zealous Wrathful
Posted in Depression, Spiritual Growth | Leave a comment

On Motherhood and Growing Up

This is a post I started a while ago (as evidenced by the holiday references) but wasn’t able to wrap up until now because of said holidays and the need to process Sasha’s death with y’all. So, back to business…

 

Oh, the holidays. A time of year when extended family members you don’t really know love to ask you those awkward questions that only family can get away with. They’re still offensive, but hey, what can you do about it? They’re family.

This year it started with, “Wow, you look great! I bet it feels good to have your body back!”

Uhhhhh… Sure. You can think that. You do not need to know that I am still nursing my [then] 19-month-old four to six times a day because it is the only way I know how to get this screaming Tasmanian devil to shut up for two seconds so I can think straight.

“Yep. Sure does!”

But then, he back-tracked: “So, are you done?”

Because there is nothing I love more than talking about my sex life at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Or maybe it wouldn’t be such a difficult question if I had a definite answer.

I don’t.

But the questions aren’t nearly as offensive as the judgment. “Why would you want another kid when you can’t even handle the ones you have?” (True story.)

First of all, you’re a jerk.

But second, what does that even mean? I can’t “handle” my kids? I guess I didn’t realize I was their “handler;” I thought I was their mother.

Fine. I will play your little game.

You’re right, I am maxed out.

Except… I was maxed out when I had one kid. I was maxed out at two kids. I am maxed out with three kids, and I am sure I will be maxed out with four. (Although they say that three is actually the most stressful number of kids.) I love this post that talks about how it doesn’t matter how many children you have; you will feel emotionally and physically maxed out at the number of children you currently have.

Think about that for a minute. It’s true, isn’t it? Have you ever NOT felt maxed out with your kids? I don’t think I have, at least not for long.

But what if that’s okay? What if that is how it is designed to be? What if parenting, more than any other endeavor in life, has the ability to max you out and bring you to the end of yourself? What if that is exactly where God wants you to be? What if that is the place where you learn to grow and trust Him more, because you just have to?

I wrote not to long ago about my desire to grow up spiritually. Raising three girls has grown me more than anything else in this life so far. My friends or family members who are not parents yet don’t like it when I drop the mom-card—“You don’t understand; you’re not a mom”—but this parenting gig will max you out in ways that you have never been maxed out before, and you truly cannot grasp it until you are there.

Most of the books and blogs I am reading about spiritual maturity say that love is the ultimate goal of maturity. Think loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Maturity means loving and loving well. Loving God for who He is, loving yourself for who you are—your real self, not the false self you create out of shame—and loving others for who they are, just as they are.

Another book I read describes this kind of mature love as giving yourself away. The first stage in maturity is finding and establishing yourself, but the next stage is giving that self away.

And so I think loving well means giving well. Parenting definitely teaches you a thing or two about pouring yourself out in love for others.

And if growing up is giving away, I think it also means giving up your ideas that there is only one way to do something. Giving away the idea that you are right and you know what is best. Maturity is letting others be who they are because you are comfortable with who you are. You are not threatened by the “other,” because you realize that everyone is “other” than you, and that’s exactly how it should be.

The Mommy Wars are so based in shame—moms shaming other moms for making decisions that are different from theirs.

That’s immaturity. And our generation is so immature.

But that is one way having more kids has matured me. The more kids I have, the more I realize just how little I know about this whole parenting gig. We are all making this up as we go, and we are all doing the very best we can. We’re all in this together, even if we go about it differently.

And I can see that those who shame others for making different choices do so because of their own insecurity and their own hurt and their own shame. As they say, hurt people hurt people.

That is practically the definition of immaturity—being so self-absorbed and selfish that not only can you not empathize with others around you, you actually seek to tear them down in order to build yourself up.

At a wedding last summer, one of my cousins said that marriage will reveal just how selfish you are, but I think parenting takes that to an entirely new level. And this selfishness is celebrated! “Oh, we aren’t having kids for at least a few more years; we are way too selfish for that right now.” [He said it; not me.]

Perhaps this is why parenting maxes us out more than it seems it did previous generations before us. We have much further to fall when it comes to realizing that life is so much bigger than ourselves.

And that’s the thing about having a fourth child. Yes, it will be very hard, especially during those first few years. But it doesn’t stop there. That baby will become a toddler who will become a child who will become an adult and will (hopefully) marry and start an entire new family. Life is bigger than infants and toddlers that I can’t “handle.”

My family is celebrating my grandfather’s 80th birthday this spring. He and his wife had three children, who became six when they got married, and who birthed eleven grandkids. From those ten living, four of them have already birthed nine great-grandchildren so far, and we’re just getting started. I can’t even take the time to think about how many people will be in that room that day… All because of one man, my grandfather.

That is the difference every time we bring a new life into this world. Forgive me, but “not being able to handle” one more child is too short-sighted for me. Four generations from now, my postpartum depression won’t matter. It is just one of many sacrifices I am willing to make. I am willing to pour myself out one more time in this way.

Because motherhood fits me. Sure, I am maxed out. But there is no where I would rather be.

My love has more to give, not because I have anything to give of my own, but because of who I am in Christ. Love can give a little more. Always.

 

Our generation, fitting in with our self-centeredness, was raised to think we can change the world. It is a little disillusioning to learn that the world is a lot smaller than we once imagined and we cannot change much in the big picture after all. But the thing is, this parenting thing? I am changing the world. Hannah, Becca, Lizzy, and any others to come—they are changing the world just by being in it. Perhaps someday they will each be surrounded by 50+ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as they celebrate their 80th birthdays. None of those people would be in that room if it weren’t for these three—or four!—children of mine. That is world-changing enough for me. I want to pour myself out for that.

 

Perhaps much of growing up is learning to know what is truly important and what isn’t. How well I “handle” my kids is not important. What matters is that I love them and I love them well, which I am able to do only because I know that—as a daughter of the High King—I, too, am loved well. And it is my prayer that His love will overflow through me and into generations of Christ-followers to come.

That? That matters. And that is how I choose to change the world.

 

I hope you will join me.

 

 

Posted in Motherhood, Spiritual Growth | 1 Comment

On Suicidal Ideation and Psychosis

***TRIGGER WARNING***

Psychosis, Suicide, and Infanticide mentioned.

 

I’ve gotten some push-back on my post that discusses whether Sasha Hettich was suffering from psychosis when she completed suicide on Christmas Day, 2015. We discussed this idea briefly together as a group a few weeks ago but the therapist present kind of shut down that conversation, saying that it didn’t really matter because we won’t ever know. She is right that we won’t ever know for certain, but I think she is wrong that it doesn’t matter. It does. Or why else do I feel this need to “prove” that it was not psychosis, whereas at least four different women adamantly disagree with me. If we all care this much, I would think that it matters! It matters to us.

But why? Why does it matter? I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit. I understand both sides of the argument much better now that I did at first. I think we want to blame psychosis because none of us want to believe that Sasha would deliberately make the choice to complete suicide. It’s just too awful. As Cody said in his interview, “A healthy Sasha wouldn’t do this.”

Another friend of mine said that she felt that all suicidal thinking was a form of psychosis. If that’s true, that puts an entirely different spin on my own experiences with suicidal ideation at various points in my life. I spent upwards of a year battling suicidal thoughts and obsessions—not once, but twice; does that mean I was in a psychotic state for almost two years? I will have to keep thinking on that.

I guess I come at Sasha’s suicide from the opposite direction, where I don’t want it to be psychosis because if that were the case, then her decision was completely out of her control. I want it to be a severe case of depression that led to her deliberate decision to complete suicide because that gives all of us the power to make a different choice.

So I did what I do best. I spent a lot of time with my good friend, Google. I also reread almost the entire Postpartum Depression for Dummies book. I have compiled a whole bunch of research on postpartum psychosis that I am happy to share with anyone interested but I won’t share it here because it’s pretty boring and repetitive.

I can say with a good deal of confidence that Sasha was not suffering from Postpartum Psychosis. (Stay with me for a minute…)

The timing is all wrong. Postpartum psychosis typically begins within the first few days following delivery, which overlaps the baby blues period. More than half of all cases of postpartum psychosis begin the first week, and more than 75 percent begin within the first two weeks. (Postpartum Depression for Dummies, page 60)

This was corroborated by every source I found, and one source said 99 percent of cases occur within the first six weeks. Odds are that this was not postpartum psychosis.

In fact, the psychosis Sasha experienced after Ember was likely not postpartum psychosis either (in my admittedly unprofessional opinion). She had started taking an antidepressant the first day I saw her, and it was over the next few days that she deteriorated into full-blown psychosis. This is exactly what happened to me when Becca was three months old. Same med. Same psychosis. And the more I share my story, I am meeting more and more women who all had psychotic episodes after starting this particular drug.

(I hesitate to mention this medication by name only because many women do SO well on this antidepressant, and I don’t want to discourage women from trying it as it may be their saving grace to beating back this darkness. Just be sure to have your support team read the warnings and be on the lookout for any drastic changes in mood or behavior whenever you start a new medication.)

What Sasha could have experienced, however, is what is called psychotic depression. I did not know this existed before researching this. This makes sense because we are gradually learning that many of the causes of psychotic depression were present in Sasha’s life:

The cause of psychotic depression is not fully understood. What we do know is that there’s no single cause of depression and it has many different triggers. For some, stressful life events such as bereavement, divorce, serious illness or financial worries can be the cause. Genes probably play a part, as severe depression can run in families, although it’s not known why some people also develop psychosis.

It is gradually coming to light that things were not going well for Sasha. Her marriage was faltering, she hated her job, money was tight, and on top of that she was dealing with postpartum depression. Someone mentioned the other night that they believe something triggered Sasha and that threw her into psychosis. Based on my research, that is a very real possibility!

I wholeheartedly agree that something triggered Sasha to make the choice to pull the trigger; however, I still don’t believe it was psychosis, personally. There are two primary symptoms to psychosis—any form of psychosis—that we have no evidence were present: hallucinations and delusions.

I think the confusion comes because the simplest definition of psychosis is a “break from reality,” and I think all severe depression and the suicidal thoughts that follow could be considered a break from reality—or maybe even a delusion. It doesn’t make sense for Sasha or for me to believe that our families would be better off without us. That is deluded thinking, for sure. In that sense, I suppose all severe cases of depression include a break from reality because we cannot objectively see our reality any more.

But this is not exclusively a symptom of psychosis. Suicidal ideation is very common in any form of depression, and it is not the same as psychotic depression. Psychotic depression still needs those two elements—hallucinations and delusions—and the delusion that my family would be better off without me is not the kind of delusion we are talking about.

For Sasha, her delusions from psychosis in 2012 came in the form of paranoia: she thought her husband and the staff at Pine Rest were trying to kill her. Similarly, in July of 2011, I thought that every airplane that flew over my house (which is a lot because I live in the flight path) was CPS spying on me. They knew I was an unfit mother, and they were coming to take my kids away.

I never learned what other delusions or hallucinations Sasha experienced because we never did have the date we had planned to swap war stories about psychosis and Pine Rest. But I can share some of mine.

Some of the hallucinations I experienced were that I was falling into my closet, which kept growing bigger and darker and was trying to swallow me whole. I closed my eyes, but I could still feel the darkness creeping up my skin, like a swarm of spiders crawling up my entire body and ready to devour me. I saw the hand of a skeleton clawing at the window above my head, trying to get in. Trying to kill me.

I remember rocking back and forth in the armchair, clutching Becca with all my might because the couch across the room was just waiting for me to fall asleep. If I closed my eyes for even a second, it was going to pounce and tear Becca to shreds, like a lion.

Yes, my couch.

And there were thoughts to harm Becca, even as I was protecting her from other predators. I obsessed all day about how to do it. I had even decided how I was going to do it. The only reason I did not act on it was because I couldn’t decide how I was going to kill myself to make sure I didn’t survive. It was my indecisiveness that saved our lives. That and a phone call to my husband that I don’t remember making.

That, my friends, is psychosis.

It is possible that something triggered psychosis in Sasha that day. I won’t rule it out. Perhaps she was on medication and stopped taking it, as withdrawal symptoms can also cause psychosis. Perhaps something terrible happened between her and her husband that triggered it. We will never know. I won’t rule psychosis out. If that helps you to cope with what happened, I will no longer disagree with you, because it absolutely could have happened that way. I can’t say because I wasn’t there.

I will say, though, that I do not believe that I was suffering from psychosis when I was admitted to Pine Rest on suicide watch in December of 2011, five months after my psychotic episode (for which I was not hospitalized but absolutely SHOULD have been). Just as we suspect something triggered Sasha, something triggered me too. It’s almost humorous now, but it was almost deadly at the time; it was PMS. I did not know that I was three days away from getting my first postpartum menses. I have struggled with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder since I was 14, so it is no surprise that severe PPD with suicidal ideation combined with PMDD was enough to push me over the edge.

It’s almost eerie now. I got my period on Christmas Day. Sasha killed herself on Christmas Day, four years later.

Blood gave me new life. Blood spilled brought her death.

But for me, there was no psychosis. I was not hallucinating. Even though I thought my family would be better off without me, I was not deluded; I was depressed. Very, very depressed.

Depression does scary things too. It can lead us to make decisions we otherwise would not have made. That is why we need to take it so very seriously and fight like hell to beat this thing, or at least manage our symptoms.

But I still had the power to choose. I chose not to jump. Sasha chose to pull the trigger.

Our stories are both so similar and yet so very different. We have so much in common in our experiences between 2011-2012. But that’s where our similarities stop.

I cannot relate to all that she was dealing with in 2015. She was dealing with so much more than just PPD, and I think we need to acknowledge that too. Her circumstances were devastating, even without PPD thrown into the mix. I confess that if I were in her shoes, based on what little we know, I think I would have made the same choice.

But that decision—at least for me—did not come from a state of psychosis.

Is that awful? It’s easy to want to rationalize that away because of the awfulness of it all. To contend that it was something else that caused me to make the decision that suicide was the best choice. I suppose you can even blame the PMDD if you want. But I think it was all me.

It’s not a decision I would have made if I were healthy, no. But I was not psychotic.

And if I had so many things that Sasha did not have—a supportive husband, an amazing family, financial semi-stability, a job I love, and most importantly, Jesus Christ himself—and yet I still nearly made the same choice?

Sasha’s choice makes perfect sense to me, no psychosis necessary.

And that is important to me, because that gives me (and anyone else reading this who is not suffering from psychosis—which is highly doubtful if you have the ability to read this blog) the power to choose. It gives me the power to choose differently. To choose something better.

 

I can’t say anything with certainty about Sasha, but it did not take psychosis to make me suicidal. Because as horrible as that is, that means I was able to choose differently when I found myself struggling with those same thoughts again after Lizzy was born.

 

You cannot choose to not have psychosis. That is outside of your control. And the choices you make in a psychotic state are also outside of your control, sometimes with devastating consequences. But outside of psychosis, you can choose to complete suicide—or NOT complete suicide. The choice is yours.

 

And I think that matters.

 

Posted in Depression | 1 Comment

On Suicide and Who You Are

*** TRIGGER WARNING***

Please forgive me in advance for my bluntness. I am too raw to tread lightly around other people’s feelings today.

Suicide does not just happen. Okay? It is not something that suddenly pops into your head and—BAM—you act on it, just like that. It just isn’t.

The only exception—because I can hear your objections now—is postpartum psychosis. (Don’t know what that is? Pop over here.) Since I am talking about suicide in the wake of postpartum depression, let me say that the odds of committing suicide while suffering from postpartum psychosis (a term which is not interchangeable with PPD, by the way) are extremely slim. Postpartum psychosis happens to women in 1 out of 1,000 births, and even then, only 4-5% of those harm themselves or their children. That is 0.004-0.005% of moms. Statically speaking, this is not going to happen to you. And even among those women it does happen to, nearly all of them have a prior history of mental illness such as bipolar disorder, so even psychosis rarely comes out of the blue. Not to mention, it typically happens only within the first month after birth, so the window of this happening is also extremely slim.

So I am not talking about psychosis today. Some may disagree with me [edit: and many of you have, so feel free to check out my rationale here], but I do not believe Sasha was suffering from psychosis when she committed suicide on Christmas Day in 2015, five months after the birth of her son Gus. I think she was suffering from an extremely severe case of postpartum depression.

Those two are very different things. Trust me. I know. I experienced psychosis in July of 2011 after I reacted badly to a new antidepressant. Sasha also experienced psychosis when her daughter Ember was four weeks old in 2012, as a reaction to that exact same medication. I wrote about her experience on my old blog before Xanga shut down, which I will republish here.

Now, I cannot speak for Sasha. I do not know her well enough to know what she was going through or what she was thinking in those final minutes. But I can say that her suicide was not something that just occurred to her out of the blue that day. It was planned. It was something she had likely been daydreaming about for months, like I was—perhaps even years.

Some of her closest friends knew she was struggling with suicidal thoughts that week and tried to convince her to go back to Pine Rest in the days leading up to her suicide. She refused.

No one knew how dire the situation truly was. She had been here before after Ember’s birth and survived. Why would this time be different?

The reason her decision to commit suicide hits the postpartum community so hard is because she was doing all of the right things. She was attending the support group, she had a psychiatrist and, as far as I know, was taking her medication. She was going to therapy, and she had so many friends from the support group that would be there for her in a heartbeat if she reached out. [Edit: It has since come to light that Sasha was no longer attending therapy or accepting help from the MomsBloom team.]

Her suicide strikes fear into all of us because–if she was doing all of those things and if they still weren’t enough to save her–what is to stop one of us from committing suicide too? Right? As one mom said in the support group this week, “It is my biggest fear that my anxiety and depression is going to kill me one day.”

I want to be clear on one thing. Postpartum depression did not kill Sasha. Sasha killed Sasha.

Before you get mad at me, let me explain. First of all, while depression is a very real illness, it cannot kill you; not in the sense that cancer or a heart-attack can. Depression in itself will not cause your organs to shut down or stop your heart from beating.

But more importantly, our illnesses do not define us. They are not us. Cancer patients do not believe that their cancer is the sum of who they are. So when we make that mistake and identify as our mental illness, we give them a power over us that they do not deserve to have. When I nearly killed myself on December 22, 2011, it was because I could not differentiate who I was from my depression. I thought that I was a burden on my family; I could not see that it was my DEPRESSION that was the burden—not me—in the same way that cancer is the burden, not the sufferer. Even nine months later, I still couldn’t see this difference! In September 2012, I explained:

“I was stuck on the fact that I was a burden to my family. And I was. No one can tell me that PPD is not a burden on the entire family. I felt like a burden, and that I would always be a burden.”

Did you catch it? Even there I said that I was the burden, and yet the very next sentence I say that PPD is the burden, and then I am immediately back to saying I was the burden.

THEY ARE NOT ONE AND THE SAME. Killing myself to end the depression does not make sense, because they are not the same thing. DO NOT CONFUSE YOUR IDENTITY WITH YOUR ILLNESS. Depression can convince you all sorts of terrible things, but it is NOT who you are. Never let go of that.

If Sasha was in the same place I was, she lost sight of that too. She could not see that she was not the burden on her family; her illness was. The illness had so far invaded her brain that she could not distinguish between the two.

But suicide is still a choice.

It is said that people commit suicide because they feel backed against a corner and have no other choice. At least for me, that was never true. I always knew I had a choice, and I think most people in this spot know it too. The thing is, suicide feels like the BEST choice in that moment. It’s not your only choice, but it is your BEST choice.

That is what depression does to you. It lies.

Believing suicide is truly the best choice is the acceptance of a lie from the depths of hell.

But it is still a choice. And I think we need to know that. Because if it is a choice, then we have the power to CHOOSE DIFFERENTLY.

Look at Sasha’s family right now. Look at Ember and Gus who will grow up without their mother. Look at Cody who now has to raise these two children alone.

You tell me. Did Sasha make the BEST choice?

No. She did not.

Now, I do not say that without compassion. Do not accuse me of that. Because I stood where Sasha stood. I know what it is like for suicide to feel like the best choice. I even wrote about it here.

I firmly believe that Sasha made the choice she made out of love. I believe that depression took her undying love for her family and her children and wielded it as a weapon against her. I believe her depression convinced her that the truly loving thing to do was to sacrifice herself for the sake of her family. I believe that choice came not from a place selfishness but a place of selfless love. Don’t let go of that.

But don’t let go of the fact that we can make a different choice. Sasha made a thousand little choices that led up to that moment, and a single different choice along the way could have saved her. But she didn’t make different choices. There is nothing anyone could have done to save her if she made the choice not to be saved.

I know a lot of women in the group are suffering with guilt right now. I feel a lot of things, but guilt is not one of them. I understand better than most that you cannot help someone who has decided she is beyond helping.

I committed myself to Pine Rest of December 22, 2011 because I, too, felt that suicide was the best option. I felt like suicide was the right thing to do for my family. But I also knew I had a choice. I made the choice to put myself in a safe place because I no longer trusted myself not to harm myself. I had struggled with the overwhelming urge to harm myself since November of 2010, and after a full year of fighting it, I was too tired to fight it anymore.

I was backed into a corner only in the sense that I had lost the will to fight. But I still had a choice. I could quit fighting in two ways—by choosing to act on those overwhelming urges to kill myself, or by choosing to put myself somewhere safe so that I couldn’t harm myself, no matter how badly I wanted to.

Suicide is a choice. And if you are afraid that you are going to make that choice one day, the good news is that I firmly believe you can decide right now that you will NOT make that choice. Turn away and slam the door. (Sing it with me!) Let it go. When the thoughts come back, say “Nope. Not happening.”

After Becca was born, I had not yet made that choice. Suicide was always an option, even though I would never say so out loud. It was subconsciously my backup plan, a last resort, if things got bad enough, if nothing else helped.

But before Lizzy was born, I consciously decided to remove that option from the table. I decided then that suicide is NEVER, EVER, EVER the best option. And it NEVER, EVER, EVER will be the best option. And because I know that now, I will never even entertain that choice again.

For the first time in my life, I have no fear of killing myself. It is a fear that has lived in the back of my mind since the first time I became suicidal at 19. I distinctly remember thinking that I would not have to decide what college to transfer to because I would be dead before I would have to make that choice.

You can say that that’s all good and dandy that I made that choice while I was mentally strong and healthy but that it won’t stop it from becoming an option again when I am not. But you’d be wrong. I had another baby; I put my decision to the test. Not deliberately, of course, but believe me when I say it’s been tested. The thoughts came back. The appeal of suicide came back. All of it came back. But as they say, you cannot prevent the birds from flying overhead but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.

The thoughts still swirled around in my head. Constantly. But I told them to piss off. I told them this was MY choice, and I choose to shut them out. To swat them away. To smash them like bugs. When suicide is not an option, the only option is to work through it and keep fighting, or get somewhere safe if I can’t fight anymore.

I cannot choose not to be depressed. I cannot will my way out of it. It is a disease of the mind that I battle and will battle on and off for the rest of my life. I can’t choose otherwise, as much as I wish I could. But I can choose how to ACT in the midst of my depression. I will not let my depression define me. I am not my depression. My name is Karen, and I struggle with this illness named depression. But it is not who I am. And I will never, EVER make that mistake again.

Choose today. If you are afraid you will follow in Sasha’s footsteps, choose right now that you WON’T. It is that simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple. And know that you can make a different choice at ANY step along the way.

Your story is your own. Your story is not Sasha’s. My story is not Sasha’s. And my story will have a different ending. Because I say so.

I hope you will say so too.

Don’t let the fear of death—especially death by your own hand—rule your life.

 

But I cannot end this post there—not in good conscience. I cannot compare my journey to Sasha’s apples to apples. Because I have something Sasha did not have.

I have the power of the Holy Spirit living in me. I have eternity written on my heart. I know that death is nothing to be afraid of. I know that death itself will die one day; in fact, it has already been conquered. I know that one day I will be in a place without mourning or crying or pain. I know these things to be true.

I know that I was worthless and not worthy to be loved. Was. But not anymore. I am loved by Jesus Christ and a daughter of the King. I am a priceless princess, Jesus’ beautiful bride dressed in white.

Sasha turned away from that. She turned away from the Light. And when you turn your back on the Light, your own shadow causes you to walk in darkness.

I suppose we will all walk in times of darkness. Psalm 23 does not say “Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death;” no, it says when. WHEN. You WILL walk through the valley of the shadow of death. You will. If you haven’t yet, you will.

We can stumble around in the darkness of the shadow of death, or we can walk with our hands and faces lifted up toward the Light of the Son, even in the shadow-filled valleys.

If you try to walk in your own strength, you will fail. What do you do when you come to the end of yourself? The truth is, I don’t know how to battle suicidal ideation without the Light of the world. I don’t. Without the Light, my fate would have been the same as Sasha’s.

This really is the only choice that matters. If you do not choose to turn toward the Light, you will walk in darkness. Only the Light can conquer the darkness. And no darkness is so dark that it can stop the Light. Just turn around. Turn toward the Light, and you will see clearly to walk forward. One foot after another.

 

I don’t know how to mourn a suicide. Just like I didn’t know how to mourn Tim’s murder. Death is a different beast when it is at the deliberate hand of another. I confess I may be wrestling with my own past more than I am mourning Sasha. I don’t know.

But I do know that, as much pain as I feel, I am even more overwhelmed by thankfulness. I am thankful for my journey. I am even more thankful to be on the other side of that part of the journey. I am thankful I never had to journey alone. I am thankful for the women who came alongside of me and the dear saints that have shaped my life irreversibly during dark times. I am thankful for the overwhelming love, grace, and healing that only God provides.

But mostly, I am thankful for a God who knows my pain:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” (NIV) / “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (NLT)

Overwhelmed with sorrow. Crushed with grief. To the point of death.

I serve a God who knows what it means to be human, who knows what it is like to hurt so badly that it felt as if it were going to kill Him, God in the flesh. I serve a God who—as surely as He knows the number of hairs on my head—knows the number of tears I cry. I serve Immanuel, God with us.

In those moments when sweat and tears fell like drops of blood, Jesus chose to surround himself with his closest friends. Now, those friends kind of sucked it up and kept falling asleep, but they were there. They showed up. “Stay here with me” were Jesus’ words when he felt like he couldn’t go on.

Choose “stay here with me” over suicide. Ask your family. Ask your friends. Your family and your friends might fall asleep on the job; do not depend on them alone. But Christ Jesus—God in the flesh who knows what it like to be human and what it is like to feel so overwhelmed that death looks like a relief—He will always stay here with you.

Always. Not some of the time. Always. To the very end of the age.

And He has conquered death. How much more will He give you life, in abundance?

 

 

Living Water. Bread of Life. Only You satisfy.

 

Posted in Depression, Motherhood | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

On the Selfishness of Suicide

***TRIGGER WARNING***

I wrote this post on September 8-10, 2012. Please note, I have expanded some of my thoughts and corrected my own misperceptions here after Sasha Hettich committed suicide in 2015. Do not read this post individually. (Link also at the end.)

After climbing into the trenches and literally laying down beside Sasha, I felt as if I was looking into a time portal. And as much as my heart is breaking for her and her family right now, I feel as if I am forced to look in the mirror and see myself for what I was only 8 months ago. I have been focusing all of my energy over these past few months on getting better, and now that I am, it’s time to go back and dissect everything that I went through.

Laying next to Sasha, I felt stripped naked, even as she was physically undressed. Raw and exposed. Now they too can see me for what I truly am. Or was.

I’m making good progress in the mourning process. Maybe it seems odd to mourn my PPD journey, but it perfectly describes what I am experiencing. I experienced a terrible loss. Many terrible losses. I lost the first year of Becca’s life. I lost control of mind. I lost the will to fight, to live another day. At least in this case, healing and mourning are nearly interchangeable.

For the time being, I feel accepting of the loss of the first year of Becca’s life, but that took a lot of time to get to that point. Now I am trying to wrap my mind around, well, losing my mind. I understand now why PPD (or any depression) is considered a mental ILLNESS. My brain was not functioning correctly. I am a relatively content person. I laugh hard and I laugh frequently. (My husband never knows what I’m even laughing at half the time.) So how is it even possible for me to come to a place where I honestly thought that suicide was the best solution?

One of you wrote an excellent post about the selfishness of a mother who commits suicide. That’s the funny thing about depression. It is horrifically selfish—at least in the sense that you can’t get outside yourself. My brain was not capable of seeing the big picture. I was stuck inside myself, stuck in the present, a present that felt like a permanent past and future; it had always been this way and would always be this way. I was stuck on the fact that I was a burden to my family. And I was. No one can tell me that PPD is not a burden on the entire family. I felt like a burden, and that I would always be a burden.

But here’s the unexpected part. Suicide did not become an option in my mind for selfish reasons, not because I was so desperate to end the pain. In fact, suicide did not feel selfish at all; it felt… merciful. For my family. I felt like I would be doing them a favor by relieving them of their burden. Me. Yes, they’d mourn my death but secretly they’d be relieved, the way family members often feel relief after watching a loved one die of cancer. My husband could remarry, someone who would love him better than I could and someone who would love our children better than I could. They’d look back with time and see God’s providence in all of it, that I made the best decision for my family by freeing them from me. Suicide felt selfless, like putting my own family’s well-being before my own.

They didn’t need me; they needed to be rid of me.

I spent all day everyday fantasizing about it.

By the grace of God, I am now on the other side of the story. But I am struggling to figure out what to “do” with this, with everything I just wrote. What do you “do” with something this awful, with that deep, dark secret place in your heart that even you are ashamed to disclose?

I don’t really know the answer to that. For now, I’m simply staring it in the face. Uncovering every stone and trying to accept that it happened. It was real, and it was me. And it was awful.

But I did it. And I am really proud of myself. I almost feel childish in how very proud of myself I am, like a school girl running home from the bus waving her aced math test in the air before eagerly sticking it on the fridge.

Postpartum depression was the most difficult test I have ever encountered in my entire life.

But I passed.

 

Head here next. It’s important.

Posted in Depression, Marriage, Motherhood | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment