I was heavy with the swollen belly of my second baby girl when I got the call. I’d eased myself into the narrow space of a middle school desk only a few minutes after the last bell sounded and that phone on the wall rang. It was nearly nine years ago. Land lines were still common and I was teaching seventh grade language arts and drowning in my own depression as we faced months of financial strain and uncertainty. All the while I was preparing to do this new baby thing before the ink had hardly dried on the first’s birth certificate.
But he told me to sit down and so I did, and then my husband gently told me Michael was dead.
There was no way to cushion the blow or sugar coat the news and I’m not even sure if I cried right then. I think my whole body went numb and I know I kept breathing long and hard and deep because he asked me if I was going to be okay or if he should come get me. And I asked what happened and he told me in softest way he could.
Our dear friend had taken his own life after calling his wife from the top of a mountain and telling her goodbye.
Bipolar disorder had ravaged his joy and the man who used to be known for his 1000-watt smile and insatiable zest was put back to the dust a mere three days later.
And I hugged and held his wife and buried my grief in the shoulders of lifelong friends and stayed strong for the new little life growing inside me and didn’t scream into my pillow at night even when I felt like the weight of this world would crush my chest.
I didn’t say what I thought–that if one of the most godly, Jesus-loving men I knew could lose this fight how could I believe I would even survive a round in the ring?
I stayed choked up quiet and tried to pray harder and there was no one to hold my hand and let me weep who had walked through the fire and come out the other side and I bought the lie that I just wasn’t good enough until it broke me into pieces.
Broke me into pieces all over the honey hardwoods of this house when it was still our new house and the paint color that we paid a man so many dollars to slap on the walls came out all wrong.
And I knew then that I would never do anything right or good or better but I kept feeding myself the lie that I would get better and it was just hormones and stress and a thousand other causes.
And no one told me it was okay to take the antidepressant and I didn’t even know it was okay to ask and I gulped water when what I needed was air and everyday I drowned a little bit more.
Everyday for a year until the next summer when I was home alone with two toddlers and a lost mind and the idea that maybe I should just lock the door and leave and hope someone else would come along and be a better mother and a better wife.
I don’t remember when the decision was made to ask for help. I don’t remember if there was advice from my closest friends or my mother or another mom who whispered to me that I could try some medicine and it would be okay. It didn’t make me weak. It didn’t mean I had no faith. It didn’t mean I was doomed to a dose for the rest of my life.
It just meant I needed a life preserver until I could get back to shore.
I’m on the shore now, almost always, but sometimes my toes wander a little too far from that sand and I recognize the crash of waves getting too high and I know when I need to back up, take a break, ask for the physical help of hands that can feed, and clothe, and love as well as I. I know I have a tendency toward depression, likely genetic, as I learn more family history and see more of my own tendencies manifest in those who share my DNA. I know I’m creative and have long tried to make myself fit a box that isn’t my shape and as I settle more and more into this skin that the Creator Himself stretched over my soul, I know the warnings and how there are some thorns I will always have no matter how much I may pray for their removal.
I know how to ease the sting though. How to count blessings and beg forgiveness and believe in each new day with no mistakes in it yet. I know how to be proud of the talents I’ve been given and I’m working on not resenting those that weren’t tasked to me.
And I’m treading carefully when the Lord prompts me to share the bits of my story that struggle with depression and anxiety because I know the sensitivity of the topic. But here’s what I know even better–
I sure wish I’d known how to share this with Michael. Because no matter what we think when we reach the pits of despair, there is always someone waiting to pull us out.