For our family, September has held some disappointing happenings: Garfield got his first cavity (at almost 8 years old) and had to have it filled. Our dentist called it a “flossing cavity.” My son answered, “I brush and floss every night.” Yup. Now we’re back to having a grown-up help him with his nightly flossing.
We lost $85 in monthly financial support from folks who help make it possible for us to serve as missionaries. One of our supporters suffered a stroke, which was the reason for her monthly donations to cease. Some perspective, right? Losing some money is not much at all compared to a health crisis. Another long-time supporter decreased his monthly giving due to retirement.
And…this mama who (I must confess) sometimes gets smug about how well we use up whatever food we have in fridge and pantry allowed about $15 of chicken to ruin. After a home school day earlier this month, the boys and I drove to Cru headquarters where they spent time with Mike while I attended a seminar on suicide and depression awareness. (More on that later.)
When we finished there, the boys and I went to 2 grocery stores. I mistakenly left the bag with the hormone-free, raised-without-antibiotics chicken in the van once we returned home. All night. All next day. Mike discovered it the next evening, more than 24 hours after I put that bag in the van. So then I put it all in the trash. Painful, I tell ya.
So that’s been part of our September–not all of it, of course. Garfield and Woodrow got new bike helmets, and we’ve taken some enjoyable rides around the neighborhood together this month. There’s been light as well as heaviness.
September has also been Suicide Prevention Month. Hence, the seminar I attended…I’m thankful I serve with an organization that acknowledges the reality of mental illness and the need to–as Susan, the counselor leading the seminar stated–be holders of hope for those struggling through depression or the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide.
After Susan’s husband took his life 9 years ago, I made a meal for her and her 3 children. Because that’s what we do–we provide what we can; we nourish where we can. I remember surveying the food I was cooking that day, Woodrow barely a toddler, and recognizing its inadequacy. So I kept making more: I cooked chicken, saffron rice, black beans. I fixed a salad and garlic bread. I think I made dessert, too, and sent a bowl of fruit with everything else. I wanted to minister to them; this was a way I could do it.
Just as people grieve in individual ways, people experience depression in individual ways, Susan told us. But bringing depression into the light makes a difference. Into the light, instead of hidden in the dark. We were never meant to function in isolation.
Another story of suicide in this month of September came to me on my Facebook news feed. The title of the article reads “New Mom Takes Her Own Life After Silent Battle With Postpartum Depression.” Her name, like mine, is Allison.
I don’t know if I technically experienced postpartum depression after Woodrow’s birth. But I do know I felt an anxiety and sense of overwhelm that made me afraid to sleep alone, even when Mike had newborn Woodrow asleep on his lap while he watched TV downstairs one evening. I do know I felt afraid at times to go outside with Woodrow because I worried a stranger might rip him from my arms and throw him to the ground. I recognized these fears as unfounded, intellectually, but I couldn’t seem to detach myself from them.
Lack of sleep, losing much blood due to a postpartum hemorrhage after childbirth, expectations I perceived from in-laws, having to say good-bye to my own parents as they went back to Mississippi after spending a week with us and our new baby, my husband traveling overseas when Woodrow was 8 weeks old…all that contributed to my mental state, I’m sure.
I threw a birthday party for Mike when Woodrow was only 6 weeks old. As I look back on that, I question the wisdom of that decision. I think I felt I needed to be sure and not neglect my husband while in the throes of round-the-clock nursing and baby tending. I suppose I thought I had something to prove. At the party, I spoke to 2 other moms, telling them that I felt I was barely clinging to the edge of survival. In my mind, I saw my fingernails scraping at the edge of a cliff while the rest of my body dangled over the edge. They answered, “Oh, you’ll feel that way for a long time!”
The darkest of these feelings–swirling amidst the all-consuming love I felt for my baby–didn’t last longer than a few months. But there were probably instances when I wondered if the heaviness would truly lift. When I reflect on those first few weeks of motherhood, replete with anemia after the hemorrhage along with total infatuation with my child, I remember always feeling as though it were nighttime. Always feeling as though it were actually dark. I wonder if this other Allison felt that darkness, one much heavier and scarier and more overwhelming than anything I ever felt.
For others, I want to be a holder of hope. For myself, I want to disrupt feelings of depression by overthrowing isolation and bringing those feelings out into the light. Because what’s brought into the light can be reached with God’s love and redemption.