I didn’t choose the darkness; I don’t think it chose me either. I simply found myself in a gradual twilight, at the inevitable turning of the earth away from the day, toward the night. The sun slowly set behind me, the shadows lengthened, a dense fog descended in the chill, and I lost the trail that everyone else seemed to be on. The chatter faded off into the distance, and I was alone.
A little while after I had my third child the fog rolled in. Triggered by something in a fictional short story I’d read, my visually imaginative brain created haunting images that I couldn’t shake. The twelve to 18 months that followed that downward spiral are a blur of dull aches and slow blinks, pin-pricked with moments of intense rage that stand out like flares – cries for help – above the dark mist. I stopped going to church during that time, not because I didn’t want to be there, but because after a week of being home full-time with three very young children, the thought of taking them out again by myself was something that I didn’t often have the physical or mental strength to accomplish.
I felt like I lost what little ‘village’ I had, after that (I had always been a private person anyway, not entrusting my soul to many people). In removing myself from church, I essentially removed myself from the practical care and compassion that would or should normally accompany a mother experiencing Post Natal Depression. I was incredibly dishonest with myself during that time – not wanting to admit that it actually was PND – I blamed myself, and thought if I tried hard enough I could fix myself. I thought because I was ‘high functioning’ I must be OK, and that if I claimed mental illness I would have to somehow explain myself to people who couldn’t see inside my brain. Maybe I pushed people away, I don’t know. I can’t actually remember. I just know I felt lost, alone, with a crumbling faith and a failing mind, and no one was there to pull me up.
And so I turned to the only church I could find, during that time. The internet. And I found my people and my freedom – as I would lay in my bed some mornings and scroll through articles and blog posts and think-pieces and stories from other people of faith experiencing similar shifts, I longed for these connections to be more than just digital. Those moments of escape – immersing myself in the pain and triumph of others, riding their coat-tails of joy and discovery when I couldn’t do so myself – those moments were the only thing that kept me going sometimes. Knowing that there were other people out there, specifically other women, other mothers, who were clawing after faith in a different way from the crowd gave me the rest that I needed, and the hope that one day I might be able to do the same.
I’d been depressed before, but always denied it to myself, denied that it was anything worth tending to in any real way. I would have days when I had energy, when I felt pretty good. They never lasted long, and I would sink back down into the day-in-day-out despair of constant failure. The constant fear of never being enough was my daily companion.
I’m extremely stubborn by nature, so in a way I thought if I stood my ground long enough, eventually I would arrive again, at the dawn, face to the sunrise, feeling its warmth on my chill brow. So I stood; and it did. But the harrowing night left deep rifts within me. My faith will never be the same, and for that I am thankful. I left the easy answers behind, in that darkness. I listened to the night, in its stillness, and I heard The Whisper, I felt the faint Breath on my skin in the moments of deepest pain. I couldn’t pick up the easy answers again, they had disintegrated in the damp, and then dispersed in the wind. They were gone.
I’ve learned that there are very few people willing to listen and travel alongside in the dark places. That’s fine. That’s normal. I guess when you are not in a dark place yourself, the last thing you want to do is step down into the undergrowth and scramble along out of the reach of the sunlight. I’ve learned that there are people who will kick you when you are down, that their form of help is akin to the propaganda drops during WWII – it seems they think that maybe if they do a fly-by or two – high above you – send down a handful of scripture and then zoom away to their ivory tower, that maybe you’ll be fixed, or see the light, or be won back over to ‘their side’… or something. But all that happens is you end up knee deep in garbage. I’ve learned that being honest is really hard: being honest with myself, first and foremost, and then being honest with those around me. I haven’t mastered it by a long shot, for me it’s a catch-22. I struggle to be honest because I find it difficult to trust. At times when I have shared my struggles, whether face-to-face or online, I’ve been met with condescending nods and pitying looks, or handed supposedly cure-all scriptures. In those moments I have learned who the unsafe people are. Some of them not who I expected, and that makes me sad.
But my sweet baby – my daughter on the cusp of three, who will hopefully continue to remain oblivious to the inner non-workings of her mother’s brain for a while yet – my heart despairs at the thought that I would ever see her existence as the catalyst for darkness. Far from it, she was, and remains still, a vast well of happiness, a bright spark in the night sky. Those midnight moments when I would hold her, nurse her, in the stillness, were some of the most precious and spiritual times for me, when I would see and feel the face of God in her, as I held her close to my chest. Her names (she has three) mean Peace, Joy, Brave Journey – and she could not have been a more perfect guide through the last three years.
My notebook tells me I wrote this on the 17th of April, 2015. It was a time where I felt myself finally beginning to ascend out of the dark pit. Written in the middle of the night with the house was quiet, and she lay in my arms:
my warm breast
into her mouth
of my womb
now they clutch
to be connected
to the source
her mouth, my breast
my womb, her stomach
my mouth, her fingers
her body, my hands —
all entwined —
in the dark
my warm breast
into her mouth
and we clutch
This post is part of a link-up/synchroblog with Addie Zierman to celebrate the launch of her latest book “Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark”
Head over and read all the other amazing posts, and order her book!