Fighting with the Light On

I believe the first step to overcoming a challenge is to name it. Can you really fight something if you don’t know what you’re fighting? Maybe you can, but it would be little more than a shot in the dark. Who knows what could be lurking in there and what you need to defeat it?

Sure, you might get lucky. Flail around, eyes closed, waving a stick, and you’re bound to hit something, right? But why go to all that effort when you can simply turn on the light and see what you’re actually dealing with here?

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About 5 months after my daughter, Clarette, was born, it was obvious that something was going on with me. I didn’t know what it was at first, but it was making its way into every area of my life, affecting everything I did, everything I thought, everything I felt…

In the beginning, I thought it was just lack of sleep, and it may have started that way, but there was a steady decline in my motivation, energy, and joy. One day I would be fine, then the next day I couldn’t get out of bed. Through a combination of introspection, Google, and talking with other people, I finally figured out what it was.

I remember first telling my husband, “I think I have postpartum depression.”

It felt a little awkward saying it out loud after having tossed it around in my head, but it was also sort of freeing. The moment I diagnosed myself, giving this problem a name, I felt empowered as my mindset shifted. Instead of something being wrong with me, there was something happening to me.

It separated who I was from what I was experiencing. Not to try and ignore the problem, but to see it more objectively. And once I was able to view it in that new light, I could study it, learn what I could do about it, and fight it more effectively. I was no longer afraid to talk about what I was going through, because I no longer had the labels of lazy or moody.

Through speaking out about it, I discovered a lot of hurting women experiencing the same thing. But they felt they couldn’t talk about it because it is such a misunderstood illness and can come with a lot of judgement from other people. So they suffered in silence, swinging their sticks around in the dark, because they couldn’t find the right tools to help them without turning on the light.

It’s hard to heal when you can’t even acknowledge the pain.

Depression is hard to understand when you haven’t experienced it. Many assume it’s just a whole bunch of sadness. Some people think it can be fixed by going outside, getting out of bed, out of the house, doing something fun. What I’ve learned is that it’s such a personal illness, looking different for different people, presenting itself in a variety of ways. For me there were even times when it changed each day.

Overall it just felt like a wall in my mind. Many times I physically could not pick something up to put it away because my brain would get instantly overloaded. It was too much. Other times I felt so angry that my body could barely contain it. There were instances where I really scared myself with how hopeless I felt. It was a horrible, crazy roller coaster.

I didn’t need a lot of people and activity and distraction. I needed only certain people, people who would lift me up and battle with me when I was so weak. I needed very little activity, only a select few things that filled me up. I needed to talk about it, to dive deep into it all, to figure it out, to get to know myself in a new way.

It was important to share what I was going through, both for myself and for others still struggling in the dark.

Speaking the truth out loud is powerful. It is a strong first step in fighting any battle. It may make you vulnerable to certain attacks, but it also invites others to come and fight alongside you. It opens the door to more resources and more support. It allows you to fight with the light on.

I have found great benefit in being open about my struggles with depression. I have received help from Doctors, therapists, family, friends, and even strangers. I have tried prescriptions and supplements, dietary changes and exercise, hobbies old and new, experimenting with many different things to find what works for me.

It wasn’t all positive. Not everything I tried was effective. I was hurt and misunderstood. I had to walk away from many people and things that I felt were holding me down in that rough season. But I was able to move forward with a renewed confidence, among people and activities that lifted me up and pushed me along. Some days it was two steps forward, one step back, but by embracing the challenge, I fought my way through it.

By the grace of God, I eventually “woke up.” I realized that wall was finally gone. I could function again. Everyday tasks were no longer impossible. The smallest things no longer overwhelmed me. I felt happy. I felt good. I said to my husband, “I think… I feel… normal!”

And I never could have gotten through all of that without first naming my fight.

What are you fighting in the dark right now? Take that big first step to call it out. Give it a name. Turn on the light. Begin to work through your challenges from a new angle. Open your heart and you’ll find that you are not alone in this battle.

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