By Carrie Lahman
You’ll just keep living until you are alive again. –Call the Midwife
When my mom answered, I couldn’t stop crying.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” I choked out. “The baby won’t stop screaming. I feel so angry. I’m not cut out to be a Mom. I’m ruining them.” I moved the phone away from my face and sobbed in my shirt.
“I’m bringing you a coffee,” she said. “I’ll set it right inside the door. You don’t have to talk or even get up.”
Depression carved me like a pumpkin. Motherhood, in all its wonder and eager anticipation, had landed heavy. I became an instant mother of two. Exhaustion and illness, aching over the losses my daughters experienced before they joined our family, not knowing how to meet all their needs and stay engaged in my marriage and friendships. It all left me disoriented until I completely lost myself.
From the outside, it wasn’t obvious. I kept a friendly face on for the public. But if you’d lifted my lid, there would have been no insides left. No seeds of hope and happiness, and vision and purpose.
The absence of these things can go unnoticed for a time. A body can go on autopilot, go through the motions. But then will come a morning when it can find no courage to get out of bed. Or a small incident will completely snap the emotional threshold. Or one night the tears won’t stop and when loved ones lean in and say, “What is something we could do to make you better?” it thinks and thinks and can’t remember a single thing. And no one is more alarmed than itself to discover this pilfering. What used to be a soul full of spunk and daydreams is now hollow, filled only with shame’s shadows and echoing anxiety, bouncing off the barren walls.
I was at the door when my mom arrived. Ashamed as I was, I was desperate for hope; for her hug. She stepped into my dimly lit kitchen with a steaming latte and a little wall hanging– a cross with all the names of Jesus inscribed. Holding me she said quietly, “Carrie, you are so loved. Your girls are so loved. You’re going to make it through this. You’re all going to be okay.”
I wished for a formula, a healing potion, a spectacular emancipation from depression and shame, never to see them again. But my story, maybe like yours, is one of coming back alive through the slow living of it. By showing up, even shaking and unsure, to do the next thing: to make a sobbing phone call to my mom, to make breakfast, to lay on a blanket in the shade with my girls, to Google local counselors and take my pounding heart to the first appointment. And then to another round of phone calls and another stack of paperwork, and introductions, when the first therapist was not a good fit.
There were pinholes in the dark clouds: an evening walk that smelled like rain, a friend at the door with a big pot of soup, my daughters singing to me, my husband’s hand smoothing the hair from my forehead and urging me to come eat dinner, a magnificent Pileated Woodpecker making a home in the tree out my bedroom window, the safety of a therapist who listened with empathy as I spilled my guts, the grace of a thousand hugs.
I started thinking of myself as a very sad friend. If I were one of my friends, wouldn’t I take care of her? Know she was doing her best? See that she really was a good mommy? Flawed, yes. But human. Wouldn’t I love her, see the value she had to offer, know the world would ache if she were absent from it?
I realized I could never be the wholehearted, loving mother, spouse, friend, and person I wanted to be if I couldn’t first be kind to myself.
I started reading books again; only the ones that made me smile and not feel lonely. I started writing down feelings, dark and terrible ones, and then some happy ones, and then weaving together bits of our story. I started using scary words like depression and panic attacks and anger and shame with my safe people: my parents, my husband, a few friends, and even my girls, to help them understand the hard days a little more. I started eating a little better, resting a little more, trying to drown out the constant barrage of…
I’m so stupid.
I’m the worst.
I hate myself.
I deserve to be miserable.
My family would be better off without me.
… with music, bird songs, or Psalm 23.
Friends don’t let friends listen to that crap.
Ever so softly, light filtered in through the pinholes.
My eyes widened with delight when I caught myself daydreaming again. One evening, sitting in bed watching a show with my husband, I suddenly grinned and announced, “I feel like a good mom today! I don’t feel one bit of shame!”
I’m finding myself laughing out loud when I take my dogs for a walk; willing to spend hours with my daughters when they’re going through something hard and need to talk; wanting to cry with wonder over the beauty of flowering trees.
I’m feeling again. Liking again! Liking my life, liking my roles, and, though I can still only whisper it, liking myself.
Carrie Lahman is an introvert of many words, with and endless love for good stories and visiting new places. She lives on an untamed plot of pastures and woods in Ohio with the boy she fell in love with in fourth grade, and their two Ethiopian-born girls who have given her the gift of being their mommy. She writes about vulnerability and grace and the courage of showing up shaking on her blog at carrielahman.com, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook.