The Undoing: The Messy Reality of Anxiety, Depression, and GriefExcerpt from my journal, dated 3/7/16 “…I don’t want just a band-aid or partial healing, I want the whole thing…”. I had no idea what I was signing up for by saying that. At the time, I didn’t realize that if you want to be fully healed, your soul, spirit, mind, and body will go through it together. You can’t separate the parts of who you are, and say that you just want physical healing. It doesn’t work like that. When one part of you suffers, the rest suffer as well. And when one part of you receives healing, the other parts do as well. That is, if you want FULL healing. If you want to be fully alive and fully integrated, you must go through an undoing.
My undoing began, as I’ve already shared, with our story of delayed fertility. It has been a season of life that came around the corner and hit me in the face with a baseball bat. As gruesome as that picture might be for you, I can guarantee you that these past 2.5 years have been equally as messy. As it began to sink in that we were struggling to conceive, I started to meltdown. It became normal for me to sleep a LOT, wake up in a fog, and just go through the motions each and every day. I was numb at times, and at other times I was a complete emotional mess. I remember thinking, “what is wrong with you?! Get it together.” But I couldn’t. It felt like someone had put me in a funnel of swirling water that was sucking me down to my death, and there was NOTHING I could do about it. I remember feeling like I was trapped inside my own dysfunctional body- like a torture chamber I could never escape. The panic attacks where I couldn’t catch my breath and it felt like a 500 lb weight was sitting on my chest were the absolute scariest. And of course, they would come out of nowhere. Sometimes brought on by a trigger, and sometimes they just decided to grace me with their presence all on their own. Yay me. I gained weight. 45 lbs, to be exact. And no matter how hard I tried to lose the weight, the numbers just kept climbing. That REALLY helped me to feel good about myself, and like I was in control of my body. (Insert major sarcasm).
I just wanted answers. I NEEDED answers. A dear dear friend of mine who was also struggling to conceive went to the Dr and got a diagnosis. PCOS. Not something anyone would be happy to have, but I was jealous of her. I wanted a diagnosis, just so that we could get a plan of action together and fix this thing. At least knowing what you’re up against gives you something to research. Finally, I made an appointment with a fertility specialist. I was so scared and relieved all at the same time. What are they going to find? Maybe we can actually make some progress toward getting pregnant. So I go in, get ALLLLL the tests done, and when we went back for our follow up appointment, the Dr said the words I had PLEADED with God to not hear. “Everything looks pretty good. We can’t find any major reason why you can’t get pregnant. You fall into a broad category of people with what we call, ‘Unexplained Infertility’. Based on the number of couples in your age range who have been trying for as long as you have, we are giving you an 8% chance of getting pregnant.” We left the fertility center that day with a mixture of thankfulness and frustration. Of course I was grateful that I didn’t have anything crazy wrong with me, but I just wanted to hear them tell me they found this small issue, we correct it, and then this whole nightmare is over. But no. Of course it wasn’t going to be that easy for me.
I remember the day that someone made a comment about me not understanding what it’s like to have to deal with whiny, needy, sick children all day long. Of course this person didn’t know our struggle, and I’m sure they were speaking out of their own frustration and lack of sleep, but their words sliced me to the core. I wanted to scream every swear word I could think of at this person. I would give ANYTHING to be sleep deprived and exhausted because I’m taking care of MY children. Because it would mean that I’d had the honor and gift of actually having a child. This person’s words sent me into probably the worst panic attack I’d experienced yet. Thank God David was home. I couldn’t breathe. All the emotions welled up inside of me. Anger, jealousy, sadness, grief, despair, fear, frustration, and of course, panic- because I felt so so out of control, and there was nothing I could do about it.
This also happened EVERY. SINGLE. MONTH. I knew if I wasn’t pregnant, it would come. The overwhelming grief and mourning, like someone had just ripped my child away from me for the umpteenth time. You’d think I’d get used to the pain, but a mother never gets used to being without her child- the child(ren) I’ve carried in my heart since I was a little girl.
Then one day, in my fog of depression and fatigue, I heard God. For the first time in what seemed like years, my heart felt that tiny nudge, and I knew it was Him. “Katie, I’m teaching you how to grieve well.” I was caught off guard. What?! Oh, you are God? What does that mean? How do I do that? At the same time as all my questions came flying at him, I also felt a wave of peace. He’s here. He’s in the midst of this terrible darkness. If he’s teaching me something, then it’s got to mean that there is purpose here. As excruciatingly painful as this is, if he’s teaching me something, then I want to learn. Because anything has got to be better than feeling like I’m constantly drowning with no one around to save me.
A sweet friend suggested that I look up Francis Weller’s work on grief. So I did. I had never contemplated grief before and that it was something you could do well or not do well, and apparently I had been doing a whole lot of not grieving well. I was just doing the best I knew how. Francis Weller’s insight and research brought a lot of clarity to me. While I don’t agree with his perspective on spirituality whatsoever, I learned a lot of things about how to love myself through the grief process.
“Without the processing of accumulated sorrows, we begin to harden the heart…I think the toxic legacy of private pain is something that we have to unravel, and begin to see in one another a place of refuge and a place to bring what has been most harmed by the dominant culture so there’s actually a place where we can do this (grieve)…but we have to do it together. Grief has never (meant to have) been private. It has never been solitary, it was always meant to be communal. So to stitch back that tear in the fabric of our souls, we have to find one another again and grieve together again so that we can actually celebrate again together.” -Francis Weller
As I read his writings and looked back over my own life, I realized that I had never fully grieved ANYTHING. All of the losses I’ve experienced, all of the painful moments- I’ve either cried just enough to satisfy the immediate sting, or I’ve reasoned it away and told myself to get a grip and put on my big girl pants. Because big girls don’t cry, and there are other people way more important and too many things to take care of for me to have time to CRY. And I’d NEVER experienced the communal grieving that he’s talking about. I’d never been around anyone who was that comfortable with just letting it “be” and not trying to fix things and make it all better. In that moment, I realized just how lonely I was. I had always been lonely. Loneliness had been such a familiar feeling to me from a young age, that I think I’d just accepted it. It felt safer to cry alone, and I definitely wasn’t going to make anyone else uncomfortable if I just shut it down until I could be by myself.
I wept. Hard. For all those moments I’d crawled into my closet and cried- alone. For all the times I felt misunderstood, and longed for someone, anyone, to just hold me and wipe my tears. For all those times I didn’t value my own heart’s pain enough to make room for it to express itself. For every time I had gotten angry and frustrated with myself because my emotions were an annoyance I didn’t have space for. For every time I rushed myself through the process of grief because I was scared of letting myself feel too deeply, and for all the times I had never invited anyone to be with me in my pain, for fear that they wouldn’t respond the way I needed them to. I realized I had even shut my husband out of the most vulnerable places of pain in my heart because I just couldn’t take it if he said or did the wrong thing. I realized that what my heart needed- what it was crying out for, was for ME to value it and have compassion for myself just like I would for someone I dearly love.
That day changed the way I grieved. I didn’t do it perfectly, as if that’s even the goal, but I decided that I wanted to give myself the love, compassion, and care that I had always longed for. And I decided to invite my husband and a couple of close friends into that space to grieve with me. From that day forward, I told myself that whenever the wave of grief would wash over me, instead of fighting it and trying to push it away, I would welcome it and make space for myself to “feel all the feels” until the wave was over. It was so inconvenient. Just being real. Grief comes whenever it wants to, when you let it. I will tell you this, though. The moment I chose to practice self compassion was the moment that my pain began to be productive. No longer was I hopelessly swirling around in a deep, dark abyss all alone and with no sense of direction, but I now had a plan. I still felt like I was swirling in the abyss, but I also felt like I was slowly learning how to swim. I was learning to navigate my pain, and honor it. The last thing I wanted was for my heart to become hardened by accumulated sorrows, as Francis Weller states.
The day the vicious cycle of panic attacks, rage, and anxiety left, was the first day I chose to be fully raw and vulnerable in front of my husband. Of course I had been telling him all about everything I was learning, so he knew what was coming. We were driving to Charleston for our second anniversary trip when I realized I was starting my period. I felt so tempted to stuff my emotions down and pretend that it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t want my hysterics to “ruin the mood” of our road trip. But, I kept my promise to myself, stuck my face in a pillow and let go. Like, really let go. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cars passing us on the interstate could hear me. I felt so ridiculous, yet I knew it needed to come out. It felt like I was grieving for everything painful that had ever happened in my life. As I’m screaming and crying my guts out, I felt my husband reach over and put his hand on my back. He said, “It’s okay babe, just let it all go. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. You’re not alone.” His words were like a healing balm on the gaping wounds of my soul. It felt like Jesus was speaking through him to me. Thank you GOD for my incredible husband.
Now, 1.5 years later, I am still living with loss and grief, but I also have REAL joy coexisting alongside. I experience deep belly laughter and delight. I wake up happy and genuinely excited to be alive for no particular reason. I have ENERGY again. I have realized that getting rid of the pain isn’t and shouldn’t be the goal, but instead learning to honor it and embrace myself no matter where I find myself day to day. Brene Brown says, “You cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb hard feelings, we also numb joy, we numb gratitude, and we numb happiness.”
I’m so thankful that the Lord taught me how to grieve well, and he’s still teaching me. I’m so glad he gave me tools to know how to walk THROUGH the “valley of the shadow of death” so to speak, instead of let my soul die there. I’m so thankful to feel like myself again, and to know the gift of true joy.
My friends, if you are STILL READING this VERY long blog post, I want you to know that no matter what road you find yourself on, you are NOT alone, and this is not the end. There is a God who loves you more deeply than you can imagine, and he is constantly fighting on your behalf for your breakthrough. He wants you to thrive. Even if you’re experiencing a seemingly never-ending disease or diagnosis, you don’t have to let it define you. With Jesus, sickness and death (whether it be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, etc.) never have the final word. There is a plan right now, being worked out on your behalf to bring you to a place of abundant LIFE. That’s how much He loves you. You just have to say yes. So no matter how easy it is to give in to an identity of victimhood, (and its VEEERRRRRYYYY easy) don’t do it. It’s a trap, only meant to pull you further into the depths and darkness. I know the dark is scary. I know it feels hopeless when you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, but don’t give up. Push through. Lean into the pain. Let it be productive. The Lord would NEVER allow you to experience pain without a plan of bringing you into healing. I’m praying for you, friends. And my heart is with you, even in the darkest of moments. ❤