My Trail of Tears
(Originally written in 2008)
Terry and I had only been married sixteen months when we drove out to West Virginia in a Ryder truck with our car on a tow dolly. Terry was taking his first ministerial job. He would be a youth pastor with a growing, happy youth group. I would assume my role as the “joyful youth pastor’s wife”, wearing my lace apron,(after I bought one) cooking delicious meals, and smiling from ear to ear as I held our new baby girl. At least, that’s how I imagined it. Life doesn’t always go the way we imagine it.
I was seven months along in my first pregnancy. We moved into a wonderful three bedroom, two bathroom, partially furnished mobile home on hillside in West Virginia. We thought it was a “mansion over the hilltop” after living in a 500 square foot duplex with no heat or air. It was my first time away from home. It was our first time to be “alone” – away from our family. West Virginia is a beautiful state but I wasn’t prepared for the steep mountain sides that seemed to surround me at every turn. It made me feel almost claustrophobic. I had never lived so far away from home before. My parents were unable to visit me because of their jobs and the full time care of my ailing Grandmother. I found a doctor to deliver our baby after we got to West Virginia. He really knew his stuff… I think. I had a little trouble understanding him when he spoke to me because he was Iranian. But language barrier or no, on August 27, 1999, he delivered our beautiful little Lauren Kassidy. She arrived one week early, but healthy. I still remember holding her for the first time. I couldn’t believe she was really mine. She was so beautiful, so perfect.
I managed to survive the childbirth, despite being scared to death. My husband was beside me each and every step of the way. None of our family could be there. There were several nurses who were rude to me as I tried to master nursing my newborn. They snapped at me about everything. I cried as soon as the door closed behind them when they left. “Nursing was supposed to be natural! Why was it so hard?”I thought to myself. I had read the books. I had attended classes. But I was failing the final exam. Terry had to leave me in the hospital alone to drive back to our house so he could preach on Sunday. I was overwhelmed. I had no family. I had no visitors. I wanted to go home. I remember calling Terry and asking him to drive the forty-five minutes back to the hospital in the middle of the night. I was crying again. He agreed, and at that moment, I inducted him into my “hero hall of fame”! Upon his arrival, he sat down beside me, and tried to stretch out to sleep. We didn’t talk much. I just felt so happy that he was there, beside me. A real, live PERSON! At 2:00 that morning, a nurse brought Lauren in for her feeding. We still weren’t doing too well with the feedings. This nurse was so different, though. Her name was Tammy, and I will love her till my dying day. She sat on the edge of the bed, with my husband sleeping peacefully in a recliner beside her, and helped me and Lauren with the nursing. She was so kind. She was so encouraging. She spoke softly. All of the others had bitten my head off for not holding her correctly, or some other mistake that I made. Tammy didn’t. She was patient with me. We were discharged the next day. I did not want to leave the hospital. I still wasn’t getting the nursing thing! What would I do?
My sister, Melanie and her son, David Allen, were awaiting me at my home. She had driven up from North Carolina to help me for a week since my mother or mother-in-law could not come. She’s another heroine of those dark days in my life. She cooked for us and did laundry, but most of all, she was there. We talked and laughed and had so much fun. At that time, I briefly thought that maybe I could do this after all.
Finally, the day came to say good bye to Melanie and my then two year old nephew. I hugged her hard and held her long as I sobbed, wishing with all that was in me that she wouldn’t leave me alone there. I didn’t know how to be a mother, I’d finally decided. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t even really know my own husband too well back then. It was a beautiful late summer day as she drove away. I stood on our porch holding my baby in my arms and crying harder than I ever had before as I watched their car ease down our winding driveway. The only time that I would cry more would be the days following my Dad’s death, some five years later. That day was the beginning of some of the darkest days of my life.
Feelings of uselessness, hopelessness, misery, and even suicide surrounded me. “I must be going crazy.” I thought. It took two weeks to master the nursing – every feeding was extreme torture because of the pain. I dreaded the passing of each two hour span. Lauren wouldn’t sleep. She cried. For two months she cried. With each tear she shed, I shed four. I spent many of her naps scrunched down in the corner inside of our walk-in closet, sobbing. Terry was greeted by my sullen expression every time he came home. He didn’t know what to do for me. Finally, he saw the depths of my emotions when he stopped me from trying to kill myself. Thankfully, he kept a close eye on me after that. We didn’t really know what to do. I hated the thought of getting on anti-depressants. I didn’t want the word to get out in our church that I was crazy. I didn’t want to let my parents down, or any of my family. I remember my Mother gently suggesting to me on the phone once that I should go to a doctor, but looking back now, I remember being in a sort of daze during that conversation. I didn’t know that what I had was a real sickness. I had postpartum depression. I don’t remember reading any literature on that. Ever. I never heard my doctor mention it, but did he? Maybe he did, but I didn’t understand him. I finally realized what it was when I caught a snippet of an Oprah show where Marie Osmond described her symptoms of PPD. They were very similar to my own.That was it! I felt a little better at least knowing that it had a name. It was then that we decided it was best for us to move back to Arkansas.
Moving home was not a cure-all. I didn’t arrive back to Arkansas and feel instantly better. In fact, it got worse. I’ve always been a hypochondraic, but now I was one to the tenth power. Every morning I awoke absolutely sure that I had some dreaded illness. My poor, sweet husband had to listen to me rattle off each new symptom that I had.
I couldn’t find joy in anything. My brother, who was my pastor at that time, approached me about how negative I was, and how mouthy I had been. He told me I’d been offending people. This was not intentional on my part. This knowledge was almost too much. Maybe I was losing my mind. I plunged back down in the depths of despair, only this time, I was angry, bitter, and resentful. No one liked me, and I understood completely. I didn’t like me either.
It would be many months before I could smile, laugh, and enjoy the sunshine again. It would be many months before I would stop being so much of a hypochondriac. It would be quite some time before fear didn’t grip me at every moment. I did do a few things right during this time. I began reading my Bible more faithfully. After my marriage, my life was topsy-turvy. I was trying to live with a man I had never lived with before. I was trying to fit in with his family. I was new at being a wife. I didn’t have the same schedule. My Bible reading became sporadic. It was a huge step to healing when I got back on track with my Bible reading. I also prayed more during this time. I kept a journal, describing my fears and feelings. I wrote out my prayers. I also talked to my husband about my spiritual health. We prayed together. I didn’t think my brother, or anyone else, liked me during those days, but I knew I could trust Terry. He listened to me and loved me in spite of myself. He often had to tell me the truth, but only when I was ready and only with a right spirit.
I still fight depression. Not to the extremes that I did at this time in my life. I have never been suicidal since I have read my Bible everyday. Please remember, I’m not a clinical psychologist. This is just my personal experience.
I get a little irritated when I hear someone say “A Christian who faithfully reads her Bible and prays will not ever be depressed.” That is not true. At least, it isn’t for me. I have been very low in my life, and I do faithfully read the Bible and pray. Do I need to do more in these areas? YES! But, if the cure is just reading – any amount – and praying – any amount – then I should be okay. The fact is, some personalities are prone to depression. I have one of those. I compounded my problem by believing the lie that “faithful Christians don’t get depressed.”
It’s been almost ten years since I battled PPD. Praise the Lord I’m alive to tell about it. As I’ve grown in the Lord, I’ve learned that depression is all throughout the Bible. We see it often in the Psalms. In 1 Samuel 26:10 David said furthermore, As the LORD liveth, the LORD shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. In the midst of running from King Saul, David confidently declares his belief that God will take care of King Saul in His own way and in His own time. Yet, later in 1 Samuel 27:1 we see a different David. That verse says And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul:… He goes from total confidence that God will handle the situation, to despair. David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was a sinner just like me. He fought the flesh often and he became depressed at times. We see another upswing in 1 Samuel 30:6 as David “encourages himself in the Lord…” I often go up and down and up and down again. But I always get up, praise the Lord. (Proverbs 24:16)
I sometimes feel that the Lord helps me much like my Dad or Mom would. When they talk to me, they are kind, loving, and encouraging. I believe the Lord is that way, too. He says in Hebrews 4:6 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. He says in Psalm 34:18 The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
Now that’s encouraging!