Content Warning: This post deals with mental illness, depression, anxiety, and mentions scuicide. Please read with caution!
Hi! I’m Bethany. Proudly born and raised in West Virginia, musician, wife, mom of 5 amazing girls, and lover of chocolate.
At least, that’s what I tell people.
And those things are true, but they’re the part of me that I let people see. The parts that I feel like the world would acknowledge and accept. But for many years, my true self has been hidden, often even from me. So here’s what I don’t normally tell people…
My first baby was born in 2001. She was beautiful, healthy, and I thought life was perfect. But shortly after she was born, I started having these weird thoughts and feelings. I would walk into a room, and could see every possible scenario in which she could get hurt. I wouldn’t let other people hold her, because they didn’t know all the dangers that were there, so I was the only one who could protect her. I didn’t realize that I was thinking those things, but I strongly acted on them.
I remember one time when my parents came to visit. Hope was still a tiny baby, and we had gone to the mall. My dad was carrying her, and went to change the arm he was holding her in. Well, I thought he was dropping her, and I freaked out. I can still feel my heart pounding, and the tensing in every muscle as I moved to try and catch her. Thinking back on it, that was probably my first small panic attack.
At my 6 week postpartum checkup, my doctor took one look at me and referred me to someone who could help me better. They diagnosed me with postpartum depression and anxiety, and wanted me to take medicine. First, I had no idea what postpartum depression and anxiety even was. And second, no way I’m taking random meds that I have no idea what they are while I’m breastfeeding my newborn! So I just lived with what I thought was normal for people to feel after having a baby.
Eventually things did sort of get better.
When I was pregnant with my second baby, I had an OB who was amazing. She took time to understand my medical history, and help me to not have the same experience again. 6 weeks before my due date, I started taking a tiny dose of zololft, and when she was born I upped the dose a little bit. The way I felt when she was little was completely opposite of how I felt with my first baby.
Baby #3 was almost my reprieve, except she had to be in the NICU for 36 hours, which were some of the scariest of my life. Fortunately, everything was completely ok with her.
My 4th baby was born in a time where everything in our life was stressful, and we were making huge life decisions. My husband was graduating medical & graduate school, he and I both had very large volunteer jobs at our church, it was the start of the holiday season, and I was again trying to figure out how to make Christmas magical for our kids when we had very little money… so again I took a little bit of zoloft to help me be able to think and get through.
I was very happy with our 4 beautiful girls. We were settled into our new home, and everyone was healthy and wonderful.
Then one Sunday I was sitting at church, and there was a baby being blessed. These are usually some of my favorite things that happen, but this time I felt myself getting so sad. I couldn’t understand why I would be sad about it, so I started to pray and ask God why I was feeling this. I was very clearly told, “You will be doing this again.” What? I already have 4 kids, and my husband has a super busy work schedule. No way can I have another baby. Again the thought came, “You will be doing this again.” I told God, “ok, but You HAVE to help me!!” And I felt very comforted that He would.
Two more times that Sunday, I had the same distinct thoughts come to my mind that there was someone waiting to come to our family. So I told my husband what I’d felt, and he was totally on board with another baby.
Before we even started trying to get pregnant, we got pregnant.
And a few weeks later, we miscarried.
I was so angry and sad. I would scream, “Really, God? Really??? You were the one who told me to do this. It was all YOUR idea. And when I agree because You told me You would help, we easily get pregnant, only to have You take my baby away!!! I know you could have prevented this! What the heck?!?!?”
I spent many hours in tears, in agony, and so sad I could hardly breathe.
I came very close to stopping believing in God. No way had I been obedient only to be torn down. I still went to church every Sunday, mostly because I knew my children needed it. But I was only there physically. I stopped participating in discussions, just kept my head down and tried to be invisible. And most of the time, it worked. Turned out most people in my church actually didn’t care.
After a few months, we decided to try to get pregnant again, only to not be able to. Every month I would feel the pain all over again when I realized I still wasn’t pregnant. It was almost 2 years before we conceived. I remember hearing her heartbeat the first time, and just being so relieved and grateful. And then I just held my breath, not knowing if something would happen.
We were surprised when she came 10 days early! I wasn’t ready – didn’t even have the box of baby clothes out of the attic yet!
I had so many precious moments in those first few days when it was just me and her. There’s a song the kids at our church sing that says, “We’re all together again! We’re here! We’re here!” And that song kept playing over and over in my head. I knew that we were all finally together, and the peace that came was amazing.
When our youngest was about to turn 3, my husband’s training was complete, and we decided to stay where we were for our full time official job. We did, however, need a bigger house. We had 5 girls sharing 1 bathroom. It was sort of working, but I knew it wouldn’t last long. So I started house hunting.
If you’ve ever moved, you know that it’s a stupidly stressful event. I spent about a year and a half, touring through waaay to many houses trying to find the perfect one. We wanted to all love the house, and we wanted to be in the same school districts, and my kids really wanted to still be in our same church congregation, so that made the hunt harder.
Lots of other life things were happening during this time… I won’t get into the details, but everything I was doing felt very hard, and very heavy.
We finally found a house, and put in an offer. Then we had to list our current home, and have it be ready to show. Not an easy feat to do with 4 kids.
When we finally moved into our new home, I hated it. So much. The yard was tiny, and all trees, the walls were all dark depressing colors, it didn’t have the extra bedroom and bathroom that we needed, even though it was much bigger than our last home. We had decided to finish off the attic space, adding the bedroom and bathroom up there. That was another whole mess, taking way too long, and being harder than it needed to.
I felt like everything was falling apart on me. None of the stuff I was trying to do seemed to be working. I didn’t have the strength or energy to keep going. I felt like I was failing at absolutely every part of my life.
I found myself sitting on the bench by the window one morning. I was feeling like such a complete failure, wishing I could make all the stress and all the things I was so bad at go away. Then my brain offered me a solution. It told me, “you might not be able to make all those things go away, but you could make yourself go away.”
At once, the thought felt like such a relief – I could make myself go away and not deal with things anymore. The thought also immediately completely freaked me out. Did I just think that killing myself was a good idea?!?
My phone was in my hand, and I texted my husband 6 words that changed my life: I think I need some help. He immediately called me back, and asked what was going on. I told him, and he came straight home and just held me. Then he started finding me a doctor.
I was blessed that he found the most amazing psychiatrist for me. I went to weekly therapy sessions, where we talked about everything. I also started taking meds again, this time with a doctor actually monitoring me, and keeping track of how I was doing in every way.
I spent over a year in this strange limbo place, where I really couldn’t feel anything. No real happiness, no real sadness, just a numbness. I still was sitting in the back corners at church so people wouldn’t notice me, pretending that things were fine, and I was feeling the Spirit, when really, I felt nothing.
My doctor really helped me understand what was happening in my brain, and my body. It took a long time to really understand that I didn’t have to believe everything my brain told me, and that it’s ok to have these distorted thoughts. I had to learn to recognize these thought distortions, and then challenge them, and determine what was really true. I wasn’t a complete failure at everything. In fact, I’d done a fantastic job at all the things I was working on. And my kids were happy and taken care of, which was of the utmost importance to me.
I spent an hour with my doctor every week learning to recognize what was happening, and talking through things, making plans of how to handle things… it was so great.
One spring evening in 2018, Hope’s choir had a concert in a magnificent local church. The piece was Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen, and I was eager to go listen. From the very first note of the orchestra, I felt something. Some strange, old, faded stirrings were happening. As I sat and listened, the feelings grew, and I started to recognize them: Peace. Joy. Love. God’s love. Wait, did I just feel that God loves me? I hadn’t felt that in years! I sat in the audience with tears streaming down my face. The music was so incredibly beautiful, and it touched my soul in a way nothing had for a very long time. That was the turning point for me. That night, I knew for a fact that I would be able to get better. That I would be able to overcome this stupid depression and anxiety crap that I’d been dealing with for so long. That there was hope for me. I would be ok.
It was a few months after those first feelings came that I was able to feel them again. Their presence comes much more often now, and much more easily. But it’s been a long road.
I still take meds, and I still meet with my doctor, but it’s now every other week. I really love my doctor. So much. I’m so grateful for her empathy, her knowledge and patience and understanding. It has changed my life.
So my long story… summed up… depression and anxiety suck. I really had no idea what was going on with me for the longest time. But reaching out for help changed my life. Dark days/weeks/years don’t last forever. There is light, there is help, there is hope. Each day is a choice. I feel strong enough now that I can make the choice every day to get out and live my life. Spreading that light, help, and hope is a choice that I love to make.