Thursday, November 2, 2017

The unwanted companion

I've sat on this post for weeks. It's been several months in the making as I've debated a hundred times whether or not it's something to be shared. I never thought this would be a part of my life story, but here we are. I suppose all that's left to do is to accept it for what it is- a personal Gethsemane of sorts- and to perhaps someday learn to embrace it.

I wonder what my children will say someday about the journey this has been over the past few years. Not only bringing Hengxin into our family, but so much more. Older parents tell me these years are both the most challenging of raising a family, as well as the ones they miss the most. It's been a long road and there are miles yet ahead of us. As my children get older, what will be the story they tell of these days? What will be their story? I suppose all I really know is my story, or how life appears through my lenses.

A few weeks ago I walked the dogs through the subdivision where we used to live, to unwind after a long day. It was dark, the street lamps illuminating the sidewalk in sporadic spotlights; like a silent, empty stage. I had memorized the way the roads looked in the dark, having trained for many races throughout the years in the early hours of the morning or late into the night after the kids were in bed. Walking the darkened streets felt like visiting an old, familiar friend. I paused as I stopped in front of our old house. We had lived there for almost 9 years. It felt like a family member, long forgotten. An unfamiliar car sat in the driveway. The trees bigger than I remembered them. The glow of the interior lights shone softly onto the street, the quiet movement of shadows behind the curtains. I stood now as a stranger in front of what was once so familiar to me- transfixed- every inch of the house holding a thousand memories. It was a hallowed space that had once cradled us through the earliest days of our family. Those years had been hard too. Simpler, but still hard. Unbid, the tears began to fall- feelings of despair welling up, like they wanted nothing more than to swallow me whole. How was I going to survive this time in my life, and cross all of the mountains that stood before me? It was insurmountable. It was sometime before I was able to continue walking. I was taken back by what was stirred in me that night. I thought I had been doing better. I thought that the worst had past.

It took me months, even years, to see it for what was. I had dismissed it as normalcy- or at least my normal- for so long that it never occurred to me that perhaps it was something more. It ran deeper than the grief of what I had lost over the years, or of what I'll lose in years to come. It was more than the stress and fatigue that come from being the mother of a large adoptive family. It had become a canker, feasting away at any hope I had for the future. It had planted seeds of resentment and harvested bounteous crops of anger. It stole away my optimism, leaving feelings of despair and darkness in its wake. It had companioned me for so long that I scarcely knew it was there anymore. It was just the way things were.

I soon realized that my dark companion had a trusty side-kick: guilt, its loyal friend. I had no right to feel this way. I had seen God's hand in the past two years in ways that few people do throughout their lifetime. I had felt His love for me more than I ever had before. What more did I want? I have a good husband. Healthy children. Beautiful home. Good education. I was ungrateful, I told myself, and ungrateful people are bad. I confided in a friend that some days I just wanted to disappear- to be forgotten.

I received a call one afternoon, asking if I'd give a presentation to a church youth group about anxiety and depression. As a nurse, a day rarely goes by on the job when I don't address some form of anxiety and depression, but still I was confused as to why I'd be ask to give the presentation, of all people. However, I accepted and began to study. For weeks I researched and read anything I could on the topic. I interviewed people who suffered from them. I prayed and fasted, pondered and studied more than I ever had for any class. It was during one of the interviews that a question began to form in my mind. Could this be me? I rejected the thought but it never left me, quietly tugging on my pride, like a persistent child tugging on his mother's shirt.

With reluctance I asked to assessed by a physician. I wasn't surprised when he said, yes, I most likely was depressed. But still, it didn't feel the way I thought it would.

How long had I been this way? I couldn't say for sure, but likely it had been simmering for years, with the last two years helping to rear its head in full force.

Within a few short weeks of beginning medication coupled with counseling, my lenses began to clear. The way I had felt for so long was not normal. I saw people differently. I saw myself differently. Anger towards the hard things of life, lessened. Resentment towards those who I had felt hurt by, softened. The grip on difficult things from the past, that for so long I had clung to, began to loosen. And with that loosening started coming the first rays of forgiveness. The heavy shroud of darkness began to lift.

But with the clearer lens came a deeper understanding. Medication was simply a tool, not the cure for my depression. The rest depended on me. There were boundaries that needed to be put in place. Physical health that needed to become a constant, rather than an occasional sprint. Spiritual self-care needed to take priority. The people dearest to me in my life needed to be drawn in, rather than pushed away. And others, perhaps, needed a little more distance.

Relapses still come- more than I wish they would. I imagine to some extent they perhaps always will, but this is a journey, and I might likely have this travel companion for quite sometime.

I once heard it said that to feel joy in our life, we didn't have to change the context of our lives- our family, our job, our home- but that it could be found even in the hardest of days and the darkest of nights.

I felt that joy as I observed the happy chaos at the dinner table the other night. The constant interrupting of excited little voices to tell us about their day at school. The creative and (sometimes) subtle ways my children come up with to tell me that my cooking leaves much to be desired. The caveman-esque table manners of the youngest child that makes us laugh. The sneaking of unwanted food to the dog waiting eagerly underneath the table. The sticky little arms around my neck to thank me for the dinner that remained mostly untouched. The incredible mess of food an dishes left to be cleaned up- the remains of an abundance. Happy, beautiful chaos.

These are the days- the hardest and the happiest of life- that surely I'll miss the most. I thank God for the journey, even with its less-than-desirable travel companion, because it's after the darkest nights that the dawn of all that's good and beautiful seems brighter.