Misunderstanding My Anchor (Part One)

“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough
to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.[1] (J.I. Packer)

The last true episode of depression I experienced was during late March through April of 2014. It ranked at the absolute top in intensity and lasted all month. It culminated with Bill being away on a business trip during the last week of the month. He almost never went away without me, but this particular time, his hands were tied; the trip was required training for his new part time job and, furthermore, I was not welcomed to join him.

For the most part, his departure was just fine with me. The episode I was in had brought such intense anger with it (in fact, I was actually enraged), so we weren’t doing well as a couple. But then again, my depression tore the rug out from under my relationships every time and the first relationship to go was always ours. So, I didn’t think twice about the fact that since I was in a depressed state, I would be angry feeling he was abandoning me for so long while I was experiencing such intense suffering.

But I remember very distinctly it being one of those times when he asked me before leaving, “Heidi, why are you so angry? Are you angry at me? Is it because I’m leaving? I have to leave!” Even after twelve years of this terrible illness, he was still asking me questions I could not possibly answer! When I was well, we might have been able to have a conversation about it, but I was lost in a rage I didn’t understand. This particular episode was so intense and was so pervasive that it figuratively had me by the throat.

This time, as he pushed and pushed me to answer, I actually shouted at him, “I don’t know, Bill! I’m just angry. I’m not angry at anyone and I’m not necessarily angry for any particular reason. I’m just mad.” I was mentally and emotionally controlled by this and the rage that was building up in me was confusing and frustrating. But, even recognizing that I couldn’t think of any specific reason why I was actually angry, I still couldn’t shake it. Whether a “symptom” of my lack of control or a “result” that I had lost emotional control of my life, I didn’t know, but it got worse by the day.

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In addition to the anger, the despairing sadness and grief was taking its toll. Normally, I knew that if I just relented and waited for the sadness and emptiness to pass in a few days, 7-10 days at most, I would eventually see my way out to the other side. But this particular episode was strangely the most intense I’d ever experienced and was not letting up. That confidence that it was a temporary setback wasn’t there; it didn’t feel like I’d ever come out the other side. Worse yet, now I was alone in the house. My husband was busy in North Carolina with his work and could not stop to check in on me, but even if he had tried (and he did try), I didn’t answer my phone, I didn’t answer my texts, I turned off my “read receipts” and I refused to read his emails. I wanted nothing to do with him. The fact is, without anyone else to be angry at, he was the only one left besides myself that I could focus my anger on. So, I was alone in every way, not only was I physically alone in the house, but I was completely ignoring him.

Mind you, God had already taught me so many life-breathing truths about Himself during the former 11-12 years of my illness that had completely overwritten a false view of Him and His everlasting love, kindness and grace. I was trying to use my coping strategies. I was trying to calm my mind with soothing music and a quiet, tranquil space. I took my daily walks. I even listened to my “depression playlist.” I reminded myself of the grace of God, but it felt meaningless. My self-talk that what was happening to me didn’t define me nor did it reveal my true self, fell on deaf ears. The things I had learned to do to get through my episodes weren’t working. This time, rather than caring how God felt about me, or how Bill felt about me, or anyone else, I just simply did not care. Most of the day, I felt mentally incapable of emotion. When emotion squeaked through (against my will), none of it was appropriate. It certainly wasn’t spiritual. But I digress…

My point was that I was in the darkest place I had ever been in. I remember heading out for my walks, anyway, and forced myself to listen to my playlist of songs. But this week, I just really wasn’t in the mood for these songs. I was angry at every one of them, especially those that spoke about God. Yet, in my heart, I knew that those were the very things I needed to force myself to hear. So, even though they were still an offense to me, I willingly cracked the door open in the hopes that “Truth” would get in and speak to my brain what my heart was unwilling to say or even to think. But I certainly wasn’t ready to believe them.

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The Week I Almost Went “Home,” and God Told Me, “Not Yet!”

So, I’d lie there and cry, weeping uncontrollably for a period, then when I’d had enough of that pathetic, weepy person that I hated, I stuffed those pathetic, weepy emotions down as far as I could, and forced myself to become emotionally empty. “There, now I don’t feel anything.” Empty felt better than out of control and pathetic. Still, I felt lifeless, suffocated, dead, alone, and abandoned. I began to see myself from the outside in. I watched myself be pathetically ill; I was a mental basket case. I perseverated over what a wreck my life was and had been (also despairing that it would likely continue to be so until I died as, obviously the Lord wasn’t healing me). It was like I was watching myself from the doorway of my room and thinking, this girl just needs relief! If only she could just die and go to Heaven, she’d be done with all this suffering.

Of course, then, as if there were two little devils on each of my shoulders, the other whispered, “It’d be the kindest thing you could do for your family who has had to endure this long enough. Your poor husband serves you like a nurse (cooks for you, feeds you, cleans for you, runs interference for you) and yet, you are the most unkind to him because he is the closest. Though, he might grieve for a while, your death would surely bring him relief. After a period of grieving, he’d recover, go on to another ministry he is longing to do and be able to embrace good memories with his kids and grandkids. I bet he can’t wait to remarry so he could find relief in replacing you.” Of course, this made me rage.

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Then, I thought of my kids. For most of my youngest’s life, her mom was mentally ill, in bed, nasty and testy. She was the most likely of all the kids, near the end, to become my husband’s comforter (getting him cold drinks, trying to take care of some of the household duties, spending time keeping him company, and taking care of him)! Although, I felt sorry for my husband, it always made me mad that people seemed to feel more compassion for him, but became frustrated with me, the one who was sick. I felt invisible and unnecessary as a mom, because “mom is messed up;” I felt more like a stepmom whom they didn’t have to concern themselves with, as I wasn’t in my right mind.

The older kids started getting married, (2007, 2008, 2010), so their visits felt more like, “Well, mom’s sick, but we can still go over and spend time with dad.” I felt like (though, now, I’m sure it wasn’t so), if I were gone, after a short period of grief, they would all be able to reestablish a happy familial environment when they came home to visit. The saddest realization for me was that my grandkids would never know a sweet, loving, fun “Oma” (grandma in German). It was likely mortifying for them to come over and observe what a scary person Oma was, always crying, never sweet and tender and not at all fun. I’m sure they could sense that the whole family was walking around on eggshells when Oma came downstairs, everyone waiting to see if she was depressed or was in a non-depressive period when they could treat her normally.

You see, though I had experienced a degree of suicidal ideation in prior episodes, during this descent lower and lower into the pit, it was becoming less about how much I was currently suffering, and more about how I just could not imagine how I could live—that is, suffer—this intensely forever, years and years, thru old age until death. I started to actually believe the kindest thing I could do for them (though it might take time for them to recover) was to just find a way to end my life so that they had some hope of living the rest of their life without the burden of my life among them.

For the first time, I started to spend some real earnest time, trying to think of a way I could kill myself. Walking into a train? Too gory! Slicing my wrists? The failure rate was too high! I didn’t want to go thru the effort of killing myself only to end up a vegetable in a care facility. Now, where could I get a gun? That might be quick! I wonder if the river down by my house would give me hypothermia before it pulled me under, or whether I would have to die the suffocating death of drowning, as it would surely, eventually, pull me under, instead! You see, I was clearly trying to create a successful plan.

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During this period (nearing the end of Bill’s business trip), I wrote him an email. An email was very unlike me, but I didn’t want him interrupting me, questioning me and dismissing my despair as abnormal. I wanted him to know that I had decided that I couldn’t live life like this anymore. I bemoaned every sense of loss and spilled out every despairing thought. I was angry that our relationship was in shambles and might forever be. I told him he couldn’t possibly understand the depth of my pain. Then, I told him, “I am just tired of living this life in this way!” The haunting thing about reading this email now, five years later, was the finality it expressed between the lines and in the specific phrases I was using. I was expressing that this whole never-ending battle to just stay alive and keep enduring the excruciating mental and emotional anguish was just too much. There was almost a peaceful tone to having finally come to that point where after 12 years, I was ready to give up.

Continue to Part Two.

[1] J.I. Packer, Knowing God, (InterVarsity Press, 1973).

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