A course of study dedicated to understanding the complex and fascinating ways that our brains work. Capacity for knowledge, memory, defense mechanisms, trauma, disorders, learning, and deduction (to name a few). This was of my favorites. The only textbook I kept from college was the one from this class.
I vividly recall hearing: “Each one of us here is mentally unwell to a greater or lesser degree.” It stuck with me hard.
I didn’t put a lot of thought toward mental health in those years. I’d wrestled with anxiety in my early teens and this tendency more-or-less dissipated until my college years when my over-achieving and need-to-prove-myself traits pushed me in relentless pursuit of a good academic record. It didn’t really occur to me that there might be a real problem until after I’d given birth to my son. The period after that was my first hard look into the bowels of depression.
I remember trying to articulate how lost I felt at the time, how I was drifting—angry and panicked and exhausted—through an ocean of insurmountable overwhelm, unsure if I’d ever get my head above water again.
“Having a child is a huge adjustment.” “You’re a new mom. Of course, you’re tired and exhausted!” “It gets easier.” People told me these things. I learned about postpartum depression, but things never really returned to normal.
There were good moments, but it was really, really hard.
To me, despite valiant efforts, it seemed I’d become boring and gray, that the focus of my world and my energy had shrunk to a narrow tunnel.
A few years later, I experienced the soul-crushing grief of losing two babies to miscarriage while I was trying to conceive my second child. When my daughter was finally born, my joy was deep and wide, but I wasn’t a whole person. I’d lost so much of my wellness and I still didn’t know how to care well for my heart and mind. I’d spent almost all of my reserves on caring for my kids and pursuing my writing career with the same anxious energy that had driven my university academics. I don’t tend to hold anything back.
My breakdown hit just before Christmas 2020.
The year of COVID-19 lockdown and online classes (I homeschool my kids, but we supplement through a resource center), the seasonal darkness, and my raw sense of isolation from friends was too much. It was the perfect storm of “running on empty” plus a wash of hormones.
I couldn’t stop crying. I had to retreat to a quiet corner of the house that was filled with soft sunlight while my husband took over with the kids, even though it was the afternoon of a workday.
I confided in a few trusted friends and family and became convinced it was time to try something that had a high chance of getting me out of this hole. I prayed and felt God’s peace about the choice, then began a low dose of an antidepressant. Shortly thereafter, I received a reserve of patience and mental calm that had been previously unknown to me.
My journey has involved shifts in routine, priority adjustments, supplements, beginning to see a counselor, and a series of doctor visits to investigate all possible causes and contributions to my mental health landscape.
All of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree.
It’s true. I possess a sensitive emotional core that helps me to feel strong versions of all my emotions. It makes me a good artist. It can make life tumultuous, too. 🙂
I don’t find shame or embarrassment in admitting that depression and anxiety are things I struggle with. I can see myself getting better and pushing toward greater joy, freedom, and balance in my journey. I don’t expect to achieve perfection, nor do I expect that from others.
Whatever you’re dealing with, whatever you feel you need to hide or push down, I believe we’re all complex and wonderful human beings trying to deal with the hand of cards we’ve been dealt—some hands less lucky than others.
I hope that by sharing my story, you’re encouraged in yours. The stories that bring us closer to each other, the ones that increase community and decrease isolation, are among my favorites.
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Carrie Callahan1 Feb 2022
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