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Learning to Breathe, and Face Depression

Learning to Breathe, and Face Depression

Once upon a time I had my dream job working for a nationally recognized magazine. During my tenure there, I became a first-time mother. I had always imagined that when my first baby arrived, I would instinctively want to stay at home. I did not. I adored my son, but I missed my work. So, when he reached twelve weeks old, I returned to my job. It was a juggling act, for sure, but with the help of my husband and a flextime schedule, it worked.

When the day came that we started talking about increasing our family yet again, I knew that for me it was time to consider walking away from my job. It feels like a sacred confession to admit that it was a decision I wrestled with long and hard. Something in me had been programmed to equate “staying at home” with good mothering, and I suspected that my reluctance to enter into this with abandon conveyed some flaw on my part.

A move from Alabama to Tennessee made my decision to quit unavoidable. Our family of three packed up our house and drove back to the land of Dogwood trees, Big Orange football, Smoky Mountains, and extended family. We left behind our first home, beloved church, and cherished friends.

I found myself on native soil but in an unfamiliar land—a place where I was without direction. What did my son need from me? Could I handle another child? How could I simultaneously be both a daughter and a mother?

Why did I feel so lonely?

Who was I?

I found myself on native soil but in an unfamiliar land—a place where I was without direction.

I swam in the questions as we searched for a new home. I swam in them as I grieved the loss of friends, work, and the familiar. I swam in them during nine months of a hard pregnancy. And I swam in them as I spent days and nights caring for my son. From the outside, I looked like I was staying afloat with relative ease. On the inside, I was drowning.

While my husband and family may have suspected that I was not doing well, it was my obstetrician who first asked the question: “How are you doing?” My mask broke. Tears, immediate and plentiful, fell down my face. I sat there, seven months pregnant, and wept. It was like taking the first gasping breath of air after holding it for far too long. In the moments that followed, I first heard the word “depression” uttered in relation to me. It would not be the last.

The coming days led to my first meeting with a therapist, which began a long journey on the healing path. She and other gifted counselors have walked beside me through the years as I’ve sought to understand my story. They’ve offered patience, wisdom, and encouragement in a process that can be painful and painstaking. Along the way, I’ve realized that my experiences as a new mother and as a woman growing into herself are not unique. Many, many women struggle with identity and insecurity, loneliness and loss, doubt and depression.

Dr. Dan Allender writes, “Healing comes when our story is raw, bone-deep and full of hunger for what only Jesus can offer.” While I experienced much healing through my work with gifted counselors, the most profound healing came when I surrendered my broken heart to Him and invited him into the hurt, loneliness, and loss. With him, the healing has been ongoing, life-giving, and far-reaching.

Today my two sons are teenagers. Mothering them requires my presence in a different way than the diapers-and-naps days. Some days it feels overwhelming; other days it feels lonely; but most days it feels joyful and absolutely satisfying. Through the years, I have learned on all days to be present and attentive; to be kind to my heart; and to grateful for the gift of the journey. Who am I? Now, I have an answer to the question.


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Susan cherishes the beauty of the Smoky Mountains, the bloom of a Dogwood tree, and the taste of her mother’s pound cake. She betrays her roots by taking her tea “unsweetened.”

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