It was my youngest daughter’s fifth birthday and all hell had broken loose. Her father and her very pregnant older sister, as well as the sister’s boyfriend, were in a verbal conflict so intense, that the aura of violence permeated the atmosphere. I was overwhelmed and frozen with depression and anxiety.
Then, I realized that all of the yelling and screaming was taking place right next to, and over the head of, my little girl. She was huddling under a new blanket she’d received as a birthday gift earlier in the day.
I catapulted into action and flew across the room to whisk my little girl into my arms and get her as far away as I could from the action.
She was terrified and clung to me, like velcro, arms grasping around my neck, head snuggled into my neck, as I hurried her down the short hallway, away from all of the yelling.
Of course everyone followed me, crowding me into the corner, in their sudden concern, but still vibrating with anger.
Her father angrily motioned for me to hand her over to him. I gestured toward her clinging arms and hidden face. He tapped her on the shoulder. She lifted her head, saw him, then launched herself into his arms.
This all happened a little over three years ago.
I was anything but satisfied with my life. I hated my life. I hated myself. As a matter of fact, in that moment I hated everyone, except my little girl. The rage that filled me felt futile and was overlying the fact that I was in a constant state of grief and despair, marked only by what most people consider to be “resting bitch face.”
I didn’t realize or understand at the time, that I wasn’t just consumed with depression. I had two undiagnosed mental health conditions: Bipolar II and cPTSD.
So, what happened next?
I went and hid in the bedroom by myself, while my oldest daughter and her boyfriend packed to leave as soon as my son and his wife could come and pick them up, and while my youngest and her dad cuddled together in the living room while he gave her the comfort I wasn’t able to.
I wanted nothing more than to either explode and rant and rave. That wasn’t an option, obviously. My next response was to rock myself back and forth, arms around a pillow, crying in despair. I wanted to give up, but, that wasn’t an option either.
In other words, I wanted to sink into “the deadly swamps of sadness.”
If you’ve ever seen The NeverEnding story, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, well, you should. This children’s film has many object lessons for adults to consider.
When one is experiencing that degree of overwhelming depression, grief, guilt, and shame, especially if it is mitigated by the mental illnesses I was experiencing, it’s all to easy to feel hopeless and that nothing you can ever say or do will every make things okay. Nothing.
“Everyone knew that whoever let the sadness take them, would sink into the swamp.”
How did I manage not to sink? What gave me the strength and the courage to keep choosing life?
The teaching elder of my faith community had just completed a series on gratitude. It was the “5 Declarations of Gratitude.”:
What I have is enough.
For this I am grateful.
The time I have is enough.
For this moment I am grateful.
The people around me are enough.
For them I am grateful.
Who I am is enough.
For me I am grateful.
Above everything, God is enough.
For this I am grateful.
As you’ve probably realized, for me, in that moment, NONE of these things were true. However, I just kept repeating them over and over and over again, as the tears poured down. These five statements were the mantra that helped me through one of the most painful moments of my life.
They helped me to think about the things that I did have. They reminded me that there was still time to make changes. As long as I had breath in my body, there was time. They reminded me that all three of them: my daughter, her boyfriend, and the father of my youngest, were fighting for the things which they believed were critical, and that, in the heat of the moment, they’d made a huge mistake. That mistake didn’t erase all the other things about them and who they were, who they had the potential to be.
Then came the hardest one: “Who I am is enough.” Was I really? Well, I had to be, didn’t I?
Finally, “Above everything, God is enough.”
It’s almost impossible to see God in the midst of something that devastating. How could I be grateful for a God that would allow all of this to happen?
That’s the thing, though. I made choices. They made choices. We were all experiencing the consequences of those choices. If I was going to move beyond my despair and into life-saving action, I had to believe in something greater than myself, something larger than the circumstances, someone loving and caring enough to walk with me and carry me through all of this.
I had to believe in someone strong enough to pull me through the swamp of sadness trying to weigh me down and swallow me whole.