Motherhood Depression: Putting on a brave face.

Megan Dahlman
February 5, 2019

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(I am NOT a mental health expert, nor do I claim to be. This is my story and my own personal experience, meant to be an encouragement to you.)

Motherhood Depression: Putting on a brave face.

​“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 
Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents;
​but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

John 9:2-3

It’s madness.
There’s no control, no willpower left. 
The short fuse you once had is now completely non-existent. 
You snap at anything and everything, afterward crumbling into misery and despair. 

You feel as though all the layers of softness, kindness, sweetness are lying in shreds beside you. You know you’re capable of those things, you've experienced them at one point, but they’re so suddenly foreign. They've been replaced with an itchy, irrationally persistent sense of irritation. 

You find yourself standing in the bathroom, alone, staring in the mirror at someone you don’t know anymore. Someone full of rage. Someone without passion. Someone without love.

It’s ugly madness.

This is depression. 
This is my story and my experience with mental illness.

You may have known already that I suffered from Postpartum Depression after the birth of my firstborn more than eight years ago. I first wrote about it here. Calvin was a very difficult baby, yes, but I did not realize at the time that my struggles were not normal.

I didn’t like him. I resented him, I cringed at every cry, and I was irritated by everything he did. I hated being a mom, and I found myself slogging through the motions. The word “overwhelmed” does not even begin to describe what it felt like. Dropping a spoon on the floor, having a hole in my sock, or even seeing the gas light come on in the car felt apocalyptic.

My reaction was rage. I broke the vacuum cleaner one day. I slammed doors so hard I hoped they would break. I even shook Calvin during one of his crying fits, and it was only by God’s grace that I didn’t throw him across the room. This was serious.

I wasn’t just unhappy or discontent. I wasn’t even just overwhelmed. This was bigger. So much bigger.

“I can’t do this. I just can’t do this. How could anyone expect me to do this??”
Putting on a Brave Face

I held it together for work. I had just started my own personal training business a year before Calvin was born. I had clients. I had appointments. I had people depending on me.

To my core, I loved what I did. I loved my clients, and I was passionate about training. But I could feel those sentiments slipping. I remember hiding in the office, crying in between appointments. After dropping off Calvin at day care one day, I remember getting in the car and seriously considering driving away. Never to be seen again.

Wouldn’t that be better?

But I still showed up. I stuffed it down as was necessary to function. I put on a brave face, but smiling even felt fake.
Postpartum Depression

When Calvin was ten months old, I was still miserable. I hated living. Nobody knew this, except for the very few that could see I was functioning in a trance. Robotic.

I finally went to the doctor.

That felt like admitting defeat. I was so ashamed of myself, that it had come to this.

I loved Jesus with my whole heart. I always had. He was always right beside me every step of the way through this. I cried at His feet, I crumbled into His arms, and I asked for Him to make me feel better. To give me passion and love and a reason for living again. I put my hope and all my trust in Him. 

Not once did I ever feel abandoned by Him.

So, I was ashamed when I made that first appointment. For some reason, I felt like medicine wasn’t how He wanted to heal me.

But I knew I couldn’t go on living like that.
It’s hard to understand.

​True depression isn’t just sadness. It isn’t just misplaced hope. It’s not a form of discontentment. Yes, you feel those things, too, to a certain degree, but it’s so much more than that. It’s so deep, so internal, so very chemical…at least it is for me.

I was ashamed because I thought that I was struggling because I wasn't trusting God enough, or because I was clinging to a false hope of happiness. I felt sure that depression was a symptom of our materialistic society. My mental illness had to be a spiritual disorder. 

But what I was experiencing wasn’t a feeling of being dissatisfied with life. I wasn’t craving more things to make me happy, more money, more comfort, or more attention. I wasn’t depressed because I wasn’t content with what I had. I didn’t struggle with rage, irritability, hopelessness, and despair because I was living a life separated from the true Life Giver, the Lover of my soul.

What I was experiencing was physical...something beyond what my mind or heart could manipulate.  

But we have been told somewhere along the way that it's a heart condition, right?

Rabbi, Who Sinned?

Back in the day, this is what the religious leaders had convinced everyone. If something was going wrong in your life, if anything was out of sync or you’re experiencing suffering of any kind, they said it was a result of mistakes you’ve made or even mistakes your parents have made.

They were so sure of this, so they tried to trap Jesus. They found a blind man and put Jesus to the test.
“Rabbi, who sinned…this blind man or his parents?”

Jesus, who is at fault that this frail mom is struggling with a mental illness?

Did her parents fail her?
Did they give her too much?
Did they not love her enough?
Did she become too selfish?
Did she try to find her worth and value in material things?
Does she just have anger issues?
Does she need to confess her sins of impatience and lack of self control?
Jesus’ response shocks all of them. He shoves their preconceptions down their self-righteous throats, and says this: "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him."   

Essentially, Jesus said that this man’s physical weakness had nothing to do with what anybody did or did not do. This man was born blind for the very purpose that God’s power and magnificence could be put on display.

Jesus then took the man that was born completely blind and gave him sight.

God. On display.
Not Ashamed.

I still suffer from depression.

I am one of countless Americans that takes an anti-depressant. I have tried numerous times to wean myself off of it, and I occasionally let my prescription lapse, just to see. The results are horrific. 

My kids are both in school full time, so I have moved past the intense difficulties of 24/7 hands-on parenting.
I exercise 5 or 6 days a week, following a well-designed, progressively balanced plan. 
I eat very nutritiously and balanced.
I sleep well.
I manage my stress well.
My hormones are well balanced.
And I am more intimately in love with Jesus than I have ever been in my life…abiding in Him daily, resting, growing, wrestling, and walking with Him.

But the moment I stop taking my anti-depressant, the wave of despair crashes over me again.
Just like the religious leaders, it’s foolish to assume that if you just have your life put together and “do all the things” you won’t suffer.

I'm doing all the right things! They don't work for me!! 

Jesus has never abandoned me through any of this. I'm not angry at him or have ever doubted his ability to remove this weakness from me. 

But I'm convinced that this mental illness is for the very purpose that God’s glory can be put on display through me. 

What I want you to know.

If any of my descriptions of my experience with depression resonate with you, you may be suffering from depression, too.

I had always thought depression was just sadness. But it’s so much more complex than that. It leads to feelings of rage, irritability, despair, self-harm, and other violence. In my right mind I would never harm my kids or myself. But when I’m “off my meds”, I turn violent. It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

My heart aches for any other moms that feel this same way at times and are ashamed that they feel out of control. You need to know that you could be like me, and help is available. 

1. It’s ok to need help. Read that again.

You are not weaker, giving up, or should be put to shame if you can’t pull yourself out of the pit on your own. It’s ok to need counseling, therapy, and medicine. Whatever it takes. These strategies could be exactly how God wants to bring restoration to your mind and hope. 

Lifestyle strategies might help, or they might not at all. Having a regular exercise routine, healthy eating habits, managing your stress, sleeping well, and taking certain supplements might be helpful for you. Yes, start there.

But it might not cut it, either, and that’s ok, too. When I’m depressed, I don’t give a rip if I workout or eat right. In fact, most of my workouts end short in a pile of tears anyway. 

2. Ask yourself what submission in this moment would look like for you. I fought so hard to do it my way. To be strong enough. To "have enough faith". For me, submitting to Jesus was allowing Him to heal me in His own way. He wanted to do a process in me. 

When He healed that blind man, He didn't just touch His eyes and make them better. It was a drawn out messy process, which had the purpose of molding and shaping the blind man's trust in Him. Jesus spit on the ground, mixed His spit with the dust, slathered the goopy mixture onto his eyes and then told him to fumble his way to the Pool of Siloam to wash his eyes in it. The journey probably took a while. At any point along the way, the man could have said "Forget it. This makes no sense and it's a lot of work."

Instead, the man submitted to the whole process and gained fresh, clear eyes. 

3. Allow Christ to examine your heart and reveal things to you that He wants to transform. His sanctification process is ongoing...and sometimes it really hurts. But its purpose is to dislodge and destroy anything inside of your heart that is blocking you from complete and total intimacy with Him. Don't assume that what you're dealing with is a product of your sin, but don't assume that it's not.

I have spent years allowing Christ to search my heart and show me if there's any sinful way in me. I pray this prayer constantly:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way."

Psalm 139:23-24

I pray it because I want to experience His everlasting way! And believe me, He has certainly shown me plenty of things for us to work on together, especially in my parenting.

But not once has He hinted that my mental illness is a result of any hurtful way in me. In fact, time and time again I hear Him saying, "This is so you can talk about me more. This is so other hurting moms can find healing in me. This has nothing to do with what you've done, and everything to do with what I'm doing in you, through you, and what I want to do in others." 

4. Don't be ashamed. Sure, mental illnesses seem to be on the rise in America, but it could be that we're just getting better at understanding them, diagnosing them and finding solutions. Many argue that King David, Daniel, Elijah, Isaiah, and several of the Apostles suffered from anxiety and/or depression. This is not a dilemma exclusive to a modern world. We inhabit physically broken bodies that must contend with the effects of a broken world. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Just as it would seem bizarre and foolish to be ashamed of getting a cold, don't be ashamed when the inner workings of your mental processes aren't functioning as they should. 

5. You are loved. Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved. I want you to know that you are seen and acknowledged. I want you to know that your pain is very real. I want you to know that you don't have to struggle or suffer alone. And I want you to know that you have never been abandoned. 

"I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5

You may feel very much like that blind man. Lost. Hopeless. Full of despair. 
But just as Jesus saw him, knew him, and understood his full story, He sees you, too. 

And He loves you. So much so that He is orchestrating everything around you to restore you and make you whole...perhaps even by placing this blog post in your lap. 

My story with depression continues.
And it may never go away until the day I'm standing in the presence of God. He could choose to completely remove it from me tomorrow, or allow it to remain in its own way simply so I can share this story. 

I have to be diligent to refill my prescription.
I have to deal with the side effects of the medicine, sometimes.
​And I have to continually humble myself and admit that this is all so much bigger than me.

​But I am so thankful that I found help. 

Please share.

In a culture where we're all trying to be "strong enough", many of us women are falling apart on the inside. There are countless Christian women, moms, that are suffering inside with a mental illness without feeling like they can admit it. This may give them permission to talk about it and to finally seek help. My hope in writing my story is to help break the "taboo" mentality surrounding depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. 

Please speak up.

Talk to a friend. Talk to your doctor. Reach out to a counselor. You can even send me an email at megan@dahlmanelite.com. I want to hear your story, sit and cry with you, and help you get what you need. Whatever you do, whether you're suffering something big or what you think is just little, don't sweep it under the rug. It matters. You matter. 

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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