I have been on a journey for the past four years. Now that the path is coming to some even territory, I think it is time for me to start to share my story. I am sure it will come out in pieces as I am really taking my time to process all the lessons of this current mountain and valley.
Here is the thing, the following is my story. Every person has one. Actually, every person has lots of them. I have come to realize that God gives us each our own stories because not every person can experience it all, but if each of us really live out our own stories and share them, then we can all grow collectively as humans. So I share my latest chapter in the hopes of encouraging those walking similar paths or offering some perspective on topics some others have not experienced in their particular stories.
I have experienced two major depressions thus far in my life. The first one lasted approximately three years in my early 20s and I came out of after having gastric bypass and gaining a new beginning. The most recent one that lasted three years and has taken over a year of active counseling, lots of Jesus, and medication to say today that I am 95% out of it.
This mountain (really hard part) or valley (really low part) stretched me in ways I did not know was possible. In fact, it was not the low of the valley, the dark, dark days, that stretched me, but rather the climb out. The days in the valley revealed to me some darks of myself I did not know I was capable of.
My depression was brought on by a wave of unfortunate factors: genetics, postpartum depression, misaligned identity, disappointment, and lack of sleep. Each of these pieces are not great and all can lead to depression. All of them together, well, it has a bit of a tsunami effect on a person. I’ll dive into each of these pieces at another point because they all have much deeper stories to tell.
Whatever the cause, I was in a deep and dark valley. Instead of leaning into the pain, I numbed it. I got really good at numbing the pain but the thing with numbing the pain is you do not realize how big the pain is growing because you just keep numbing it. I numbed the pain for two years. By the time I had a breaking point and had to stop numbing, I turned and saw the giant mountain I had created for myself. Not only was I now deeply depressed, I had also gained approximately 45 pounds and had created some really unhealthy habits with alcohol.
Part of me wants to hide that last sentence. Part of me feels such shame about that piece and fear that my being open with this is going to cause really negative consequences for myself. But, a much bigger part of me remembers that I have to share the whole story because everyone has one and keeping the ick in the darkness is where it grows.
Ugh. How defeating and horrible this was. So horrible. So painful. I was full of shame, guilt, regret. So much regret. And the path out just seemed so daunting.
I had started therapy a few months before the final breaking point. In therapy I was wrestling with the idea of giving up my numbing tools, specifically alcohol, because frankly, I was a 34 year old woman who should be able to have a drink when I want a drink. Well, turns out, I can’t. If I could just have one drink and be done then yes, I could. But, I had gone too far deep from that path to healthily make that choice. In August of 2019, I hit the bottom after just causing myself and a dear friend some embarrassment and she did not let me off the hook. She loved me and held me to a higher standard than I had been living. And from that moment on, I began to tackle the big mountain ahead of me for healing.
Simultaneously while I had been feeling this pull to begin healing but battling the desire to fix it myself, I had been growing with my faith. I had begun reading the Bible each day and had spent the past school year serving with our church’s youth group. I thought I knew the gospel and I thought I knew who God was, but I did not want to disappoint God with all my junk so I kept trying to fix it on my own instead of turning it to God.
Sidenote: This thinking is very much the opposite of the love and grace that God offers as I would later discover.
Flash to August 19th when I really hit a bottom and started to climb the mountain. This overwhelming, sharp, monstrous mountain stood before me and I began to climb. I put down my drink, picked up my Bible, leaned into the pain, and felt it all. And my word did I pray. I prayed every. single. morning. day. night.
I prayed for strength for another day.
I prayed for grace on all the junk I had caused.
I prayed for my children’s forgiveness.
I prayed for my husband’s forgiveness.
I prayed for a path forward.
I prayed for the forgiveness of anyone whom I had hurt.
I prayed to forgive myself. That was the hardest one.
See here is the thing. When you are in a depression, sometimes the strategies you use to get through the depression cause another depression. Such a horrible vicious cycle. I kept trying to fix it myself, rather than lean into the lessons I was learning and grow from it. But, when you finally stop fighting the feelings and really listen to what is happening, you really do begin to grow.
Each day I moved forward. I spent so much time with God every morning and I spent a lot of time trying to realign the priorities that had gotten so drastically misaligned in the past few years. I spent time at home being intentional with my family. I learned to balance family and work, as I learned my identity is not anchored to my accomplishments at work. I spent a lot of time wrestling with the feelings I had tucked away and grew. I built back relationships and I built back myself, bit by bit. Hard realities by hard realities.
I had to be honest with some people who I had been avoiding being honest with for a long time. That was really hard.
I had to be honest with myself. That was really, really hard.
I had to create boundaries. I am really bad at boundaries. That was really hard.
I had to be honest with God. That was not hard. Turns out, He already knew. He had long ago forgiven me and now he was growing me back stronger than ever. God just wanted me to turn to Him, learn the lessons, and move forward in a place of love and forgiveness. This is the gospel.
I was making momentum on getting my life back. I was no longer numbing my pain but had learned the power of leaning into the hurt. I was eating healthy and thinking of dusting off our drying rack and using it as a treadmill again, and then Covid hit and turned all of our lives upside down.
Crazy right? The world has been flipped over when I had just gotten my life back in order. God is crazy like that. Let me be very clear here. I do not think God caused Covid or sent Covid as punishment. God does not play like that. However, God does know when bad things are going to happen and He does like to prepare His children for it. God had prepared me. In a time that should have sent me right back to numbing, God had laid the path for me to get through this hard time. My word. My word.
I kept eating healthy.
I had a sober summer. And my word was it a good summer. And…one I remember.
I have put hundreds of miles on our treadmill.
I ran my first 5K last week.
I have read the entire Bible.
I have climbed the mountain.
So now, 6 months into the new normal of living in a pandemic, I sit writing these words and put out into the world the first pages of my healing. This summer I got a bit wild and was baptized in a lake with my husband and our 8 year old daughter. That was amazing.
And then, I did something I had been thinking of doing since I was 18, but never really had anything meaningful enough to do, until now.
I got a tattoo.
A reminder for me that God is greater than the mountains and the valleys. God is so much greater than them and when we lean into the lessons we are being taught in these seasons we come out so much stronger.
Crazy thing: I am the most “me” I have ever been now. I am not the pre-depression Ashley. I have grown so much since them. I know my identity. I knows my strengths and my weaknesses. I knows to lean into life, rather than to numb it away.
And then, just because God has really taught me so much in this season, I got another tattoo. I got a field of wildflowers on my arm as a reminder of how well God will always take care of me and all of us.
It is from Luke 12: 27-28:
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!”
I cannot say I am healed. I do not think that happens in this reality between the two gardens. But, I can say I am stronger and growing. I am also really open to all the lessons that are being taught in all the seasons. Right now, in each of our lives, we are being presented with mountains and valleys. Lean into the lessons. Be open to the growth. It is truly amazing on the other side.