Updated: Jan 26, 2019
“The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.”
I’m not a fan of August. That might be because I live in Texas where August is the old Comanche word for “Bake at 350 degrees for 31 days.”
A more real reason is something neither my doctor nor myself can explain.
In August, I move into the catacombs.
The depression I must manage in my life intensifies in August—every year. I have no traumatic or negative memories related to this month, but I have learned to expect and prepare for it… and count down the days until September. And it all started with postpartum depression that went undiagnosed for nearly three years. As a thirty-year-old first-time mother of twins, I thought it was normal to feel like this—until the day I couldn’t even lift my foot to step up on the curb. I visited real catacombs in Rome. There is really nothing good about these subterranean graveyards. The one I toured was over four stories deep and would have been impossible to find my way around without the guide and his flashlight. These massive underground cemeteries had no logical order or layout. The Romans dug where the rock let them and expanded in whatever direction they could as the demand for space grew.
Dark and chilly—and filled with nothing but reminders of death, loss, and sorrow. Slots dug in stone for the final resting place of bodies lined the walls. Some were small, a place for infants. The ceilings were short, but from the bottom to the top these openings stacked one on top of another. Everywhere I looked I saw a reminder of a life that had ceased to be. I read once “a graveyard has no future.” Bingo! A perfect analogy for what depression does to me in August. Now please understand when I say I move into the catacombs, I don’t mean literally. That would just be weird. I’m sad, not weird. And I’m scared of the dark. But this dark, lifeless underground cemetery is a good analogy for how I feel at times. I think everyone who experiences depression feels it differently, so maybe some can relate to this and maybe the depression other's experience has felt different. I’m not writing this to define, diagnose, or remedy depression, but to draw attention to its very real effects. When I am in the catacombs, I know there is a world outside where the light is bright, the air is fresh, and I am free to move about.
But I simply cannot find the way out.
While I’m there, Satan loves to direct my attention to all the graves around me, the reminders of everywhere I’ve failed, every loss, and worst of all, the futility of my existence. There’s a spot dug in these catacombs for every painful memory and regret I have. Most of the time he fails. Growing in my faith and walk with God has taught me to recognize the enemy’s schemes and avoid them by going to my bible, praying, and spending time in fellowship with uplifting and godly friends. But just because I learned how to fight off the attacks of the enemy while I’m stuck in the graveyard, doesn’t mean I’m not still wandering in a dark and futureless place. I have never not realized how blessed I am with my family, my home, my health, with life in general. That may be the most frustrating part of my depression. I’m aware I have nothing to be depressed about. And yet the darkness persists. My heart breaks for people to assume depression can be eliminated if a person just gets their life right with God. For some people, depression is a real chemical imbalance requiring medical care. And it is a dark and lonely place for those experiencing its effects. So far, I have always come out of the catacombs. I never know how I find the exit, only that I am suddenly standing in a bright and beautiful place again. The black curtain in front of me has lifted. But there are others who do not return. One such person was a beautiful and loving mother named Emily, who lost her life to postpartum depression and anxiety. She left behind her husband and five children, and thanks to the love of family and friends, a glorious legacy of hope for others. On February 24, 2016, Emily's battle came to a painful end. But the war wasn't over. Emily's family knew her life was meant to make a difference in the lives of others. That same night, Emily's sister and Certified Social Worker, Megan Johnson, along with other family members, took a stand to make a change. “Emily's passing was obviously very tragic and it (and the illness she suffered from the last year of her life) were completely contradictory to the life she lived for 38 years. As a family, we knew that the story of her passing would be shared on the news and would impact many people. The night she passed away we counselled with each other and knew we didn't want people to only know the tragic details surrounding her death, but we wanted them to know HER and the incredible life she lived. We also knew that Emily was not alone in her struggles with Postpartum Anxiety and we wanted to shed light and awareness on this topic that has been in darkness and so that other moms and families wouldn't have to go through the same thing we did. In short, we wanted other moms to know that they aren't alone, we are striving to educate both families and providers on this topic, and we want to see change take place and better resources provided for moms and their families.” ~Megan Cook Johnson, CSW The organization, known as The Emily Effect, raises awareness of perinatal mood disorders. Their mission is to provide resources to families and support for women suffering from this. On the website are resources to help inform and the stories of others who have walked through similar battlefields. The Emily Effect lets women, their family and friends, know they are not alone. In the love for and remembrance of a devoted wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend, The Emily Effect is working to #EndTheStigma and #PromoteAwareness related to perinatal mood disorders. Learn more by visiting www.TheEmilyEffect.org. You can also find The Emily Effect on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Someone in your life needs you to know.