The Day I Saw Life In Color Again
by Jada A. Swanson
Some folks, even some “good” Christian folks, have shared some rather stupid and callous thoughts and remarks regarding Robin Williams’ death, the illness of depression, in general, and how it relates to the Christian life, specifically. Suggesting it’s predominantly a spiritual issue, and the person who is depressed merely needs to “get right with God” to be healed. As a pastor, and one who has walked the dark road of depression, specifically post-partum depression (PPD), I can assure you this isn’t the case.I wasn’t depressed because I lacked faith or didn’t believe enough.
In 2003, ten days after becoming a mom for the very first time, we made a cross-country move, were in the middle of selling two homes, and purchasing another one. Plus, my husband was joining a new pastoral staff; thus, our family was joining a new church. In addition to all of this, I was relocating my job to another state and continuing to tele-commute. Having no family near, living in a new state, attending a new church, being a mom for the first time–well, all of this was just a tad-bit overwhelming for me.
The summer my baby boy turned one, I was slowly beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I could tell little by little, the ‘dark days’ were lifting. Just as I was beginning to feel normal again, I discovered that I was pregnant with our second child, my daughter. This pregnancy was a complete and utter surprise to us, considering we didn’t think we would be able to have anymore children. Thanks to the “happy pregnancy hormones,” the nine months that I carried her in my womb were clear and beautiful and bright.
But shortly after my daughter’s birth, my “ole friend” came to visit once again, this time with a vengeance. Everything seemed to be exacerbated by a hormonal imbalance and an inability to produce milk, which resulted in feeding difficulties. All of which required me to feed/pump/supplement my baby girl every two hours around the clock, sun up to sundown. Can anyone say insomnia? Regardless, I still had a 21-month old son to take care of, along with needing to return to work one month after my daughter’s birth because I didn’t have a job that offered paid maternity leave. All of this made me feel even more lost and alone, even though my husband was amazing, supportive and a complete hands-on dad.
After Jamison was born, I literally don’t know how I got through my days. I would get in the car, put on my seatbelt, start the ignition, and that was it. What happened from Point A to Point B is beyond me. I have absolutely no memories of driving to work or how I got there. Somehow, I managed to make it to work on the days I had to go into the office without having a wreck.
Although I never tried to commit suicide, there were many times I would think and tell myself that my family would be better off without me. I could hardly function. While at home, I was a shell of myself. Crying because I couldn’t find an article of clothing, only to discover I was holding it in my hands the entire time.
Unfortunately, during this time, healthy communication wasn’t my forte and more tears were shed and voices raised than I care to admit. My brain was just too foggy. I was utterly exhausted. And I felt nothing. I knew I loved my family, but I felt no feelings of love or happiness or anything. I was completely numb. Still, my husband stood by my side, unwaveringly. Yet, I am sure, this time was anything but easy for him. After the fact, he has shared with me how difficult it was for him, personally.
At church, I put on the smile that I was supposed to have. I played the part, or tried to play the part. While I was at work at the university, all I wanted to do was crawl under the piano in my office and take a nap, but I couldn’t. To this day, I think my job was God’s gift to me. Because of it, I had to get out of bed three days a week, shower and get dressed in something other than yoga pants or pajamas. But most importantly, my job allowed me to be around people, lots of people.
For whatever reason–pride, all types of fear, even lack of knowledge–I never went to the doctor to seek out help or medication. Looking back, I wish I would have. It would have saved my family and myself from so much turmoil and strife. But I will never forget the day that I saw life in color again. It was the first Sunday of July 2007.
Earlier that summer, my pastor-husband asked me to begin leading worship again. At this point, I honestly couldn’t bare to look at music or sit at the piano for more than five minutes. (Ironic that I was a music professor, eh?) A few times, I had been asked to sing on the worship team at church, but honestly couldn’t remember the words to songs I had sung my entire life.
Even still, I agreed to begin leading worship on one condition: only if it was a small team (me, a drummer and a bass guitarist). If I was sitting at the piano, surely I could read the music. Not to mention, I didn’t have to memorize the words. Plus, with a smaller team, there were fewer pieces of the puzzle to try to figure out. This was all good. Still, I was terrified.
That Sunday morning, I had willed myself out of bed because I had committed to do something. Even in the midst of the darkness, I wanted to keep my word. I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and did a double-take. Seriously, that’s how it went. That’s how quickly it all happened. It was just like the scene from “The Wizard of Oz” when it goes from black and white to Technicolor. It was as if a screen had been lifted from in front of me or as if scales had been removed from my eyes. (A few years later, I did go for counseling, and my counselor told me that many people shared with her a similar experience when their PPD lifted.)
In that moment, I knew something had changed. Tears flowed from my eyes, but it wasn’t the tears that I had been crying for months on end. These seemed different. Cleansing, even healing. My brain felt significantly different, clearer and more responsive. I called out to my husband to get out of bed, so I could tell him what was happening. He could see a difference on my face.
When I sat down at the piano at church, I could clearly see the music on the page. Before this moment, the music was just a blob of black and white that didn’t make much sense. Or, at times, would appear to be moving, even thought I knew it couldn’t be or wasn’t. That’s how off my mental capacities were. But this day, everything was different. And I sang. And I felt whole. I FELT! I felt so much, internally and externally. I hadn’t felt anything in so many months!
After church, I walked outside and fully experienced the beauty of the Colorado sunshine, and felt it’s intense warmth enveloping me. As I went to bed that evening, I was scared that I would wake up the next morning only to realize it had all been a dream. That I wouldn’t experience the clearness or clarity again. But I didn’t. When I woke up the next morning, I knew I had finally said goodbye to my companion, Post-Partum Depression. It was finally over.
At this point my daughter was nearly 2 1/2 years old. Ironically, a few weeks later, I had an appointment to see my OB/GYN. Finally, I was able to share all about the dark days, as well as the day I was, once again, able to see life in FULL COLOR. She confirmed that, yes, what I had experienced was PPD. And, most likely, this change was due to hormones being back to normal, consistently getting enough rest, and beginning to feel as if I had found a support system, apart from my husband. Before I left, she asked me why I had never come in for help, either for medication or counseling. I just shrugged my shoulders because honestly, I didn’t know why. Stubbornness? Pride? Fear? All of the above.
Throughout that season, I was hardly able to read my Bible, much less joyfully sing songs. But I prayed. Sometimes, all I could muster forth was, “Jesus, help me!” I cried out to Him. Although my brain was significantly foggy, I knew it had nothing to do with sin or because God was upset with me. And I was convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, he hadn’t left me or given up on me. Still, there were dark days. Many dark days.
In fact, those were the darkest days of my life. And I thank God that I was able to get to the other side. To be honest, there were days I wondered if I ever would. So when I come across folks who make callous, casual remarks about depression, especially those who equate it with lack of faith or disbelief, I get a bit angry. You see, it’s personal for me. I have lived it and experienced it. I am not an expert, just someone who’s walked that road, and can now reach out to others who are walking it themselves.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression in any form or way, please don’t be like me and not seek out medical assistance. Reach out to others. Go see your doctor or a trained counselor. Know that there are resources to help you. And to others, please remember these words, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”** It may not be depression, but I can assure, it’s something. Be kind. Be available. Be compassionate.
**Edited to note: This quote above has been attributed to Plato, Philio and Rev. John Watson (aka Ian MacLaren). Regardless, it speaks a powerful truth.