collecting stories

The Breakdown Train…


Photo by Isdro Cea

As my eyes fluttered closed that night, the tune of a John Mayer song flitted through my brain, his tenored voice singing “can’t stop this train…” and my last waking thought was, but it has to stop. I want off.

The sun rose well after the children the next morning. They had gotten into this habit of waking earlier and earlier in the morning- sometimes as early as five a.m. It seemed perverse to this night owl mama. On the one hand, I did like the quiet morning hours I had to myself (after they had eaten) to read my bible and greet the morning in some semblance of order, but on the other hand, I did not like the way the days often started- in fits of screaming from the little ones (woken too early by a spastic older brother) and ill words and harsh tones (from a not so awake mama). And the earlier they woke up, the worse it got.

I struggled to wake up that morning. I had slept hard; harder than I had in months and months, and it was almost like coming out of anesthesia- I was so disoriented. Isaiah was pulling on one arm, but as I woke up, I realized that James had cocooned himself around me, wrapped and enfolding me, as if to protect me. In that quiet moment, I felt such peace. Just to know that someone was protecting me, even in sleep. I tried to gently slip out of his embrace, but he awoke. He quickly instructed me to go back to sleep and said that he was going to take care of the morning madness. I gratefully sunk back into the warm covers and rested a while longer.

When I finally woke late in the morning, James was ready with a hot cup of coffee. We just sat at the dining table, staring at each other. He looked at me as if I was so fragile a word would shatter me like an eggshell upon the counter. Perhaps he was right. I still felt shaky and part spirit, breathing in and out but not quite understanding how.

To my deep sorrow, this was not the first time this total breakdown had happened. It was happening, on average, every six months- and I was becoming so physically sick by the time the crash came that it would take me a week or two to recover.

It was not until that morning, sitting in a shaft of Appalachian sunlight in a cold spring day, that I finally admitted to myself that I was struggling with chronic depression, and that I was running from myself.

I had suffered a horrible bout of postpartum depression after David’s birth almost three years ago. For three months, I could barely get out of bed. Every movement, every thought, paralyzed. I felt utterly disconnected. I would sit and nurse David and peer at him strangely, as if there was some sort of film bubble between him and I. He seemed so other-worldly, as did everyone else. James, in deep concern, scheduled an appointment for me to see my OB/GYN, who quickly discovered that my iron was at dangerous levels. I didn’t want to go that day- moaning to James that I was just to tired, that I wanted to sleep, not sit in a waiting room crammed with pregnant, hormonal women. Even the thought of it made me cry. Once Dr. H has discovered the iron problem and we began the proper therapy, my mood lifted. I know this is not true for every one who suffers from postpartum depression. But postpartum depression is deeply affected by the massive hormone shifts that occur after birth, so it does not surprise me that my iron levels played a big part in the problem. As my iron levels rose, it seemed as if more and more light shone in the windows, and I would look back shocked to see how dark I had thought the room was. It is true that someone who has not suffered from depression cannot understand it truly- they can be empathetic of course, and try to imagine, but until you experience it, you can’t understand how dark things get, how paralyzed you feel. Because to someone who hasn’t been down the path of depression, it doesn’t make sense or feel quite rational. Depression doesn’t make sense- especially for the person experiencing it.

I had thought at the time that it was the only time I had struggled with depression. Perhaps because of the deep hormonal shift, it felt the darkest part of my life. I truly struggled for months afterwards to find my bearings, and everything felt as if there was a veil over top.

Oddly enough, when I lost the baby, I felt the veil lift. I felt like the near loss of my life tore off the veil of depression, and I felt a sense of healing. I still think this is true. (I hope I can explain why in the posts to come.) I say odd, because for most people, wouldn’t the grief of losing a child send one careening into depression, not away from it? I think it would have, had I myself not come so close to death. I sorrowed and grieved for my baby, but at the same time I was grateful that I was alive and breathing. I felt the ‘borrowed time’ phenomenon- that my life was spared, and I needed to live that truth- that I needed to live.

But the breakdown train was still staring right at me in the face that morning. I spoke to James about all the many times I had careened and crashed over the last five or so years. One of the worst was right after I graduated- I had literally been running on fumes through the end of the finals to the point that I was physically shaky and faint the day of graduation. I had the emotional stress of the holiday season to survive through (and it was a doozy, I might add)- my graduation was the 17th, and Christmas Eve and Day followed quickly on its heels. After everyone left, I literally collapsed with what we thought was the flu. It lasted nearly four weeks. I lost over twenty pounds.

Clearly, it was a cycle for me. A cycle of destruction. It had to stop. I said this through tears…and admitted I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find the answers I needed. We couldn’t afford counseling for me, and the church had been less than helpful in that regard, even though they supposedly had a counseling service, free of charge. I was so angry at that at the time, but I realize now that it was God’s doing. This is not to say that counseling should be avoided. What a wonderful, needful resource. I pray that if you have struggled or are struggling, and you have access to such a thing that you grab hold of it with both hands.

As I sat there, nursing the now cold cup of coffee and wiping away tears, I felt the moon of the night before had been an answer to prayer. I felt that I just needed to ‘sit still’ with my emotions, follow them through their courses, and listen. James promised that he would take care of whatever house needs were there- or find someone who could- and that I needed to just be, as much as I possibly could while single-parenting the kids through the week. He told me that I was not allowed to court feelings of guilt or failure with all the things left undone. We went to the grocery store and loaded up on frozen meals and easy  things that would cook up quickly- while we tried to be mindful of Isaiah’s allergies, James said (rather cogently) that my physical and mental health was more important at the moment than having scratch made, allergen free meals.

It was a beginning.


  • Kelly Langner Sauer

    Wow. I talk so much sometimes, but listening is easier when I read… When we talked in March about my depression, it was just the beginning of this journey for you… I wish I’d known…

    Seriously, I need to call you again.

  • Christine

    I don’t suffer from depression, but I have four kids who make it nearly impossible to keep up with the house, homeschooling, AND my sanity. One is special needs–moderate ADHD/anxiety–which means plenty of fits and regular mental/emotional battles.

    Some of what you describe may be inherited or hormonal depression, but I bet there is also that element of having a special needs child. It takes so much out of you. Very draining, with little let up. Any small change causes a flare up. And life is full of change, large and small.

    If one has a special needs child, and personal depression (inherited or hormonal) on top of it, I think that is a specially difficult scenario.

    We are also in an underemployment situation and are behind on our house payments. I may have to consider anti-anxiety medication before this crisis is over. Some days, it’s very evident I need it.

    I will keep praying! I think of you often, even though I have little time to comment now.


  • Christine

    I had to rush through that comment. Sorry. I know you are out of your unemployment situation now. I have been following your series. What I wrote didn’t make much sense.

    The Lord allows so many painful things. Suffering is all around us. I do think when a momma of many suffers from any kind of anxiety or depression, it is much harder, deeper than people realize. As bad as any cancer, etc. Or worse, since it is usually longer lasting. There is the guilt, the pressure society puts to do things to a certain standard, etc.

    In the end, the suffering momma needs to accept the situation God has given her, and move forward with his standards, not her own, or those of the world. It is lonely, at first, to shut out others and listen only to God. But when they can’t understand, they only add to the problem.

    I am learning, as you are, that He is enough, if we only keep pursuing him.


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