German Pancake


Tears dropped into her cereal bowl as my daughter sat across the kitchen from a pan of German pancakes. She was eating Cheerios.

It might sound cruel, but inside I was doing a victory dance.

As a little girl, all it took was one sideways glance from my mom to correct my behavior immediately. Say I told my little sister something funny during church and we erupted into laughter in the middle of the meeting. Mom would direct the look at me. There was nothing more uncomfortable in the world than sitting under that gaze. I would immediately adjust my behavior. Not only that, but for the next few minutes I hoped my mom noticed how much straighter I was sitting, how much quieter I was being and felt my determination that she would never have to tell me not to disrupt church again.

The first time I directed the look at little girl (and though I hadn't looked in the mirror, I was pretty sure it was a good one), she glared back. "Hmph," I thought. "This is not how it works." And as I raised my eyebrow a little higher and angled my chin a little deeper, she matched my determination by continuing to hold her gaze and, making sure I noticed, continued the undesired behavior.

Good grief. What now?

People all the time tell me she is my mini-me, and people who knew me as a little girl confirm they are right. It created this little conflict inside that baffled me. How could someone who looks so much like me have such an entirely different temperament?

I of course love her all the same, but prayed for help. How was mild-mannered me going to raise this high-spirited, spunky child? Through a little inspiration and trial and error, I have found that taking things away is the best way to get her attention.

That is what had happened this morning.

I try to make one delicious breakfast during the school week so that my kids will have warm memories interspersed with all the cold cereal, and this Friday morning I had whipped up a batch of German pancakes. They were already in the oven when I went to get little girl up for the day. "Get your bed made and I'll have some German pancakes ready for you when you're done."

Little girl is still adjusting to the life of a school kid and sometimes the tasks that should take two minutes take twenty. By the time she arrived in the kitchen, the German pancake had lost all its puff and sat limp in the pan. No big deal. It would still taste good.

But as she came upon it, little girl's huge eyes grew huger. "You DID IT WRONG!"she accused. "It's NOT supposed to LOOK LIKE THAT! Make me ANOTHER ONE!"

Oh ho ho ho. I was going to salvage this lovely breakfast moment. We were now going to have a discussion on respectful behavior toward our moms over a German pancake breakfast. But first, I was going to need to regroup. "There's nothing wrong with it. They are only puffy for a minute when they first come out. Why don't you go get your clothes on and then come have breakfast with me?"

She stared me down. "YOU go get my clothes."

I have in reserve one look that I only use on very rare occasions that I have found does work, and this time I pulled it out. To my relief, little girl stood a little straighter.

"You will go get dressed and you will meet me here as soon as you are finished," I told her.

She knew she had gone too far and didn't delay in turning and heading toward her room.

I took the moment to have a chat with Heaven. "God, I think I'm going to take my daughter's German pancake away this morning and have her eat Cheerios. Just want to run that by you. Please stop me if it's a bad idea."

Suddenly I pictured my daughter, 13, sitting across from me at the kitchen counter, telling me stories and us laughing together. 14, 15, 16, 17, she shared her worries and fears with me.

I knew there were fun-filled, challenge-filled years ahead in my daughter's life, and I wanted to share in as many of those moments as possible. But I could only see that working well if she respected me. And we had a little work to do today.

So yes. The German pancake would be removed from the morning's equation.

No, not quite. It would sit there, cold on the stove, staring at her each time her spoon dipped into the cereal bowl.

And so that's where we were five minutes later, tears dropping into her milk.

I had gotten through.

The sniffles were plentiful. Call me mean mom, but I rejoiced with every single one. Remembering what it was like to be five, I knew she had been dealt a pretty heavy blow this morning. But in this rare moment where everything was working like I hoped it would, my heart was brimming with love for her, and I wanted to say to her, I know you can't see past this moment, but it's going to bring us closer together.

Not only that, but it was one of those moments where parenthood had taught me a little more about my Heavenly Father. That in all the moments of my life where I thought He had pulled away, was He actually reaching after me? Saying, I know it's hard to see past this moment, but it's going to bring you closer to me? The love in my heart confirmed that, of course He was. He is not happy when hard things happen to us, but He is overjoyed that it gives Him a chance to more fully reveal His character to us. What an amazing God we have, that hard things don't have to be just hard things if He is invited into the picture. They can be blessings for which we will later thank Him.

I would try to remember that the next time my world seemed uncertain and I felt like a five-year-old sniffling over a bowl of cheerios.



Regroup


Last Sunday I took a deep breath and sent my depression story out into the world.

In return I received a whole lot of love. 

I also heard something I never expected to hear. Several people said, "I have never been depressed before, but I understand now how you got there." Thank you for telling me that. I didn't even know I needed to hear it. The validation was powerful.

It was important to me however, to regroup this morning and remember why I told the world about climbing out of a church window in my Sunday dress, about meeting with the police while in my grandparents' clothes, about my appalling hair situation.

It was to expose what depression can do to a person. 

Depression can
warp your sense of self-worth
warp your very reality
warp your relationships with others
warp your relationship with God
rob you of your sense of self and your desire to exist
as you try to make sense of why you are feeling the way you do.

I wanted to create a place where the depressed could feel validated.

A place where depressed people could bring their family and friends and say, "This is kind of what it feels like. I want you to know so you can understand me better."

A place where people who have lost their loved one to suicide could come for comfort and understanding. To explain the dimension they were likely in. That it truly is like an alternate reality. That the things that make sense there don't make sense to a healthy mind no matter how much love is thrown at them. That they didn't fail their loved one, although they did lose them in a tremendously painful way.

And I write for those who are fighting. So when my happy face greets them on the front page and they think, "She can't possibly understand what it's like," the details of my story will tell them otherwise. And they will start to wonder if there really can be a good life beyond depression. Even after suicidal thoughts. If the desire to live can be restored. If a heart that is begging to give out could ever leap for joy again.

Because it can.

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE. Do you hear me? I am talking to YOU.

Depression comes to every life in mild and insidious forms. No matter your circumstance, I hope you will recognize a little bit of you in my story and dare to believe that God's love for you is real. "It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there." And it can be the most motivating and inspiring force in your life.

I hope I've created a place where you can feel that that is true.

Because too many people have been bullied in the darkness for far too long.

And because I lost far too many friends this summer. 
 
And this is the best way I know to throw light at it. 



Let It Go


Good morning world.

It is my 30th birthday, and I have a gift for you.

I've been working on it for two months straight. It's been on my mind morning, evening, and night.

It is the very best I have to offer.

I didn't plan on this, but this morning as I sent each post out for publishing, Let It Go was playing on my playlist. And I sang along. And I meant every word. Except the part about walking up a frozen mountain. It was amazing.

Well, now they know.

Let it go.  {Click. Publish.}

Let it go. {Click. Publish.}

When I'll rise like the break of dawn.

Let it go. {Click. Publish.}

Let it go. {Click. Publish.}

That perfect girl is gone.

Here I stand in the light of the day

Let the storm rage on!

The cold never bothered me anyway. 
(Actually that part's not true either.)

I would recommend first clicking on My Depression Story to follow it all in an organized fashion. That way you won't be backtracking through posts.

My sincere, heartfelt thanks to you for being here. Please stay awhile.




Much More Precious Than Gold

In the early stages of my depression when I combed the scriptures for hope and relief, I'd marked this passage. I came upon it many months later in my healing process. 

Like a gift, I unwrapped it and was astonished at how every word spoke to me as if from my Father in Heaven Himself:

Blessed be the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you...


 ...Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:






Lies Fed to a Depressed Mind


Almost a full decade away now, I can see more clearly what happened to me.

My mental and emotional reserves were so depleted after calling off the wedding that depression was a natural outcome. However, I didn't know what depression looked or felt like. I just knew something was wrong. I kept grasping for answers until I found one that made sense. 

The first answer that made sense happened to be a lie that had been anxiously waiting in the darkness. It came from the master of deceit, the destroyer of souls himself. Whether he fed me the rest of the lies or stood by and reveled as I created my own and began to self-destruct, I do not know. 
 
What he said was, "I WON."

If he had truly won, and in my desperation, that made more sense than any other avenue I had explored, then a whole collection of monstrous and destructive thoughts were true.

You really blew it.
You are going to hell.
FREAK.
You don't deserve to live.
Everyone would be better off without you.
You are doing harm just by being here.
You did this to your mom.
You wanted to do this to your mom.
You did this to your family.
You're bringing them down with you.
All the good you ever did for anyone is hurting them now.
You're not who everyone thinks you are.
If they knew who you really were, they would HATE you.
You are not worthy.
You are wretched.
You don't deserve their efforts to help you.
There is NO hope for you.

And perhaps the most destructive one of all, the one that rang louder than any other whenever I sat in church, or received encouragement from trusted individuals and loved ones.

You are a special case. What they are saying doesn't apply to you anymore.

 I exhausted my efforts begging people I trusted to help me piece my life back together, to try to salvage whatever was left of the girl I had once known. None of my desperate attempts to be rescued from my wretched state were working. This batch of insidious thoughts became my reality and self-destruction my mode of operation.

But truth was waiting patiently in the light.

*****
One day I realized that it just didn't add up. 

I had told my therapist my story about 9,000 times. 

I had also thoroughly documented it in my journal. 

And it just didn't add up.

Nothing I did was deserving of going to hell.

Or jail.

Or even detention in a 7th grade classroom.

In the good times and the bad times during my relationship with my ex-fiance, I had done the best I knew how. And when things just didn't feel right, I did a courageous thing and called it off.

One night, I decided that the next day I would just pretend that my life was back. That I wasn't wretched, and that God loved me. And I would report back to my journal the next night.

It went beautifully.

So I tried it again the next day.

And the next. 

With the same wonderful results.

Coming home at night was hard, because my thinking was badly wired, and when I wasn't distracted at school or at work, the demons in my head were more powerful. Before they could convince me that it wasn't true and that I was destined for wretchedness, I would write about my good days in my journal. 

January 23, 2006
I was feeling frustrated this afternoon just wanting life as I knew it back. The reason I was so frustrated is because I can genuinely say that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. There were times when I truly believed that all was lost, that I would never experience happiness again. But I believe now that I will. I believe that Heavenly Father has ached as I have struggled, but now I know that I have learned things that I couldn't have any other way. I gain a little bit greater insight each day, and each one gives me the strength I need to hang on and keep trying. I have these highs when I know that everything is going to be all right and I almost feel like myself again, only a more refined, polished young woman than I was a year ago. I get a great desire to help others, ANYONE who ever finds just the act of living to be painful. I don't always feel like that, though, and when I reflect on the past year, it's easy to get down very fast. But on the other hand, thinking of when I loathed myself makes me realize how incredibly far I've come. I think the battle now is to have patience and be grateful for progress. I am grateful that I have borne my personal Gethsemane, that I have known intense mental and spiritual anguish, for it will make the sweet so very very sweet. 

I understand now that the whole time I was trying to salvage my life, it actually didn't need salvaging. The truth was that God's love for me was as sure as ever. Once I recognized that, the greatest challenge on my plate was to exercise faith that I was actually okay. Day by day, the mess of lies quickly unraveled and I started my ascent out of the pit. 


Next Chapter: Much More Precious Than Gold



Laurita



She was sitting on my bed laughing with my sisters. It felt good to see my sisters laughing.

It was coated with a thick accent, but her English was very good. "And I was going to get on the plane, but then I saw him, he was standing there with flowers, and he said, oh Laura, don't go to America. I want to marry you. But of course, I am here, so you know what happened."

"Oh my gosh!" my sisters shrieked. "I can't believe that!"

A totally normal moment was happening in my bedroom. And I was kind of part of it, standing in front of the mirror, getting ready for the New Year's Eve dance.

Everyone knew that I was fragile and broken except Laura, and so I acted normal for her. I hadn't let on since she got here that I was actually wretched and going to hell. She didn't have to know, because she would go back to Mexico soon.

Until then we would keep going to the movies, shopping, out to lunch. I would even initiate some of it. With Laura I pretended like everything was okay. I told her stories from my high school and college days like they were still mine to tell.



*****

Two weeks earlier, Mom had stood in my doorway.

"Gary Thornley was wondering if you could pick up a girl from Mexico staying with them and take her to church with you."

This was random. Gary, in his late sixties, was a great guy who directed the choir at church. I had sung in several of his Christmas choirs, but that had been the extent of our interaction. It was that dang good girl reputation I had. Honestly, if people knew who I really was inside, they wouldn't trust me to do things like this.

But she was from Mexico. 

She spoke Spanish. 

I had minored in Spanish. The desire had hit me my freshman year to learn another language while I was in college and had the chance. I had a phenomenally passionate Spanish professor who warned us that he would no longer speak English to us after the first day.

During this time, my boyfriend's brother married a darling girl from Chile. I met her just days after she moved to the United States. She knew no English, but wanted to. One day I just showed up on her doorstep with my limited Spanish. Our conversations started out very basic, but over time not only did our proficiency in each others' languages grow, but a special friendship as well. We used to meet up several afternoons a week. I hadn't seen her in months now. Not because she was connected to my ex-fiance, but because I couldn't bear her to see me like this. 

This girl from Mexico wouldn't know anything about my past. And we could speak Spanish together. I felt a glimmer of excitement.  

"Sure," I said.

 *****

Laura cared about her appearance. Every time she emerged from the Thornley's basement where she stayed, she had done something extraordinarily cute with her hair. And she was always wearing a scarf or a dangling pair of earrings. It had been months since I had purchased anything new and fun to wear. She reminded me of why I used to like to.

Laura loved shopping. She knew exactly what she was after at the mall and would go from store to store til she found it. 

Laura loved dancing. She had belonged to a folklorico dance team at her school back in Mexico. She showed me pictures of the elaborate, gorgeous costuming, striking poses with handsome dance partners. 

Laura loved her family. Our outings or afternoons and evenings spent at the Thornley's home were interspersed with conversations online and by phone with her mom, sisters, and cousins. They talked so much I felt like I knew them.

Laura liked boys. A lot. And she didn't waste any time here. I don't even remember how she met Joe, but he had a friend and we doubled.  

Laura loved music and movies and restaurants. 

Laura was not consumed with the idea that she was going to hell. Because she wasn't.

In fact, as deeply ingrained as it was, this whole "going to hell" complex I had was seriously abnormal.  The more time we spent doing fun things day after day, the more I started to realize it.

Maybe I wasn't going to hell either.

*****

One frigid January morning, it was time to say goodbye. Laura gave me a letter she had written the night before. We embraced. 

"You have to come to Mexico," she said. 

I had never been there before, but from the images I'd seen in magazines and movies, I formed a scene in my mind. In it we were doing all the same things we'd done here, but in Mexico.

"I want to. I will see if I can."

For the first time in months I meant what I said.


Next Chapter: Lies Fed to a Depressed Mind



Screaming



I was grateful for the thunderstorm. Could I really say that? I hadn't felt "grateful" or any describable emotion for longer than I wanted to remember. But yes, I think I was glad it was raining.

This would be the perfect opportunity to do what my insides had been clamoring to do for months. I'd always imagined doing this on top of a mountain somewhere far away from anyone's hearing. But inside my little car during a summer thunderstorm would work. I used to love summer thunderstorms.

It was night and I pulled over. I was less than two minutes from home, but the claps of thunder and pounding rain made me feel like it was much farther. I took a deep breath and let it happen.

A cross between a groan and a high pitched scream worked its way up from the deepest part of me and erupted from my mouth. I let it sound until I ran out of breath, and then I did it again. 

And again. 

And again. 

And again. 

My vocal chords had never made such a sound before. What was that I was feeling? Yes, it was very small, but it was a sense of satisfaction. The piercing screams seemed to open a door where the real me, who-I-once-was me, stepped through for a moment. She wasn't numb. She cared deeply and she had a few things she needed to say.

"GOD!!!! 

CAN YOU HEAR ME????? 

WHERE ARE YOU????? 

WHERE ARE YOU?????? 

HOW DID I GET HERE???? 

I WAS A GOOD GIRL!!!! 

YOU KNOW THAT!!!!! 

WHERE ARE YOU????"

In the back of my mind, I wondered what this who-I-once-was me was thinking as she saw me now. "Is this what you imagined you'd be doing at 21?" I felt like asking her. "Sitting on the side of the road throwing a colossal temper tantrum?" I wasn't ashamed. As if that even mattered now. She was long gone and all my efforts to recover her had been in vain. The more desperate my attempts, the harder I came crashing down every time I realized she was never coming back. 

"I WANT MY LIFE BACK!!!! 

GIVE ME MY LIFE BACK!!!!"


Next Chapter: Laurita



No Good Deed

Driving up to school in my little red car, I inserted the Wicked CD into the player. I was ready to rock another powerful duet with Idina Menzel. The song was No Good Deed and I got a small taste of enjoyment listening to it. Not for the same reasons some people might enjoy it.  It was chilling how well I could relate to the words.

...Ugh! What good is this chanting? I don't even know what I'm reading....
{All my desperate attempts to reclaim myself have not worked. I don't even know what I'm doing anymore except existing.}

...One more disaster I can add to my generous supply....
{Friendships, family relationships, my dependability, my grades, my hopes for a happy future all destroyed. All because of me.}

...My road of good intentions led where such roads always lead....
{Any good I have done in my life is meaningless now. More on this in a moment.}

...Nessa, Dr. Dillamond, Fiyero, FIYERO!....
{I have hurt most the people for whom I would do anything to protect. The damage I thought I could contain has spread to their lives as well.}

...One question haunts and hurts, too much, too much to mention. Was I really seeking good? Or just seeking attention? Is that all good deeds are when looked at with an ice-cold eye?....
{All the good I have done in my life is backfiring. It has all gone from being a blessing to others to a curse. The trusts I have gained. The moments I stood for what was right. In my fall, I am either taking them down with me or causing a lot of damage in the process. All that time I thought I was a good person, was it really all leading up to this tremendous downfall?} 

...Sure I meant well, well look at what "well-meant" did....
{All I ever wanted was to be a good person. Amazing how a couple of stupid decisions changed everything.}

...All right! Enough! So be it! So be it then! Let all Oz be agreed, I'm WICKED through and through. Since I could not succeed, Fiyero, saving you, I promise no good deed will I attempt to do again. EVER AGAIN!...

...No good deed will I do again!!!!

The only soul in the world I could identify with was named Elphaba. And she wasn't real. This was not good.


Next Chapter: Screaming



Hair



While my hair situation made for an interesting smell, I was able to keep it a secret for several months. There were a couple of close calls though.

Case in point.

I had never had a pedicure before. I wished I could have had one earlier in my life when I would have cared, but I knew it was important to my mom to do this for me, so when my dad came to get me to go, I went. We waited in the front end of the salon for a few minutes til we were called back. She didn't ask why a 20-year-old woman would need her father to accompany her to the salon. But I was glad he was there. She led me to a chair. "So what are we going to do with your hair today?"

Oh no.

"Not a haircut, she's here for a pedicure." Without even knowing it, my dad had saved the day. He was very good at that.

She laughed at herself. "Oh, okay. Let's go pick some polish then."


*****

I knew time was up when Mom said, "I haven't seen your hair down for so long. Let me comb it."

Shoot.

The reason she hadn't seen my hair down for so long was because every time I got out of the shower, I immediately wrapped it in an elastic on top of my head. My long, thick, naturally curly hair had once been one of my favorite features, but those days were long gone.

I had followed this routine for several months now which meant while washed, my hair had not been combed since I felt well. Come to think of it, the cleanliness part could be argued as well. I wasn't too concerned with doing a thorough job of washing or making sure all the shampoo and conditioner rinsed out either. 

She sat behind me and started pulling out the elastic. This was going to be a moment.

She was unable to mask her horror as my hair fell to my shoulders in five matted clumps. I don't know much about dreadlocks, but I believe these were a pathetic equivalent.

I knew a predicament of this magnitude would have caused the who-I-once-was-me to melt into tears of shock and embarrassment, but apathy was my mode of survival these days. My mom worked at it with a pick for several minutes. "This is just one big mass," she said. "I don't think I can fix it. I think we're going to have to cut it."

Apathy flew out the window. The thought of butchering my hair would finish me. It would be like surrendering the last recognizable part of me I had left. My mom and sisters were surprised at this passionate display of emotion.

My mom went to the bathroom and returned with a bottle of conditioner.  She dumped it heavily on each clump and worked with a renewed determination. I don't remember what was on tv that night, but I remember sitting in front of it for hours as my momma combed and untangled and extricated my hair from the clumps of knots that held it captive. I remember feeling like nothing short of a miracle had occurred once it was all free.

 After a thorough shampoo, I sat in front of my momma for another half hour while she blow-dried and straightened my hair. 

I looked in the mirror. I looked like me. I felt more like me than I had in a long time. And that interesting smell that had followed me for several months was gone.

Going to school the next day, I felt attractive for the first time in a long time. Too bad the outside isn't a true reflection of the inside, I thought. 

But I'll take it. 


Next Chapter: No Good Deed



Kindnesses



"Brittney! The door is for you!"

There was a group of boys on my doorstep and as soon as I walked into view they started singing My Girl. They were so cute. And talented. Their voices split and blended in harmony. I thought about what a neat moment this could be if I was still a good girl. 

My parents stood off to the side grinning. I realized how long it had been since we had enjoyed something fun together. I wasn't good at fun anymore. 

There was also a sense of hope and vulnerability in their faces. How I wished for their sakes that this moment were a cure-all. That the moment they quit singing I could say, you know what? I think that did it! I feel all better now.

I have to admit that even with my lack of ability to feel, even I was charmed when one of the young men knelt before me as they were finishing up their song and presented me with a bouquet of flowers. I tried to act overly grateful, but didn't have to put up the front for long because they disappeared quickly down the front steps. 

They had infused the home with a sense of joy. Everything appeared brighter though I couldn't feel it. I hope it lasted for them awhile. They deserved it. I handed the flowers off to my mom. What a shame that such lovely little flowers would go to waste in my honor. They should have gone to a better girl. 

As I tromped up the stairs to my room, I heard my dad on the phone with his sister Marie. "Oh, hi! Yeah, we opened the door and there was a whole group of boys on the doorstep ready to serenade her. Yeah, it was pretty neat. No, we didn't call them. I think they just know she's been sad."

*****

Random gifts appeared on the doorstep from time to time. I hated knowing I had deceived people to the point that they thought I needed demonstrations of love and kindness. If these people truly knew what was best, they would stay far away from me and let me rot without recognition. It's what I deserved.

Other moments that were hard to bear were when people were not private about their gifts. They would give me something truly meaningful and do their best to express how they hoped I would feel better, or their faith that I would.

But there were two areas where I felt I was taking the most advantage of people that made me feel truly wretched.

One or two women from church were aware of the situation in our home and quietly arranged a small circle of sisters who would bring our family dinner a few times a week. I tried to act gracious as their dishes came through the front door. They brought their very best, these sweet sisters from church. But it was a replacement for what my mom should be doing, all I had taken from her. And on top of that, I was being treated to marvelous meals. With every bite I ate myself deeper and deeper into hell.

Two phone calls and a visit made me feel particularly vile. They came from three different women I had always admired who I knew preferred their privacy. Each of them quietly opened up to tell me that they had suffered or were suffering from depression and would love to talk if I ever thought it would help. They were the kinds of conversations that would have caused the who-I-once-was me to embrace them, cry with them, and thank them from the bottom of my heart for telling me something so private. If only this were depression I was dealing with. There's no conversation that can rescue you once you're hell-bound. But because of who I once was, I was now taking advantage of the deepest expressions of kindness.


Next Chapter: Hair



Running Away



The phone rang and broke the morning's silence. No one was out of bed yet. If they had been, the phone still would've broken the silence because no one would have known what to say to each other.

Caller ID said it was Uncle Hugh. Of course he had heard. This was going to be a very uncomfortable conversation. I was used to uncomfortable conversations these days. I turned on the handset in my room as I heard my mom's weary voice. 

"Hello?"

"Melissa? What happened?"

I hung up, smothering the pain this conversation was going to cause. Palms face down on my dresser, I looked intently in the mirror. I used to throw an approving glance at my hair and wardrobe choice in this mirror as I headed out the door to school, on a date, to a dance, to church. This morning I was still fairly recognizable on the outside, but the spark in my eye was gone. That spark in my eye had held my confidence, my joy, a promise of a future. It had been stolen by a recently darkened past to which another heavy chapter had been added the day before.


 *****

I knew my inability to feel better was creating a huge strain on my family. They had done everything they could think of for me, and I was helpless in offering them any consolation that I was getting better. Instead I descended deeper and deeper in my despair and hopelessness. I felt utterly wretched. They had exhausted every avenue trying to help me with their moral, financial and spiritual support, and I gave them nothing back in return. I was breaking their hearts. 
 
I was like a black hole in our home sucking up every shred of joy or laughter or hope that tried to find its way in the door.

I had to leave. While I knew that would do damage, it had to be better than the effect I was having by being there. Although one daughter would be lost, now my parents could direct their attention to the other three kids in our family.


*****

Sunday was the perfect day to get away with it. My family all went to church together while I met with a singles congregation. I was due to be in church two hours after they left, which would give me several hours to get away without being missed.

I packed my backpack with my journal, sliding a picture of my family inside, my medication (I was going to hell, but I was still obedient), a few snacks and some water. As I zipped it up I thought to myself, remember how you used to use this backpack to go to school? To the university? How you were two semesters away from graduating with a career? But now you are insane. I sat outside while my family got ready for church. My sister drove separately and left a few minutes before everyone else. Ever cheerful, she waved as she pulled out. I managed to wave back, trying to feel something. I was never going to see her again. I loved her.


*****
 
Dressed for church, I kissed my mom goodbye. I finally felt the tingle of an emotion, the strongest emotion I'd felt in a long time. It was guilt. She thought I was on my way to church. I was headed off to disappear. I couldn't bear to consider the effect it would have on her when she found out I was gone. Would she understand that getting out of the house was the best way I knew how to make things better? I didn't know what to do with the feelings, so I smothered them. I was very good at that now.



*****

I had to be seen at church. It was the best scenario for buying the most time. When they came looking for me, people would be able to say, yes, she was at church. Shortly after walking into the building and hoping I had been seen by at least a couple of people, I headed into the mother's room. I passed a young mom coming out as I headed in. I used to dream of being a mom, I thought to myself. I sat in a rocker and made my plan. I had left my backpack in the trunk of my car. I was going to need to jump out the window, grab my backpack, and walk away from the church, hopefully without being seen. 

On the other side of the wall was the church foyer, and suddenly I heard several doors open, shut, open, shut, open, shut. This I had not anticipated.  My dad was on to me. He had the police with him. They were going to interrupt church services to find me. Add disturber of the peace to my rap sheet. 

I braced myself in the chair. It wouldn't be long until they found me. Three or four minutes went by, nothing. They were on to me, but they were going to do it quietly. I looked out the window at the parking lot. They had their eyes on my car. I was going to have to skip the part where I go to my trunk for my things and just head directly away from the church. 

In my Sunday dress, I climbed out the mother's room window. Once out there, I realized I was also going to need to hop about a four and a half foot cement wall. I used to pray in predicaments like this, "Heavenly Father, please help no one see me hop the cement wall." Actually I had never prayed for something quite so odd. But God had been through with me for quite some time now, so I skipped the prayer and pulled myself up and over the wall.

Note to reader: My dad was actually never in the building, and neither were the police. Church was starting, and as is customary, 75% of the congregation was arriving in the two minutes before the meeting started, thus the opening and shutting of all the doors.


*****

I walked briskly, hoping I looked like a normal healthy human being to the outside world. I would know in a minute or two if anyone had seen me, they would be after me. Once I turned off the main road seven or eight minutes later, I was fairly certain that my escape had been successful. 

My grandparents lived up above the main highway. I had been to their home hundreds of times, but never walked. I figured I could be there in an hour. 

I was fairly certain I hadn't drawn too much attention to myself until about half an hour later when I had to scale an embankment full of weeds in my Sunday dress along the highway. Just act natural, I told myself as the weeds poked through my strappy dress sandals.

As I walked, I tried to digest the thought that I was never going to see my family again. I was very good at smothering thoughts and feelings, but they deserved to be remembered. I thought of each member of the family and as numb as I was, could feel a far off stabbing pain when I allowed myself to consider one by one how much they meant to me. 

It wasn't long before I was walking up my grandparents' driveway. I checked the home for signs that they were home, but everything seemed still. I had left everything in my car trunk, I was going to have to get some supplies here. 

I found a sliding door that was cracked open. It took some wrestling, but I was able to carefully fight my way into the house. Congratulations. You just broke into your loving grandparents' home. You are officially insane. And a criminal. I didn't feel much these days, but it was a strange sensation to be in someone's home when they weren't there and weren't expecting you. I imagined it would make a normal person feel terrible. 

I located a backpack and started filling it with the things I would need. I was going to hide out in the mountains surrounding my grandparents' home for at least a couple of weeks. Scouring the cabinets, I settled on a jar of peanut butter. I filled a mason jar with water. When that ran out, hopefully I would be able to remember what I had learned at girls camp about locating springs.

With my food situation figured out, I went into my grandparents' closet to find more suitable clothing than my Sunday dress. I found a top of my grandma's and some of my grandpa's khaki work pants he used when out in the yard. Also a pair of white tennis shoes. I looked in the mirror. "How's this going insane thing working out for you?" I thought as my pathetic image stared back at me. 

I retrieved one more item before heading up the mountain, a hammer for protection.


*****

A few minutes later, I sat under a pine tree a few hundred yards away in the mountainous area above my grandparents' home. I had spotted a few hikers, a factor in the plan I had not anticipated. I certainly would draw attention with the way I was dressed, and they would be able to say they had seen me. I'd just have to be long gone by the time they connected with the police.

My mind quit considering logistics for a moment and again drifted to my family. It was possible they knew I was gone by now. What a definitive decision I had made today. After they had exhausted every effort possible to save me, I thank them by walking out the door. What a slap in the face. Even if my plan failed and I was found, they would never want me back. I had finally exhausted their love. Saturday mornings as kids we would almost always wake up to a Phil Collins album my dad would be using as his background music for getting things done around the house. Now it was unbearable how the words to one of his songs stung, "you're no son, you're no son of mine...you walked out, you left us behind." Now that I was alone, truly alone, I didn't need to smother. I wanted to be heartbroken.


*****

Grandma and I clung to each other in their living room, both of us sobbing. 

Grandpa was on his cell phone with Dad. He was on his way. The police were on their way.

I had never moved from underneath the pine tree until I heard my grandpa's voice calling as he walked toward me coming down the mountain. I had walked directly to him. "I found her, I found her. Oh, Brittney," he said, desperation melting into relief. 

*****

Meeting with the police was a pretty rock-bottom moment. They were kind. My mom had actually grown up with one of them. Awesome. What was my motive for running away? they wanted to know. You mean why am I sitting here with the police in my grandparents' clothes completely emptied of all self-worth wishing my heart would just please give out? They knew I had been engaged a few months earlier and the wedding had been called off. Was that it? Sure. Put that down. How could I explain that it actually went much deeper than that? That I was a wicked, wretched soul. It felt like one of those moments in Marvel movies when you realize that the police, no matter how many of them there are, are no match for the villain and his super-human powers. I didn't know how to go there. So I just let them blame it on the boy.

*****

I crawled back into bed, trying not to imagine the conversation that was going on between Mom and Hugh. I was home now, and it was time to smother again. 

The events from the night before gave me plenty to think about. The look on my momma's face when she saw me but didn't have me in her arms yet was not something I wanted imprinted on my mind for long. 

I stayed in her arms for a long time. My whole family gathered around me in a tender circle. Another powerful emotion surfaced through the numbness. It was complete astonishment. They wanted me back. After I had walked out on them. They still loved me. I was stunned.

Sometime in all the commotion of my return home, someone slipped a card underneath the mat outside for me. All it said was, "You're going to be okay. I've run away too."

I lay in bed wondering if the next several months were going to continue to play out here, in my room. In bed. I had no vision for the future.

But deep inside, somewhere, I was relieved to be back home.


Next Chapter: Kindnesses 



Doorways


 Not much surprised me these days, but I was surprised to see my momma in my doorway that morning.

"You know that quote about our loved ones from the other side being able to help us? Well, we're going to need them now, because I crashed last night. I am where you are."

No. Oh no.

*****

I had been surprised to see my momma in my doorway because it was backwards. These last several months, it had always been me darkening her doorway.

It had started with,

"I don't think I can marry him."

And after that had been resolved, it became,

"Can we pray together?"

"I don't know why I'm not feeling better. Can we pray together?"

"I feel like I blew it somewhere."

"I feel like God isn't listening."

"I did something to push Him away." 

"I feel like I'm losing my faith."

"I wish I could go back."

"I never should have gotten engaged."

"I feel broken."

"I wish I was still a good person."

Each phrase was my effort to sum up the terror and anxiety I had been feeling all day into a few words. Each time I stood in their doorway, my parents responded with love and encouragement. In the beginning, I would breathe it all in and feel confident in the future again for a short time. But the panic had always returned by morning, accompanied with the sense that I had descended even deeper into hopelessness. 

It was apparent that my parents were becoming distressed and frustrated at their inability to put my fears to rest. My insides were screaming, "I just wish for a second you could know how this felt." I wanted to be a normal, healthy 20-year-old. For goodness sake, most of my high school friends were out living on their own, some were even married and expecting children while I laid in the fetal position on the couch in my parents' room. I wanted to move on with my life and quit pretending I was okay, to really be okay. After another night-time discussion, I went back to my room and as I began to not fall asleep for the night, repeated over and over, "I wish they knew how this felt. I wish someone knew how I felt."

 *****

My wish had come true, and I couldn't be more mortified.

I had said that I wished they knew how I felt so that they would be able to understand why I couldn't snap out of it, not so that they could experience the blackness of this pit and the horrors of mind that came with it. 

Mom led me to her room and sank to her knees. I joined her on the floor as she offered up a prayer.

She hugged me. I didn't deserve it. I had betrayed her. I had brought this upon her. I didn't know what to say. I went back to my room. 

I heard the bath water start to run and then turn off. 

Several minutes later I heard my mom on the phone. She asked to speak to her doctor. The tone of confidence had dropped from her voice. I only caught bits and pieces. "I tried to get in the bath, but I feel like if I'm able to do that today it will be monumental."

I truly had thought things could not have gotten worse. How terribly, terribly wrong I was. How much longer was Dad going to be able to hang on before he slipped too? How would he work? Who would care for the kids? How would we survive?

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. 

*****

"I don't understand these feelings of worthlessness you're having. You're not wretched." 

I was sitting in the office of another trusted church leader. I needed someone to agree that I was wretched, so we could start piecing the broken shards of my life back together.

He brought up the name of a man who the media had been following for the last several months after he admitted to murdering his wife. 

"THAT is wretched. You are not wretched."

How could I explain to him that yes, I was. I had slowly, purposely etched away at my mom's well-being til she crashed. Do you know what an incredible woman my mom is? A pillar. And what about the rest of my family? I stole their wife and mom from them. I was likely stealing their own well-being from them. I did that. I couldn't formulate all that into a sentence, so I let him think I agreed with him.

"Have you been reading the scriptures?"

I had. And every time lakes of brimstone and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth were mentioned, I related on a whole new level.

"I think you need to read them some more."

*****
Many afternoons Dad came home and found us just where he'd left us eight hours before. The blinds were closed and there was a staleness in the air. 

"How are my beautiful girls?" he would say. Less true words had never been spoken of me.

One Monday he appeared with flowers. 

"I love fresh flowers," my daddy said. "They bring life into the house."

The next Monday he appeared with flowers. 

"I have decided we will have fresh flowers on our table every Monday until my girls get better."

How could he be so cheerful? I was floored. I hated to tell him that there weren't enough flowers in the world.

But even I couldn't argue that the house felt better with them there.

*****
 "I feel like my identity, like my very self has been stolen," Mom confided.

"Like you have clothes on your back and food to eat, and you've never been a slave, or in a concentration camp, or through a war, but you can relate to the suffering of humanity on a whole new level?" I threw it out there, holding my breath to see what she'd say.

"Yes, yes."

She knew. And as much as it killed me to know that, I was no longer alone.


Next Chapter: Running Away



The S Word



"WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU?" my insides screamed.  "How could that even cross your mind????"

It was day two of my trip to Washington state. I had gotten up early. Not woken up early, because I had been awake all night. I couldn't remember getting a good night's sleep since well before the break up. This morning Aunt Angela and I had plans to visit Snoqualmie Falls.

As Angela and I hiked together to the falls, I had great hopes that the next couple of hours could have a little bit of a healing effect on me. I had always enjoyed that sense of reverent awe I felt when I saw something majestic like a waterfall. A wonderful sense that this grand piece of work could crush me but that it was made by my Father in Heaven and He loved me and was in control all rolled into one. As we came upon the falls, I was floored at what I felt instead.

Jump.

I was alarmed at the thought. Just the fact that it had crossed my mind sent adrenaline pulsing through my body. I rejected it immediately and continued commenting on the gorgeous sight with my aunt. She pointed out an eagle on a ledge far off in the distance.

I felt a longing to be where that eagle was, several hundred yards from my current view. From there it would be easier to jump. I had been terrified and confused at the constant rush of panic going through my body for the past several days. I was completely flustered at why every attempt to help myself feel better resulted in spiraling down even further. That waterfall offered the escape I craved. I wanted to jump.

I was mortified at what was going on inside my head. Killing myself was not the answer to my problems. In elementary school, a boy in our community had accidentally shot another boy while playing with a gun and then turned it on himself. My teacher had given our class a powerful talk in which she expressed that no matter hard life gets, the answer does not lie in ending it. She had won me over in my first exposure to this difficult concept. I wholeheartedly rejected the idea. But like everything else lately, I feared my attempts were going to be futile.


While I tried and tried to smother the thoughts of jumping off the waterfall, what concerned me even more was the idea that it seemed like something irreversible had happened inside of me. I was mortified that what would be a normal healthy human reaction to a waterfall had been removed and replaced with a desire to jump off of it. Like something natural and innate within me had been stolen.


*****

SEVERAL WEEKS LATER

Morning.

Today had to be the day. Every day I woke up in this bed was one more day I was dragging everyone around me down into my pit.

I tried to remember what it felt like to feel. How would the used-to-be-me react to knowing that her once happy home was being smothered by the effects of my wretchedness? I recognized now that that first thought of jumping off a waterfall would have been the most merciful way to go. Instead I had come home and selfishly required my whole family to swim in my misery with me. The longer I stayed, the more damage I did. Getting out of the picture was the best thing I could do for them now. I had heard it said that killing yourself is the most selfish thing you could ever do, but now that I stood on the edge, I wanted to shout from the mountaintops that this would be the most selfless thing I had ever done.


*****

There was one major condition. There had to be a note. It could not just be an afterthought. The taking of my life was going to have a monumental effect on the people who meant most to me in this world. Getting out of their lives would, in the long run, be the best thing I could do for them at this point. I prayed that any good I had done in my life would be payment for somehow granting them the ability to understand that. Through the note they also had to understand how much I loved them. I loved them so much. And that nothing they could have done would have saved me. My wretchedness was my own doing. They must know that. I would not go until the note was written.

On at least three separate occasions I sat down to write my letter. So strange, I wasn't even able to compose a sentence. When I picked up the pencil, my mind would cloud over and all I could manage was, "Sorry. Love you." That was not going to cut it. On one occasion, it was as if someone was holding the pencil, preventing me from writing.


 *****
"Are you suicidal?" my bishop asked me.

"No," I lied. I had always been a truthful person, but once you're on your way to hell, the sins add up pretty quickly. I did feel bad lying to him, he had devoted a lot of time to meeting with me in his office at the church and even visited our home a time or two out of concern for our family. 

He pulled a notepad out of his desk. "I am going to give you my home phone, my work phone, and my cell phone. I don't want you to do anything drastic without calling me first."

I nodded and this time I meant it. He had my respect and admiration. He was a good man and I trusted him wholeheartedly. I owed that to him. It didn't mean I wouldn't go through with it. I pictured myself in a number of terrible scenarios with my cell phone by my side. I would keep my word by calling him first no matter the outcome.

*****
"Fine," I thought as my dad left the room. "But you don't know what you're asking. You'd all be better off if I was gone." 

The future was definitely going to involve padlocks and padded rooms.

Whether it was inspiration or the whisperings of concerned people in my life who had picked up on the thoughts I thought I had been masking so well, my dad had met me in my room that night with a special request.

"Do not take your life. I beg you, do not take your life. You don't know what that would do to us. We will do whatever it takes to help you, but taking your life is not the solution."

There was nothing he could do to help me. He'd already done it all, and I was still hopelessly broken beyond repair.

However, I would do anything for my daddy. Including getting out of his life because I was ruining it. He had done nothing all my life but earn my trust and my devotion. He had provided the kind of childhood that dreams are made of. Tickle monsters, bike rides, and daddy/daughter dances in the living room. And because he asked me to stay, I had to. I could not deprive him of that. 

I would never need the bishop's three phone numbers. I wouldn't need to finish the suicide note. Even if it meant all hell was going to rain on our house, I would not take my life.


Next Chapter: Doorways 



A Well-Worn Path


Twelve hours I had been sitting at this table working on my final project of the semester. Twelve hours was supposed to be more than enough time, but now it was dark outside and panic really began to set in. I would doubt I was even halfway done.

Note to self: do not break off an engagement right before finals week. 

I don't know how else I would've done it though. I couldn't imagine still carrying on pretending there would be a wedding and that I was enamored with the idea.

I also couldn't imagine why I couldn't feel hardly any degree of relief since calling it off. Yes, separating from my fiancé had been very painful, but the feelings I was having were hardly even related to him anymore. They were related to me. I had expected my confidence to grow after I called off the wedding and discovered that I could do hard things. Instead, the sleepless nights had continued along with a growing sense that something was very, very wrong.

*****

"We're going to get control of these negative thoughts you're having."

I was sitting in the office of a trusted church leader. I could feel of his genuine concern and desire to help me. It gave me hope.

"I'm going to give you an assignment."

Anything. I'll do anything.

"I want you to carry a notebook with you, and anytime you have a negative thought, I want you to mark it in that little notebook. That will help you sift through the thoughts that aren't helping you, and we're going to get rid of them."

A few hours later that notebook had become my trusty companion because I was pulling it out frequently. Tic. Bad thought. Tic. Bad thought. Tic tic tic. 

A sweet lady came and picked me up for a drive, probably to take my mind off of my broken engagement. Do I bring the notebook? I wondered. Do I want to feel better? So as she drove, I tried to carry on a conversation, but she had to be wondering what I was doing in my lap. Tic. Tic. Tic tic tic.

Later that night I concluded something. There had been almost a constant flow of panic rushing through my body for the past couple of weeks leading up to the breakup and beyond. It was very distressing and one of the ways my body coped with it was to try to release it through my foot. I had developed a shaking foot. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, as long as I was sitting down, my foot was shaking. I realized that my fear and anxiety had become so constant, that I could mark a tic with every shake of my foot. 

****
I knelt in my dress after finding a quiet, secluded spot in the park. This actually wasn't the first time I had knelt to pray in this park.

At five years old, I had come to this park with my mom's friend Cindy and her little boy Cole. It was a huge park, and it didn't just seem like it because I was a kid.

I was playing in the sand when I looked up and realized there was not one familiar face to take in. Panic struck my little heart, followed quickly by the thought of something my parents had always taught me: You can pray to Heavenly Father anytime you need help.

I walked over to a park bench and knelt down. 

"I'm lost. I'm scared. Help me," I prayed. 

Instantly, the image of a yellow shirt flashed through my mind. "Cole's mom was wearing a yellow shirt!" I think I even said it out loud.

My eyes scanned the park. Not far from where I stood there was the peak of a small hill and up and over that hill came a woman in a bright yellow shirt. I got a better glimpse as she came closer. It was her. As relief flooded my insides, I ran to join her. He had heard my prayer! And answered it! And I knew it.

15 years later, the needs I would express here in the park weren't much different. 

Please help me. I'm scared. 

This time however, it wasn't my grown up I feared I had lost. It was my mind. And I wasn't saying that to be dramatic. I could feel myself on the verge of insanity. 

Please, show me how to fix this. I know you can.

I knelt for a long time waiting for something.

Nothing.

I tried to remain hopeful on the way home. I knew God often doesn't answer prayers immediately and that's when faith sustains us. But with a growing sense of dread I realized that the place where faith lived in my heart had been filled instead with a quiet sense of terror.

****
What a shame. What a horrible, tragic shame.

It was several weeks later and I now had it all figured out.

I was going to hell. 

That was the only possible reason why my cries to Heaven were going unanswered and my mind was in a constant state of fear and torment.

I had always wanted to be good and to stay out of trouble.  But I was also humble enough to recognize that I wasn't invincible, that I could make mistakes.

And somewhere between the winter and the spring, I had made a big one. Or a series of small ones that had led to my downfall. God had had a different plan for my life that did not involve my ex-fiancé, but I chose to pursue the relationship anyway. He had made several attempts to help me change my course, but in the end I had forged ahead with my own agenda. God had no choice but to sadly step out, and when He did, Satan stepped in.
 
I'd always heard he was good at what he did, but I really had to hand it to him. I never saw it coming.

My misery continued to sustain itself day in and day out, and each day I would review the trail of mistakes that led to my tragic fate. I could trace them like points on a map until they were ingrained in my brain like a well-worn path.

I was going to hell and no one could talk me out of it.

God, save my soul.


Next Chapter: The S Word



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