Seasons represent one thing—change, the change that is vital for new growth. If winter didn’t come, there would no spring. If no spring, there would be no summer. If no summer, there would be no fall. If no fall, there would be no winter. It’s an endless life-giving cycle.
Over the past year, I went through some seasons. Last year around this time, I felt myself hitting that “slump” again. I blamed it on the holidays; the family stress, the expectations, the balancing blended families all while trying to prioritize my own family. During the most joyous time of year, I felt the crippling, choking, overwhelmingness that I now know is depression. It was the old familiar friend that came knocking a few times every year. I simply failed to see how often it visited and how long it stayed.
During its visit, I found myself unable to sleep. I stayed up all night scrolling and watching endless hours of junk TV, afraid to go to sleep or sit in silence because that’s when the old friend’s voice got louder.
An exhausted and overwhelmed version of myself spent my days yelling at my children for the silliest things. I was frustrated that I was frustrated. I was not much of a mom. I was home all day with both my children, yet I was not there with them. Sure, we homeschooled. Sure, we were together. But I wasn’t really present.
I was unmotivated and unfulfilled. I was alone yet surrounded. I was becoming a lifeless shell of a person.
My husband began to really dislike me. He later admitted that he was trying to figure out if he could live with this version of me the rest of his life.
Yet the whole time I felt this way, I was a leader of a large women’s Bible study. I was serving the Kingdom, speaking life to others, yet the life was draining from me.
As a Christ-follower, the most frustrating thing about it was how much it felt like such a dichotomy—my head knew Truth, my heart knew Truth, but I couldn’t drown out the voice that screamed in the silence. What I knew and how I should feel didn’t match at all how I felt. I couldn’t reconcile the difference.
Christmas morning came. We were up with our two boys gifting them their very first trip to Disney World. We were headed to the most magical place on earth, yet it all felt so empty. I struggled to present. I struggled to really feel anything other than empty. It felt like a cold, dark winter.
My journal from December 27, 2018…
I feel like a hollow shell of a person. Empty on the inside. Sometimes it feels like I am having a total breakdown. Like who am I? What am I doing here? I have all this stuff and people around me, but I still feel this way?!?! It makes me sad to be like this because I know that the people around me are suffering, but I am suffering. I don’t like myself. How then can anyone else like me? These feelings feel 100% out of control, like a rollercoaster I cannot get off of. I am locked in tight and I must ride it over and over again, against my will. I feel like I am zombie just going through the motions and not one single bit alive. When am I “present” it is a falsehood. It’s all a front and all a great game of pretend. What am I doing here? Is this my whole life? Why does it feel so empty? I am tired of the fight. Exhausted from the game of it all. Doing, taking care, helping, serving, etc. It all feels pointless at times, and it is so very lonely. No one could know how I truly feel, yet keeping up the game is exhausting. God feels super far away…I am in the winter—the cold, hard winter. Why on earth would He bring me here? Why would this place be necessary? The air feels dry and it hurts to breathe. The sun is hidden by gray clouds. There is no break for sun. The nights are so long. The darkness it brings leaves me frozen in fear and unbelief. Just when I get through the night, the light comes. But it is not a reprieve from the night. It is only a reminder that the darkness will be back soon. God, will I survive this winter? Why did you bring me here? It is cold. It is lonely. There is no warmth.
A few days after I wrote that journal entry, I was running errands with my two boys. As I was driving, that terrible, truth-imitating voice grew louder. Only this time it was more serious with its negative messaging….No one will miss you. Your family will be better off without you. What if you ran off the road and hit that tree?
Thankfully, at that moment, I heard God’s voice speak through the voice of depression. His voice told me this wasn’t true. His voice reminded me that no matter how dark I felt, my life had value and He had a purpose for my life.
I later called my best friend and tearfully admitted what had happened. I needed someone to know the depths of my despair. Another dear friend called the next day because she felt the strong urge to pray for me on Christmas morning. She sent me a scripture from Ezekiel 37 about the dry bones coming back to life. Little did she know, I was reading and repeating those verses to myself when the dark thoughts would start and my old friend’s voice would get too loud. I admitted to her the grave thoughts that crossed my mind that day in the car. Later, I tearfully admitted to my husband what had happened.
By mid-January, I found myself in a counselor’s office. She was gracious and kind. She gently led me to understand and admit my struggle with depression.
After four months of counseling, I began to take medication for my depression. It was such a huge, yet necessary step in my recovery. I knew without a doubt the Lord had led me there. Taking that first pill was the hardest thing to do, but it literally gave me my life back.
Seeing a counselor and taking medication made me feel alive again. It was a beautiful combination that God used to help me reconcile the overwhelming fight in my mind.
Through my winter, the part I struggled with the most was trying to understand the purpose God had in it. How could He use something like this?
During those six months of literal hell, there was a song I listened to on repeat. It described my “winter” perfectly. It put words to how my heart felt when no words would come. It is appropriately titled Seasons by Hillsong Worship.
It’s been almost a year and I now see some purpose in my winter. As I have shared my story with women, it has given them the courage to admit that, they, like me, needed help. It gave them vocabulary to describe to their loved ones how they felt. It also gave them the strength to admit to someone else that they suffer from depression and have to take medication. The shadows of shame that followed us are slowly being destroyed, by hearing someone else say me too.
The winter may be cold, dark, and lonely but it is necessary for spring to come. It is vital for new growth. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t there. Where I am now is God’s gift to me and a brutiful reminder that new seasons of growth come after cold, dark winters.
The winter still comes at times. My old friend tends to clear its throat to let me know it isn’t going down without a fight, but I am reminded of that beautiful promise in Revelation 12:11:
“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”
Do not to lose hope in the season you are in. God, through all of these seasons, showed me that He is sovereign and faithful. My story is a beautiful testament to His goodness that He can take my despair, my winter, and restore my life to the fullness of spring.
By guest author, Jennifer Penney