One hot September day in Georgia, I ventured out of my house with my then just-turned-3 year old standing like a queen on our sit-and-stand stroller. In the front seat sat my sweet, bald, 16 month old and in the carrier strapped on top was my newborn baby boy. When it’s hot in the suburbs of Atlanta, the huge air-conditioned mall is the most attractive place around. There was a pretzel store right next to a completely padded play area with just one exit. Perfect. I parked inside the play area and started feeding the baby. After a few minutes, the three-year-old ran to me saying she needed the restroom just as she started having an accident AND Bald Toddler toddled right out of that one exit toward the pretzel store. I was in a pickle.
People observing might have thought I was strangely detached. And I was, a little. I let a perfect stranger fetch the determined pretzel seeking toddler. I finished up with the baby and then cleaned up the 3 year old, strapped everyone back into Mount Stroller and we were on our way. I didn’t lose my cool. I have a clear memory of looking around and thinking, “huh. I should do something about this.” Why no crying or yelling or losing my shit? Because I had started taking an antidepressant a few weeks earlier and I had stopped crying all the time. I had perspective I hadn’t had before. It was the first time I realized the medication was working. I continued with it for almost a year and then, with the help of my doctor, got off of it. I was able to feel more alive during that season. (After my first baby, I didn’t have medication and was very depressed for quite a while, so I knew the difference.)
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 I took an antidepressant again. The stress of carrying all 4 kids’ anxieties and the craziness of regular life on top of chemo and everything was just more than I could handle. The medicine took the edge off. I didn’t fall into The Pit as deeply. Another season.
My oncologist prescribed the same medication in 2015 when I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. The news received was my biggest fear and coping felt unbearable. Again, I was able to cope better, I believe, because of the help of this medicine.
Recently though, I’ve been feeling less whole.
I love being with people more than anything. I love stepping into someone’s hard situation or story and walking with them through it. I’ve noticed lately, I will hear of someone’s hard situation (a divorce, a child with cancer, a mom with similar post partum depression, etc) and have compassion but not feel compassion. The same feeling I had sitting in the play area in the Georgia Mall washes over me. “huh. I really should feel more about this.” When my own child was sharing a heartache and I wanted to feel more compassion, but couldn’t, it got me thinking. I didn’t feel like a whole person. Me being whole includes crying with the friend(s) in painful relationships and being angry and sad that my 9 year old’s classmate has been diagnosed with cancer. I don’t want to just know that it’s sad, I want to feel it.
It’s a slippery slope though, right? Me being whole also includes feeling really sad that I’m living with cancer, sad that my kids are living with their mom living with cancer. What if I’m not taking medication and I fall off the cliff? I’ve decided I can handle this sadness right now, though, through the grace and compassion of God.
I’ve been off the antidepressant for for a little while now.* This morning I heard an update from a friend about her family. The heart-wrenching story of this family would fill a book. It involves sickness and lack of access to medication in another country, children trying to cope after a parent’s death along with immigration issues. I looked my friend in the eyes and couldn’t stop my own tears. And today, I’m thankful for my tears.