Depression Can

Depression is sitting behind thick glass—a translucent wall. You know the sun is shining, but you cannot feel its warmth. Depression is being a well that’s run dry, seeing everyone’s thirst, and knowing you’re empty. Depression comes like a thief. … Continue reading

Letter to Myself in Mourning

Dear Myself in Mourning: I am writing to you from the future to say that it is worth living towards. I know it feels as though the world has relinquished all of its joy and purpose. I know life feels … Continue reading

Happiness Takes Courage

Happiness takes courage. You have to be brave to surrender to joy. When every molecule of your being has been mourning—when loss has permeated and ruptured your heart—you must be dauntless to pursue mirth. You must find great multitudes of … Continue reading

Weeping May Endure

A friend of mine suffered a grave loss this week. It stirred up something in me. I do not deny the beauty and compassion and generosity that course through our world, but there is also much malice and hardship and … Continue reading

Like Any Emotion

I’ve never seen my father loose his temper. I’ve never heard him raise his voice or witnessed his silent anger. Not once. Not ever. And while my mother was a more passionate presence in my life, I’ve never seen my parents … Continue reading

Mourning on Mother’s Day

On any given day, someone is rejoicing and someone is grieving. Mother’s Day is no different. There are mothers being pampered and others being mourned and remembered. It is a day, like so many, when we’re reminded of the intersections between the living and the dead. Within one generation there can be women who mourn while they are also being celebrated.

Mother’s Day makes me think about life and death. I grieve with those for whom this is another in a line of Mother’s Days without the child they want but cannot have, or without the child they had but lost. I also rejoice with those of you who are celebrating Mother’s Day as a mother (or an expectant mother) for the first time. Life is always a miracle, but for some that miracle comes after years of yearning, disappointment, and loss. Regardless of whether your road to motherhood was short or long or easy or arduous, your first Mother’s Day as a mother will be full of life and joy. Savor it.

For me, Mother’s Day will always have a component of mourning added to the celebration of life. I feel grateful for the mother who birthed and raised me. I am glad to be alive. I’m so thankful for the mother I had and the memories we shared, but I can’t celebrate Mother’s Day without some sadness or the wish that my mother could still be here.

My mother died more than a decade ago, but on Mother’s Day that loss feels especially fresh. And I know that I am not alone in my bereavement. Every Mother’s Day I think about those for whom it will be the first since their mother died. I remember the year of sad seasonal firsts after my mother passed away. The happier the occasion used to be, the more her absence rendered subsequent celebrations empty. For me, holidays were the hardest. Every milestone became a heavy burden to bear. Those first few years, when the loss was still a fresh cut to my heart, seeing everyone else’s joy felt like filling my wound with salt. For a while, all happiness was a reminder of what I’d lost.

There are a lot of people mourning on Mother’s Day. I know because of my experiences visiting the cemetery. There is always a traffic jam outside the entrance, and finding a parking spot is like discovering a bilingual, three-winged unicorn on the subway. I felt painfully self-conscious one year when I arrived to find a picnic occurring a few tombstones away. The family had lively music playing from an open car, lawn chairs, and a box of pizza. I didn’t begrudge their way of marking the day, but it was a distracting contradiction to my own. Now I try to avoid the cemetery on Mother’s Day. I don’t like to be there with a crowd. I like it to be quiet and private. I want it to feel like it’s just me and my love for her.

There are lots of emotions being experienced on Mother’s Day. Some have mothers; others have memories. For some it’s sad or complicated; for others it’s purely celebratory. Not everyone knew his or her mother—or liked her. Not everyone’s childhood provided healthy love and happy nostalgia.

But whatever you feel, whether good, bad, or mixed, know that someone else out there is in a similar emotional position. You’re not alone in feeling those feelings or thinking those thoughts. Whatever Mother’s Day is like for you, you’re not the only one.


Depression Is Not a Weakness

When I find myself lying in bed beneath the invisible weight of depression, I often call myself lazy. It is unjust, especially because the misdiagnosis leads to the wrong set of antidotes. Depression is not sloth. You don’t tell someone with a broken leg to go for a long run in order to feel better. You give her a cast and crutches. You let him sit down. There is a difference between not wanting to and not being able to (even if the reasons are hard to articulate or prove).

For me, depression is a state of being rather than one sensation or feeling. It becomes my environment and world. It consumes me and every ounce of energy I muster. Like a dark forest, it utterly surrounds me—and the way out is hard and long and confounding.

My depression is like water. It is at once tiny and great. Small, because there are few things it can’t penetrate. Massive, because its end always seems an infinite distance away. I constantly feel that I’m in the middle of it—making no progress towards its end. And then one day, and very unceremoniously, I awake to find I’ve left it behind (or it’s left me). No matter how dark and vast it was, it always ends eventually. Perhaps God lifts me out of it like an emotional search and rescue team, because I never recognize the approach of the end, just that it’s behind me.

When I’m depressed, I feel as though an unreachable part of myself is broken. But the cause of my discomfort won’t show up on an MRI or x-ray. The pain is at once real and intangible—oppressive and insubstantial. I perceive it, but I can’t point to where it hurts—because there is no one place that aches. The pain is nowhere and omnipresent.

Depression is an exasperating enigma. It feels like a puzzle everyone else has been able to solve. It is frustrating because it’s like being restrained by something that isn’t there at all. It feels like starving at a buffet or remaining in a jail cell after being declared innocent. It is sitting in a dark, deep hole with a ladder, but you can’t see—let alone reach—it.

All too often depression doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Too many find it impossible to reconcile with our fast-paced, wealth/success/pleasure-driven world. We tend to avoid our more difficult feelings, so depression gets denied and dismissed. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, but many feel (or act) as though it is.

Depression is not a failure just as winter is not a mistake among the seasons. Denying depression is like expecting summer to supply snow or autumn to bear blossoms. And just as the world has rain, wind, cold, and sun, your emotional life exists on a vast spectrum. Certainly some feelings are easier to experience while others are more challenging to endure, but all of them have rights to your time and attention.

Depression is not a weakness. In fact, it takes great strength. For someone who is depressed, even the easy parts of life require effort. It is hard work to reside in the darker parts of yourself. It takes great courage to admit you’re broken or to seek help.

Too often depression gets minimized or glossed over because it hasn’t earned the respect afforded most physical diseases and injuries. But just because I can’t point to exactly where it hurts, show you how I’m broken on an x-ray, or prove I’m sick by taking a blood test, doesn’t mean I’m okay and it’s all in my head. I mean it is all in my head, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Not everything that resides in your mind is imaginary.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).

Motherless on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day will always be a little dark for me. Even if I try to reside in the brightness of my fond memories, there is no way to escape also reflecting on what I’ve lost. I have buried two of the mothers in my immediate family—my mother and hers. No matter how sunny the day, no matter how filled with joy others are, a part of me must mourn.

I have been motherless for more than a decade now, and not every holiday is hard. Sometimes I feel more guilt or surprise at the absence of sadness than sadness itself. In some ways the loss grows easier to bear, but in other ways it grows larger. There are fewer memories at the forefront of my mind. There is a greater expanse of time between now and when she was alive. She remains the most important woman in my life, but I grow farther from her in time. I wear her wedding ring, but nothing smells like her anymore. I see flickers of her in my siblings, but her voice is gone. I cannot seek her opinion or find myself lost with her in a deep conversation. Her hugs are irreplaceable. I even miss her horrendous atonal singing. (She may have been tone-deaf, but that did not temper her enthusiasm. She knew that God hears even the most discordant voice singing His praise as beautiful.)

There are many who are motherless on Mother’s Day. Some never knew their mother, others enjoyed (tolerated, or endured) their mother into old age before they lost her, and others (like me) lost their mother somewhere in the middle—much earlier than expected. Whether the wound of death is fresh or time has transformed it into a sensitive scar, there are many who must face Mother’s Day without a mother.

The last time I went to the cemetery on Mother’s Day, I saw just how many of us there are. The grounds looked like a traffic jam—overrun with a grave parade of mourners. So many had come to pay their respects. The atmosphere was heavy with loss and love. One family, just a few plots over, broke from the customary solemnity and made it a party. Rather than bringing their tears and long faces, they brought lawn chairs, soda, pizza, and music—festivity. We all find different ways to remember, honor, and love. Loss is not the same shade on everyone.

I wish everybody could have a wholly happy Mother’s Day. It’s one thing to mourn when others are mourning, but being blue when others are celebrating is as uncomfortable as choosing the hottest day in July to wear your warmest winter boots. So this is for anyone who has mixed feelings on Mother’s Day—anyone for whom this day is complicated—regardless of what dilutes your joy with sadness. Even at your happiest your heart may harbor heaviness. Your feelings may not match everyone else’s. There are some whose brightest emotions come in darker shades. Not everyone looks forward to Mother’s Day.