The night I wanted to walk out into the unforgiving winter cold and never come back to my baby, I knew I should have called it what it was.
But I didn’t.
I thought it would pass, and willed it away. But months later, it lingered.
Everyone was so happy for us. They had written for me a story with a happy ending- how could I ruin it?
I did not want to ruin the narrative that as someone who had triumphed over depression before, I was battling it all over again postpartum.
So I denied it. By sheer will, I would be okay. Or so I thought.
Shortly after, I was interviewed by a newspaper from back home. The story was the same as all the previous times- “young doctor battled depression and goes on to lead an inspiring life in humanitarian service.”
Thankfully, after months of struggling through a dark patch of undiagnosed confusion, the move to the States and starting an intense graduate school program helped somewhat. Ironically, the support of an artificial academic environment which I thrived in became its own form of self-medication.
Eleven months later, after a fanfare-filled graduation filled with glitzy achievements, we moved countries again, whizzing through Canada and USA, and back and forth again, through 5 homes in 5 weeks with a toddler in tow. When the glittery dust faded, I became disoriented, homesick and constantly felt ill.
Exhaustion hit. Years of fatigue, stowed away in the trunk, finally caught up and hit the brakes. I found out I was expecting again, and unlike the first pregnancy which went smoothly, this one was marked with utter exhaustion. Unlike before, I now had a toddler to look after full-time, as my husband entered an intense new job. Not being able to drive in a foreign place, it was a struggle to find a sense of community.
Shortly after, I was properly diagnosed with antepartum depression.
Ironically, it was around the same time that I was interviewed on a regional paper about my “success” as the Founder of an international nonprofit and scholar. Everyone was so happy for us- for our upcoming baby, my recent achievements.
But inside, my world was falling apart. I blamed myself- why should I have reason for this mad sadness?
“Oh, you should be so happy that you’re not working.”
“You ought to be grateful to be a stay-at-home mom.”
“You don’t even know how lucky you are.”
The voices, some articulated quite plainly by real people, were deafening. In the night, I felt suffocated by a sense of overwhelming guilt, like a tiny pea squelched under a 6-tonne hippo.
“You’re a terrible mom.”
“Your unborn baby and toddler deserve so much better.”
“Your family would be better off without you.”
When they became so loud in the cold winter nights, I felt that urge to disappear forever, again.
The difference this time was that I wanted help. Soon.
Then, a bizarre phenomenon happened.
Soon after my diagnosis, doors in Canada and the States started to open for me to speak on podcasts, conferences, treatment centers and hospitals about my journey and Kitesong Global.
The discrepancy was jarring- deep inside, I felt most inept to do any sort of inspirational speaking. Yet, God had chosen me in that exact season to do so.
As time passed and the year tipped into the cusp of a new one, I began to reflect on our journeys through struggle, pain and victory. I began to reflect on the narrative that our world so often loves to portray in a success story-
“Person breaks through insurmountable challenge and overcomes and now leads a successful, happy life.”
As I pondered over interviews, past and recent, I began to see that the problem with this narrative is that our lives then become framed in a narrative of straightforward success-post-failure, when in fact, it is a story of chaotic brokenness and great redemption, of bewildering darkness punctuated by unexpected moments of great light.
It’s inspiring when our stories become framed as past challenges being resolved and thus, worthy of celebration. But the problem occurs when the struggle re-emerges in new form- leaving one shocked and ashamed even, and the narrative, devastatingly ruined.
Interviewing me on my struggles in the past tense, usually because I’ve received a recent award or scholarship, reinforces the fairytale ending that depression and our personal struggles are a full stop, rather than a chapter in a book that is still being written.
While it gives exuberant hope for a final release from what can be a haunting, crippling struggle, it also leaves no room for reality- relapse, what I call “failing forward” and moving on.
The truth is, one past victory does not absolve us from harder battles ahead, or discount us from the opportunity to fight for valor and victory again.
Our lives are not a black-and-white pre and post war- every day is a battle for hope, for faith and for joy.
As I walk through the snowy forest behind our home this season (photo attached), I am reminded that winter did not end when 2019 began, just because societal narrative demands that a new year must have a new beginning. Instead, spring will arrive here only in late March, reminding me that we all deserve to give ourselves time and space to journey through our own struggles, even repeated ones, in our own time.
I am learning, that our courage to embrace cyclical seasons of struggles is a strength, not a weakness. Sometimes we fail not because we’ve displeased God or done something wrong. Sometimes, unexpected life-twists or accumulated stresses intensify exponentially and circumvent round our old coping mechanisms and simply demand a newer, deeper way of dealing with them.
Sometimes, after constantly working and grinding day after day for years, God calls us into a season of winter to rest, reflect and be refreshed.
I am learning, that this is exactly how God loves to use us- He brings us through winters before spring, so that the drought and cold can send our roots deeper to be established further, more firmly than ever before.
I am learning, not to doubt our value even in these seemingly fruitless seasons, for He loves to use the broken and the contrite. When we are weak, that is when He becomes strong.
Just because your journey doesn’t fit into the world’s circumscribed narrative, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Instead, it gives us a fresh perspective to see God as our true Author, continually refining the plot and ourselves.
With that, I recently started Kitesong’s podcast in 2019, which are a series of messages and testimonies on hope and faith from my journey, not of success, but through brokenness.
If you are entering the new year, burdened and disappointed from pains carried forward even before January is over, know that God has a different narrative for you. You are not limited by the world’s plot for you to be “happy and successful in the new year”.
As you become the pen in His hand, the pen of the world will lose its grip on you to allow Him to write a fresh adventure of incredible realness and courage, set in His own time and seasons.
For in His book, comes the light that gives us hope, the glory that gives us faith, for a fresh narrative that will challenge even the most circumscribed of plots.
As I navigate through my own brokenness into hope, you’re welcome to join me on a journey of faith on https://www.kitesong.com/podcast. Feel free to share this with your loved ones who need this. Be blessed.