by Beth Saadati
The downward spiral started with a TV interview. At least that’s what I think. Not with speaking—an insane amount of grace covered that—but with reclining in the comfort of my home, seeing myself on screen, and hearing the story of a daughter’s death.
Everything about it seemed impossible. Surreal.
How can that be me? screamed a voice inside my head. That's not the story I EVER wanted to be given to share.
Or maybe it goes back to June. To all the graduation ceremonies—to celebrate my students, who were also my daughter’s friends—and seeing, at the final one, the chair marked with an unworn cap and gown where Jenna should have been.
Then again, perhaps it’s about a prayer I’d prayed a couple months before. That I would UNDERSTAND what in the world had gone wrong four years ago. I know. That request is right up there with praying for patience. No Ph.D. degree required to know what happens when we ask to grow in THAT.
Regardless of what it was, depression set in. Big time. (Regretfully, I’d stopped doing several of the things that had previously helped me keep it at bay.) For the first time since Jenna’s death—where a wave of grief crests then recedes approximately once a week—it clung to me and refused to leave.
Call me blind, but at the time I had little idea why. Looking back—because hindsight is (sometimes?) 20/20—I can better see the triggers that encouraged depression to obnoxiously worm its way in:
- The gloom of winter. Shortened days. Lack of sun. Less vitamin D. Trees without leaves. And women wearing scarves—the implement that ended my teenager’s life. Need I say more?
- A guest speaker. His story was powerful. I hung on every word. But after the church service he told my husband it took eight years before the sting from his young-adult son’s suicide left. A counselor had told me it’s typically four or five. Eight years means I might only be halfway there. (And oh...oh, Bon Jovi, I’m livin’ on a prayer.)
home with a former student/longtime family friend. Hearing
his stories, stopping for ice cream, laughing, catching up. The drive back from
Clemson University was, hands down, the highlight of my week. But I awoke at 2
a.m.—painfully aware that MY should-be freshman wouldn’t be coming back for Christmas
break, that her collegiate tales wouldn’t be filling my home, that once again
I’dwe’d be missing out—and couldn’t return to sleep.
- Christmas trees. I used to love them. Someday I will. But in my final memory of Jenna, she’s standing beside our tree and saying she’d be back soon before walking out the front door never to return.
- A stack of Christmas cards. Talk about bittersweet. While I’m honored that friends would remember to send family photos when I no longer do--please keep sending them!--and I delight in seeing their beautiful families grow up, it’s one more reminder that my family will never (on this side of heaven) be complete.
- The holiday season. Vivid memories of my final weeks with my first-birthed girl come rushing back each year—of singing carols and opening presents and life being happy and right…until, without warning, everything changed on that one horrific night. And I replay them all.
That’s all it took for things to get, well, dark. For my words—both written and spoken—to dry up. For bitterness to root. For hopelessness to overwhelm me. For that nagging question—how can God redeem this?—to mock the faith that’s carried me through.
The crazy thing is, I don’t think anyone other than my husband could tell much was wrong. On the outside, the depression wasn’t too hard to hide. I still smiled, meandered through the motions, and (mostly) stayed involved.
But on the inside, depression’s lying accusations wouldn’t let go:
- “You’ve failed as a mom.”
- “What do you have to offer other teens? You couldn’t even save your own.”
- “Everyone’s tired of hearing about this. There’s nothing more to say, no story to tell.”
- “You’re not strong enough.”
- “You’re broken.”
- “You’re replaceable.”
- “Nothing you do matters. In the end, none of it amounts to much.”
And the biggest lie of all, the one I really don’t want to admit:
- “Maybe it’s time to go. Maybe it would be better to no longer exist.”
Even though I felt helpless to change it, deep inside I knew my thinking was pretty tangled up.
First, because despite how true the thoughts sounded, they didn’t match who God says I am.
Second—this probably sounds small, but it was a ridiculously large red flag to me—because I’d avoided Christmas carols for five weeks. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the hap-happiest time of the year.” Ugh! Nevertheless, zero Christmas songs is abnormally weird.
Instead, I survived the season by replaying Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” possibly two hundred times. Yep. Because, in addition to the screamer, “Don’t you know that you need somebody!” at the end, there’s that one spectacular, hope-filled line: “Nothing lasts forever—even cold November rain.”
My husband suggested I talk with a counselor. It was wise advice, but my stubborn self-sufficiency—“I know everything he’ll say, so I’ll handle this myself”—kept me away.
“If you won’t go,” he said, “at least tell some friends.”
Tell some friends. Hmmm. That was a more difficult decision, because my people are some of my favorites on the planet—friends who accept me, love me, and want to step into my mess.
- Who talks about depression? I wasn’t sure ANYONE would understand.
- I didn’t have words for what I was feeling inside.
- Depression is an awkward, uncomfortable topic to bring up. Not to mention that I HATE to ask for help.
- Everyone has struggles and hardships. Pity isn’t something I want.
- I didn’t want to burden others or take up their time.
- Although I’ve had to battle depression since my daughter’s death, it doesn’t define me. At my core, it’s not who I am.
So, yeah, I didn’t reach out, didn’t send any texts, didn’t make any calls.
Thankfully, God pursues us with a relentless love that doesn’t give up.
He gets my foolish ways, so He sent friends to me who asked THE question—“How are you?”—that I couldn’t evade.
I put a damper (major understatement) on a birthday lunch date with one friend, wrecked lovely dinners with two others, and ruined some could-have-been-wonderful conversations with a couple more. But I don’t think any of them minded. In fact, I’m guessing they were glad they could be there—to listen, to let me talk, to gently speak truth to me that finally lessened the lies.
And from it came the understanding I’d asked for about what had happened to my sweet, vivacious girl.
- About how some incidents could create a perfect storm, trigger a downward spiral, and cause Jenna to replay her life through a clouded lens.
- About why she said in her suicide note that she’d felt depressed for a few months (after being blindsided by a
peer’s crushing words) despite the lack of outward signs.
- About how true the lies can sound once they’ve grown in the dark.
- About why Jenna kept the pain inside . . . and how easy it can be to hide.
I’d give anything to rewind the clock. How I wish I would have better understood and recognized the false accusations coursing through Jenna’s mind. How I wish I could have held her tight, looked into her eyes, and reminded her of this:
Depression is real . . . but it LIES.
Life is hard, but there is real hope. Bright moments will come that you won’t want to miss. (As if right on cue, when I typed that a Panera manager walked to where I was seated and asked if I wanted a free pastry. Heck yes!)
Most of all, no matter how dark the thoughts get, no matter how much depression you have to battle, please NEVER make the irreversible choice to end your life.
Instead, let’s talk. And listen. And, together, fight to live fully alive.
Because, despite the claims depression makes, no one can ever be replaced.
[Check out this powerful post, "25 Ways to Fight Back Against Depression," by Sam Eaton at Recklessly Alive.]
[And, while you're there, take a moment to read Sam's other thought-provoking link, "5 Things Christians Get Wrong About Depression." It's definitely worth your time.]