I’m writing this just a little after 4 in the morning. I confess this was not within my plan. All of my other posts have been meticulously planned out in my head for months, each with a certain timing, a certain purpose – all part of a much greater plan. But not this one. I had never planned, or even hoped, to write it at all, and certainly not on a different day of the week. I don’t even know that I even have anything specific to teach or that there’s a point – just some random, and perhaps desperate, 4 am thoughts.
But I promised I would be honest and real…and so here I am. You see just after 7am my youngest son, Chase, will be getting up, or perhaps he may not. For the past week it has been quite a struggle and it’s starting to become routine. We wake him up to get ready for school, and sometimes he gets going and sometimes he does not – almost always I end up spending anywhere from 30 minutes to hours, encouraging him that he can make it through at least this day. Welcome to depression.
As I’ve said before, it seems to like to follow my family around and just will not go away. First there was my wife, Melissa – it started in her early teens, just around the same age as 3 of my kids. But then it apexed during the early years of our marriage, and after a bad bout of post-partum depression with one very scary night, I nearly lost her for good. Then, as I’ve shared, in the ensuing aftermath – 1 year later I nearly lost myself.
Then there was my eldest son, Austen, who’d always struggled with self-doubt. But at age 14 things just seemed to go further downhill, and he began to turn to bad friends and bad substance in an effort to ease the pain. And at age 18, the night we kicked him out of the house, I wondered if the next day we’d find him alive.
And, of course, there was Madison, whom we watched in surprise as the optimistic, outgoing girl we once knew, suddenly at age 14 began to hate herself. Instead of substances, she turned to self-harm and eventually attempted suicide. So there were ER visits, several trips to inpatient and outpatient care and finally a couple months in residential – all just to keep her alive.
Each one, fortunately, so far has a happy ending. Melissa, after the scare, got help, recovered and we’ve been married over 25 years. Austen cleaned himself up, moved back in and will be getting married to an awesome young woman in just a few weeks. Madison also recovered, is going to college, will likely very soon even be off all her medications, and is back to being the joyful girl we once knew. Our middle son, Hunter, fortunately, seems to have escaped this unwanted plague. And so we thought we were done.
But now there’s Chase – our happy-go-lucky, go-with-the-flow Chase. He was born not long after Melissa’s bout with post-partum depression and so was a shining light after what had felt like dark days. His middle name “Elijah” seemed to fit because it was the name of someone who never physically died – a sign of life amidst a year that felt surrounded by death. Death even tried to take him through pneumonia a few weeks after he was born but miraculously he survived, and we felt God’s presence through the whole bit.
But not long after he turned (you guessed it) age 14, the idea of dying began to consume his thoughts. And so just when we thought we were through with everything, Melissa and I begin to wonder, “Will this ever stop?”
Interestingly, I’m 47 years old and I have never yet lost anyone really close to me due to death. Sure I have known people who have passed away, but never anyone close. There have been relatives that were at one point close but by the time of their departing it had been years since I’d last seen them – so we were separated by time and space. I have yet to experience what it is like to have someone there, and then they are not.
But here I am with 4 of the 5 people closest to me, almost losing them by their own hand. And I often find myself asking, “Why?” We are the definition nuclear family, eating meals together every day, going to every childhood activity event and to church every week.
And for anyone who doesn’t know us well – no, there are no secret “monsters” in the house to hide. We are exactly as we appear to be or have already revealed. The only monster is depression itself, something over which I have little or no control. And if there’s anything that I have learned from this it’s that, just like this blog, some things just can’t be planned. I can do all I want to meticulously try to make it all match my perfectly planned out goals; but life has a way of choosing its own beat and it’s up to us to learn to adapt.
It’s just that sometimes it’s just plain hard.
I’d love to tell you that I’ve got this all down now, that I’m some kind of hero and I always do it right. Yes, there are days where I’m a spiritual warrior, casting out demons, crying out on my knees and dispelling perfect Godly advice. But there are also days where I want to curl up in a ball, hide way or just veg, hoping life will just figure out itself. And sometimes I get just plain scared.
And yes, we’ve done all the right things you are supposed to do. We have a counselor and psychiatrist who are actively involved. There’s individual therapy and group therapy and been family therapy as well. And we have prayer warriors surrounding us and who have been by our side, even coming to our house to cast the darkness out. And we ask Chase all the right questions to make sure he and others will be safe, so that we can at least take comfort in that.
And still, it is hard.
And as a people pleaser who thrives on making people happy around you, it feels all that much harder still. And for my wife it is equally hard as well because she often unnecessarily blames the biology on herself.
But I take comfort in one simple moment where God showed up. One night when I was praying over Madison when she was in the midst of the worst, I turned to God and said, “I just trust her with you.” But God surprised me when I heard him speak back in a voice, clear as day, “What do you mean, Steve? I appreciate that but the deal is I trust her with you.”
In that moment I wept because I knew what he was saying. He was saying I was made for such a time as this. For out of all the people on this earth God could have chosen to be there for each of them, he chose me. And out of all the parents God could have chosen to be there for these 4 children, he chose us. And though Melissa and I are ourselves imperfect and broken, he was saying he’s given us what it takes. And so as hard as it may be, even when things are unplanned, we just need to offer ourselves as best as we know how and then trust God to take care of the rest.
I’ve been at this writing for a bit now. In just 10 minutes or so Chase will wake up and I have no idea exactly what lies ahead. It may be fine and just like any normal day, or it may be a day where he and I need to go through again our new “routine.” So all I do know is I won’t give up, I won’t stand down, I’ll give it my best and trust God to take it from there. Please pray for us.
*Photo credit: Mathleu Jarry (https://www.flickr.com/photos/impactmatt/502363271)