Stories of Parents Living with Anxiety and Depression
By Kelly Mikhailiuk
“Do you feel anxious, irritable, depressed, or hopeless?”
I heard some version of that question every time I visited a doctor’s office. By the time I gave birth to my fourth child, I must have answered it a hundred times.
“Nope.” Not me.
I believed I was telling the truth.
I had seen how anxiety and depression affected people close to me — my mom, my sister, my aunt. But I wasn’t prone to panic attacks or dark moods, and my worries didn’t keep me awake at night. (In fact, I could fall asleep anywhere if I got five minutes of peace.) Sure, I was exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed — but what mom of four isn’t, right? I just needed to be more organized, get back in shape, pray more, try harder, etc., etc.
I’m supposed to be able to do this, I thought. Millions of other parents manage to live busy lives with lots of kids and hold it all together — why can’t I? If I could just figure out the secret, I would be fine.
Then, one sunny April morning, I went in for my annual physical exam. I dismissed the screening question as always, but something wasn’t right. My blood pressure was elevated; my pulse was too fast. My head started spinning. I struggled to answer my doctor’s questions. I struggled to breathe.
“I’m sorry!” I stammered, “I don’t know what’s wrong. I looked into my doctor’s keen, compassionate eyes. She knew.
Although my panic attack that morning was mild, it convinced me something was wrong. With the help of my doctor — as well as my husband, mom, sister, and several friends — I was able to see symptoms of anxiety disorder that I had ignored or rationalized for years.
I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember and with depression since high school. In the past 10 years I’ve walked through many difficult seasons where I needed additional help through counseling and medication. Anxiety and depression run in my family, so I am blessed with an understanding, gracious support system. My husband Ben — who has known me since I was 4 — also struggles with seasons of depression, so marriage and parenthood can be really diffi cult sometimes.
Ben and I have always wanted kids, so when we found out we were expecting our fi rst child, we were ecstatic. I knew I might struggle even more with anxiety and depression postpartum, but it still took me by surprise. I came home from the hospital with my baby and cried for an hour in my mama’s lap because of all of the anxiety I felt about being a good mama to my beautiful baby boy.
I adore my son. I love taking care of him, sitting on the fl oor crashing toy cars or reading books. He’s a very happy guy. Even so, some days all I can do is meet the basic physical and emotional needs of my toddler — forget about laundry, cooking, etc. I am learning to seek help from my spouse, family, and church family when I need it, rather than trying to push through on my own.
I don’t take my support system for granted. I know many people aren’t surrounded by loved ones and a church community that is understanding toward their struggles. Our church family has cared for basic needs, met us for coff ee, prayed for us, shared their own struggles with us, and reminded us of the gospel. Our pastor speaks openly about his own struggles with depression; he calls it his personal “life-long limp.” Other moms and dads have shared their struggles with anxiety and depression in parenting — and although those stories don’t “fi x” anything, they spur us on.
I continue to pray that the stigma surrounding mental illness will disappear through the love and grace of the body of Christ. I share my struggle because I don’t want anyone to feel alone or without help. I have seen God use my struggles to connect me to others in a precious way that can point to Him.
When our fi rst child was born in 2005, we experienced almost every major life stressor — except death and divorce — in a span of 3 weeks. I quit a job I loved, we moved to a new town for my husband’s job on a church staff , we left a strong community of family and friends, and our fi rst child was born. Whew!
Since this was all new and exciting, I wasn’t aware of the stress I was walking through. But once our sweet baby boy arrived, I plummeted. I didn’t realize it at the time, nor did my husband. The newborn days were supposed to be hard, right? There were fi ts of rage, screaming, hair-pulling, reclusive behavior, uncontrollable crying — and I’m not talking about the baby! This roller coaster continued for months. We chalked it up to our inexperience.
Finally after 8 months, I hit an all-time low. I remember the day vividly. I called my husband at work, and I had just had it with our son. I was at my wits’ end, so I told Jamie that we needed to give our son to someone. Yes, I was ready to give him away. In my mind, I had the perfect plan. I said, “Jamie, let’s just give him to my parents or your parents because they love and enjoy him. Or, if that doesn’t work out, I know we could find someone else who would love him.” Yes, those were my words.
It’s almost too painful to write this. I can see clearly now what I could not see then; I was very sick. But God graciously intervened through my husband and our pastor. Jamie did for me what I could not do in my own strength: he got me help.
A few hours later, an amazing, godly counselor who was part of our church showed up at the door with my husband. The Lord used her to save my life. With her experience and expertise, she explained to me that postpartum depression was what I had been battling for 8 long months.
I talked to my doctor and started antidepressants immediately. At first I felt ashamed. Christians don’t take antidepressants, right? My godly physician friend reminded me that if I were diabetic, I would not hesitate to take the needed insulin. My brain was sick, and, by God’s grace, there was medicine to help me. Within a few weeks, I was night-and-day different. There were still struggles, but there were so many good days with my husband and with our son — and two more sons God has blessed us with since then! God was and is gracious and mighty; He saved my life.
Postpartum depression is in my past, but it is still a part of who I am. When I first shared my story, I was surprised at how many women I knew came out of the woodwork. They were fellow strugglers and overcomers. Their stories gave me hope. I follow in their footsteps and share my story with you in hopes that you will share your story; it will encourage others.
Darkness and Light
Everyone has a story. Perhaps, like myself and many other sisters and brothers, mental illness is part of your story; perhaps your darkness is different. Whatever shadows you walk through, you are not alone. Behind every Instagram filter and every “I’m fine” is a broken person fighting for hope in this broken world. As Christians, we fight the battle knowing the war is won. The light of Christ has broken through (2 Cor. 4:6). Even on days when we can’t see through the darkness, the light of God’s grace and glory radiates from the face of Christ and shines through our broken places.
Kelly Mikhailiuk is a stay-at-home mom and editorial freelancer. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, Taras, and their four young children.
This article originally appeared in ParentLife Magazine (January 2018) ParentLife.