30 Jan SNAPSHOTS, part 1
*We are excited to share from Johanna! This week and next week, we will share some of the snapshots of her life that she has felt compelled to share with others through her own social media outlet. We are so encouraged by her bravery and vulnerability to share hard parts of her life with others and hope that you will be as well!
For a couple of years I had been wanting to share my experience with chronic pain, depression, and addiction, though I wasn’t sure how to go about it organically. A close college friend came to visit when I was at the height of my addiction, just days before my inpatient stay, and she said something I’ve never forgotten:
“If I would’ve thought anyone had it all together, it would be you.”
I never sought out to appear as though I had everything together, and clearly nothing was further from the truth, but is that the image I was somehow portraying? I always knew if I made it to the other side that I would share my experience in hopes of helping others. I just wasn’t sure I would make it…
My daughter took an unremarkable photo this summer. But it was only later when I looked at it that I realized she had actually captured something pretty remarkable. My only social media account is Instagram, and that evening I felt compelled to share a little bit about my journey with depression. I asked my husband if he minded, and then I pressed ‘share.’ Within minutes, something I always knew in my heart was confirmed. People are struggling. Life is hard.
Soon after I began going through old photos that were once too painful for me to even look at. I would go back to that day, sit with the feelings evoked by the picture, and I would write. The following are essays I’ve written on a variety of topics:
I’ve battled depression since I was about six months postpartum with my daughter, Sophie. Over the years it has ranged from suffocating, to barely there, and everywhere in between. Although the darkness is mostly light now, every once in awhile I have a week where it feels like I’m drowning and I can’t come up for air. But then I do. By God’s grace, through a good talk with an old friend, listening to my kids play and laugh, taking a walk, or any number of things; not the least of which is my husband Jimmy – always steady, never wavering, just loving me through. And soon enough, life is light again. Then as I swiped through photos, deleting what seemed like 100 pictures that my daughter had taken, I realized something…she had captured the fog lifting, on an ordinary summer night.
On chronic pain, depression…
This is one of those pictures that, no matter how many phones I’ve smashed to pieces, manages to always show up on the next phone. For years I would almost delete it because it brought back so much pain for me. But when I see it now, I feel immense gratitude and relief over how far I’ve come. I had chronic migraines for 6.5 years, and the doctors could never say which caused which, but what they could say for sure is that the migraines and depression exacerbated each other and it became one vicious cycle. The migraines kept me in bed for days, sometimes weeks, at a time; sent me to the ER about once a month; and caused me to see the top neurologists and Mayo Clinic for spinal taps and MRIs and MRVs. We tried chiropractors and natural doctors and herbal remedies and rounds and rounds of Botox.
And all. the. pills. So. many. pills.
Eventually I became addicted to pain pills and am only alive by God’s grace and through the unconditional love and support of mine and Jimmy’s family. I went through rehab and outpatient programs and support groups, all of which was vital to my now 3.5+ years of recovery. I say all that to say this…the blackness of depression was worse by far than any physical pain I ever felt. I distinctly remember feeling jealous of my five-year-old because she could get up, get herself dressed, eat breakfast, go to school, come home and play, do her homework, all with a smile on her face and endless energy. I managed to do little more than stare at a wall all day. Taking a shower was a major accomplishment. Yet I did manage to drag myself out of bed to meticulously iron the pleats in Sophie’s skirts (but that’s a whole other level of crazy).
I share these things for a couple reasons, I think. First, I am not ashamed. But I was. I was filled with so much shame, especially over the addiction, and I thought I was irreparably broken. I felt so alone. But now I feel nothing but gratitude for it. Because I’m different. And my eyes are opened. Another reason I share is because things aren’t always what they seem. It’s so easy to look at Instagram feeds and feel other or less than. I have to check myself in that area all the time. But honestly, I’m gonna put up a cute picture of my kid over my dog’s diarrhea. Cause who wants to see a picture of that? But the dogs have accidents, my baby screams his head off, my daughter talks back to me, I lose my patience. Some days that all happens before I’m out the door for work.
But back to this picture… My parents were always honest with us about the hard and the holy in life. They didn’t hide their mistakes. They shared them with us in hopes we wouldn’t make the same. And that’s all I want to do for my kids. I see this picture of me and my baby girl, just 5 at the time. I was a mess, physically and emotionally. But there I was. Showing up the best I knew how that day. Some days I couldn’t show up at all. Those were the darkest. But this little girl’s light guided me through the night, and for that I am most grateful.
On twelve-step programs…
I sat in countless meetings and said, “Hi, my name is Johanna. I’m an addict.” HI JOHANNA. (It’s pretty much what you see on TV) And for awhile that was my identity. I thought it defined me, that I had to keep repeating it to myself so that I didn’t forget. But one day I said wait, I’m so much more than an addict. I’m a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a friend, a teacher, A CHILD OF GOD. What if I reminded myself of these things more often? What if these were the things I wouldn’t let myself forget? From then on, I viewed things differently. I won’t forget about the addict part. I can’t afford to. Because addiction is an all-consuming monster that would have eventually killed me. But it no longer defines me. I refuse to let it.
In my groups and meetings, I was often the only one who believed in God. “Why?” they would ask. The answer is simple: I’m here. I’m alive. No human power could ever have saved me. I know because mine and Jimmy’s family gave everything they had trying. Picturing my baby girl in a black dress crawling inside her mother’s casket couldn’t save me. There is no other answer. Only God. And that baby boy I’m holding in my arms? Now he’s a pure miracle.
On chronic pain, addiction…
To give a little insight into my mental state, at the time this photo was taken, I remember thinking my arms looked fat. It was August 2013, and I had just spent 3 weeks in Arizona getting testing done at Mayo Clinic. After $50,000 worth of tests, my sister and I sat in the chief neurologist’s office as he told me I had chronic migraines. I thought, “Great. I already knew that. That’s why I’m here.”
He went on to say there was no way to get rid of them, that we could only try to treat them. He then quadrupled the dosage of two of my medications, and that was that. I walked out that door feeling so defeated. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and die. For 3.5 years, not one day went by that I didn’t have pain in my head. Sometimes it was tolerable, other times unbearable, but my head never for one second didn’t hurt. The next 9 months were a hell on earth, for me and those around me. I basically gave up. I didn’t want to see any more doctors, do any more research, try a medication for the 5th time and hope for different results; none of it. I just wanted to swallow away the pain, one pill at a time. And that’s what I did. Soon I could not physically function without pills in my system, upwards of 30-40/day at times. My doctors told me I shouldn’t still be here, that God must have a reason for keeping me around.
In those next few months I would go to rehab, relapse, go back into treatment, see another top neurologist (who would correctly determine that my serotonin levels were depleted postpartum and start me on a medication that would treat my depression and help keep the migraines at bay), and finally come back to life. And by God’s grace and by putting in the work, I am 3 years, 8 months and 2 days free of pain pills.
I think it goes without saying that was a dark time in our marriage. The darkest dark. It truly felt
like no good could come of it. But when I had completely given up, Jimmy put aside his own pain and carried me until I could walk on my own two feet again. Also, literally. He carried me to the bathroom so many times when I was too weak to get there on my own.
And so we’ve learned, this is love. Through the good times. Through the bad times. Through the times when everything comes crashing down around you. And the funny thing about the hard times is they make you acutely aware of the good times; so much so, that, in the end, you wouldn’t even trade them if you could. Because how could we ever know easy without first knowing hard? And how could we ever see all that light shining through the cracks before first having to put the pieces all back together?
*Read part 2 of Johanna’s story here to hear more from Johanna as she shares more snapshots of how the Lord has walked with her through various seasons of life!