Like other kids in the eighties, I grew up wearing scrunchies and jelly shoes, and was a fanatic of the New Kids on the Block thanks to my older sisters. Born and raised mostly in Michigan, I lived like most kids in the midwest–enjoying the four seasons amidst bike rides after school and playing with neighbor kids. We lived in a safe suburban town outside of Detroit.
In a family of strong women and two older sisters, at home I was the somewhat quiet one, although with friends my bubbly and outgoing nature showed. With a really sensitive conscience, I aimed to please my parents and others. My family was heavily involved in church and ministry activities, so I loved going to church, being involved in youth group and helping out in Awana. At the age of twelve while sitting in our church’s yearly missions conference, I knew God was calling me to serve him somewhere on the mission field when I grew up.
Although I always sought out friendships, middle school proved to be a lonely time and was marked by a significant struggle with anxiety. Each night, I couldn’t stand the thought of being the last one awake in the house. Around bedtime, a growing sense of panic started in my stomach and motivated me to hurry to bed. But the same stress to quickly get to bed also wired me and made it hard to fall asleep. I remember many nights laying in bed overcome with dread and the sense of lonesomeness that came with the realization that I was indeed the last one awake. This went on for months. I don’t think I ever told my parents about it.
High school began and at the Christian school I attended, life was a blur of drama club, volleyball, and student council. However, the summer before my sophomore year of high school was when I remember having my first suicidal thoughts. I stood staring out my bedroom window and wished my life would end. Later as an adult, I would come to understand that this was connected to sexual abuse that happened during my freshman year of high school.
I didn’t realize the pattern at the time, but despairing, suicidal thoughts showed up often the night before my monthly cycle would start. This happened often but not every month. It was years before I figured out what this was and was diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
High school went on and amidst school, teaching Sunday school at church and hanging out with friends, I continued to struggle with dark thoughts. No one who knew me then would have guessed it by my bubbly personality, outgoing nature, and constant smile. I hid it well. Low self esteem showed itself in an eating disorder tendency and a series of unhealthy dating relationships. In spite of the mess inside, I still wanted to pursue serving God with my life. My mom suggested I apply to Moody Bible Institute. It thrilled me to find out I’d been accepted at Moody and would be moving to downtown Chicago for college.
College in Chicago proved to be an amazing experience! I loved every minute of the socializing, Bible classes and city living in spite of the undiagnosed PMDD that crept in at times. I can now see clearly how it negatively impacted my first dating relationship in college which, through God’s leading, ended the following summer.
During the fall of my sophomore year of college, I remember waking up and not wanting to get out of bed because of the heartbreak over that relationship ending. The devastation I felt left me wondering if life was worth living. But God met me in such a personal way through that broken heart. I knew I loved God and had a relationship with Him since the age of four, but that time in college drew me into a deeper relationship than I’d had before.
Not long after this, while working at the reception desk one afternoon in the men’s dorm, I met the man of my dreams and soon after fell in love. Nine months from when I met Jim, we got engaged on a beautiful day in September. While I finished my Elementary Education degree at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, he attended flight school in Tennessee. But my up and down moods wreaked havoc on our long distance engagement. After a particularly rough talk on the phone one night, I emailed Jim and gave him an “out,” telling him that I didn’t know if I would ever be emotionally “normal.” Even though I didn’t know what PMDD was at the time, I knew that my monthly cycle turned me into a different, difficult person. I couldn’t guarantee it would ever get better and wanted him to know he could walk away if he wanted to. Not knowing what to expect in response, I nervously checked my email the next morning and was met with overwhelming response of unconditional love and a literal “I’ll run after you.”
As I anticipated my wedding the spring of my junior year of college, a friend came to visit me at college. I couldn’t explain to her the sadness I was feeling at a time in my life when I should have been the happiest. It mystified me.
Fast forward to just after getting married. Due to a moped accident, I laid in a hospital bed with a broken ankle and a blood clot. I prayed and asked God to please let me die. Marriage proved harder than I thought and I was having a difficult time adjusting to not living in the dorms with all of my friends. In the fall of my senior year of college, and as a newly married student, I felt like I was in a glass bubble looking out with my face pressed against the glass. I felt strangely disconnected from even my closest of friends at Moody.
I finished my degree and we moved to Tennessee for Jim to resume his flight training (he had taken a year off so we could get married). In Tennessee, we walked into a stressful life situation in which we also welcomed our first child. Around the time my son was three months old, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. You can read more about my experience here. The funny thing to me was that when I was diagnosed with depression, I remember thinking, “Oh, there’s a name for this? I have felt this way lots of times before now.”
As Jim finished flight school, we pursued looking into a ministry where he could serve God using aviation. Alaska kept popping up as a possible place to go. We both had huge reservations, but God was opening our eyes to the needs that existed in the tiny villages of Alaska and Canada. Deep down, I kept hoping God would close the door on Alaska, showing me that I couldn’t hack it there. However, the door kept opening wider and wider. Family expressed concern because they knew what a rough time I had after my first son was born. But overall, they wanted God’s will for our lives which definitely ended up including Alaska. As we prepared to move north, God kept reminding of the 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I never would have guessed that moving to such a remote place would result in the most incredible breakthrough in my struggle with depression. I go into quite a bit of detail in this post. From that time on, I have received countless hours of counseling and read innumerable books on becoming emotionally healthy. God continues to reveal health and dietary issues, as well as emotional hang-ups that cause my depression to keep coming back. I still struggle at times and might for awhile due to PMDD, but I know without a doubt that nothing has pulled me closer to God than this suffering in my life.