Soaking in the goodness of the gospel, I started dating my husband. He too had grown up in a similar spiritual community to mine, and he too, through other ways, had been awakened to the gospel in his mid-twenties. Together we rejoiced in all the ways the gospel was changing everything for us.
Still, I experienced a lot of anxiety in our long distance relationship. We got married and I relocated to the US to live with him (I had been in my home country up till that point). We joined a new church, and I brought a lot of the old patterns I had had before, into this church relationship. I pursued being in good relationship with spiritual authority and I think in the stress of transition and change, some of my religious OCD flared up. Intense fear and anxiety dominated a lot of my relationships with leadership. I read a lot about humility and fear of man. In many ways, the entry gate for all my problems at the time, was sin. I was struggling, and I didn’t even consider whether this was the result of suffering and brokenness. Mostly, I only saw my sin. And I did everything to put off the pride that led me to experience so much fear of man. And while it may have been part of the problem, now I see it went deeper.
Among other things, I had a dysfunctional view of spiritual authority, I don’t know that I could name it that way then, but it was functionally true. In some ways, especially related to spiritual authority I very much lived as if my good standing with them depended on me.
At that time, my first daughter was born and intrusive thoughts regarding her safety started to become the norm. At first they were more white noise than anything. I tolerated them and didn’t identify how much they were ruling me. Five months after she was born, many things collided to create a perfect storm: postpartum/breastfeeding hormones, walking with a friend through a terrible tragedy, and an infection and the antibiotics that followed. I began to feel darkness engulfing me and hopelessness was very near.
Intrusive thoughts became loud and persistant. I was terrified of them. If you have ever experienced post-partum darkness you might know what I mean. More than anything, I longed to keep my daughter safe and it seemed like thoughts with ways she might get hurt, (sometimes even me being the cause of her pain) kept coming like a flood. I started to fear I was going crazy. Literally. I feared one day Child Protective Services would come and deem me unfit to care for my daughter and take her away.
At that time, I also started questioning my salvation. I hadn’t struggled with assurance for about 19 years, and yet, here I was at 30 years old, so rattled in my faith. Up to this point I had still had confidence in my ability to live as a believer. But this struggle? Man, it undid me.
I started having panic attacks almost every night right as I was about to fall asleep. I would wake up with my heart racing and have this awful sense of doom. At one point, a well meaning mentor told me she thought I was depressed. And that sent me to a spin of more anxiety and shame. I was ashamed of what I thought was my weak faith.
It all seemed to be revealing who I really was. I despaired of myself.
The Lord sustained me in so many ways during that season through my husband, friends who cared for me and my baby, and meals from sisters in the church. The Word was my lifeline. And while I realized I was too weak to fight – I could hide behind Christ and let him fight for me.
Psalm 3 was a special comfort to me then. He was my shield and the lifter of my head. I would later understand why that resonated so much with me.
Eventually, the storm subsided. One day, I woke up and the panic I had felt almost every day for three months, before I even opened my eyes, was gone. The struggle had lifted.
But I was really shaken. Where could I find strength to live with joy and confidence? What would I do with all that I thought this fight had revealed about who I really was?
I believe that this profound post partum darkness and all it entailed was the gateway for me to experience a life-saving reality that I desperately needed to begin to grasp. It was mine already, I just didn’t know it. My warrior was intent on rescuing me and I was about to discover just how complete and mind-blowing his rescue was.