Can I tell you the truth? I'm equal parts excited and totally nervous to share this with you right now.
I'm nervous because, let's be honest, I'm nervous whenever I do anything new. 🙈 But I'm particularly nervous about this because what I want to invite you into over the next week or so is really, really tender for me.
Over the next week, I'm going to be sharing a piece of my story with you that a lot of people wouldn't share with a close friend — let alone share in public, in front of a bunch of people.
But actually, I think the fact that we don't share is why so many of us feel alone in this. I think that's part of why I felt so alone in it.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a little bit.
So, a few summers ago — the summer of 2018, to be exact — was one of the toughest, darkest, saddest, most difficult times of my whole entire life. I found myself in an absolute tailspin of anxiety and depression.
I wanted to share this story with you this week, in particular, because this week is the anniversary of the week I finally decided to ask for help.
And as the anniversary of this season rolls around each year, I always find myself remembering with striking clarity how it all felt. As the weather grows warmer and summer sets in, I always feel a fresh wave of gratitude for the fact that I'm not stuck in that dark place anymore. And I tear up every single time I think of the friends who carried me through it.
I also take this time each year to check in with myself. It's a time when I check in on how I'm doing and when I try to get quiet and really listen to the answer. It's my own personal Mental Health Awareness Time. And this summer, for the first time ever, I want to invite you to join me in it.
This week, we're going to do two things in our little corner of the internet:
1. I'm going to be telling you what really happened that summer. I'm going to tell you the story of my personal mental health journey. And I want to do this because I have a feeling someone in our community is struggling right now and needs to hear that she's not alone in this.
I’ve divided the story up into four parts, and each day this week I’ll be posting the next part of the story. So when you’re ready to hear the next part, just come back to this post. I’ll have the next part added at the bottom.
2. As I tell you what happened, I'm also going to tell you how I was able to get the help I needed.
Along the way, three friends showed up for me in positively life-changing ways. They showed up right when I needed them and carried me through that season. And as much as I possibly can, I want to pass along to you what they gave to me…
My friends encouraged me to get help and then helped me actually get the help I needed, and so if you're in a rough place right now, that's exactly what I want to do for you too.
But before we get into all of that, I first need to tell you what happened that summer.
I want to tell you this story because I have a feeling that someone in our community is struggling right now and feeling alone in her struggle. And so today, I wanted to share some of what I went through so that if that person is you, you know you're not alone.
Part 1: Summer 2018
I am what you'd call an anxious person. I've always known that on some level, but it's only been in the last few years that I discovered I'm literally an anxious person—diagnosably so. When I learned that I struggle with clinical anxiety, so many parts of my life made so much more sense. I wish I would have known this earlier!
For years, I just assumed that the way I felt was normal. Through all of life's transitions—dealing with a job loss, getting married, moving across the country, losing another job, starting a business, moving yet again, losing family members, and making new friends in a brand new, unfamiliar city—I knew that my chest often felt tight, my mind raced as I tried to fall asleep at night, and I could quickly spiral into a pit of imagining a thousand worst-case-scenarios. And I guess I thought everyone experienced stress the same way I did.
I didn't know any different, and so I didn't realize how debilitating it was and how much it affected my life every single day. I also didn't realize that my thoughts were more fearful and frantic than other people's thoughts.
This is partially because my life was so busy. Carl and I walked through so many gigantic life transitions all at once. I had so many things crammed into my day and on my to-do list that I didn't have time to understand what was happening in my heart.
Eventually, when life quieted down on the outside a little bit, I expected the chaos inside me to quiet down with it, but the exact opposite happened.
Since there weren't as many big things going on in my life, my anxiety began to center around smaller things.
I'd have a minor disagreement with a friend and then find myself obsessing about it for weeks. But I figured, that's normal, right? I'd need to make a decision and give a simple yes or no answer, and I couldn't do it. I was convinced that the world would somehow fall down on either side of that decision. But I thought, “Lots of people feel this way!”
I'd crawl into bed each night only to find a pile of worries waiting there for me. Sometimes it was money. Sometimes it was the state of our world — things like global warming, and shootings, and cancer. Often, my fears would center around my family, my loved ones, and how terrified I am of losing them. I'd lay there and sob about losing my parents — both of whom are completely healthy. I was afraid to close my eyes because I was convinced that something would happen to Carl in the night and that I'd lose him too.
More and more things started to weigh on me and keep me up at night, so I doubled down on my efforts to take care of myself. I journaled, spent time with friends, exercised daily, and tried to get as much sleep as possible.
But despite all of the self-care, I continued to deteriorate.
What started as moderate anxiety became all-consuming and then morphed into depression until I was enveloped in a sadness that I couldn't explain or escape.
From the outside, nothing was going wrong in my life. My life was calmer and more steady than it had been in years! Yet, my heart ached. I found my body and my soul grieving as though someone had died or the love of my life had broken up with me.
There was a particular moment in July of that year when Carl and I went to a lake in New Hampshire with my family. I'd realized I needed help by this point, but I hadn't been able to get it yet. And each day I had to wait stretched on like a thousand years. I was truly suffering.
My heart felt hollowed out—dark and echoey. There was a pit in my stomach that wouldn't go away, and there was this ache in my chest that I can only describe as the physical feeling of grief. But while my heart was dark and empty, my mind was anything but. My brain felt like a maze of fun-house mirrors with lights flashing, and music turned up loud. My anxious thoughts confused and consumed me as I stumbled around, trying to find some peace.
And so one afternoon, with this simultaneous emptiness and chaos raging inside of me, I walked down to the dock for a moment alone.
It was a drizzly day, but I didn't care. I paced back and forth across the dock, my insides hurting more and more until it felt like they were going to burst. And then finally, I couldn't do it anymore. I needed to escape. So I jumped in the lake. I kicked off my shoes, took a running start, and leaped into the water, in the rain, with all my clothes on.
My hands clawed through the chilly water, propelling my body forward. I think I thought if I could swim fast enough, I could escape this feeling, even if just for a moment. It was only when I came up for a breath that I realized I was crying — my salty tears sliding down my cheeks with the rain.
(I didn't know until later that Carl was keeping an eye on me during all of this and even thought to take a picture. He knew that while what was happening was deeply painful, there was also something so holy about that moment, and he knew I'd want to remember it. He was so right. I've never shared these photos before, so this feels super tender to me, but I wanted to share a few of them with you today.)
It took a long time for me to figure out what was happening—to wrap words around the things I was feeling and the ways I was struggling. I can see now that that summer, I came face to face with some clinical anxiety I'd been trying to outrun for years. And because my anxiety had gone untreated for so long, it brought along with it its trusty friend, depression.
That summer, three of my friends showed up for me in some incredible ways. As they sat with me, listened to me, encouraged me, and even pushed me, and as they shared their own stories of struggle and victory, they ended up carrying me through one of the darkest seasons of my life.
+ Michelle helped me stop hiding from what was going on in my head and my heart.
+ Hannah normalized this for me — helping me see that I wasn't alone and had nothing to be ashamed of.
+ And Kacie both held my hand and gave me a loving push to get the help I needed.
And so friend, whether you're in a dark season right now or whether you think you're doing okay for the most part (albeit a bit bruised, as we all are, from the last year and a half), I wanted to pass on the beautiful gifts that my friends passed on to me.
Part 2: How I stopped hiding from what was going on in my head and my heart
Yesterday I told you the story of the toughest summer of my life.
That summer, I came face to face with some clinical anxiety I'd been trying to outrun for years. And because my anxiety had gone untreated for so long, it brought along with it its trusty friend, depression.
The truth is, I think I'd been struggling for a long time, but I just hadn't really recognized it.
Parts of my anxiety and depression didn't look the way we usually expect them to, and so I didn't see it for what it was. I also tended to do much better when I was around other people. If Carl was there with me, that meant I wasn't alone with my thoughts. If I was at dinner with a girlfriend, I could focus on her instead of on what was going wrong inside my head.
And so, because of that, for months, nobody realized just how much I was struggling, not even me.
Finally, my best friend Michelle started to pick up on the fact that something was off. Because Michelle has struggled with anxiety and depression in her own life, she knows what to look for. So on the phone one day, she said the very last thing I wanted to hear, “Steph, I think you might be struggling with anxiety or depression — maybe both.”
I pushed back immediately. I told her I was fine. I didn't want that to be true, so I dismissed it.
But as time went on, things didn't get better. They got much worse. What started as moderate anxiety became all-consuming and then morphed into depression until I was enveloped in a sadness that I couldn't explain or escape.
I couldn't explain what was happening, that is, until Michelle spoke up one more time. She said, “Steph, I know you don't want to think about this. But what you're describing to me really does sound like anxiety and depression.”
When I think about the progression my mental health took that year, I always compare it to a trip to the dentist. If you're anything like me, going to the dentist is something you put off for ages. It's just a cleaning, and you know it won't take that long, but still, it's one of those inconvenient things that doesn't fit into your daily routine. It's also kind of unpleasant. So it's easy to put into the “I'll do this later” category in your brain.
That's what I did for the longest time. I set my mental health aside. I powered through. I hoped it was one of those things that would just get better on its own. But just like our dental health, our mental health gets worse with neglect, not better. So when Michelle again brought up the fact that she was sensing some anxiety and depression from my end of the phone, I was long past needing a routine trip to the dentist. I felt like I needed the equivalent of an emergency root canal.
And so that time, instead of immediately dismissing her observation, I found myself praying that she was right. If something was wrong, that meant we could work to fix it. This wasn't just my new normal. I wouldn't have to feel this way forever.
If I was struggling with depression and anxiety, I knew there were resources, therapists, doctors, and medications that could help.
So, I told you a few days ago that three friends showed up for me in huge ways that summer. The first was Michelle. She checked in with me, followed up, and was not satisfied when I brushed her off with a cheery, “I'm fine!”
And so I want to check in on you today.
How are you doing? Like, how are you actually doing? How has this last year been for you? Are you wrestling with anything right now? How is your heart doing? What does life inside your head feel like right now?
Friend, if you're struggling right now — with anything, truly — I want you to know that you're not alone. You also don't have to figure this out alone.
While it took me a minute to realize that I was struggling, and then another minute to reach out for help (which I'll tell you about in a few days!), I am SO glad I finally did.
With the help of some wonderful counselors, doctors, and medicine, I was able to climb out of that dark hole. And not only did I get out, but I'm healthier, stronger, and happier than I was even before all of that happened.
That's the thing about therapy. It's an investment, absolutely, and not an easy one to make. But it not only helps put us back together from whatever it was that's broken or bruised us, it helps us get to the other side, so we're actually better, healthier, and stronger than ever before.
We're better for having walked the journey; we're wiser and stronger because of it. We're healthier, and every single part of our lives and every single one of our relationships benefits as a result. I know mine have.
But again, I'm getting ahead of myself.
I’ll post Part 3 tomorrow. In it, I'll tell you about how I stopped feeling embarrassed and ashamed and scared of what it would mean to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
Sending you all my love x100000000 today, friend,
Part 3: I wasn't crazy, or stupid, or weak, or lazy
So, if you'll let me, I'd love to start by telling you a quick story I heard a few years ago. (Just a heads up: It sounds like it's going to be a cheesy joke, but I promise, it's not! 🤣 )
Here it is:
So, there's a guy walking down the street one day when he suddenly falls into a hole. The hole is deep, and no matter what he tries, he just can't get himself out.
He starts calling up for help and, after a few minutes, a doctor walks by.
“Doc!” he yells up, “I'm down in this hole. Can you help me?” The doctor says, “Sure!” He writes him a prescription, tosses it into the hole, and keeps on going.
Next, a priest walks by. “Father!” the guy yells up when he sees him, “I'm down in this hole! Can you help me?” The priest says, “Of course!” He writes down a prayer, tosses it into the hole, and keeps on going.
Finally, the guy's friend walks by. He yells up when he sees him, “Joe! Hey, Joe, I'm down here in this hole. Can you help me out?”
Joe says, “Of course!” and proceeds to jump down into the hole too!
“What are you doing!?” the man exclaims, “Now we're both stuck in here!”
But Joe shakes his head. “I've been down in this hole before. I know the way out.”
Friend, when you walk through something hard in life, you are then uniquely gifted to jump in that particular hole the next time someone falls in. That's what some dear friends did for me, my friend Hannah in particular. She's the second friend who showed up for me that summer in a profound, life-changing way.
It's so crazy. Hannah had no way of knowing how much this conversation would mean to me.
She and I were talking on the phone about something unrelated when she happened to mention a season of anxiety and depression she'd walked through a few years earlier.
Hannah is such a brilliant, high-achieving, world-changer; I couldn't picture her struggling with anything! But anxiety and depression are a big part of her story.
I asked her to share a bit more, and as she did, she talked about it without any shame, without any embarrassment. She also didn't talk about it like it defines her. She isn't her anxiety and depression. It's something she's had to contend with, sure. But it doesn't have the final say on who she is.
It's also not a deal-breaker or something that had sidelined her in life. It hasn't taken away from her ability to do the important work God has for her to do in the world. It actually seems to have made her even stronger and more equipped to make a difference in people's lives.
Seeing this in Hannah helped me have hope for it in my own life as well.
She helped me see that the fact that I was struggling with my mental health wasn't a reflection of some failure in the past. I wasn't crazy or stupid or weak or lazy or whatever for finding myself in this place. This also wasn't a sign of doom for my future. This wasn't a deal-breaker. It wasn't going to be the end of my story.
Hannah showed me that by sharing a bit of her story with me. I needed to see someone else who had been there and someone else who had made it through. She normalized it for me, and I am so grateful.
And so that's what I wanted to pass on this week to you.
I am so profoundly grateful to those friends who jumped in the hole with me, and if you're in the hole right now, I'm so honored to get to jump in there beside you.
Friend, if you're struggling, you're not alone. This isn't the end of your story. This does not disqualify you. So many of us struggle with anxiety, depression, and a thousand other things — especially after a year like we've just had.
You're not weak for having landed here. And it's not weakness to ask for help.
But we'll talk about that more in Part 4 tomorrow.
Part 4: What happened when I finally asked for help
The thing that's so hard about depression, anxiety, and seasons of struggle, in general, is that when we're in a rough spot, that's precisely the time when we have the least amount of get-up-and-go to ask for help.
Asking for help involves research and phone conversations where you ask about things like insurance. It requires putting on real pants and going in to have a deep conversation with a stranger. When I was in the thick of it that summer, I didn't feel like doing ANY of those things. And so, as I told you, for the longest time, I put it off.
I put it off until things got so bad, and my insides were in so much pain, I just couldn't take it anymore.
So I scraped together all of the energy, courage, and determination I could find and called one of the biggest mental health centers in Nashville. I thought they were surely my best bet.
When the scheduler answered the phone, I told her that I need some help and I'd like to make an appointment with a therapist. Her response felt like a punch to the gut. “I'm so sorry, but we're not taking new patients right now.”
I couldn't believe it. I had finally gotten up all of the courage and energy to find someone, to reach out, and to ask for the help I needed, and they were too busy to help me?
I hung up the phone and called my friend Kacie. I was so discouraged, but she encouraged me to try just one more time — to look up another place, to reach out to just one more person.
She reminded me that this is worth it—that this is the step I need to take if I want to start feeling better.
So I did. I reached out to another counseling center. The good news: They were taking new patients. The bad news: It would be six weeks before I could get in for an initial appointment.
I hung up the phone, totally dejected.
Again, I called Kacie. “I don't know what to do! I finally am here asking for help, and nobody will help me!”
Again, she was sympathetic but encouraging. She reminded me that those six weeks were going to pass anyway and that I might as well have an appointment waiting for me at the end of them.
And then she said the most beautiful thing I've ever had anyone say to me. She said, “Do you want me to call them back and make the appointment?”
That was the moment I realized I didn't have to figure this out by myself. Kacie was in this with me, and also, Kacie was going to make sure I was able to get help. She held my hand, walked with me toward the edge, and told me that we needed to jump. But she promised me she'd be holding my hand all the way down.
And friend, I'm here to be that for you too.
I can't make an appointment for you, but I can do the next best thing and be here cheering you on as you do it. But more on that tomorrow.
Part 5: You don't have to figure this out alone
So many of us think we should be able to figure life out on our own—everyone else seems to have a handle on it, right?
So when we come upon something that feels a little too big for us, when we try to move something out of our way that just will not budge, we feel like we're failing. We feel like we're the only people who just cannot figure this out. But that's just not the truth. Life is hard for everyone. All of us are going through something.
Life is like wandering through an overstuffed furniture store. You can't move more than a few feet without bumping into a sharp corner. We walk through life as carefully as we can, but we emerge on the other side of days, weeks, and seasons with bruises, wounds, and scars deeper than we may even realize.
We all need help with different areas of our lives, whether we reach out for that help or not.
But in the last few years, I've learned that strength isn't proving that I can do it on my own; it's knowing that I don't have to. I'm at my strongest when I have a full support system around me. And for me, an essential part of that support system is therapy.
I was in a major car accident my senior year of high school, and I went immediately into therapy so I could drive again without paralyzing fear. I went into counseling for a season after I went through my worst breakup. I was having a hard time getting past it. I couldn't seem to heal the way I knew I wanted to. So I asked for help.
I spent some time in counseling when Carl and I were first dating. I had a pile of fear and anxiety about marriage I never knew was there, and so I worked it out with a professional.
I did a few months of counseling through Faithful Counseling in the spring of last year as the world was falling to pieces and as Carl and I were going through IVF at the very same time.
And I started up with counseling again a few months ago with a wonderful counseling center that exists to support new moms through the transition to motherhood. We've talked about breastfeeding, and sleep schedules, and hormones, and identity. We've talked about junk from my past, hopes for my future, and a zillion things in between.
Now, maybe I could have gotten through all of these things without help, but also, maybe not, because, for the longest time, I tried to do it on my own! And I know that even if I technically could have made it through these seasons without help, I wouldn't have thrived in the same way. I would have crawled out the other side with bruises and bandages — the aftermath of my DIY job of stitching myself back together.
But our mental health isn't a DIY job. It's too important for that.
Today, because I asked for help and did the work, I've come out of these things stronger and healthier and better than I even went into them. That's what I've found can happen when we ask for the help we need.
So, friend, that's the invitation I want to extend to you. Take a few minutes to reflect on how you're doing these days, how you're really doing.
If you're feeling stuck in a place you just can't seem to get through, if you're hurting in a way you don't know how to heal from, if you're going through a big transition or loss right now, if you're looking for more freedom and healing in your life in general, or if you just want to take a peek into your heart and mind and make sure everything is working the way you want it to, those are great reasons to sign up for counseling.
You do not have to figure any of this out on your own. I haven't, and you don't have to either.
👇 👇 👇
Now, as you're thinking through this and reflecting on where you are right now and what you might be needing, you might have a flood of reservations pop up. I know I usually do.
You might be thinking, “Where the heck would I even find a good counselor?” or “I just cannot afford this right now,” as your time and budget are already feeling stretched to the max.
I think a lot of us are held back by these obstacles. They feel insurmountable, or at the very least, frustrating to try to navigate, and so we just don't.
As you know, I put this off forever, too. But now that I've done it, gone through it, and gotten the help I needed, I can see that I couldn't afford not to do this.
Yes, going to therapy cost me something. It cost me time, and it cost me money. But now, having done it, I can see that the cost of not doing it would have been far greater.
When we don't work through our stuff, we end up having the same fight over and over with our significant other. We're held captive by social anxiety that keeps us from having the deep friendships we've always wanted. Our shame, fear, and insecurity keep us from being able to succeed at the work we're meant to do in the world. We aren't able to find healing and reconciliation with people we deeply love. We're stuck repeating patterns we don't want to repeat — sometimes our own patterns, and sometimes the patterns that have been passed down to us. And that thing that happened to us that one time? It doesn't just affect us for a while. It completely changes the course of our life.
I know how daunting it is to take this step, to even start thinking that you might need help, let alone actually take the step to ask for it. But I can tell you, as someone who has been here, it's worth it.
Friend, thank you so much for letting me share this story with you. It's the best way I could think of to send you a hug — to let you know that you're not alone in what you're going through, that you have nothing to be ashamed of, that even though it sometimes feels like there's no hope and that life is always going to feel like this, that doesn't have to be the case.
There IS hope. You CAN get through this. You just may not be able to do it by yourself. But the good news is, you don't have to.
In your corner today and always,
P.S. If you're not sure how to find a counselor (or how you'd be able to afford counseling), here's a resource that can help! 👇
This is the easiest and most affordable way to find a faith-based counselor that I've ever found. And I actually have a promo code for 10% off that I can share with you! Here's the link for where you can check it out.