When I was 22 I was diagnosed with seasonal depression. After the “season” had passed and I went off my medication I quickly learned that for me this wasn’t a seasonal illness. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had full blown depression and would remain on a low dose anti-depressant for the 5 years that followed. I’ve wondered since childhood if I had some form of attention deficit. My inability to focus was especially obvious in college and seminary. I decided to consult a psychiatrist to learn more about myself. She informed me that this was actually anxiety and it served as depressions “evil twin.” She increased my dosage and I was AMAZED at how much better I felt.
Three years have passed since my anxiety diagnosis and all seemed to be going well. That is, until tragedy struck and I was informed that our first child would not in fact be our first BORN child. The tears made sense to me. The physical pain of the procedure made sense to me. The grief made sense to me. What I wasn’t prepared for was all the added baggage. I started back to work just two weeks after losing my child. I was so proud of myself for taking time away to heal. Two weeks to heal. Sounds crazy when I say it now. During those two weeks I was still immersed in trauma and was still physically healing from my D&C. I needed more time.
Over the next few weeks I would come into the office and work until I began crying which was usually around lunch. My coworkers were so kind and gave me so much grace. I would come home around 1pm and sob until James got home from work. I continued in therapy every week and I wasn’t getting better. I realized I was in the deepest depression I’d ever been in. Depression compounded with grief has been unreal. I started researching my pain and learned that doctors are finding women who experience miscarriage are also prone to postpartum depression. I brought this up to my therapist and she had an obvious look on her face as if this was common knowledge. She shared that she thought this was very congruent with my feelings.
So here I am, clinical depression, postpartum depression, and grief. In the midst of realizing all my sufferings I also realized I wasn’t able to handle typical stressors of ministry. As pastors we must be able to handle push back on a myriad of things. I couldn’t do this. Any slight criticism and I was in a puddle of tears. My brain was so tied up with grief that I had no emotional energy to spare. Though my colleagues were allowing me space, I needed more. I knew I had to resign. It was far from an easy decision, but I know it was right. My boss offered me a leave of absence, but I don’t know how long I’ll need. Jesus went away for 40 days, and I’m sure I’ll need at least that long. Leaving my students was very painful. They’ve helped me grow in so many ways. This isn’t a step away from ministry, it is a step away from FULL TIME ministry. I’ll still be volunteering, serving, and protesting systems of injustice. I get to still be involved on my terms and on days when my depression and grief aren’t as debilitating.
A lot of people have asked me what I’ll do with this time. What does “clergy transitional leave” even mean? The honest answer is, I’m still figuring that out. For now, I’m going to open up that prayer book the bishop gave me when I was commissioned. I’m going to light the candle in my sabbath box and enter into a time of listening to my creator. I’m going to curl up in the prayer shaw given to me by Hayes Barton United Methodist Church and try to embrace this time of liminality. I’m going to try to balance the beauty of God’s creation with the horror and loss of 2019.