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Divorcing Guilt from Depression

“God, I can’t do this. Please take her before I screw her up.”

I was sobbing as I huddled on the floor, back wedged into the corner of my parents’ office. I was numb from exhaustion, almost too tired to blink. I had carried her downstairs so that she wouldn’t wake anyone else up.

My 5-year-old daughter lay in the middle of the floor, kicking her legs, rocking on her back, rolling from side to side, and yelping happily. Wide awake. At 2am.

So many nights were like this. It never failed. In what felt like mere seconds after I fell asleep, I’d hear her start making her happy noises, loud and persistent happy noises. I’d lay in a state of half-sleep, begging God for her to go back to sleep so I wouldn’t have to get up. Most of the time, she’d ramp up the whining and the volume, irritated that no-one else was up partying with her. I’d drag my weary cranky body out of bed to make sure she wasn’t in a bad position or laying in a puddle of vomit or bleeding out her nose, and plead with her to be quiet and go back to sleep.

Sometimes I was angry and bitter. Sometimes my words and my tone were harsh, graceless.

I endured years of nights like this and days thick as mud and heavy as an 80-lb pack.

Looking back, I can see that this chronic exhaustion cloaked years of low-grade depression.

Very few people talk about the grief that parents of children with special needs experience. It is a cyclical thing, recurring every time their child experiences a setback or another child their age reaches a major milestone. Raising a child with special needs changes your life in countless ways. A simple trip to the grocery store is no longer simple. Priorities invert. Death lurks in your mind’s corners, haunting every step.

My daughter’s needs were significant. I didn’t let myself step back and evaluate much — I didn’t have a spare moment or brain cell or ounce of energy for that. But once in awhile, it all became too much and I’d break down, often begging God to end it. I lived in fear that I would make a life-altering mistake. I lived in guilt that I could actually verbalize that I wished it over. I lived in dread of the day when it actually was over.

The weeks after she died, all those desperate moments when I begged him to take her slammed into me like a wrecking ball. Had I somehow wished this on us? On her? Was this my fault? Thus began the rapid downward spiral.

Today, almost two and a half years later, I’ve made peace with the circumstances surrounding her death. Most of my days are ok. But when the dark closes in, I always find guilt right behind, whispering half-truths about past sins, present battles, and the future unknown.

I feel like I’m in a cave, trying to climb straight up a rock to the sunlight, clinging to the barest of grips. I dig a toe into “For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Fingers claw at “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” and “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

Sometimes all I can do is hang on to those until the dark recedes and my head clears. Then I remember that my daughter is whole now, and that neither my God nor my daughter holds these things against me any longer. I remember that Jesus moved toward Thomas when he expressed his need to see. And I know that God loves me in the midst of the dark and in the midst of my worst moments. I burn those truths into my heart for the next time I find myself clinging to the rock in a dark hole.

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