Feature Friday: Kate

Kate was in my ward growing up, but I didn’t know her very well. Thank goodness for social media where we can follow each other and get to know people better. I found out through her Instagram that she struggles with mental illness and she was kind enough to write this story for the blog. You will not regret reading it! It brought tears to my eyes multiple times and I am so impressed with her and how she has handled this trial. She is a strong, amazing woman!
Kate is a wife to an adventurous, adorable husband Jake, a mother of three beautiful children and a USU graduate. Since having her third baby, a little over a year ago, she has experienced postpartum anxiety, depression and panic disorder. She still works on these illnesses every day. As difficult as these challenges have been, they’ve definitely helped her come to know Christ in such a personal way. And it makes her want to share my testimony of Him so much!! In truth, His Grace IS the story. It’s what saved her before, during and after postpartum depression.

To begin with, a little backstory. I have three kids. No depression after our first son, but then a few years later I experienced my first panic attack a few months after our second baby, a daughter, was born. I subsequently dealt with some anxiety that made me apprehensive to ever have another baby. A few years passed. But, my husband and I felt that we would have another baby and when we made the decision on faith to have another baby, we felt the Spirit very strongly affirming that we had made the right decision. It felt like the angels rejoiced! That spiritual experience gave me a lot of courage moving forward. Not long after we made that decision, we were asked to be a Ma and Pa on our ward’s youth pioneer trek. Sweet, huh!? Inside I was like, “what if I get pregnant and have to walk across the plains all sick and uncomfortable?” But, I was also excited about the opportunity. And the months rolled by and we weren’t expecting yet, so Trek was a go and we headed off. Later, I would learn how this experience would prove how very aware God is of our situations and will teach us in ways we understand to prepare us and uphold us BEFORE, DURING and AFTER our trials. You see, that’s the amazing thing about the Infinite Atonement- His Grace is always there and reaches us in all directions to cover us.

So, on Trek, my husband Jake and I were given the assignment to represent a couple who had lived and crossed the plains with the Martin and Willie Handcart companies, Jens and Elsie Nielsen. Near Rocky Ridge, we were to reenact an event that happened to them. So, Jens and Elsie had come from Denmark and had a young son, Nels and were also bringing a little girl with them for another family named Bodil. After both the children had already died, Jens and Elsie continued on the trail and as they neared Rocky Ridge, Jens’ feet were so frozen he sat down on the side of the trail and told Elsie to leave him there. But Elsie couldn’t leave him and courageously told her husband to get in the cart and she would pull him. So, while the youth and other leaders moved on ahead of us on our pioneer trek, we were instructed to hang back and then when they were at the top of a hill, listening to the story while Jake sat down and acted like his feet were hurt and then I would help him into the cart and try and pull him. I think at the time, I thought for sure I could pull him a little. It wasn’t in deep snow, and I was in good physical shape. But when I put my hands on the wood handle and tried to pull,  my feet slid and I struggled and couldn’t move the cart even one inch. Now i was in tears thinking of the miracle of little Elsie pulling her husband over Rocky Ridge and how the angels HAD to have been there to help her. At that moment, the youth watching us up ahead started running down the hill and surrounded the cart and we took off. We not only walked up the hill, WE RAN. It was a testament to me that God is there to help us in our trials. We are not required to face them alone. I laughed in exhilaration and gratitude as I thought this running up that hill.

A few months following our trek experience, we were absolutely thrilled to find out we were expecting a baby the following May. The pregnancy went well and our darling Holland James was born! A week or so after he was born, I felt the very familiar anxiety that I had experienced before and let my family know as well as the Relief Society President that I would be needing some help. What followed were several months of miracles and severe difficulties I could not have anticipated.  I would feel very very discouraged and overwhelmed about the simplest of tasks. The exhaustion became overpowering and tears were plentiful and common. I had previously enjoyed baking, gardening and caring for my family, but couldn’t convince myself to do much and lost interest in doing so. My appetite fluctuated a lot and had a lot of difficulties sleeping even when the baby would sleep. I started blacking out, having dizzy spells and feeling nauseous often. Cognitive function slowed to a snail pace.

Through the months I received calls, text messages, meals and offers to help often several times a day, just to check and see how I was doing. I call these angels “cart pullers.” I was doing my very best to care for my family and usually made it thru the day, okay, but functioning was quite painful and difficult. I visited the doctor and got counseling. I still taught YW lessons and attended church, prayed very often day and night, studied scriptures and listened to sacred music. And even with all this, the illness didn’t go away.

Come October, I began having multiple panic attacks per day, brought on by a parade, driving in a car and upbeat music. After a visit to a psychiatrist where his diagnosis was panic disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder, he prescribed a medication and I felt very hopeful about things that night after I had started the first dose. I went to bed and a few hours later was awakened with a burst of heat and pop in my heart and it started to race and my body began to shake. I woke my husband and he alerted a neighbor who is an EMT to come help with a reaction to medicine. He monitored my heart rate and although it was racing he kept reassuring me that my color looked good, that it wasn’t an actual heart attack. I shook in terror and was barraged with intrusive suicidal thoughts for about 45 minutes to an hour and then was able to get up and then had to go outside and run and walk for nearly 5 hours to just tolerate the pain and panic. I listened to songs about Christ as I walked the streets in our neighborhood. I noticed a broken sprinkler in our neighbor’s yard. We texted her to let her know we would try and turn off the water so her basement wouldn’t flood. She came outside in her pajamas all bleary-eyed and told me, “you’re so good to walk with anxiety. I just lay in bed and shake.” It totally caught me off guard and made me laugh. We got her water turned off and chatted for a few minutes in her front room in the middle of the night. I saw it as a tender mercy. She had experienced panic before and gave me the reassurance I needed right then in my darkest hour. When I could finally go inside my house and pace, I walked and read the Book of Mormon and then when I could sit down, I would sit and focus all my energy on allowing myself to feel the pain. I plead with the Lord for His comfort, strength, and protection to become infused into my body. I placed a large painting of Christ at the end of the couch so that I could look at Him. You see, those suicidal thoughts were overpowering. Not that I planned or had any desire to hurt or kill myself, it was just an overwhelming fear that I would lose control and do something to hurt myself. My uncle had taken his life years earlier and I was terrified that it would happen to me.

This experience caused me to lose my appetite. I started dropping pounds and couldn’t sleep most nights because as soon as I would drift off, a panic attack would wake me up.

I think it was so so difficult because I was doing everything I knew to help myself get better and my family was rallying around me and friends were helping us, and it wasn’t getting better. It was getting worse. I was pleading with God to teach me and heal me and felt abandoned. I had only ever wanted to be a mom and raise my family, which I felt were good desires. But I would listen to, “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go” and felt strengthened. I would pour out my heart to God and the only answer I got was to keep going, that He was there and that I needed to pass thru this experience for His purposes. I remember questioning why I had this illness. Was it because of something I was doing wrong or a punishment of some sort? But the Spirit would remind me of the blind man who was born that way. The people asked the Lord who had sinned, the man or his parents? But the Lord taught that his blindness was to show forth the power of God in healing Him. So, that helped me be patient.

Also, as I would prepare Young Women Lessons (I’m serving as a Laurel Advisor), there were always lessons I desperately needed at the time. Like the Gratitude lesson… I studied about how we are to thank God in ALL circumstances and was prompted to thank God not only for everything surrounding the illness, like making my son a sandwich or fixing my daughters hair and getting thru the day but to thank Him for the illness itself. It was humbling and hard, but when I did, I felt my heart open a little bit and the Lord showed me how my testimony of Christ and my relationship with Him was becoming stronger, even unbreakable as I passed thru this trial and exercised faith and patience in His plan.

One day, I was at church and a gal was giving a lesson about our homes being a holy place. She asked us to close our eyes and imagine our homes. She asked us if Christ would feel at home there. At that moment, I had a very strong impression as I pictured my living room and kitchen with lunch still on the table and some messes around from getting ready for church that day and I pictured the Savior there with me, smiling as He said, “I’ve been here before. Remember that night? I was right here with you.” And I knew in retrospect that He had carried me thru that night of the bad reaction.

Things started to get a little better, but the memory of that night and the dark thoughts created more material for the illness to work with. Sometimes I felt absolutely abandoned and as the illness worsened, it became very difficult to feel warmth or the Holy Ghost anymore. It was like I was pounding on the doors of Heaven and no one was answering. But even though the illness made me unable to feel it, He sent others who could to reassure me and remind me He was still there. An example of this was one night I went to a young women activity and was having one of those dark dark days. My friend Kristina was standing behind me and when I turned to face her, she had tears in her eyes and said, “Why do I feel like I need to hug you?” She was unaware of my struggles but was in tune with the Spirit and it was a tangible witness that God was aware and even though I couldn’t feel Him, He loved me and was still there. I knew I could keep enduring. Her hug kept me going.

For a time, foot zoning, exercise, and sunshine got me through, but by Christmas time, I was sicker than ever. I went 3 days and 3 nights without really eating or sleeping at all. In desperation, I had made 3 more doctor’s appointments that week to try and find help. By the 3rd, my sister was driving me there and I tried to eat an orange and found I could no longer swallow. My body shook and I was terrified. I asked my sister to take me to the Emergency Room. There was a social worker there and when she walked into the little room, I looked at her and honestly, my first thought was that she looked like a fairy godmother. Pretty, brown eyes, silver hair, a long dress and little glasses on the end of her nose. Her name was Kelly. She listened to me tell her how I could no longer eat, sleep or even really sit up straight. I felt on the verge of psychosis and was attacked by intrusive thoughts about hurting myself or my baby. She looked at me so kindly and boldly told me, “I know I don’t know you very well, but from what I can tell, you’re not going to do those things.” She told me I needed to start meditating using Headspace, start baking again, recommended some therapists and that the doctor needed me to take some medication (Ativan) to try and reset my nervous system. Having so much fear of medication from last experience, I was afraid what it might do to me. She said, “I want you to take a deep breath and say to yourself, ‘this is going to help.” I took it and it did help. For the next week, I took a little before bed and ever so slowly and steadily, things improved. I weaned my baby from nursing him, which was hard, but he did great in formula. Things have taken a turn for the better and the warmth and light have come back since the first part of January. I found a good therapist, a supplement Q96 that is helping, I meditate and am learning great coping techniques that ARE working. I am happy, cooking dinner, running, sleeping, living again and I feel Heavenly Father’s love every day now.

There are still setbacks and difficulties at times, but I continue to look for ways to help. I have since started another medication and this time it’s helping!!

I think one of the most important things I needed to know when the darkness was so thick, it was that the Savior was there with me, He understood and would help me endure, that struggles can be changed into rejoicing someday thru His Grace and that I could and WOULD get better. It was hard to see that I would ever improve at the time. I want to help other people to know these things so much!!!!!! And, lastly, my baby is absolutely wonderful. I adore my family and we are doing well. Life is still stressful and busy, but I am enjoying it so much again… I would say even more than I ever have before.

Oh, and the whole pioneer trek experience was something I come back to often in my struggles that reminds me there are people pulling with me on both sides of the veil. I feel that experience was a tender mercy that took place to help me thru what was coming. And it did!! It still does. Those pioneers did what they did for us! God’s plan is so detailed and perfect and expansive!

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