I opened my eyes, instantly awake and yet not sure where I was.

“Mom, you fell asleep on the couch again. What’s for dinner?”

Dinner. How can a word meant to nourish feel instead like a giant weight around my soul?

I was in a fog. Helpless. Exhausted.

All they wanted was dinner and yet I felt they were asking the impossible.

The fog keeping me from getting off the couch rolls in relentless waves lately. It has made my mind and my body crave sleep during all the minutes, except of course those in the middle of the night when instead it shows me all the ways I have failed. Not prayer or yoga or walks or books or any of my tried and true self-care systems was a match for it.

My mind couldn’t grasp why nothing was working.

I used every single ounce of willpower I had to stand up and survey my people. They were laughing and chatting around me same as always, but I couldn’t get to them, I was trapped behind this fog, which seemed to be invisible to everyone else. What was wrong with me?

I know I used to look at this scene with joy in my heart. I know I used to try new recipes and help with homework and play music at this time of day. I know it with my brain but my heart can’t seem to remember how it felt.

Who was the person who felt that joy? And if I was no longer her who was I?

I shuffled to the kitchen and threw in yet another frozen pizza.

How many pizzas could we eat and still survive? I felt we were on track to answer this question of the universe.

Then I felt a new dark wave roll in. Its name was guilt. “You are a terrible mother,” it curled around my brain as it whispered in my ear. “They deserve better than you. Get your act together. What is wrong with you?”

Helpless. Hopeless.

Relentless.

How did I get here? And how do I escape?

Turns out the fog feeds on secrecy. And darkness. And sleep. And isolation. And lies.

I had tried so hard to fake it. To keep up an appearance of strength and to make excuses for what I didn’t want to admit.

Because I am strong, darn it. I could handle it all. I am a happy person. It’s always been one of my defining features for Pete’s sake.

Bubbly. Cheerful. Happy-go-lucky. Enthusiastic. Full of energy.

All words used to describe me time and again.

If I were no longer these things who was I? What was I?

The answer was a tough one.

I was a person suffering from a sickness that stole my joy. That numbed my soul. That lied to me and told me this was just my life now.

And I was a person who couldn’t fix it alone.

I knew I needed help when I couldn’t remember the last time I felt joy bubble up from my belly. I couldn’t remember the last time I was without the solid pit of doom that now lived right where the joy used to be.

So I somehow found the will to reach out. To name it. To start to take away the power that depression holds.

It took so much longer than it should for me to ask for help and yet it’s still a miracle to me I was able to do it at all.

My reach out was to make an appointment with my doctor. I knew I couldn’t go on this way.

Even after calling the doctor I didn’t tell many of those closest to me. This baffles my now healthy mind.

I couldn’t talk about it. Even though I had counseled and cheered on so many friends who had felt just this darkness, I wanted just to hold on to my role as the counselor, the cheerleader.

But I couldn’t.

Reaching out just once helped me take the next step.

I started talking about it. Admitting how I felt. Admitting my joy was gone.

Which, for a definitively happy person, is flat-out terrifying.

God bless my doctor who really listened. She put my fears about my health to rest and helped me to see there could be answers. Real biological answers and reasons why this was happening.

Of course, there’s not one easy answer, so when I said “Fix me. I have kids and things to do and I need to get my act together. This week if I can,” she assured me we would get there—but it would take time.

And she was right.

One foot in front of another. That’s all I could do.

A few months down the road and the pit has moved out. Joy is starting to flow back into the emptiness it left, drop by precious drop.

The fog has rolled back and I know the dawn is coming. I can feel it.

And I know now it’s OK not to be OK. I know sometimes the only way to ever be OK again is to reach out. Even the happiest and cheeriest among us might need actual help.

Reaching out is a sign of strength my friends, not of weakness. As is recognizing that not one of us is immune from a sickness that can strike our minds any more than we can avoid catching a common cold. It really can be just something that happens.

If you, too, feel this way, know you are not alone. Know there can be answers.

You just have to put one foot in front of the other and walk toward the light. And if you are so lost you don’t know where the light is, you just need to reach out and let someone lead you. 

Amy Betters-Midtvedt

Amy Betters-Midtvedt is a writer, educator, mom of 5 crazy kids, wife to a patient husband, and lover of Jesus. She writes along with her friend and former teaching partner Erin over at Hiding in the Closet With Coffee. Our mission is to help parents find sanity and joy, and we know sometimes joy is found hiding out in the closet with coffee, or hiding out on Facebook — come and join us both! You can read more about us here. You can also find us hiding out over at InstagramPinterest, and Twitter.