This Year, We Dance: How a Fight and a Tatoo Brought Me to the Dance Floor

In Personal by Allison Byxbe

The valley of depression I am walking through once convinced me I would never get out.

Isn’t it funny, though, how the small, inconsequential things sometimes precipitate a tremendous turning point? A fight. That’s what led me to realize I could get out. Not a meaningful fight. But a stupid one over a decision Ben made. He upgraded his phone without telling me. In retrospect, not a big deal. At the time? I was pretty tweaked about it. In a tit-for-tat move, I decided to buy something for myself: counseling. Not necessarily my finest moment or most effective marriage strategy, though I’m pretty sure that decision helped save my marriage.

I started counseling for one reason: anger. I was angry all the time. No matter how much I tried to reason myself out of anger, I always ended up still angry. Angry at my kids. At Ben. At my dogs. At anyone who seemed to be happy.

I hated myself for sulking around with hurt feelings, worn like a banner on my sleeves, just waiting for someone to trip over my feelings. If you’re looking in from the outside at someone who is depressed you have to wonder why they just can’t get it together. Even I wondered that about myself. At that point I had no idea how bad it would get.

A tattoo. That’s what finally made what was already bad, worse. When I say a tattoo, I don’t mean some dainty little heart discreetly tucked into my ankle. I mean a gorgeously gigantic phoenix, spreading her glorious wings from the crease of my elbow joint to the tip of my right wrist. Though notoriously impulsive, my tattoo was not: I spent a year planning out the very specific reasons for why, what, and where. But etching that resurrection bird on my arm reverberated a cord of insecurity so deeply inside me, I wasn’t sure how to find my way back.

So, I did the most logical thing you could think of and persisted in wearing long sleeves during a blazing South Carolina summer. Depression is a mean, smothering beast. The cord of pain that vibrated throughout the summer and deep into my soul, was so encompassing that I felt utterly lost.

I didn’t know or trust myself. So I just pretended the tattoo didn’t exist and that I was okay. But the harder I tamped down my grief and sorrow and helplessness, the more restless and overwhelmed my spirit grew. All my grief, piled up over a decade of running from my feelings and running from my God, began squeezing and oozing out, spilling out into every conversation and every interaction, scraped and raw.

Thank God for a kind, caring, and discerning therapist who looked me squarely and unflinchingly in the eyes to say “It’s time to try an antidepressant.” Even when I got the prescription from my doctor, still I hesitated. I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I needed that kind of help. But one more terrible, awful, no good morning with me weeping in the bathroom because I just couldn’t fumble through life this way, and I knew I had to do something.

As much as I tried on my own to stop the freight train of depression from hurtling through my world, I could not. In my own strength, I was powerless. Within three days of starting the medication, I felt the clinging cloud start to lift for the first time in years.

I was stunned to realize that this storm of depression had been gathering and gaining strength for probably ten years. No wonder it got to be unmanageable. By the time it hit, that beast was a category five battering. Getting a first row seat to my sister’s still birth. Reed’s diagnosis. Moving to Pennsylvania. Two more kids and what was probably some postpartum depression. Pulling the rip cord to move back to SC. Two and a half years of financial instability. My emotional core was fried and I operated in the barren wasteland of survival mode.

With my emotions so thoroughly wrecked, you can only imagine what that did to my spiritual vibrancy. I tried here and there to get into the groove of my faith but just seemed to come up indifferent and unmoved. Because depression is a thief of joy, towards the end of the summer, I just quit wanting anything. My heart was shutting off, desperately trying to salvage whatever shreds of hope still clung.

With the combination of counseling, anti-depressants, and an amazing support network, I am for the first time in years beginning to feel like myself. I’m reaching out to old and new friends to connect. I’m taking on new challenges like submitting my work for publication and learning about essential oils. I am enjoying new experiences instead of letting fear dictate them. I make the call. I send the email. I look people in the eyes.

I’m also looking Jesus in the eyes, seeing the beautiful dance he’s holding out his hand to me for. I stood on a mountain in Asheville, North Carolina last weekend and felt the spirit of God invigorate my soul for the first time in entirely too long. I opened up and shared with people the struggles and the hard won strength I’ve gained from walking this terrible, low valley. Thanks to continued counseling, I know how to talk myself through negative and debilitating thought patterns. I know how to fight back death with Life.

This morning as Ben and I got the house ready for Thanksgiving, I experienced again how intoxicating joy and happiness can be. The difference between today and six months ago is the ability to choose joy. Depression robbed me of even that simple, necessary act. So even if the most I can do is choose joy in the small ways, every time that will be enough. In choosing joy, I will dance. To the rhythms of grace and forgiveness. To the Spirit’s generosity of peace and gentleness. My family and I will dance. Because I know the cost of not dancing is too high. Not just too high for my family but also for those who need to be invited to dance.

If someone you care about is struggling with depression and you want to know more about how you can help, check out the advice in this article: