A few months ago, I got a tattoo. Kind of a big one.
Most people didn’t know it was coming. I went into the tattoo parlor planning a small wrist tattoo of a deer and went home three hours later with most of my left forearm covered in blue.
A lot of people were surprised, and asked me why I did it.
This is a symbol of strength. Of things I didn’t do.
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Yes, it’s a Harry Potter tattoo, and though I love that series, it’s not my semi-obsession with Potter that lead me to permanently put his patronus on my forearm. My reasons are deeper than my love for a good mythical fiction story.
For 10 years now I’ve battled depression.
Not the “oh the store is out of chocolate ice cream, I’m soooo depressed” kind.
Not the PMS sort that is manageable and predictable.
I mean an all out war with a darkness that I cannot escape and some days don’t want to. There have been seasons where I can barely get out of bed.
There have been days and weeks when the cold and the smog engulfs me and few things enter my mind that give me any desire to live.
There have been so many nights and countless days that harming myself has seemed the only choice. Wondering if that simple harmful act might pierce through the suffocating darkness and bring even the slightest glimmer of light to my days again.
There have been times when I’ve plotted, when I’ve held the knife to my skin and wondered how far I could take it.
And though these seasons are coming and going, they still rise up, without warning, and overpower me. This has been my struggle for a decade.
In these 10 years I’ve experience pain like I never imagined possible and joys that I could never have believed in the midst of the seasons of night.
There have been many ups and downs but I have never been free.
Motherhood has brought so many wonderful things to my life. My children are wonderful and it makes my heart happy to see them grow and develop their own personalities. And yet, mothering through depression is harder than I ever could’ve imagined.
On dark days when I would succumb to the call of my bed and forget myself for a few hours, I must still rise early to care of them, still run to my daughters room if she cries in the night. Still wipe bottoms, change diapers and deal with each toddler tantrum in the most calm and compassionate way I can muster through my own tears and pain.
Being mommy while fighting for happiness is overwhelming. Wiping noses, kissing booboos and being screamed at for giving the wrong color cup or not allowing a second cookie, these things do nothing to lessen the blows that depression would drive at me each and every day.
There have been so many days when the faith that I grew up with seemed so far away. Doubts, anger, fear, all of it eclipsing what I thought I once knew about God.
Unable to read the Bible for a year, and yet wanting the peace that could only be found in God.
Struggling and suffocating. Not for the first time and probably not for the last.
I saw the Harry Potter books on a shelf at my friend’s house. I was never allowed to read them as a child, so I was intrigued to see them there. I decided I would try them, Hoping that if anything they would serve as a fanciful way to escape the dark world I was living in, if only for a few hours.
So far from my faith. Very much in the dark, I was swept away into a magical world of friendship and war.
Rowling wrote these books while fighting depression herself, so it’s not surprising I saw many parallels to my own life and struggle written in the pages.
And in the days so many years ago as I questioned my faith, questioned God and everything I’d ever known, I found hope in the pages of those books. And in the seventh story, I saw a picture of my Savior there, where I never thought I’d see one. I saw hope through so many tears as He pulled me and I began to make my way back to God.
I wish so desperately that my story could end there. That with that returning to faith would also come a scattering of the darkness. That when I saw light once again, if only for a moment, that the darkness never returned.
That would be a beautiful story, but it is not mine to tell or mine to live.
For in my joy there is still pain. Darkness still surrounds, still overwhelms and frequently I wonder if there is light left at all.
In those dark days my husband reminds me to think of happiness. To find one thing that brings me joy and yet, oftentimes I cannot. My children who light up my days are also a source of difficulty and fear. Fear that I might somehow pass along my own darkness to them, even as their days are currently so full of light and laughter. Fear that I can never be the mom that I want to be, for even as I am shrouded in pain and sorrow, I so desperately want to be the mother that I wished I had as a child.
It seems that for every current joy there is a matching fear or sadness. Each memory is somehow tainted in a way that might drive me back to that knife. And so I sit alone in the dark wondering where I might find joy to lift me through my years of sadness.
And then I remember that story. And those days so long ago when I read the words about a wizard named Harry. And how they unexpectedly, yet gloriously led me back to God. In that I do find my one single happy thought in the midst of one thousand sad ones. When there are so many sad things and tainted, not quite happy thoughts, and I find the one happy thing that matters. Being chosen and pulled back by God. Through the story of a young wizard.
And so I tattooed his patronus on my arm. The symbol of the stag that wards of Harry’s dementors. His would-be tormentors that suck all the happiness out of a person. They make him feel cold and empty and like he’d never be happy again. Feelings that have become one with me in the past ten years, and yet, the patronus fights for him. Just as I am trusting God to do for me.
Because I’m done fighting depression. Not in a “knife to my skin” type of done. But in such a way that I’m tired of worrying about when it may arise again. I can no longer plan my days around the dark. I will go forward. Be it light or be it dark, I will continue on. And trust to God to get me through. To be my light in the middle of the seasons that are still little but darkness.
I look at my arm and I see strength. I’m reminded of each time the knife did not pierce my skin and I was able to hold on to the light when I thought I could not. I see that hope and hold on just a moment longer.
So when you see the patronus on my arm, know that while I am a fan of Harry Potter, it goes so much deeper than that. it’s a symbol of faith, of strength, and of hope, even when my eyes can see nothing but darkness.
I know it is strange to speak of harry potter and faith in God in the same breath, but they are connected for me.
My patronus as a symbol of faith. As a reminder that although I can never vanquish depression on my own, I am not alone, and never had been.
Through seasons of doubt, through times of abuse and trauma and even in those fleeting moments of joy, I have never been alone, and never will be. And on those darkest days… it is enough.
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