“I grew up a pretty conventional girl. I was raised Christian, went to church every Sunday, and was even a missionary kid for a few years. In high school I had a very clear path in mind. I was going to go to university and get my degree, and marry my high school sweetheart who was interning as a youth pastor. Marriage, then babies, and a life down the straight and narrow.
I didn’t anticipate any deviations from this path. I had even hesitantly resigned myself to becoming a youth pastor’s wife, and told myself I would learn to bake casseroles and become the epitome of domesticity. I told myself this was who I was.
When I was 18, I married my high school sweetheart. I was deemed to be mature beyond my years. I had one year of university under my belt, and in the next two years, I bought a brand new car, my husband and I bought our very first house, and I was excelling at my studies. I began to crave babies.
I never anticipated the crash.
I had put my entire self behind this plan. I had everything I thought I needed to live a successful and happy life. Husband, career, house. Everything I had worked so hard for. I had been killing myself to acquire this happy life. I worked three jobs to be able to pay my way through school and simultaneously save for a car and house. And when my husband was failing his bible college classes, I agreed with him that he should quit his job and focus on his studies. So I picked up even more work, and I helped edit all of his school papers. I was an English major, after all. I was still going to school full time, was working full time between all of my jobs, and felt the entire weight of our relationship on my shoulders.
Usually ‘killing yourself’ to get where you are simply means working hard, and giving it your all. But in this case, it was quite literal. I just didn’t see it coming. I began to battle feelings of discontent, hopelessness, and all-encompassing darkness. There were days where I physically couldn’t get out of bed, and my husband would yell at me for not being able to. I began to have panic attacks and often had to be sent home from work because I was stuck in the bathroom having an anxiety attack.
During my final semester of university, I took a gender history class. While that class tore apart my narrow-minded views of the world, for which I’m super grateful, I learned a lot on a personal level from my professor. She spoke of her own battle with depression and anxiety, and for the first time, I felt I had clarity. The way she described her feelings and depressive thoughts perfectly described my own. I had thought something was wrong with me, but I finally felt understood. I never could have anticipated how this class and this professor would set my life on an entirely different path. It was a turning point for me.
I sought help. I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with severe depression and a generalized anxiety disorder. I was prescribed an anti-depressant. When that wasn’t working, I was prescribed an additional one. I was making it through and had resigned myself to this sub-par state of existence.
One month after graduating with my degree, I was involuntarily hospitalized because I was suicidal. I was prescribed an anti-anxiety medication in addition to my two other antidepressants. I spent a few days in the psych ward, where, quite frankly, absolutely zero magic happened. It did nothing for me except keep me from harming myself. I did learn how to roll a joint from a schizophrenic patient, though. That was enlightening.
When I was discharged, I went and stayed with my mom. I needed a break from the relationship that had become a huge trigger for my depression and anxiety. I needed to focus on becoming healthy. I finally, after 5 years in that relationship, began to focus on myself and my own healing.
I went to therapy. I did counselling. And the turning point for me was one very specific conversation with my counsellor. I remember her asking, ‘If you continue down this path, where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ And I remember that question feeling like a gut punch, and feeling the most intense clarity I’ve ever felt. I knew, deep in my core, that if I continued down the path I was on, in 5 years, I would be dead. I would trudge my way through, but I could see it so clearly. I would have two young kids who would grow up without a mother. Those kids would forever have that cloud hanging over them— a mother who killed herself. I didn’t want that for those hypothetical children that I could see so clearly. And I didn’t want that for myself.
I made the life-altering decision to leave my husband. It came as quite a shock to my family and everyone who knew me. They had never guessed I would be the kind of girl to get a divorce. And being raised Christian, it was definitely frowned upon. I had hid my unhappiness well. And while my family supported me, I could feel their disappointment. This just wasn’t what they had wanted for me.
But my grandmother was my biggest advocate. She was the first person to tell me it was okay to leave, that it was okay to put myself first and that I needed to be happy. And if I wasn’t happy, then I had to leave.
In what was the toughest conversation of my life, I broke things off with my husband and told him I wanted a divorce. And I embarked upon a journey of self-discovery, self-love, and the pursuit of happiness. I discovered who I was without the preconceived notions of who I SHOULD be. I allowed myself the opportunity to grow and learn and simply be me, instead of forcing myself to be a casserole-baking pastor’s wife. That was never my calling, and it had never felt authentic. It had felt forced and foreign and led me into severe depression because I wasn’t being true to myself. I was sacrificing myself for other people’s happiness, and I felt responsible for their happiness.
Along this journey, I met Sean. He became a friend who never judged me, who allowed me to be unapologetically myself, and the most fascinating thing was that he was the only person I’d ever met who could pull me out of those dark, self-destructive moments. He could make me laugh, and could make me smile when I was in a depressive state. He could pull me out. No one else I’d ever met could do that.
He pursued me for months, but also patiently waited until I was ready. And I didn’t think I was ready. There was so much trauma attached to relationships for me, and I was scared of that. I also didn’t think it was possible that he could love someone who was so damaged. But I fell in love. He loved and appreciated me in ways that I hadn’t been in the past. I finally felt like I had a partner, and I wanted to do life with him. I don’t like to say that he healed me or fixed me, because as women, we have the power to do that for ourselves. But he continually encouraged me and lent me his strength when I needed it so that I could find myself, and his love certainly healed past wounds. And that’s the ultimate kind of support that I had been denied in the past.
There were some protestations to our relationship. I think it was just so against what my father had envisioned for me, that there was some hesitance and reluctance to initially accept that I was with someone else. I was uninvited from my brother’s wedding, and though we’ve since moved on from our differences, I will always carry his hurtful words. He told me that because I was going through a divorce, I wasn’t in a place where I could support him in his marriage. In one ugly disagreement, he called me a disease.
But after a tumultuous journey, I knew I wasn’t responsible for other people’s happiness. I could only be responsible for my own. Sean was my rock, and he carried me in those moments when I couldn’t carry my own weight.
After being together for a short year and a half— the happiest of my life— we got engaged. I was ready for commitment, and I was especially ready for babies. I don’t know that I can pinpoint why we made the decision to do things against the norm and have a baby first— it just felt right to us. It was what we wanted. And I only wanted to be true to myself and live an authentic life, and unashamedly pursue the things that made me happy. And what I did know was that Sean made me happy, and I wanted our love to grow.
In the next few months, we started trying for a baby, and in October of 2015, we got pregnant with our daughter Elena. It was a bit surreal for me. A part of me thought I had lost that chance forever, and my battle with depression still scared me. I wanted to be the best mother for my babies.
I can’t describe what that precious baby meant to me. What she means to me to this day. She’s the ultimate celebration of my relationship with Sean. And she’s my redemption. She’s my hope, my second chance at a life filled with indescribable joy and happiness, which is something that felt entirely unattainable when I was in the darkest moments of my depression.
Most days I still feel overwhelmed by this life I have. There were times in my past when I had resigned myself to living a mediocre life, constantly in a depressed state, and I had accepted that happiness would just always be elusive. But that’s not the case. I went through a metamorphosis, and though it wasn’t easy and often hurt, I’ve been given this second chance at life, and was given the incredible gift of my family.
In December of 2017, Sean and I got married. There was definitely a part of me that never thought I would get married again. That piece of paper felt unnecessary, considering my past. For a long time, I wanted to do it for Sean. I didn’t want to deny him a wedding, or a marriage. But then it shifted and I wanted to do it for me as well. Not because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do, and definitely not to make an ‘honest’ woman of myself. I was already living a much more honest, authentic life with a partner who loved me and allowed me to be unapologetically myself. It was true, unconditional love. And I wanted to celebrate it. I wanted us to be ‘The McLeods.’ After a long time, after a journey of healing, I wanted to be a wife again. I felt safe with Sean and I knew that becoming a wife wouldn’t mean losing myself this time.
Elena was 18 months old when we got married, and I was still on my breastfeeding journey with her. As we were planning our wedding, I had this vision of nursing Elena in my wedding dress. My two greatest loves, symbolized in one moment by a wedding dress and the magical bond of breastfeeding. Wife and mother. Two roles I thought had been denied me, but it turns out I was incredibly blessed with the gift of a second chance at the happiness that those roles bring. And I’m forever grateful.
We’ve been together for almost six years now, and we have two beautiful girls who are absolutely the pride and joy of our lives. My youngest daughter has limb difference, she was born missing both forearms and hands. She was ours to love and protect. And I knew, without a doubt, that with my husband by my side, we could do this.
I’m able to see now that my past changed me in the best of ways and made me the person I am today. It humbled me, it softened me, it opened me up to every emotion on the spectrum. It broke me open, it deepened me, and allowed me to see a kaleidoscope of colors. And ultimately, it led me to an incredible journey of both unconditional romantic and motherly love.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Vanessa McLeod of Chilliwack, BC, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read Vanessa’s powerful backstory of her daughter’s limb difference:
‘What? No hands?’ My Dad was minutes away from picking my husband up. The Universe chose me to be Ivy’s mom.’: Mother learns of daughter’s limb difference, refuses terminating pregnancy because ‘she was ours to love, protect’
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