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Natalie craddling Preston minutes after he was born.

Imagine this scenario: You are alone, submerged, and treading the waters of a dark ocean. Everywhere you turn, desperatley searching for land, all you can see is more shoreless ocean. You start to notice the numbness in your skin as the cold waters suck the warmth from you. The hours tick away as you work to keep your head above water, your stiffening muscles filling with pain as your energy depletes with every movement. You try to float, but your saturated clothing weighs you down, your head sinking at times below the surface. Beneath the rolling surface of the ocean, the rip currents grab you and pull you deeper. You know you need help, but there is no one there, and even if there were, you couldn't muster enough energy to reach out for help. Eventually, you stop fighting to get above water, and you begin sinking toward the darkness below you. The light dims from above the deeper you sink until eventually you are surrounded in complete darkness. This drowning at sea illustrates how I experienced depression.

When you look at this picture of me, taken just days after being released from the hospital, you might think I look happy. My older sister had just given birth to her twin boys, and I was there with my mother to welcome them both into the world. On the outside, I performed the expected joyful response to seeing my beautiful newborn nephews, but inside I was aching for my own husband and baby and the purpose they gave me as a wife and mother. I was allowed to hold each of my nephews before they were handed back to their mother. It was a beautiful experience to see their entry into this world, but that joy was quickly replaced by aching as I thought of giving birth to Sage several months earlier. This ever present pain of my loss, growing like an invulnerable and noxious weed, always surfaced in these joyful family moments. The pain of losing Shawn and Sage choked out the happiness I would feel. This pain that resided deep in my heart would radiate outward, arching throughout my body to the tiniest nerve endings, until my entire body was filled with pain. I hid it with a smile and longed for time alone to allow myself to grieve. Depression can come in many ways such as chemical imbalances to traumatic events like what I experienced. My struggle with depression nestled deep within me, quietly and away from the concerned gaze of my loved ones.

After I had been released from the hospital into my parent's care, I was moved back into their house. The doctors knew my brain needed time to heal before I could live on my own again, and they wanted my mother's watchful eye to make sure I was receiving the care I needed. With divine blessings, my brain healed quickly and recovered much of what had been lost, only excluding the memory of the crash through my time in the hospital. This healing was a blessing and a curse. The disconnected neural pathways had at first, separated me from my painful past, but now once reconnected, brought Shawn and Sage and the life we had shared together to the forefront of my mind.

My time at my parent's house has blurred in my memory but was punctuated with moments of emotional pain that I can never forget. I spent a good amount of time at my parent's home scrapbooking the life, and the loved ones, I had lost. While it was emotionally difficult to do it, looking at all the pictures and reading the notes and cards provided a much needed connection to them that comforted me. Since I was in a coma during Shawn and Sage's funeral and burial, I didn't have the "closure" that I should have had, had I been conscious to participate in them. These rituals, I found, are incredibly important to help come to terms with the finality of one's journey in life. Seeing a loved one's body, while awful, helps create a strong acceptance of their passing. It is crucial in progressing to the next steps in processing the pain of losing them.

Living at my parent's home again was a blessing, but I couldn't express the darkest and most painful thoughts without creating extra worry in my mother, who had become my primary caretaker. I looked for a way to cope with this ocean of feeling inside. After taking a driving assessment, I was given permission to legally drive on my own again. While I rejoiced for the freedom that driving gave me, it became a reminder of my condition. No longer did I have to worry about a baby seat, no longer did I feel my husband's comforting presence in the seat next to me, no longer was the car filled with the joyful noises of my young family. I'd drive by places we had created memories in, favorite songs of ours would come on the radio, and soon the escape I was seeking was crushed by the reality that I couldn't drive away from what had happened or the grief I had to face. Alone, I would drive around town sobbing, groaning, and screaming out my pain—each drive becoming my own Gethsemane.

This overwhelming pain was my constant companion. No matter how I tried, I was unsuccessful in finding a way to drive it out. I eventually stopped resisting the pain and turned to accepting this aching as my new normal for life. I would often cry myself to sleep only to awaken with a face already wet with tears. I had no energy and no appetite. The thought of getting out of bed some days would drain me of any energy I felt. I was frustrated with my brain injury and the way it changed how people treated me and that my brain wasn't what it used to be. I was constantly upset with the feeling I was being patronized and talked down to. I hated when people would ask my mother how I was doing and she would reply, "She is doing great!"

"How was I doing great?' I would ask myself, angry that people would ask that question when the anwer seemed obvious. I was healing physically and mentally, but I had no joy, no hope, no direction. I remember sitting on my bed thinking, "Will I ever feel good again?"

My out-patient therapy appointments filled my schedule throughout the week, and while they were beneficial to my physical recovery, what I also needed was help to assess and elevate my emotional state. When the crash occurred that broke my mind and body, my physical survival became the priority. It wasn't an easy war to win, and it required a small army of medical professionals and divine intervention to keep me here. After my physical survival was no longer in question, it was clear what care I would need to recover and restore my quality of life. For example, some of my broken bones needed surgical help to secure them in the correct position to allow them to mend properly. A great amount of effort was expended into restoring my physical body. Looking back at it now, I wonder why no one thought I would need similar effort expended to my emotional recovery.

We were all unprepared for this emotional war to survive. I assume everyone knew that I would experience a difficult grieving process. With the enormity of my loss, it might have been hard to determine if what I was feeling was normal grief or something that needed professional help. In my state, I believed no one could understand my experience and therefore could not help. No one could have felt what I had felt or experienced what I had experienced. I drifted through my days filled with this persistent pain. Doing what was expected. Behaving well enough to keep the concern and questions away. Like an actor, I performed a part. I would smile and interact with loved ones, friends, and family but despite the small flashes of happiness, I felt like a corpse, drifting through a dark, watery grave, emotionless and lifeless—having expended the last moments of my life trying to keep this surging ocean of darkness and pain inside.

Eventually, thoughts of ending my life began to poison my mind. I reasoned that it was the only way to escape my heartache and my broken mind and body, and I would imagine scenarios of following through with my plans to end my life. I wanted to be with Shawn and Sage again but I struggled with my beliefs about suicide. I knew what God taught about the taking of life, and I worried about the damning separation from Shawn and Sage I believed I would experience by committing that act. Exasperated, I recognized that nothing I could do would result in us being together again right now. Surviving with no easy way to return to them; having to endure this life full of pain without them; and having no direction or revelations as to my purpose in life; all fueled my frustration and propelled me to an even deeper level in this bottomless ocean of depression.

I remained in this hopeless state. Waiting for this aching to stop and knowing it never would. Waiting to awaken from this nightmare called reality. Waiting for some light to reach me and help me see a way out. Waiting for an answer to the gnawing question that for years I pleaded with God to answer,... "Why Heavenly Father...Why did I survive?"

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