There were occasional comments made about how thin I was, but no one asked probing questions as to the reason. All assumed it was due to changes in eating habits overseas. Then there was the obvious question which demanded an answer; "Why are you home?" It was hard for me to field that question. I did not want to tell anyone the real reason I was back. First of all, I was embarrassed. I had always been the strong, stoic person who never had any real problems, and had always believed that people with depression were simply feeling sorry for themselves. "Buck up; life's rough,"..."Pull yourself up by your bootstraps," were the mottoes I had grown up with. I had even silently judged the patients at the local mental hospital during my Psychology rotation in nursing school. Those people just needed to toughen up and stop feeling sorry for themselves. My compassion was greatly lacking in those days; my ignorance overwhelming. I also knew I was not the only one who harbored less than favorable opinions about those suffering with depression. Social stigmas made admitting having it a completely unacceptable option. It was better to suffer in silence.
Secondly, it wouldn't be overly impressive for the missionary to come home from the field confessing her doubt in God and His goodness, especially at a time when the most popular catch phrase among the church-goers was "God is good all the time, and all the time God is good." I was at odds with God and angry with Him, not believing He was good at all, but I could not tell them that.
Attending my home church was difficult. I went, but it was as if I was harboring some deep, dark secret which no one should discover. I tried to put on a happy face, pretending all was well, but I suspected there were those who had questions. I would sneak in to service just as it started, and quickly slipped out as soon as the closing prayer was finished. I could not force myself to stay and socialize with anyone; I wasn't strong enough to maintain my cover through any length of questioning. I didn't want to be seen, or have my dark secret exposed.
And it certainly would not be beneficial if those who were supporting us financially knew their missionary was collapsing. It wasn't a good "investment" if your missionary failed to be productive, not to mention how awful it would be if your missionary "crashed and burned" on the field and came running home. So it became another game of stuffing my emotions, even when I had returned to friends. No one was considered completely safe to talk to; no one got the full picture of why I was home. All anyone knew was that the opportunity had become available, and with my Dad sick, I came back to visit.
I drove the 300 miles to Illinois by myself to spend two weeks with my parents. This may seem like nothing to some people, but I had never entertained the idea of making the trip by myself before. It had always been too frightening for me, now I didn't care. In some respects, the trip itself was good. With no one around, all the stress and pressure was relieved. I could put my mask down for awhile and live in a world of my own.
My Dad ended up being in better health than we had anticipated, for which I was grateful, and my time with them was relaxing. It was a surprise to me to learn months later that they had no idea anything was wrong with me at the time of my visit. Even the drastic weight loss seemed to evade their observations.
The time for our return trip to Slovenia was approaching rapidly, and in spite of being home, nothing had really changed for me. I was still deeply troubled, and the depression was still looming over me. As Peter and Kristina and I began to talk about arrangements to the airport, my anxiety levels began to skyrocket. I was bordering on panic. With only a few days left before our departure, I finally confided in my friend the degree of my struggles. She was loving and kind to me, and was supportive in every way. Yet she didn't have answers for me either.
Once again I felt trapped. There seemed to be no solution for me back home. I was disillusioned after I realized there was no magic wand which could be passed over me to wash away all the inner turmoil stored inside of me. There was no hope here, either. Yet returning to Slovenia caused even greater panic. I knew deep inside of me that if I returned to Slovenia, it would be the end of me. I didn't know if it would be at my own hand or if I would simply curl up and cease to exist, but I knew if I got on the plane, my fate was sealed. I would die.
I called and spoke to Rob about extending my stay by changing my departure date on my existing ticket, thereby giving me more time to get my head straightened out. I could tell from our conversation he really did not understand the gravity of my situation. He was concerned about the costs involved, and knew that flying back by myself would be stressful. He had valid reasons for his opposition, but I interpreted them as being unseeing and uncaring. I believed he really did not have my best interests in mind. When we hung up, I was crying. I felt as if I had been sentenced to death; all my options for living being removed.
I called and spoke with my mother, telling her I thought I was going to stay in the States. She didn't understand what was going on, and basically accused me of leaving my husband. Distraught and unhearing, she hung up on me amidst her own tears. I plunged even deeper into my own pit of despair, began sobbing, and ran upstairs to the bedroom I was using. My friend, overhearing the conversation, followed me up, dropped to her knees and simply held me as I wept uncontrollably. I bawled, "I might just as well get on the plane and go back! It's what everyone wants, and is what will make everyone happy!" My tears flowed bitterly. She held me until I regained some composure and simply said, "You can't go back, Cher."
I knew she was right, and a hint of relief came to me as finally someone else saw what I needed. Someone had drawn the line in the sand for me and said, "Enough!", no longer allowing my torment to continue. In that moment, the decision to extend my stay was made, and one small crack of light began peeking its way into my dark cave. One small stone of the emotional weight I was carrying had been rolled off, but now I had to tell the others I wasn't going back with them.