Struggle with Depression during the Holidays

 Struggle with Struggle with depressiondepression… Tis the season

Struggle with depression. Tis the season, fa la la la la, la, la, la, la. 1 out of 4 people in America struggle with depression or some kind of mental illness. There are also people who deal with chronic pain, grief, post traumatic stress, and probably too many other things to list here that are often greatly enhanced throughout the holidays.

I have major depressive disorder… (I know, shocker. I never talk about this… and just so you know, I am so sick of talking about it. I am definitely having more good days then bad but my depression is a curve :). But my publicist for my upcoming book Still Life, living fully with depression (coming May 1st, 2016, InterVarsity Press, available now for pre-order) gently encouraged me to post about the trickiness and struggle with depression during the holidays and how friends and family can support loved ones specifically during these times.

Now, I want to be careful with this post because I know there are some of you who are alone in this struggle without family or community. I hope this doesn’t hurt you. You are not alone. Those of us who struggle with depression are here. We can be your community.

And I know there are some families and communities who still just don’t understand. They don’t see your illness as an illness. I’m sorry. I can imagine that is very painful. My heart is with you.


Here are some of my specific struggles with depression during the holidays:

  1. Unrealistic self-inflicted pressure on myself and quickly embracing the guilt of lack of fulfillment as opposed to the victories. (My wise husband Sergei keeps telling me to do what I can, and for that day, what I can do is enough and to keep praying and to take my thoughts captive to God, to draw me nearer to him.)
  2. I struggle with large groups of people for an extended amount of time (even people I love and who love me.)
  3. I also struggle with one on one conversation, too. Double whammy. My kids sometimes play ‘name the end of the sentence mom is trying to get out.’ Ha!
  4. My anxiety is enhanced from the stress of caring for our two daughters with special needs in other people’s homes (Want to learn about that aspect of our lives? Check out my first memoir Sun Shine Down that published in 2013. Gosh, I am a plugging machine today but what can I say, an author has gotta eat).
  5. I sweat during conversations, sometimes cry, and sometimes laugh uncontrollably (so weird).
  6. I worry about what others (specifically my family) think of me instead of knowing (because I know they do) that they love me unconditionally.
  7. I have other issues, but wait for it… I struggle with depression today and I’m not great so I can’t think of any more.

Last year for Christmas we stayed with my sister Amy and her family in Michigan for a few days. Evangeline was over stimulated, I was over stimulated, and my husband ended up exhausted from taking care of us.

Amy, and the rest of our family made several accommodations that we appreciated and that helped relieve stress. She and I were on the phone a few days ago and she reminded me that it went better than I remember, and that we all, gasp!, had fun.

So, friends and family who love people who struggle with mental illness, here are some things my family does to help me during the holidays:

  1. They gave space. I disappear from time to time for an hour or two to retreat to my room during a full day of family. They are fine with it and even pitch in with the girls during my absence. If Sergei is busy or just needs a break, all I have to do is say the word and my niece steps in and takes over the care for one of our girls (she does great with Evie who can be a challenge for those who aren’t used to her).
  2. They are growing in their discernment. One time (not at Christmas) we visited my parents and right away my mom could tell I was in a depressive episode. She put me to bed for a rest and helped with the kids.
  3. They include me in activities, even if I start to laugh and cry uncontrollably, or grow sullen and disengaged within one simple conversation. They also understand if Sergei and I aren’t up for an activity because it will be too taxing on our family.
  4. They encourage me. My brother-in-law encourages me with scripture and helps me remember that God is with me in the struggle.
  5. My struggle with depression is no longer an elephant in the room. They get that it is an illness. My dad and brother often check in with me to see how I am doing. My sister sees me wilting and steps in and helps where I should be helping. My mom hugs me and offers one hundred percent understanding w/o judgement. Heck, one time my two adult nephews Ben and Will actually came into my room while I was bad off. I was embarrassed but they didn’t care. One joked with me until I laughed and the other actually climbed over the bed to give me a hug and tell me he loved me. During one of Evie’s autism melt downs she and I spent hours in a dark room in an attempt to help calm her down and keep her safe in different surroundings. My sister-in-law Kris had the brilliant idea to send my brother Justin into the room with a glass of wine for me. That kind gesture reminded me that even when absent, I am missed and cared for.
  6. They care for all of our family. My niece Karli and my brother and his family make sure our older children without special needs have fun by paying loads of attention to them, asking them for sleep overs, going to the movies, and in Karli’s case, taking approximately 100 selfies a visit with them to post on social media. My whole family makes sure Elaina and Zoya are included in all activities even if we all can’t go, and they get a lot of great time with their cousins.
  7. They are gracious. Our daughter Polly just loves people (especially her family). She has no concept of personal space and climbs up into people’s’ laps to cup her hands around their faces and constantly wants someone to play with her. They are also upfront with her, telling her sometimes to get down and it is enough, she can’t always get what she wants (but if we try sometimes we just might find… we get what we need).
  8. They are growing in knowledge, acceptance, and love just as they are (and I, as well) with all the intricacies of a loving, happy, but messy family (like all other families on the planet). I think we’d all prefer not to deal with my mental illness. At times, they (and Sergei and I, for that matter) don’t know how to deal with it or how to support us. I know they’d prefer (as would I) the goofy engaged Gillian that I can be. But regardless, we all continue to love.

So, we are going to visit our family for Christmas, and as I read through this list, I see growth for all of us, and dare I say it?,.. am exciting to go.

Merry Christmas. Indeed, we live in a broken world. Tis the season to struggle with depression, but it is also the season to grow and to love and I know that it is because of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

Here are some other posts that can help with these issues:

Surviving Holiday Party Small Talk When You Have Chronic Illness, The Mighty

The Struggles of Depression and Anxiety, NAMI

Holiday Anxiety, Depression, and Stress, Medicine.Net.Com

October is Down syndrome Awareness Month – Get Involved!

Evangeline Down syndrome awareness

October is Down syndrome Awareness Month – Get Involved!

I love the fall, for sure. But I also love a whole month dedicated to help educate the world about my two daughters with Down syndrome, Evie and Polly, and about so many individuals living in our communities who are amazing contributors to society.

My CHALLENGE to you this month is to:

Share something about Down syndrome on social media (you can lift stuff from my blog at or from my Facebook page).

Here’s a quick cheat sheet of my top Down syndrome posts:

To the new mother of a baby with Down syndrome

21 facts about Down syndrome

For Parents who aren’t ready to celebrate Down syndrome

What to do with a severe and profound label for my daughter with Down syndrome

10 things to say when a baby is born with Down syndrome

10 things not to say to a parent of a child with Down syndrome

This little light of mine, watching my daughter with Down syndrome ‘get it’ with PECS

She’s enough: Parenting a child with ‘low functioning’ Down syndrome

An eight-year-old birthday party with Down syndrome

Introducing children with Down syndrome to the classroom

10 things teachers should know about Down syndrome

And a couple Memes you can use, or just steal the idea:

evie labelEviewdsd











Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail








Purchase an extra
copy of my book SUN SHINE DOWN
and donate it to a school, church, or library943708_10201469268630810_835252172_n.

Volunteer once at an organization (or donate) in your area that focuses on Down syndrome (GiGi’s Playhouse, Down syndrome Associations, Special Olympics, and so many more! These organizations also have literature you can pass out in your neighborhood, to your doctor, and at schools. Cool, huh?

-Check out a great list of bloggers: parents and self advocates who share their lives and experiences with others.

Click here for Down syndrome Blogs

As I like to say, the trick is to be so aware that a month is no longer required!

Depression: no longer under lock and key

door3Depression: No longer under lock and key

I have a book coming out in the spring about my battle with depression. People who know I am a writer often ask me what I am working on. “A memoir about depression,” I say, and they look at me out of the corners of their eyes. Why would anyone want to write, or for that matter, read a book about that, I decide they are thinking.

But I know why.

I’m writing about the parts of my life under lock and key because that’s my way of setting myself free in the struggle. I have depression. So how can I glorify God with it?

I think it is by opening up my safe and letting others see in.


Most of us have safes tucked deep within our hearts. It’s where the real parts of life hide out, the stuff we don’t necessarily want others to see: hurts, insecurities, jealousy, fear. I also think that a lot of our struggles stem from this hidden safe within us, and we end up spending whatever amount of energy we have for life hiding the safe, and trying to show others and ourselves that we are okay. We can do this. We don’t have problems, or at least we don’t have problems we wish for other people to see.

I’ve also come to believe that one of the biggest problems with the church today is that too many of us show up on Sundays with our safes under lock and key. We hoard the hard parts of our lives because Christians are supposed to be joyful and faithful. This is the most dangerous type of hoarding. If we can’t be honest with each other about what is in our safes, we will stunt our communion with one another and with God. Annie Dillard talks about this in regards to writing, but I think it is true for life, too:

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Anything we do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to us. I firmly believe this includes the dark parts of ourselves we’d rather not share. One day, we may open our safe and find ashes.

Why must we hide? Why must I hide? I am a Christian, a mother, a writer, a friend, a pastor’s wife, and a lot of times I hoard my secrets in a safe. Some days, depression swallows me whole. I don’t know how to parent my kids well. Prayer is hard. I think way more about my thighs than about helping other people. I’m writing this to know that I’m not alone, and to tell you that you’re not alone either.

The concepts of darkness and light are eternally connected. How can we know one without the other? And how can the light in us shine if we are preoccupied with keeping hidden in the dark? Did you know that Jesus is with you in your darkness? If you are his child, you are never alone, not even if you lock yourself up in a safe. Did you know that your darkness can lose some of its power? It can. It loses power when it is put in the light.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. -John 1:5

What is under lock and key in your life? I hope today we all can be brave enough to tell someone about it, to bow and talk to God about it, and to allow our lives to open up a bit more, for His glory, yes, but also for our sake, and for the sake of our universal church where far too many people show up under lock and key.

Still Life 5 (1)


My book, Still Life, a Memoir of Living Fully with Depression is slated to publish in the Spring with InterVarsity Press. I appreciate your prayers as I prepare to open up my depression safe for all to see.

What about us? A sibling to kids with disabilities shares her needs



Please help me welcome my beautiful (almost 15 year old) daughter Elaina as she writes about her experience with having siblings with disabilities. Great job, Elaina! I love you!


What about us? A sibling to kids with disabilities shares her needs

By Elaina Marchenko

Today, my sister Zoya and I watched Polly and Evie, our two little sisters with disabilities, while my mom went out for a haircut. It being summer we do watch our sisters more often, but we don’t really mind. Usually we pop in a movie, go outside, or just have fun playing Barbies together. But, today Evie threw a tantrum, stressing us out, pushing Polly’s attention more out of the way, and resulting in bickering. After mom came home, we talked about what happened and how everybody was. It warmed my heart when my mom asked me if I was okay! I wasn’t the one throwing a tantrum or having trouble communicating, yet my mom took a minute to check in with me. Little things like that help remind me that my parents do care about me and don’t forget about their other kids. In light of my experience today and others like it, I came up with a list of three things parents can do to make sure their kids without special needs feel just as important as their siblings with special needs. Keep reading to see what my three tips are…

1. Take Time to do Fun stuff

Now, this may be an ‘aha’ moment or just a good reminder but it is very important to take one on one time to do things with your child. By planning fun activities to do with your kid it makes them feel like you care about their happiness and that you aren’t forgetting that they are in tough boat too. I understand that parents to kids with special needs have a lot of obstacles and struggles, but sometimes the kids who are typical share some of those struggles. So plan a day of shopping, see a movie, or even just talk! Just make sure it is one on one and something you both want to do.

2. Ask us simple questions that might have slipped your mind otherwise

I know I appreciate it when my family is having a hard day and my parents ask how my day at school was. It shows you not only care about big struggles with your kids with special needs but you also care about your typical kid’s homework or what their are planning to do on the weekend. This is a simple way to show you care.

3. Ask us our opinions on things regarding your kid(s) with special needs

By asking us our opinions it makes us feel like we are in the loop and we get to know about what things have been taking up a lot of our parent’s energy or time. We better understand it instead of being outside of it all and feeling neglected. Even if we don’t really get a say, it’s nice to feel like our opinions are heard.

I hope this helped! Remember that siblings of kids with special needs are usually pretty flexible and understanding. Yes, we all have our moments, but we love our family members with disabilities as much as our parents do, just maybe in a different way.

Thanks for reading and I hope this helped!

Church: 5 reasons why you must minister to families affected by special needs

You must minister to families affected by special needs

Church: 5 reasons why you must minister to families affected by special needs

This last weekend, I got to speak to a church about special needs ministry. It was such a valuable time for them and for me, I thought I’d share some key thoughts.

Here are 5 reasons why you must minister to families affected by special needs…

1. It’s in the Bible

  • 2 Samuel 9: David and Mephibosheth. David took in his friend Jonathan’s son who had special needs and brought him to eat at the King’s table.
  • Mark 2:4: A man who was a paralytic wanted to get to Jesus for healing but couldn’t, so his friends lowered him through the rough to meet Jesus.
  • Luke 14: 12-14: Jesus commands us to interact with the special needs community

12 Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

 2. It’s missional

Matthew 28:18-20: The Great Commission 

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Some disability statistics:

-600 mil people world-wide are affected by disabilities.

-About 50 mil people in the US are affected by disabilities.

-Almost 13% of children in America have a developmental disability.

-1 out of 68 are diagnosed with Autism

-1 out of 691 live births result in Down syndrome.

So, we are talking about a large community of people and a huge mission field right here in our back yard.

Also, a lot of families affected by disability don’t/can’t attend church.

*I asked people who have kids with special needs on my Facebook page if they attend church. Here’s what some of them said: 

-My son was 4 and not yet fully toilet trained. A church volunteer who was unfamiliar with my son told me he couldn’t be checked in to Sunday School because he wasn’t toilet trained. It was Easter weekend so the line to check in was long and other parents were waiting behind me. I felt so embarrassed and hurt that we left the building and haven’t been back. That was two years ago. Just thinking about going to church makes me panic.

Another parent said:

-I worry he will disturb people, and to be honest I don’t like the looks I get from people. I have gotten the angry look, shhh’ed, and the pity look. The last one is the one that hurts the most – my son is a gift, not one to be pitied.

And this:

-Our church rallied around us when we were pregnant with our child with Down syndrome but since we  had him, its been one saddening experience after the next, mainly because the volunteers are spread thin and uneducated in acceptance and inclusion… One time our child was put in a plastic bin in the corner for children’s church while the rest of the kids learned about Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, this should not be.

3. It’s good for the church

Diversity is essential for the heath of the local church. 

Paul talks about the church being one body with many members in 1 Corinthians 12:21-23:

21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23

The so-called ‘weak’ members are necessary for the health of the body. Also, if we are honest, aren’t we all weak at some point? Jurgen Moltmann said “Congregations without disabled members are – to put it bluntly – disabled congregations.”

Including people with disabilities makes a church healthier. Gifts like compassion and service are exercised. A theology of suffering develops. Our church in Chicago discovered that by serving those with special needs we learn to serve everyone better.

4. It’s good for individuals

It gets you out of your comfort zone. Francis Chan, in his book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God said “But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.” 
If the idea of ministering to and becoming friends with people who are different from you; say, people who have disabilities, scares you or makes you uncomfortable, than you should absolutely do it.

5. And lastly, It glorifies Jesus

The glory of the Gospel is revealed through ministry to and with individuals with special needs. It’s not just that God commands this, or because the church functions better with it, or because individuals are sanctified through it, but because this ministry glorifies and honors Jesus Christ.

Think about the gospel. Jesus accomplished the work of redemption not by strength but by weakness. Poverty, loneliness, pain, suffering, death, rejection, homelessness – all were part of the Savior’s life. Should the church try to be what Christ wasn’t? Of course, there is also power and glory of Christ. But they are revealed in our weakness lest we boast in ourselves.

1 Corinthians 1:27

27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.

God is glorified in our weaknesses, because then he is strong. The works of God are displayed in our brokenness. And we all are broken, every single one of us, outside of Jesus.

I care about special needs ministry

It’s personal. My family needs help/respite/spiritual care. My children deserve to be valued, loved, and served by the church. My children should also serve, just like any other person who is part of a community. Individuals with special needs are important to the church.