When the Floor Falls Out

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For six years of my childhood, I lived in a doublewide mobile home on ten acres. My dad was a horse trainer and he ran training stables about forty minutes outside Seattle. I spent my days running through the fields, playing in the creek, and riding horses.

During a particular season of those six years, my mom went through a difficult bout of depression. She stopped wearing make-up, smoked lots of cigarettes on our porch, and disappeared into over-sized flannel shirts. Our trailer was dark and musty, small and cramped, with brown carpet and dark wood paneling. The former residents had cats and in one of the rooms, the smell of cat urine was so strong, it gave me a headache.

I don’t know all the details of my parents’ marriage, but those were some challenging years. The difficulties of life and their painful pasts were catching up with them. They were trying to figure out how to overcome it all. My dad was trying to make it in a tough business, and my mom was trying to remain stable for three girls. We didn’t have a lot of money. By that I really mean we didn’t have a lot of money. I told my mom one afternoon we needed to go to the grocery store because we were out of food. She shook her head. “We don’t have money to go to the store, Tina.”

There is something dangerously powerless about life when you don’t have money to go to the store to feed your kids. We didn’t starve, but life took a toll. On all of us.

Which is what life does. It takes a toll. Even when things are going well, life can still be overwhelming. For example, the other day, I was standing in my kitchen, looking at the toaster and had a moment. I’m 39, I thought. This is about as good as it gets. For better or for worse, this is exactly who I am. Then came my moment of astonishing clarity: My ass is probably always going to be just a little too big for the rest of my body. I’m not joking. For about two minutes, I felt the most profound grief wash over me. I could hardly stand upright. Everything felt so damn sad. (Note to self: Don’t spend lots of time looking at the toaster or at one’s oversized ass.)

One day, out of absolutely nowhere, my mother announced she was going to paint our family room white. My dad opposed it. My sisters and I thought she’d gone mad. So like a woman on mission, she went to the store, bought white paint, rollers and tape, and proceeded to transform the dark brown cave into a white room of light.

It was an act of rebellion, as if she were physically speaking to her depression and troubles. “You will not keep me bound and in the dark. I’m not powerless. I still have some say over my own life.”

* * *

When I first moved to Chile, I crashed into a painful time of depression. Darkness overwhelmed me. I wept most of each day for over six months. My strength was rent from me, and I was left with no reserves. I forgot a lot of things that were important. I forgot how beautiful life is. I forgot that there is goodness in this world and it’s worth fighting for. I forgot that my life matters. I sat in my pain.

After my kids came home from school every day, I’d cry in my bedroom, buried under the blankets of my bed, and leave the television on to keep them company and muffle the sound of my weeping. My sorrow swirled around me, and rolled on top of me in big, over-arching waves. I’d hide in the bathroom when I’d go to large gatherings and tremble with anxiety, afraid of my own shadow. I drank a lot of red wine.

That was okay for a while. It’s okay to feel our pain and sadness, to stare at our losses  and give ourselves permission to take a deep breath and realize that the equilibrium of the whole world is so damn off we don’t even know what to do with ourselves. We lick our wounds, drink too much wine, and smoke too many cigarettes. We let our kids watch way more television than is healthy for them, or maybe we read romance novels until all the damsels are the same woman and all the knights-in-shining-armor merge into one ridiculous story. Or we read Twilight too many times and wonder why the hell she didn’t pick Jacob. Then, by some miracle, we remember.

We remember that we’re worth it, that life is indeed terrible and sad and filled with tsunami-sized losses, but there’s also this glimmer of something else we need to acknowledge—that we’re not powerless over everything. We still have some choices, even in all the mess. So we do something that puts some of the control of our lives back into our own hands and somehow, hope springs. 

Maybe we take a class, or we start to journal every day for 15 minutes. Maybe we decide to start walking in the mornings before work, or we plant a flower garden. Some of us secretly begin saving our money to go on a trip to Italy, or to escape a bad situation. Maybe we give half of our clothes to the Goodwill and practice radical generosity. Or, like my resilient mother, we get up, and paint our family room white—even if no one understands it and they call us crazy. It was not crazy. It was her sanity. It is sane to remember we still have choices and we can do something to feel better about our own life.

Depression is common for so many. The floor falls out from under us and we plunge into the dark sea of sorrow, and feel powerless to change things. My mother taught me something significant about our dark seasons. During one of her lowest moments, my mom remembered, and she did something about it. She painted her walls white.

This is my legacy.

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Tina Osterhouse
Tina Osterhouse is passionate about living deeply and authentically. Through fiction, blog posts, and creative essays, she writes about ordinary life and the way God meets us in our everyday circumstances and creatively weaves the sacred into them. She studied ministry and theology at Northwest University, most recently lived on thirty acres in Southern Chile, and finally returned to the Seattle area in June of 2015.
Tina Osterhouse
Tina Osterhouse

Latest posts by Tina Osterhouse (see all)

  • I struggled with depression after the birth of my two oldest sons. Aside from simple grace, I don’t really remember what shaft of light eventually reached me and lightened my darkness, but it was a profoundly informative experience for me, because I know that it could happen again. For me, little choices every day “paint my room white,” and I’m thankful for the sense of dependency upon God that this forces me to acknowledge.

    Thank you, Tina, for valuing and honoring your mum’s legacy to you.

    • Little choices every day do paint our room white. Thank you for commenting.

      Bless you…

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    Thank you, Tina. This piece feels so tender and yet strong. It speaks to my heart and somehow has given me a little room to exhale.
    💙

    • Exhale is one of my favorite words — it felt like a long exhale to write this piece and so thank you for saying something.
      xox

  • Love this ray of inspiration! Love your mom’s creative burst that shined from the darkness leaving a lasting impression you bring to us! Beautiful post!

  • Joy Howard

    I love that you acknowledged that it is perfectly normal to spend some time sad. And then to get up and seek to move forward. But it is ok to be sad. Thank you for acknowledging it is both.

    • It is both! Goodness. I sat in my pool of tears for a loooong time. We get up when we’re ready and not a minute before. By that time most people are telling us it’s time to get up, but it won’t help until the person who’s been laid low, is ready to rise and do life on very different terms. We don’t get depressed for nothing. Life is hard. We go down and lay low and then rise up different. Hopefully more compassionate and aware, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Hugs to you…

  • Lizzie Goldsmith

    This is wonderful. Thank you, Tina!

  • Yes sometimes we need to be sad. And then we can choose to do something to move out of the darkness. Because it is freeing to know that we have some choices, even when we feel we have few. Thanks for sharing. Powerful piece.

    • Thank you. It certainly came from my heart and the difficult places of reality. Love to you… Xox

  • Oh my, how I loved this! Thank you for your honesty and hope. “Even when things are going well, life can still be overwhelming.” This is how life feels to me these days (maybe I’m staring at the toaster too much…) 😉 I’m learning to stay open to the gifts hidden in the darkness. I want to believe that grace leads us into those times and grace also leads us out. Blessings to you! xoxo

    • Me too! I need to believe that grace leads us out! Love to you… xox

  • Teresa

    I loved this. Lovely message, lovely writing. I lost my my this past Friday, and the void is, and will be profound and long-lasting. But I too, can paint a wall white. Maybe not today, but soon. Thanks for reminder that there’s a paintbrush.

    • Teresa

      That should say my “mother.”

      • I am so sorry for you loss. Bless you as you mourn such a loss … Much Love to you.

  • Wow. Tina, this is a gut-wrenching story filled with hope. There was a time when I forgot there was goodness in the world. It took me years to “paint the walls white.” Back then, people didn’t talk about these things. Thankfully, people like you are brave enough to talk at the table. Thank you.

    • Bless you! Thank you so much for commenting. I’m so glad people are talking about these things now. We need to be honest about our pain and our joy, don’t we? Much Love …

  • Jessie Gail Atkins

    I happened to read this today, post-election and I know that was perfect timing. It spoke to my sad soul. Many thanks for the ray of hope.

  • Saskia Wishart

    All the different parts of your story Tina, and the wisdom you pull out of it, teaches me! You weave all the bits together wonderfully.

    • Thank you! It’s so nice to see you – even if only via our writing.