I was thinking about how I’ve struggled with depression this pregnancy and how some others in my circle are dealing with it as well. It’s something that many of us don’t talk about, something we’re afraid others will “judge” and something we feel reflects on our “holiness.”
Depression, Physical or Spiritual?
There are some pretty hefty cases of depression talked about in the Scripture. David, Job, Jeremiah and Paul all seem to have struggled with depression. I think David is the most famous, many of his Psalms are written as either a reflection on his past depression(s), or his struggles-of-the-moment with something that is sapping all his emotional strength and ability.
The depression that usually affects us is our emotional response to something that we can’t change. Something that affects us or someone we love at a very deep level, but which we have no control or ability over. It’s almost like depression is a part of the “cycle of acceptance” for something that we have to learn to live with. I’m not excusing depression, and saying that if we struggle with it because something is affecting our life that we can’t change it’s ok. I am saying, however, that depression is a regular part of life, and if anyone says it’s “purely spiritual” or that it’s just us refusing to acknowledge something, they’re wrong.
The whole “it’s a spiritual problem” is sometimes true, but more often than not, it’s a physical one. Yes, we can have a moment like David talks about in Psalm 32:
Blessed Are the Forgiven
A Maskil of David.
32:1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
(Psalm 32:1-5, ESV, emphasis mine.)
The Psalm is believed to be David writing about how his adultery with Bathsheba affected his life, and verses 3-4 definitely describe someone who is in a spiritually induced depression. Though, I tend to think that the severe spiritual depression really happens less commonly than the physical “pit” type response to a situation or struggle.
Experiences with Depression
I can tell when my body is falling into a “pit.” I feel like I just can’t get above the responsibilities/demands/commitments, I can’t change something that is affecting me or someone in my immediate family, and I start to just try to “keep my head above water” before finally getting apathetic about it and just giving up, not caring if I sink to the bottom of the pit and am found there fifty years later, a fossilized mass among the remnants of my life. This is the “easy” kind of depression for me; usually most easily fixed by immersing myself in music and fellowship. Having someone over for lunch, meeting a good friend for a pedicure, sending an anonymous gift to a friend, these are some of my “fill up that pit before it digs itself deeper” treatments. This isn’t always true depression, it’s usually just me having gotten my life out of balance, and I need a balance-check, or it’s a small hormone swing like the “baby blues” that my body can come back from on its own with relatively little exertion on my part. (If you find you have “regular” episodes of this type of “funk,” please consider getting your adrenal/reproductive/thyroid hormones checked.)
However, the chemical kind of depression is a totally different beast. It’s the kind of depression I don’t realize I’m in until my husband tells me I’ve become “zombie like” and am just robotic in my daily life. I’m saying the right things, doing the right things, but taking no joy in it. I’m not interacting, sharing, being myself, taking comfort in the things that normally bring me comfort or joy in those things that are typically the most amazing things in my life. When I have a new baby, I have no desire to interact with that child beyond the “mommy responsibilities” that are necessary: feeding, sleeping, changing. I live by rote memory, my body has done the diaper change enough to do it in my sleep. I am in a “waking sleep” when I’m in my chemical depressions. Praise God these types of depressions have been very few for me. The only time I have really gotten into the big-bad-dark-depressions have been after my children’s births or the miscarriage I had.
Until this pregnancy. I hit the depression at about 18 weeks. The combination of bedrest, severe daily (constant) vomiting, feeling “useless” and all around just feeling as sick and as lovely as a dying dog made for one doozy of a depression truck. Add the diagnosis of Littlest’s Spina Bifida, and you have a perfect storm of everything that can cause someone’s body to emotionally give up. My OB, because of the severity of my previous PPD, decided to proactively treat my depression this time around, since I wasn’t “bad” when I talked to her, I was just concerned that it was something I was going to struggle with more and more, and I didn’t want the chemical imbalances caused by the Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) to exacerbate the already-frail hormone balances I have in my body. She is treating the PPD “before it really becomes PPD” by both medication and keeping an eye on me, asking me if I have the spiritual support I need, etc.
Why share all of this? It’s usually a very personal thing, I know. I just felt that to be transparent about things that are the hard things in life is something that I really desire. I desire people to know that yes, I have had struggles and I don’t just naturally get to the “God is good!” point in life. I also wanted to share that sometimes the hardest things in life lead to the greatest blessings in life.
Sharing God’s Sovereignty
I’ve had amazing opportunities to share God’s grace with those who are not children of Him, to give an example of how this struggle with depression or the struggle with accepting and rejoicing in my son’s birth defect is growing and changing me for the good. Just last week, when I saw my regular OB at our last appointment before she transferred me to the OB who will deliver Littlest, she asked me if I was getting the spiritual support for both my struggles with the pregnancy and with Littlest’s diagnosis. I told her that yes, my church and family have been an amazing support. I told her that they are excited about welcoming this child into the family (both physical and spiritual), and that it has been a huge blessing for me. I did share with her that I struggle with those who look at Littlest’s Spina Bifida as a “problem” and that I’m trying to show love to those people in my responses.
She asked me why it is that the “most holy looking Christians” seem so shocked and saddened when something like Spina Bifida happens in their family. She went on to say that “bad things happen to everyone, just like good things happen to everyone.” Made me think of the last half of Matthew 5:45 “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” I told her that those Christians usually have an incorrect view of God’s sovereignty, and may also have the idea that if they follow all the steps, nothing bad will happen and they’ll be blessed physically. I said that God has blessed me and Joel with a view of God that rejoices in the trials He allows, because we hold His promise true: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.(1 Corinthians 10:13) Temptation can be translated as “test” or “testing.”
Discussion of Postpartum Depression etc.
Most women struggle after delivery with what is called “the baby blues” –a natural response of our bodies to the hormone swings that result from delivery, breastfeeding, our bodies cleansing themselves, etc. The baby blues can last for a couple of weeks following birth or last for a couple of months.
Postpartum depression is more involved, usually not beginning until the baby blues should be waning. PPD is a sign that your body might have a chemical imbalance, and is not something to be just taken lightly or dismissed as “something that will straighten itself out in a bit.” Sometimes it does, but it can also worsen if not caught, can lead to more severe stages of depression (postpartum psychosis, for example. Click here for a breakdown of the differences.)
Sometimes the depression is a sudden free-fall off a cliff, sometimes it’s a “one step forward, three steps sliding backwards” movement, but no matter how it starts to affect you, it’s not something to take lightly.