Depressed, Anxious, and Isolated?
It happened shortly after the birth of my second child, a beautiful, healthy baby girl. My husband, Tom, was at work, and I found myself picking up the keys from the key rack by the door, opening it - only to have the cold air hit me in the face. I came to my senses and realized I had two babies at home that would be harmed if left alone.
Where was I going to go? Really, I don’t think I was “going” anywhere. I just wanted to walk into an invisible wall and disappear. No one would be hurt or miss me. I would just disappear. Oh, how much I wanted that.
I didn’t know what was wrong. I thought I was just having a hard time getting over pregnancy. Tom spoke privately to an older lady we had grown close to. He explained that I, Dinah, wasn’t acting normal and he just didn’t know what to do next. The lady said, “You take her to the doctor immediately. If she doesn’t want to go, you take her anyway.”
“I think I’m going crazy,” I said to my doctor, through tears.
“Honey,” he replied with such kindness, “you’re not crazy. You’re just depressed.”
I burst out crying and said, “But what do I have to be depressed about??”
Thus began the wonderful world of living in “the fog.”
I received a diagnosis of postpartum depression from my doctor. We didn’t really know what that meant. At that point in our young marriage, we didn’t know anything about mental illness but knew our families sure didn’t believe in it. If you were down or low, you were just supposed to work harder and shake it off. We had a long journey ahead. Tom Jenkins, husband of the century, educated himself with as much knowledge as possible about this new thorn in our lives. He didn’t ignore it or allow me to pull the covers over my head every day. He worked with me through it.
Depression is a serious medical condition in which a person may feel very sad, hopeless, unimportant, and alone and is often unable to live in a normal way. When depression affects your daily life, it is serious. Almost 1 out of every 7 women will suffer from postpartum depression. According to a study published in 2014 by the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, for about 38% of women who suffer from postpartum depression, the disorder is the “prelude to the development of a chronic depressive disorder.” That means that 5% of women who have had a successful pregnancy will have continued struggles with a depressive disorder. I am one of the unlucky ones whose postpartum depression turned into a lifelong battle.
After a few years of dealing with “the fog,” I was still trying to figure it out. I often felt like I was in a deep hole trying to climb out, but kept falling. We moved to a new community and a new church. I confided about my struggles to someone I greatly admired spiritually who told me it was not a physical problem but a spiritual problem. That one simple statement really affected my recovery. When you suffer from depression, every thought is dark: “Of course God didn’t love me. I’m not good enough to have Christ in my life. I am a spiritual loser. I’m a fake. I’m not good enough to be in anyone’s life. Everyone would be so much happier if I wasn’t around. Tom needs a helpmate that will be a spiritual giant, not my weak self.”
It is obvious we live in a fallen world where sin runs a destructive path. Many things can contribute to mental illness, and sin can certainly be one of them. However, sometimes the flu is just the flu and not an act of God. Sometimes, the brain chemistry is affected by pregnancy, or the death of a loved one, or a family crisis. These are injuries to the brain which can jumpstart depressive episodes. In many people, these are temporary. Certainly we would consider the death of a loved one a rational reason to grieve and have a period of depression. With some (like the 5% of post-partum women) the depression continues lifelong. Oversimplifying my situation and generalizations of the connection between sin and mental disorder caused a well-meaning spiritual advisor to give advice that spiraled me further into the dark hole.
Tom’s sister died in December of 1999 after a three-year battle with cancer. Tom naturally grieved over the loss, but after a year he was continually depressed, and that depression was beginning to affect his work and family life. He found a Christian counselor who helped tremendously. The first thing the counselor recommended was an anti-depressant. After two weeks, not only did Tom feel a bit better, but he was also more mentally fit to work through a series of grief counseling. After a few months, Tom was able to discontinue the medication. His injury to his brain by losing his sister had healed.
Very soon after my initial diagnosis, I began to take daily medication designed to help my brain chemistry realign itself to a normal state. I definitely felt better and my day to day activities began to make sense again. After a year or so, I thought I was good enough to discontinue the medication. After two weeks, my depression returned with a vengeance. I learned the hard way that my depression was to be a lifelong battle. Other times, I would get too busy and just forget to refill my meds. After a few times of this Tom said, “Dinah!! I will ALWAYS get your medicine! It will never be an inconvenience!!” Then he said, “What if I just let my blood pressure meds run out and didn’t get them refilled for a few days? Would you be happy with me if I did that?” Point made. The medicine wasn’t just for me; it was for my husband and my two daughters…and the world.
Our families and friends didn’t understand depression – or at least had never talked about it. We didn’t tell anyone for a long time what I was going through because we really didn’t understand, ourselves. Early in the journey, Tom became very protective of me. How? Depression exhausted me. He knew I expended so much energy around people and afterwards I would be even more exhausted at home. He gave me permission to not be around people when I was having a bad day by saying, “You don’t have to go to that.” I would say something like, “but I’m expected to!” His response would be, “Dinah, you’re not feeling well, so it’s ok to stay here.”
We learned that some are genetically pre-disposed to depression and discovered I had extended family members that had experienced bouts of severe depression. A few years after things were getting better for me, my brother went through a much more severe time of anxiety and depression after a serious illness. My mother, who did in fact blame Tom after she learned what I had been going through, rose to the occasion and learned as much as she could in order to help my brother. She then understood what had happened with me and knew my brother didn’t have a Tom in his life. She has since become a fierce advocate for people to receive help.
Along with taking medication I also began counseling as recommended. It was such an added benefit to healing. Over the years I have heard people say that they – or the family member they are speaking on behalf of – don’t need help, that counseling and/or medication is for weak people, and that they will get through it and be fine. It takes courage to go to counseling. It is a great fear of the unknown if you have never been, but counseling only makes you better. I believe EVERYONE needs counseling.
Over time, I learned to recognize when “the fog” started creeping in again and would begin measures to address it head on. I learned to be better at saying to Tom, “I’m not doing good right now,” and he knew what I meant and generally what I needed.
In time, God orchestrated another move to another new community after I had been through the darkest period. I gained a wonderful friend and neighbor who had experienced the exact same fog as I. She began speaking of it one morning over coffee, and I finally confided about the spiritual problem statement. I thought she was going to go through the roof. She said fiercely, “Nobody has any right to judge you for experiencing depression and then tell you it’s a spiritual problem!” Her affirmation was a balm that covered my soul.
Words. Funny little things they are.
Her reaction reminded me that we, as Christ followers, need to love and protect each other. I heard her words but more felt her affirmation through the Holy Spirit. I’m pretty sure she had a warrior angel behind her nodding his head in agreement. She responded with how the church should respond. She listened when the Holy Spirit prompted her to share with me. It opened the door to healing. And laughter. She was the church.
I’ve talked with others who have anxiety and depression, and we all agree we aren’t going to walk into the doors on Sunday morning and say, “Hello church, I have a bad case of depression. So help me out and do your thing.” The best way to help is to pay attention to people. Really notice them. Pray that God allows you to really see the people you interact with regularly in your small groups and conversations. If someone is struggling, and you listen to the Spirit, you’ll know. If they look like they are having a hard time or appear sad, overwhelmed, anxious, angry, or more teary than normal, approach them with love and concern. They may not know what is going on, and your encouragement will make such a difference. They may have built up a wall and think you will think less of them if they admit they are sad. They may not be able to verbalize what it is, but keep chipping away, keep loving. Depressed people do not want your pity. They just want to feel better.
Depression doesn’t respond to logic. You may tell yourself that many others suffer in the same way, that you aren’t fighting this battle alone. But the fog that hovers through the sleepless nights and exhausted days denies all logic. When I was going through this, I thought I was in a very small minority and alone. Even now after so many years, I know that the fog is not far away. I rest in the fact that I am not alone or even in the minority of people on a journey of this kind. I am in a very big majority. Many people experience depression and other things that go along with it. They each have their own story. There are many in the First Baptist family who could be writing this article.
That’s not how the enemy works. We have an enemy who is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. One of his many tools is to make us think that we are alone in our struggle. The enemy wants to make us think we have to be perfect at church…that we have to act as if we have no problems and shouldn’t open ourselves up to be vulnerable or share our struggles.
The enemy whispers:
“Others will think poorly of you.”
“Your (spouse, family, friends) will think you are weak.”
“You don’t need a doctor’s help, just keep trudging along.”
“You deserve this. You are alone. You are unforgiven. God doesn’t love you, and He doesn’t care.”
Satan wanted me to think I had a spiritual problem. He wanted me to feel isolated from others. He wanted me to expend energy at church pretending everything was great only to crash behind closed doors leaving nothing for my husband and children. He wanted me to believe I wasn’t good enough to love. He wanted me to feel alone. He wanted me to feel like I was a terrible wife, mother, daughter, and friend.
But…none of that was true. I am loved. God loves me. He loved me THROUGH that time. He still loves me. And I’ve accepted that I am lovable. I’ve also accepted I am weird and kooky – but’s that’s not because of depression. And I do have spiritual problems, just like everyone else. But just like everyone else, I have the free gift of God’s love in my life and the forgiveness of my sins.
I still take meds daily and don’t think twice about it. I thank my Heavenly Father for them!
What I do think about and rely on is my Lord’s guidance and strength for my life’s challenges. David’s Psalm 143 shows a heart that is overcome by sadness and worry. David cries out to God as he confesses, “my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed.” His prayer continues in verses 7-8:
"Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life."
I look back to when I was in the midst of that awful time and see very clearly I was being carried. I felt I was all alone and walking this path by myself. Now I reflect back and I clearly understand. There was only one set of footprints in the sand, and they were not mine. They were those of my God. My Savior. My amazing Redeemer.
- Make an appointment with your minister. Although most are not trained in clinical counseling, the ministry staff at First Baptist Church are always available to have confidential conversations. We truly care! Talking with a trusted person may be all you need to get on the right track, or it may be the first step along your journey to mental health.
- Call the church office (662-323-5633) for contact information for local counseling services.
Warning Signs of Depression
Below is a list of ten warning signs of depression from helpguide.org, a trusted guide to mental and emotional health. You can also find a questionair for you and your physician to help you determine if you are suffering from depression. Go to helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-symptoms-and-warning-signs.htm to read more.
- Feelings of Helplessness and Hopelessness
A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
- Loss of Interest in Daily Activities
You don’t care anymore about former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
- Appetite or Weight Changes
Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
- Sleep Changes
Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping.
- Anger or Irritability
Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
- Loss of Energy
Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
- Reckless Behavior
You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
- Concentration Problems
Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
- Unexplained Aches and Pains
An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.