This is not an easy post for me to write. Depression is something that most people don’t want to talk about (me included). In fact, I started writing this post a month and a half ago, and I just couldn’t get the courage to finish it and publish it.
There’s a societal stigma against depression, and for some Christians, there’s a particularly big stigma. I’ve been wanting to write about my journey with postpartum depression and clinical depression in general, but quite honestly I feared what others would think about me if I spoke up. Instead of obeying what I felt the Lord nudging me to write about, I have feared others’ opinions of me. I have been scared, even embarrassed, to share my struggles. But after reading Psalm 3 one morning, I knew that not only did I need to write what the Lord was teaching me, but I knew it was time to share my struggles with depression publicly. (Many thanks to a fellow Christian blogger, Jesusluvsall, for his posts on Mental Health Awareness this month. He has bravely shared his own personal struggles with depression openly with others. See his most recent post here.)
I know there are any number of people reading this who have in the past or are currently struggling with Postpartum Depression (PPD) or Clinical Depression. There is often shame associated with these conditions. But if anyone can be encouraged by my story, it’s worth sharing. So, here we go…
My struggle with depression is not something that just started in this postpartum season. I’ve actually had clinical depression for years. It started when I was a teenager, and I sought counseling during college. I was officially diagnosed with clinical depression at age 22. At that time I started taking an anti-depressant. I’ve tried a couple of ones throughout the years, but for now I seem to have found one that helps. There was a season I went off of it, but when hormone fluctuations due to a few years of infertility, caused my brain chemicals to get off-balance, I went back on medication following the advice of my counselor at the time. I’ve stayed on it pretty consistently through the years (though I took a few months off during my pregnancy with my first daughter, but I went back on shortly after).
The past few months, hormone fluctuations, brain chemicals that aren’t quite balanced, not taking care of myself physically, and a harsh inner critic have caused me to really struggle with postpartum depression. For the most part, I’m a silent sufferer. Very few people know that it’s a condition that I’m facing every day. Typically, I am joyful, cheerful, and love laughing. Those are all genuine expressions of the Holy Spirit’s joy spilling out of me at any given moment. For the most part, when others see me joyful, it’s genuine. But when the public eye is not on me, depression is a slippery pit that is waiting to swallow me, sometimes at the most unexpected times.
I started showing signs of PPD when Haven (my second daughter) was about 3 months old. Quite honestly I was in denial that it was PPD, and I didn’t see my doctor for a whole month. I kept thinking, “Well, I’m already on an anti-depressant, and I don’t have thoughts of harming myself or my baby so I will just power through this.” I didn’t know if the doctor would increase my dosage since I’m exclusively breast-feeding so I just avoided going altogether.
A friend of mine encouraged me to see my doctor because my PPD was causing me to get overwhelmed with even just the thought of completing small tasks and I was having more depressive thoughts with each passing week. A few days after talking to her I read an article that said that PPD can worsen if not treated. It was then that I knew that I needed to see my doctor because I didn’t want my PPD to get to a point where I couldn’t take care of my baby.
I’m so grateful that it never got to that point. As soon as my psychiatrist increased my dosage, I felt immediately better. I felt great for a few weeks, better than I had in a long while. But after a few really tough weeks, full of almost daily, albeit, short, depressive episodes and feeling more agitated and irritable, I recently have started taking an anti-anxiety medication in addition to my anti-depressant. It’s been a couple of weeks since adding it in, and I have felt much more stable and am much less prone to the depressive dips and feelings of agitation.
Through the years of treating my depression with medication (and lots of prayer), there have been plenty of days when I’m just fine and my smile on the outside is a genuine, happy smile. There are other times, though, when I’m doing all I can to keep it together on the outside, and all it takes is one disagreement with my husband or one comment from my critical inner voice or the weight of too much stress, and I spiral down into the pit again.
God has used several passages of Scripture to encourage my soul when I’ve been in the pit. Psalm 3 has been one of those passages to me recently, and I hope that whether you have depression or if you’re not officially diagnosed but you feel in the pit today, God’s Word will bless you today like it has blessed my soul.
O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.
I feel right now like my inner critical voice is rising against me more often that usual. “You’re not ever enough.” “You never do enough.” “You’re not a good mom.” “You don’t spend enough time with your kids.” “You are a bad wife.” Lie after lie after lie. The voice is condemning me left and right. Though not a physical enemy, like what David the psalmist face, my inner critical voice is a very real present enemy aimed to cut me apart and destroy me on the inside. It condemns me, but God’s Word says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) When I confess my wrongdoing, Christ forgives me. The critical voice does not. When I don’t do something to my perfect standard, I start to beat myself up, but God speaks truth to my soul. He reminds me that His grace covers all while the voice lies and says I’m worthless and a failure.
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
And he answered me from his holy hill.
The LORD is my shield around me, protecting me from all “the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16) In my darkest moments, I’m letting these flaming arrows pierce me. I’m not calling on God to shield and protect me. This psalm reminds me that HE is the lifter of my head. In those moments, I cannot lift it on my own. He must come in and lift my head. And I know that when I cry aloud to the LORD, he will answer me. His compassion and his kindness will overwhelm my beaten-down soul. His love will surround me and his glory will shine through me, like a light that pierces the night sky.
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
Any time I sleep and awake again, it was the LORD who sustained me in my sleep. How I often forget that HE is the one who “makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2) and then he awakens me each morning for his purposes as part of his plan. He sustains my breath, my heart beat, my whole body. Whether I wake up in the best mood or a dark pit, the Lord is the one who gives me a new day. I do not have to be afraid of the onslaught of lies that the Enemy may throw at me.
Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people!
I can “trust the Lord and his mighty power” (Psalm 105:4) and that he will deliver me from all of my foes. He will arise and save me. He has already sent his Son to secure my eternal salvation. Each day he stands ready to save me from my Enemy who stands ready to shout lies to my weary soul. Satan has already lost the war, but he lurks around trying to win each day until then. He cannot win. Salvation belongs to the Lord. I will turn to the Lord. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2) He blesses me with his steadfast love. He sustains me with his Holy Spirit. He restores my soul.
If you struggle with depression (clinical or postpartum) I hope that Psalm 3 has encouraged you today. Thank you so much, also, for reading about my struggle with depression. I pray that Psalm 40:2-3 will be true of all of us today:
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.
Pressing on in faith, Jennifer