A sense of overwhelming gloom, sadness and hopelessness, a complete loss of desire for anything good, no energy to the point of feeling too weak even to stand up, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, feelings of isolation, aloneness, guilt and condemnation –coupled with constant anxiety resulting in frequent panic attacks ….
Not exactly the desired testimony of a saved person who is living victorious in Christ but that was definitely my life for almost 4 years. Did I mention that my husband was a pastor? So that would make me a pastor’s wife who knew this wasn’t godly living but just couldn’t seem to find a way out.
This long and intense journey through depression began shortly after I became pregnant with our fourth child. It was a planned pregnancy and the arrival of a new baby was welcome. What was not welcome was the intense nausea and vomiting that came with this pregnancy. I had pretty bad morning sickness with each of my three previous pregnancies but this was worse than I had imagined it could be. I had hopes in my mind that this pregnancy would be easier and I would enjoy it. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I dehydrated from the vomiting and had to go to the emergency room to get fluids. My mother-in-law and then my mother came to help take care of the kids but the intense nausea and vomiting continued. I tried several nausea medicines that were supposed to calm my stomach. Instead they messed with my nervous system and brought on a feeling of overwhelming gloom. Nothing worked to ease the nausea. It was severe and constant. I soon became afraid of the nausea and vomiting and my thinking turned sour quickly. I tried to put verses of God’s love in my mind but I quickly spiraled downward in my thinking wondering how God could allow me to get so sick from a pregnancy when there were unmarried pregnant teens who breezed through their pregnancies without any morning sickness. One Sunday morning when I did happen to make it to church, one of these “pregnant teen girls” happened to be at church sitting in the pew in front of me. I thought “God, this is not fair! I’m serving you and yet you have not taken the nausea and vomiting away and this girl in front of me isn’t sick at all.” Obviously I was well on my way to a pity party mentality which didn’t improve much over the rest of the pregnancy.
Throughout the majority of the pregnancy I was fed intravenously so that I could gain weight and nourish the baby. Thankfully the baby seemed to be developing well but I continued to go deeper into depression and anxiety. I couldn’t sleep and finally was such a mess that I was given some tranquilizers to sleep. It wasn’t the safest thing for the baby but I was in pretty bad shape so I took them in order to sleep. The Lord brought me through the pregnancy and I had a healthy baby boy, which was miraculous after all the sickness, anxiety and medicines that I took. However, contrary to what I was hoping, the depression and anxiety did not go away. It worsened after the baby was born and soon I was suicidal.
That is the story of how I got into the depression, which really is not so important. What I really want to share is how I got through and out of the depression. If you are reading this because you are in a serious depression, the thought of “out of depression” may seem so far away and even impossible to you, but I’m here to say it is not only possible but will be reality if you will face the facts, learn God’s truth and work hard to apply what God says concerning your thinking and actions.
When I realized my depression and anxiety were not going away after delivery, I did go to my family doctor who prescribed an antidepressant medication. The first medicine made me break out with hives on my arms and didn’t seem to help the depression much. The doctor changed to another antidepressant which helped me sleep but it didn’t do a whole lot for the actual depression. After a couple weeks with not much help, I remember thinking that this would never get better and it would be better if I wasn’t here anymore. I took a bunch of sleeping pills but after I put them in my mouth, I remember thinking “This isn’t right. I don’t want to face God this way.” So I spit them out. I told my husband what I had done. He had just begun a biblical counselling course that dealt with mental issues including depression at Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana about 2 and ½ hours away from where we lived. Often there is a waiting list to get into counselling but since my husband was currently enrolled in their course, they got me in that very week to begin biblical counselling. About this time, we switched to another family doctor who was a Christian. I began listening to the biblical counselor explain how our thinking affects our actions and feelings. He challenged me that I had been living by feelings rather than by God’s Word. But at the same time I was listening to my Christian medical doctor who was trying to solve my depression mainly through medicine. He tried several different antidepressants and antianxiety medicines but nothing really seemed to help much and some of the medicines actually made my depression worse. One medicine I took was especially terrible, causing suicidal thoughts. The medicines really are a trial and error process since what works great for one person, may not work at all for another person. I desperately wanted the medicine to work for me but nothing really helped. The number of various medicines I tried was ridiculous – at least 2 dozen – with none of them solving my problems. All the while I was going once a week to biblical counselling at Lafayette. The counselor who was also a medical doctor had me read the book, Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. It was really hard to face the truth that God had allowed the great suffering I was enduring. Some of my depression symptoms were so severe, it was hard to believe God could really love me and allow me continue to suffer as I was. One of the hardest symptoms and definitely the most exhausting was the constant recurring and racing thoughts which were always negative and often suicidal. I wanted to end the pain so badly, but I knew it was a grave sin to commit suicide. Someone has said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, which I completely agree is the truth for every believer. Other symptoms included sleeplessness, loss of appetite, severe anxiety which included the feeling that bugs were actually crawling up my insides. One person I talked to said she felt like she was crawling out of her skin. However you describe it, it was an awful feeling and I thought I had to be going crazy because how could you feel crawling on the inside of your body? Apparently the great release of adrenaline triggers many symptoms that normally are not present and I have talked to several others suffering depression that admitted they also felt that they were going insane!
The depression and anxiety symptoms continued and life was extremely difficult. As I mentioned before, one of the hardest things was fighting the constant barrage of suicidal thoughts. I had four children to take care of and I had been homeschooling but just could not continue so we put the kids in a Christian school. By God’s grace, I was very good at taking care of the baby and I did attend church regularly but I was so exhausted and felt like I had such little physical strength that I didn’t do much else. I honestly don’t remember how dinner got on the table for a period of about 9 months. My husband did much of the housework and must have made dinner quite a bit as well. A blessing that I did not see at the time was that my older children, 12 and 9, learned to do a lot more for themselves and to contribute more to the household chores. I have a tendency to want to do too much for other people, including my children and that really is not helpful for them in the long run.
Over the summer as I continued the biblical counselling and also tried to find an antidepressant to cure the depression, I felt torn between two ideas. The first was that my depression was purely physical, “clinical depression” as it is called and the other idea which lines up with God’s Word is that my thinking, words and actions were contributing greatly to the depression. I felt like the double-minded man described in James. I didn’t want the depression and I didn’t think I was doing anything to cause it, certainly not intentionally anyway, but taking antidepressants wasn’t curing it for me either. I felt trapped and doomed for the rest of my life. My family doctor actually told me I had “profound depression” and would probably be on medicine for the rest of my life. That wasn’t very encouraging news. He was actually doing his best to help and by reading more about depression, he did come across an antidepressant that could help with several of the neurotransmitters. This medicine was actually the first antidepressant that helped some, though it did come with its side effects as well. It did not solve the feelings of sadness and anxiety but it helped greatly with the shaking, sweating, and extreme physical weakness I felt. That was a great blessing as at last I could stay on my feet and actually start doing normal things in my home to help my family. My thoughts were still terrible but eventually I did apply the truths my biblical counselor had taught me in biblical counseling. My motivation had to change from doing everything to get out of the depression to doing all things to please God. When I did things to get out of the depression, my thoughts were continually on the depression which was counterproductive and brought discouragement when my feelings didn’t change.
However, as I worked on my motivation, doing all things to please God, my thoughts would be a little more positive and even if I didn’t get the results I wanted, good feelings, I would still keep doing right because my motive was to please God. During this time, I began to memorize and meditate upon Scripture. I put verses on 3X5 cards and would carry them with me as I walked. It took months but slowly my thinking began to improve and ever so slightly so did my feelings. At first, my thoughts would only stay on God’s Word for a second and then would go back to all the negative thoughts, but then it would be for 30 seconds and finally up to a minute before it went to the negative. It was just like exercising any muscle. It took hard work and lots and lots of practice but it did pay off in an awesome way. I came out of the depression very slowly and after about a year of really working on my thinking I realized I was totally out of the depression. I might have gotten out of the depression earlier but during the 911 bombings in 2001, without my doctor’s knowledge, let alone his advice, I got off all my antidepressant medicines in a 4 week period– I don’t recommend it. That really set me back. My depression got really bad again and I ended up on all the medicine again.
I was actually at family camp when the realization hit that I was totally out of all my depression. It was not long after that I was able to have my doctor take me off all the antidepressant medicines and I never relapsed that time.
This is a very condensed version of my depression story that lasted almost 4 years. There will be a follow up article to my story telling about some very practical things I learned and some habits I put into practice that have helped me and others going through depression. One thing you won’t receive from me is condemnation or judgment about what you are going through. Although, depression is not the place God intends for any of His children to remain there are valuable lessons I learned that I don’t think I would have leaned any other way. When I talk to other people experiencing depression, I totally understand what they are going through, no matter how crazy it sounds to people who have not had to experience this battle. Pretty much anything a depressed person has told me that they are thinking or feeling, I have thought or felt the same thing. It’s an extremely difficult battle to fight and I failed so many times, I probably can’t even count them, but in the end I learned that God’s grace is sufficient and truly His grace is made perfect in weakness. My story is not pretty and there was certainly nothing easy or instant about the victory I have experienced. I have learned with more than just head knowledge that God is trustworthy and He will see you through and to the other side of depression, if you will take Him at His Word. I can’t tell how long your battle will be but I can assure you that through Christ you can do all things, even conquer depression. May God’s Word give you hope and encouragement that with God nothing is impossible!
Additional Resources you might be interested in:
Getting Past the Past by Harold Vaughan
When Trials Come by Harold Vaughan
“Be Of Good Cheer” by John Bishop