The women were coming and I would never be ready on time.
My children were still wee young things. It must have been the Holy Spirit’s leading that had caused me to successfully get a women’s Bible study up and running in my home. Those who know me well, know that thinking of, organizing, and following through on such plans is completely unlike me. Many times on Bible study day, I recall waking up in the morning, standing in my kitchen, and wondering how I would ever be ready on time. The perpetual pile of papers was always there to accuse me of being a homemaker failure. Taking care of my children and getting hot drinks ready for a group of women daunted me. And that was the extent of my responsibilities: faith life, husband, children, home. Nothing major, nothing extraordinary, and I was overwhelmed.
What is wrong with me? I often wondered.
I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I had no clue what might be going on. If I was groping in the dark for an answer to the lethargy and sense of doom, then surely no one else had an answer either. My thoughts weren’t quite that coherent at the time, but I suspect that’s what kept me from speaking.
One night I became a raving shrew to my husband. I don’t remember the particulars; I do remember my wretched, unwarranted behavior. The next day I got my menstrual cycle and the shrew went dormant.
A few weeks later, I was driving my children to day care. That day, the struggle to find the energy to get all of us ready and out the door was worse than usual. I pondered my life: I was spending time with God in His Word and in prayer, I had a loving husband and two healthy children, I had weekly fellowship with wonderful women, I had a lovely home in a nurturing community. What I didn’t have was joy. God promises us joy in His Word. Not the joy of “my life is wonderful, so I’m happy,” but rather the kind of joy in the Lord that rejoices even in hard times.
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:41, emphasis added)
Not only was I not suffering any kind of persecution, my life was GOOD! And yet, I had an utter lack of joy. Halted at a stoplight, two children buckled into car seats behind me, I looked through the windshield up into the sky, and cried out in my heart:
Where’s the joy, Lord? Where’s the joy?
I trusted God. I trusted his promises. The problem wasn’t with God. I knew the problem must exist inside of me.
One month after the first appearance of The Shrew, she came back. I do remember the circumstances that time: Todd and I were getting ready to go camping the next day. I can say with confidence, that my emotions and ensuing behavior were Out of Whack!!! And it was the night of our 10th wedding anniversary.
My long-suffering husband is an amazing man. He has stood by me in the worst of times, enduring my unmerited, mean-spirited attacks. He has also stood by me when I was a lump on the couch little able to respond to him or the children. The next day we were off camping, sans kids, to celebrate our anniversary; I got my cycle. The Shrew went dormant.
Two months in a row of the same event sequence got my attention. A few days later, a friend who is a nurse visited. When she left, it was as though the wind left my sails; an unreasonable sadness weighed me down at being left to deal with the basic tasks required of a disciple, wife, and mom. A possible reason popped up in my mind: perhaps my hormones were unbalanced. I had recently weaned our fourteen month old son and I was going ballistic the day before my cycle. I called my nurse friend and discussed my symptoms with her.
“Oh my goodness, Ellen! The phrases you are using are almost textbook examples of depression,” she said.
Depression? This is one face of depression?
Eight years and many travails later, I still battle depression.
I was on the wrong medication for years. While weaning off of it, one day I realized why some people choose suicide. A few months prior, a friend had chosen just that to end the agony of battling lifelong suicidal depression. Deciding to seek care from a psychiatrist rather than continuing with my family practice doctor, I was put on a medication better suited for me. Then unreasonable irritability surfaced. I was given a second medication to combat the irritability. A few years and a new psychiatrist later, I underwent a another nightmare of medicine adjustments. I’m now on one half the dose of the first medication and have weaned off the second. Turns out that the first medication can cause irritability.
Eight years ago, when I began this Battle the Depression journey, I felt confident in my spiritual walk and so went looking for a physical cause. We are not only spirit, we are body as well.
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” (Mark 12:29-30)
Of course, we aren’t compartmentalized into heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Great Commandment is teaching that God wants all of us. Depression has taught me how intertwined are the aspects of ourselves. The state of my soul affects the states of my mind, heart, and strength. The state of my strength affects the states of my heart, soul, and mind, etc. Because I believed God’s promises and wasn’t finding full relief from anhedonia — lack of joy — through my relationships with God and others, I sought medical help.
The first medical professional I worked with expressed surprise that I recognized there was a problem before my life spiraled downward even more. That was my first hint that trusting God’s promises led me to seek help sooner than usual. I trusted God that a joy-filled life — in spite of wretched circumstances — is possible; I knew there was a problem within me when I had an excellent life, but no joy.
As noted earlier, my life didn’t suddenly get all perky, but it has improved.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. —Jesus (John 16:33)
So, while I continue to walk through the travails of battling depression, I have peace that God has the big picture in hand. I have a quiet, sustaining joy that all will ultimately be well because he has secured the eternity of all who love Him. Believing God’s promises did not lead to having depression; it led to recognizing that I had a medical problem that needed to be dealt with.
[My thanks to Laura Droege for providing the inspiration to finally write this episode of my life: The day apologetics saved my life]