I do not tend toward depression.
Now, before you think, “Gee, thanks for the update, Abbie. But…why…are we talking about this?” I have a point.
I needed to get that first part out of the way to establish where I am coming from as a personality.
I am a pragmatist. I’m not a huge planner or dream-chaser. I’m a day-to-day-er. I balance on a fine line between doubting that anything “big” will ever happen and believing that all of the everyday stuff is probably going to be just fine.
I don’t have huge emotional mood swings as a general rule. For better or for worse, I am fairly consistently…ME.
With all that said, I’m no robot. I have feelings and lots of them. And sometimes, those feelings are “down.”
The other day, I had dinner with a friend whom I consider an equally even-keeled sort. Not overly emotional. Not prone to high highs or low lows.
But then, she said this: “So…do you ever just get so depressed that you don’t even want to be a mom anymore? Like that you’ve messed up so many times or are just too tired to keep going?”
Now, this friend of mine is a good mama to two sweet little boys. She is patient and kind with them. She stays home with them all day while her husband often works long hours, and she doesn’t complain…to me anyway. Her confession surprised me because she “doesn’t seem the type” (I think we would find that we are all “that type,” if we’re willing to be vulnerable enough to admit it).
I must have hesitated a little too long when she asked me this because she quickly blurted, “You don’t, do you? Yeah. I didn’t think so. That doesn’t seem like you. Never mind.”
She’d misunderstood my pause, though. I hadn’t NOT answered because I couldn’t relate. Instead, my mind had been running back over the many times I’ve felt exactly how she was describing.
I admitted as much in this post.
Most notably, after the twins were born, I experienced what I now realize was at least a mild version of Post Partum Depression.
For months, I struggled to put one foot in front of the other. You wouldn’t have known it from the outside. I was still doing all of the things–breastfeeding twins, part-time homeschooling Ezra and Simon, reading to Della, making lunches and dinners, changing diapers, teaching fitness classes, blogging, laughing at my husband’s jokes.
But I had no joy.
My favorite day of the week by about a million is Sunday. I’ve said it before. I love worshiping with my family in the morning, eating lunch with my family when we get home, taking a nap as a family in the afternoon, then eating dinner together and watching a movie as a family in the evening. Sunday for me is a mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional sigh of relief.
But I can remember standing in my kitchen on a Sunday evening chopping vegetables as my three oldest children played on the living room rug with my husband and the twins napped forehead to forehead–a scene that would have normally filled me with an enormous sense of contentment–and feeling…Bleak. Sad. Despondent.
Like this vast black hole had opened up and sucked in all of my ability to appreciate goodness.
I told my friend all of this–that I had experienced this with the twins and that I have had other, less significant bouts of it at other times. And she said: “So, what do you do? When you feel like that, how do get out of it?”
And I told her what my mom always told me when my hormones got the better of me as a teenager, and she caught me indulging in an episode of adolescent ennui at its finest.
“Dig deep in the Lord. When you are down, lean into him.”
Ugh. Even as a Christian since an early age, I didn’t love that advice when I was 16. I remember thinking: “C’mon, Mom. Surely you’ve got something more practical than that to offer. Where’s the offer to take me shopping or buy me a pint of Rocky Road?”
Of course, almost 20 years later, I know that my mom–who does struggle with despondency sometimes and had a mother who couldn’t get out of bed many mornings–was teaching me something so much more profound than “eat your feelings.”
Ice cream (or wine or chocolate or movies or girls’ nights out or new clothes) will only numb the ache for a day at most.
But digging deep into the Lord, crying out to him, meditating on his promises, memorizing them, taking the time to wallow–not in our sadness–but in the knowledge of his love (even if we don’t *feel* it at the time) has lasting benefits that go beyond even just pulling us out of our current funk.
I’m not saying it’s a quick fix or a bandaid or a magic cure.
In Matthew 5, Jesus does not say: “Blessed are those who are happy all of the time.” Instead, he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”
It sounds like he knew a thing or two about being downhearted. And about empathy.
Psalm 34:18 promises that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” But it does not say whenhe does. In other words, as much as I would have loved to have enjoyed every moment of the twins’ infancy, when the Lord did pull me out of my depression four months later, I could still see his hand in all of the times he had said, “Wait,” instead of, “Yes,” in response to my pleas for relief.
Nehemiah 8:10 says: “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” but I think that verse is often misunderstand. People think it means the “happiness,” the “emotional high,” the “giddiness” of the Lord is our strength.
But I’m inclined to believe–based on the context of that passage and what I have learned from personal experience–that the joy of the LORD is nothing like the joy of humans. That it is a rock-solid confidence in his goodness and faithfulness rather than a fleeting emotion.
Romans 15:13 says: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Emphasis mine).
If that doesn’t sound like my mom’s admonition to “dig deep in the Lord,” I don’t know what does. As you believe in him. That you may overflow with hope.
Maybe you are struggling right now because the Lord wants you to lean more heavily on him than you’re willing to when everything is hunky-dory. Maybe your sadness now is preparing you to overflow with hope into a fellow mama in the future when she tells you that she’s miscarried…again. Maybe your current depression is a reminder to pray for those who are likewise poor in spirit.
I don’t know.
But I “am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philipians 1:6.
He’s not done with us yet, friends. Our current struggle does not define us. And it is for our good.
Because hard is not the same thing as bad.
So, if you ever feel like my friend and I do about motherhood (or anything else), dig deep. Push your roots down deep into the fertile soil of God’s word and love for you. It may be months or even years down the road before you witness the fruit of your digging, but it will come. That much, I can promise you.
Disclaimer: I am in no way discounting those who chronically struggle with depression, nor am I trying to be glib in any way. I hope you can read my heart of encouragement and true empathy here.