I struggle with depression. My personality type is prone to depth of emotion and thought, idealism, and I tend to over-analyze everything, so I have had trouble with “the blues” for as long as I can remember. In my mid to late thirties after my last miscarriage, it began to get serious. It started to affect my life; and it wouldn’t go away.
Being a Christian and struggling with depression is like trying to navigate a mine field. Christians are not supposed to be depressed. (Of course, if you read biographies of great Christians, you will find the truth to be that many of them suffered from depression.) People who are depressed already know there is something wrong with them and if they are Christians, they probably suspect that it is a spiritual problem. They end up surrounded by “concerned friends” like Job’s who are telling them that all they need to do is trust Jesus more. I have heard some horrible, heartless sermons about depression. Andrew Peterson has a great line in his song, The Silence of God. He says, “If a man has got to listen to the voices of the mob who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they’ve got, when they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross–what about the times when even followers get lost? Cause we all get lost sometimes.” That song makes me weep almost every time I hear it because it shows me that I am not, and was not ever, alone. Scripture tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.(Romans 12:15) It also tells us that those who sing songs to the heavy-hearted are like people who take away a garment in cold weather.(Prov. 25:20) If you read the Psalms, you will see without a doubt that David, the man after God’s own heart, struggled with depression. I have spent days, maybe weeks of my life, in the Psalms.
Through research and the counsel of kind friends I finally decided that the problem was physical and began taking antidepressants. I took various medications on and off from about 1998 until this year. During my bout with cancer I also started taking anti-anxiety medication. Medications helped me live my life. They enabled me to care for my family, to work, and to deal with all the stress God allowed to come my way. I am thankful for them and I do not see anything sinful about taking them. I just did not like the way they made me feel or behave in the long run. I also began to look around, to listen, and to realize that almost every woman I know is either currently taking medication for depression, has taken it in the past, or needs to start it. Something is wrong with this picture.
I teach history. Since I teach history, and even more because I love history, I read a lot of history and biography. I have done a lot of reading in the past two years about the nineteenth century–especially the period we refer to as “The Victorian Age.” Something that stands out is that they were a lot more careful about stress and very diligent in caring for their bodies especially after illnesses. After influenza, for example, they would rest and recuperate for a long period, often for a month. I realize they did not have antibiotics, and that forced them to be more careful to a degree, but really, when we think we might have the flu, we want the doctor to give us the anti-viral shot and let us go back to work. In fact, I submit that if this is not our attitude, we are made to feel like lazy dead-beat shirkers. During chemo I worked a four-fifths load. Within ten days after my last treatment, I was back to full-time. I have decided that this was STUPID!
The Victorians also were careful not to over commit themselves and they punctuated periods of concentrated study or work with time to rest. They were especially careful in the case of women. We can talk about women’s rights and equality all we want, but the fact is that our bodies are different from the bodies of men, and while we are very strong, we are only able to work to our full potential if we rest. I cannot and do not speak for everyone, but I personally have substituted drugs for rest. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications made it possible for me to live this modern life. I quit. I weaned myself off of everything.
Of course the obvious problem with this course of action is that the depression is back from time to time. I am recognizing it as cyclical even though chemo threw me into instant menopause. It makes me not want to do anything–which is exactly what I need to do. I am finding that if I exercise, eat right, and basically become a slug when my mood bottoms out, I can cope. The biggest problem I have is that voice in the back of my head that calls me a lazy bum or tells me that others are going to consider me lazy, irresponsible, and undependable when I take time to “veg.” I am my own worst enemy.
I am not super-woman. I refuse to act as if I am. I need time to rest, time to think, pray, and because of my personality, to be alone. I am who God made me. Other women will accomplish more than I can accomplish, but I will accomplish all that God has called me to do only if I stay healthy mentally and physically. That means rest. Rest is highly under-rated.