A Journey Through Depression

In one of Steve’s monthly homeschooling articles for dads, he mentioned that my bouts with depression were part of the reason we decided, at one point, to limit our family size. We were amazed at how many people e-mailed us, after that one sentence in his article, to ask how we had dealt with the problem of depression. It seemed fitting to put together our thoughts on a subject we would be just as happy to shove into the closet and forget was ever a part of our lives. However, there is the possibility that our experience and the changes the Lord has brought in this area might be helpful to others.1 Certainly, depression plays a huge role in the stealing of a meek and quiet spirit.

It has only been eight years since the Lord has given me freedom from the at-times-devastating depression with which I had struggled. It was usually worst during the year I nursed a baby. My pain through those difficult years was very real and is not that distant. I can fully understand the concerned feelings of a mom who is struggling with times of depression, and the worry of her husband, because that was our experience too.

I can’t point to a miracle cure, nor did I discover a twelve-step program to overcome depression. This is probably so I can take no pride in what I did but always know it was the Lord’s work. I will share what we see, in retrospect, about things that helped move me away from depression, and perhaps there will be something here that the Lord can use in another’s life.

One of my first lessons to learn was that the Lord works in His time. I wanted to be over the emotional downs right away. I didn’t want it to be “in process,” and sometimes I was even angry with God because He wasn’t helping me to be better right away. If He was the One to work in my life and I was still depressed, angry, and struggling, then it was His fault! That thinking was totally wrong, but that was how far off my ability to think truth had moved. I had to learn to accept my failings and sinfulness and wait on the Lord for what He would do in my life. It was not my time table. Philippians 2:13, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

My depression was humbling because I knew I wasn’t what I should be or what He wanted me to be. I even confessed to my church family what was going on in my life. That was a start towards the healing process for me. The depression was no longer something I had hidden away in my private life. Rather, now the Lord could use the prayers of my church family to help me.

I stayed faithful to daily Bible reading and prayed through those dark times, even though I might feel distant from and forgotten by the Lord. However, in the midst of those black days, I was sometimes closer to the Lord than I have ever been. This was because I was totally helpless and needy, not knowing where to turn or what to do.

We discovered that there were very real hormonal imbalances that affected my emotions. I would do everything I could to deny this, but it was very obvious to everyone except me. What I could normally handle one day would send me into tears another day. I used the natural progesterone cream (can be found in most health food stores or see Note 2 at the end of this Corner) for a time along with vitamins suggested by our naturopathic doctor friend (You would need to research the vitamins on your own, because I no longer have that list.). I eliminated caffeine as well.

Daily exercise was critical at this time. I know daily exercise sounds impossible to an already depressed, overwhelmed, terribly tired mom. Exercisemy walks—were about the only time I was away from home. Just getting out of the environment that I was struggling with for a short period each day, plus the effect of the exercise itself, was very helpful. When I would begin to feel myself spiraling down, getting out would sometimes be the only thing that would change the course of my emotions.

Being tired was a sure way to put me off balance. I am a light sleeper, often being wakened in the night by a noise or perhaps the need to nurse a baby. After that, I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. For eight years now, I have worn earplugs (The soft, spongy type; see Note 3 at the end of this Corner) when I sleep. It has transformed my ability to sleep. I thought not being able to sleep was just a part of my physical makeup. Not so! Since I began wearing earplugs, I hardly ever have a sleepless night. Steve became the “ears” for our family, and I know he will wake me up if the children need me. (Earplugs may not be an option for a mom whose husband can’t do this.)

If you want to see what being tired does to even the most “spiritual” of people, look at Scripture. The story of Elijah running from Jezebel after the Mt. Carmel experience is a great example. Elijah was tired and this is what happened from 1 Kings 19:3-5, “And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.” Sisters, guard sufficient sleep in your life very carefully. Don’t trade it for quiet late nights when the children are asleep, and you can have some peace. It isn’t worth it!

I discovered I made it best through a time of depression when I didn’t try to analyze what was causing it. It was better to accept my feelings—as Steve would encourage me to do—like a physical ailment to be patiently waited out. The more I ferreted for the causes the more discouraged and upset I would become.

However, the times I accepted the feelings and said, “Lord, I don’t like this, but I’m going to focus on You and not on me. I am not going to make any major decisions. I’m not going to root for the cause. I will just wait. If I wait, it will pass with no damage except for feeling down. If I think about it and talk to Steve about it, it will pull me further down, resulting in wrong thoughts and words.”

When Steve had run out of ideas for how to help me on his own, he found a pastor’s wife who agreed to counsel with me. Janice and I only met in person one time for an afternoon. She started by making sure that I knew I was saved (see Note 4 at the end of the Corner). With that assurance, she then gave me a couple of tangible projects to put my focus on the Lord rather than on myself. I called her a few times on the phone—at Steve’s insistence—but the path she set me on was exactly what I needed even though we didn’t have multiple “counseling” sessions.

Here are two of her projects. Perhaps they will be helpful to you as well. The first project involved learning to take captive my wrong thoughts—thoughts of being depressed or overwhelmed, thoughts that I was going to ruin my children, thoughts that I would never feel normal, thoughts of anger, bitterness, or defeat, thoughts of being overwhelmed. Those thoughts were all lies. Second Corinthians 10:5 is now one of my favorite verses. It says, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” I was to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ! For example, the truth in regard to the feeling of being overwhelmed is that the Lord hasn’t given me one more thing than there is time to do. If there isn’t time to do it, then He doesn’t expect it of me. My family was better off with next to nothing being done and me being happy, then for me to try to do everything my expectations said needed to done while I was depressed and my mind running in circles, able to concentrate on nothing.

The pastor’s wife encouraged me to begin a notebook. She showed me hers. It was a simple 8 ½ by 11 inch three ring binder with “ABC” tabs in it. Behind the tabs she had notebook paper, each with a topic on it such as, “Anger,” “Discouragement,” “Discipline” etc. When she had her Bible reading time, she would take verses that applied to her and copy them down in her notebook under an appropriate heading. Then when she needed to think “truth,” she could open her notebook and read it.

I would suggest that moms, who are prone to depression, do some of this evaluating of what you are thinking and replace the lies with God’s truth. Begin a notebook such as I have described. If you can’t think of God’s truth—I know there were many times when I couldn’t—get your Bible or notebook out and find that truth. Read God’s truth. Speak it out loud if necessary! Sometimes, I would have to say the words of truth out loud because my thinking was so muddled and twisted that I could not concentrate on or accept the truth when it remained in my mind. However, when I spoke the words, my heart would grab hold of them!

For the second project, I was to have another section of the notebook titled, “Sin List.” Every time I sinned, I was to write it in the notebook. I was then to confess the sin to the Lord, repent, and ask His forgiveness. In my notebook, I would write “FORGIVEN” over that sin.

How do you handle it when you are depressed? Do you become more and more unhappy with yourself for being depressed and make a worse cycle downward? I would do that, or I would end up becoming angry with the children and “beat” myself up about that. In my Mom’s Corner, No Condemnation, I share how the Lord gave me victory over that cycle although I write of it in terms of the struggles I have now. However, the truths I apply with my current problems are the ones the Lord taught me in the depths of my need. Learning “no condemnation” came from the “Sin List” project Janice gave me.

I believe a most powerful change came when I made a decision before the Lord one morning. I remember showering and thinking, “Lord, I just feel like crying all the time. I am miserable. My family is miserable. I can’t seem to do anything about how I feel, but I can do something about how my family feels. I can act like I am happy whether I feel like it or not. My emotions don’t have to drive my behavior, and I can make that choice because of my love for my family.” Those reading this, who are living with depression, may think this would be impossible for them to do. I encourage you to test yourself. When you are down and go to church, can others tell by looking at you and talking to you that you are depressed? If you can make this choice to act differently than you feel there, you can do it at home!

I think if depression-prone moms could figure out a way to work on even a skeleton of a schedule, it would help. I have had many moms write me and say that when they are distracted, brain dead, or just overwhelmed that their schedule directed them through their day when they couldn’t make decisions themselves. If you have somewhat of a schedule in place, despite tiredness, despite feelings, many things would get done because it would be the easiest path to take – just do what the schedule says. Without my schedule, on those bad days, I would have just sat and cried. That would have made everything even worse because then I would have been a day behind! Plus you can let your schedule direct your children when you don’t have the energy to keep up with what you would like to be doing. At least they are accomplishing things rather than just undoing everything you have done.

If it is any encouragement, I asked my older children if they remembered the struggles I had during those early, difficult days of their lives. My older boys (21 and 23) remember nothing negative. Can you believe the Lord can blind our children to what is going on inside of us especially when so much of it is easily visible? My 18 year old daughter only remembers one time that I was really struggling. I don’t share that as a license to allow the hormones or depression to control your life and emotions. Rather I tell it to help you to not feel that it is ever hopeless because there is too much emotional damage already done to you and to the children.

Twenty-three years ago I would never have believed where the Lord has brought me in relation to depression. I thought it was impossible to be free of it, but I am. The process was gradual. I wanted it to happen right away. Looking back, fifteen years isn’t all that long to lose what was such a devastating, negative part of my life.

As women, God has created us such that there are emotions and hormones to be coped with. That is still true in my life. However, a disappointment, a “down” day, a discouraging situation is nothing more than that. These no longer send me spiraling through depression. They are simply normal burdens to be left with my Lord Jesus, while I rest in Him.

I pray the Lord will give each mom, who needs help in the area of depression, insight into what will make a difference. Steve always encouraged me that as long as my heart’s desire was to please the Lord, He would answer that heart’s cry.

Somehow these words just don’t come close to describing what all those difficult years were like, but my prayer is that you will sense in my heart a deep desire to be able to encourage moms that it can be better even if you are homeschooling, if there are more pregnancies and more babies, or if there are more challenges of any kind. My growing out of the depression was a result, I believe, of a process the Lord brought me through in the midst of homeschooling, pregnancies, and babies. Seek the Lord!

Love,
Teri Maxwell

The September 2000 Dad’s Corner also focuses on Depression.

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Notes:

1. We are not doctors; we cannot make medical recommendations. We are only sharing our own personal experiences. We encourage each of you to pray and research as you look for your solutions to depression.

2. The progesterone cream I used is called ProGest, and it is made by Emerita. There are many progesterone creams currently available, but ProGest is the only one I had experience using. Here is a link to it at Amazon (this is an affiliate link, so if you purchase something, the Titus2 ministry will receive a small portion: see our policy here).

3. You would need to research the vitamins on your own, because I no longer have the list.

4. The ear plugs I use are called “Classic” by Cabot Safety Corporation, 317-692-6666.

5. Scripture verses outlining salvation:

Romans 3:23: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:8-10: But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Romans 10:9-10: That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

A Husband’s Perspective on His Wife’s Depression

We have had so many e-mail us to ask about how we dealt with the depression Teri suffered from years ago, we decided to write this month’s Corners on it. It is important to remember that we are not doctors giving advice but believers sharing our experience. What I am writing in this Dad’s Corner is a result of what the Lord taught me through the years Teri struggled with times of depression. Depression was a part of her life off and on for about fifteen years. It was the worst when I worked long hours and traveled a great deal. Only in the last eight years has the Lord brought Teri out of those dark times. Not only was the depression something Teri had to cope with, but it obviously had an impact on the children and me as well.

When a wife is suffering with depression, it can be very difficult for the family. Depending on the age of the children, they may be aware of it and asking questions as to why Mommy is crying or sad. There don’t seem to be any easy answers. However, everyone is in agreement that they want Mommy happy again.

Working through issues in my mind was critical to developing a godly perspective on Teri’s depression. It was very easy to think about myself and not the pain Teri was suffering. I believe that was absolutely the first and most important step: that I would get my mind off of myself and focus on my wife’s and children’s needs. Isn’t that what we are really called to do as husbands and fathers? Isn’t that a perfect picture of the shepherd who is tenderly caring for an injured sheep?

I had to realize that God was not surprised by the situation. He had a plan for it. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28-29). God desired to use my wife’s depression to conform me into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that the word “conform” is from the Greek word “morphe,” from which we get the word morph. His desire is to morph us into the image of Christ. Are we willing?

It may mean that there are “things” in my life that are hindering God’s conforming me into the image of Christ. I believe that God uses problems in a wife’s (and children’s) life to bring serious pressure to bear on a husband. As long as things are smooth sailing, we might not be willing to deal with areas that may be displeasing to the Lord. However, as the pain grows in my family, I become increasingly more willing to surrender what I might not previously have let go. I have now learned to use every serious difficulty that our family faces as motivation to cry out to God to examine my life and for Him to point out sin that He wants to eliminate. Pain in the family can become a wonderful stimulus to seek God’s will for change in my life.

I also saw my wife’s struggles as opportunities to show her my love. It is easy to love someone when she is pleasant and meeting my needs, but what about when her eyes are swollen from crying, and she isn’t much fun to be around? Maybe it isn’t too difficult for one or two days, but what about when it is longer than that? Truly, I could demonstrate that I meant my wedding vows by choosing to love Teri through better or worse. Whether my wife is discouraged all the time or just a few days a month, I must be understanding and love her as Christ loved the church. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). Those are not just nice-sounding words used to fill up an empty page; God commanded us husbands to live them out. I must choose to give of myself in whatever way God tells me to. “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). So what does “according to knowledge” mean? Vine’s Expository Dictionary amplifies it as “to come to understand.” I needed to understand the struggles my wife was having. I needed to shoulder the load she was stumbling under.

When Teri was depressed, I had to learn how to listen. As I prayerfully listened I heard about things that I had not adequately dealt with, things that produce bitterness and hurt. Unresolved offenses are fertile ground for Satan to sow seeds of doubt and discouragement in a wife’s heart.

As I listened, I heard about areas of intense struggle with the children that she did not have answers for and that led to frustration. Again, they had to be dealt with as well. A dad may hear that his wife is discouraged because she is too busy while accomplishing too little. Dads often can be the cause of encouraging lots of activities for the children. This can be terribly draining to Mom of both energy and time, not to mention introducing many additional character problems with the children. We need to be prepared to encourage the elimination of unproductive use of time and be willing to help. It might mean doing the grocery shopping or cleaning house; whatever it takes, we should be prepared to do it as long as necessary. Although one caution is that I don’t believe it would have been good for Teri if she’d had nothing to do. Idleness gives Satan much opportunity for working in a person’s mind. A certain balance of work and rest is good, but having nothing to do is harmful.

One thing I learned was that doing the family budget was stressful for Teri. She had begun doing it to free up some of my time. However, it was adding to the pressure she was under and was actually hindering me from being financially responsible. I have found, and now believe, that it is good for the husband to manage the finances so he feels the financial pressure. I am freer with money than Teri is, and when she tracked the spending, it caused her to worry. However, if I have to manage it and see the bills, I’m more likely to be careful. I now handle the finances–not as efficiently as she did, but adequately and without her having the pressure.

There could be other areas of responsibility that a wife has taken on that really should be her husband’s. When a wife is shouldering any extra load that God did not intend for her to, it can clearly lead to depression. Unfortunately, most wives will quickly step in to take over an area when the husband is not doing the job.

There are many things I don’t understand about women, and one in particular is the effect clutter has on them. I can be content with a closet so full it takes a week to find something in it! As long as the door is closed, I’m fine. Not so with most women. There is something about clutter that nags at a woman’s heart and will bring her down. I know that when I help Teri by building storage areas and weeding things out, she is unbelievably grateful. It is as if a big weight is lifted from her shoulders.

When she was struggling, I needed to understand that her choice of words might be less gracious than normal. I had to be prepared to be loving and accepting anyway. The situation would not have been improved if I became insensitive and offended because she was more direct now than at other times. Truly, we need to be men of understanding. Next, I believe that the husband needs to take full responsibility for his wife’s depression. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). It was not my wife’s problem, but it was my problem. We are one, and if part of the union is hurting, we are both hurting. Unless I took full responsibility for my wife’s depression, I was not going to have the compassion that God desired for me to have, and I would not have been crying out to Him for direction. I believe that most of what Teri is sharing in her Mom’s Corner is a result of God answering our prayers. It was not a pamphlet we picked up somewhere, but our Lord hearing our cries to Him and slowly showing us new things.

Just after moving to Florida in 1980, I was extremely troubled and concerned for her. I was led to fast and pray about the situation. God is so good! In my heart, I felt strongly that He told me not to worry, but to be loving, patient, and supportive. I would have preferred a quick solution, but God had as much for me to learn as He did for Teri. One of the most critical things I did was closely maintain my walk with the Lord and do everything I could to encourage Teri in her walk. “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him” (Psalms 28:7). Oh, how great our pride to ever think that we can get along without a close walk with the Lord. During times of depression the mind can play all sorts of games, and to focus on God and His truth is imperative. If we have neglected the Lord, we must repent and turn to Him. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Taking responsibility also will ensure that I am not being judgmental. It was easy to become impatient and critical. However, Teri would have given anything to be herself, and it was not a wrong choice she was making. If anyone could have just willed it differently she would have, but she couldn’t. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Again, God commanded me to love my wife as Christ loved the church.

Don’t be distracted by “non-issues.” Often when Teri felt bad, she would think some circumstance must be the cause. Most things were not really the cause of her feelings, but they would seem very monumental at the time. We would discuss it, and I, in typical male fashion, would come in and tell her how to fix it. Finally, it dawned on me that what she needed was someone to listen to her. I didn’t have to fix it, just listen! There were times when I would ask her, as she would begin to share a problem, “Honey, do you want me to listen or fix it?” That helped so much as I finally understood, at that moment, that all I needed to do was be sympathetic and listen to her. I think this was one of the most challenging lessons God had for me. To my shame, there are times now when I really just need to listen and not jump ahead to a solution. So much still to learn and so little time.

In our experience and that of people I’ve spoken to, there just doesn’t seem to be a “silver bullet.” Unfortunately, that is what we usually want. We need to be very cautious if one is proposed–a quick fix so we can get back on track and things can be normal again. Husbands, we must get our heart fixed on Christ, and be prepared that it could take a while. How long before our sovereign God says it is enough? Obviously, no one knows, but we need to set our expectations such that if it takes years, then we will minister in whatever way God calls us to during that time.

That is about all I could think of that God might have me share. Truly, it can be such an awful time for husbands and wives. I think the easiest to deal with was when the depression was mostly caused by my failures. Then, if I’m willing to humble myself, God is able to resolve the situation fairly quickly. However, God designed women the way they are for a purpose. Hormones are not a design flaw; our wives are perfect according to His plan. When the depression is physiological in nature, it might last a while, and we need to be the strong, faithful shepherd that God desires us to be. This won’t happen in our own strength, but it can happen when we are in full, complete dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our strength and our shield. All praise to Him.