Depression is one of those things that you can’t imagine unless you’ve been there… and there’s nothing worse than having an ‘outsider’ telling you how you’re supposed to feel and react.
Well, I have been there… not just once either, but twice. The interesting thing was that the two experiences were completely different, not just from a medical point of view but also spiritually – and if that’s true for two episodes in one person, it’s even more true for different people. And this means that what ‘worked’ for me won’t necessarily be helpful to someone else. So nothing I say is to be taken as a prescription! I hope that at least some of it will be useful to some of you; but if any part isn’t helpful, just let it pass you by.
My first episode began just a few months after I qualified as a doctor and started work. It was what used to be called ‘endogenous depression’ – the kind that’s caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Feeling sad wasn’t so much the problem as finding it difficult to concentrate and struggling to make rational decisions. But actually it was relatively easy to deal with: I knew that it was an illness (something that happens to you, like chickenpox or a broken leg). So it was in no way my fault. People in my church were very supportive, and the antidepressants worked wonders; I can’t honestly say that they saved my life but they certainly saved my career. After two years I was able to come off them, and since then God has been very good: the relapse rate for that severe type of depression is up to 75%, but I’ve never had a recurrence.
But what did happen a few years later, after I had been married for a while, was that I had a miscarriage. That’s nothing unusual, of course, but in my case I didn’t get pregnant again… for over four years. And I became depressed in a different way – not through being ill but as a result of the situation we were in. And although in the medical sense it was a very mild form of depression, it was spiritually devastating and much harder to cope with.
Why was this? I think the main reason was that I felt to some extent responsible: I was in a common situation that most people seem to be able to deal with, but I was obviously not reacting to it in the ‘correct’ way. I was ashamed to tell anyone that I was a Christian during that time because my life was such a terrible advert for Christianity. God seemed to be far away, and people in our church (a different church, this time) were, on the whole, far less sympathetic. Going to church became an ordeal at Christmas and on Mothers Day (when the services are very focused on children). Praying was difficult: I couldn’t even think about the subject of babies without bursting into tears, and my husband couldn’t bear to see me crying, so we weren’t even able to pray about our situation together. We both tried Christian counselling, but it didn’t help. We were stuck in the bottom of a deep spiritual pit, and there was no way out – until God eventually intervened and our daughter was born.