I don't often remember the details of conversations with people. It would be nice if I did. Then I'd not be so surprised when my husband leaves for ten days of business. ("Don't you remember? I told you I'd be gone on an extended trip.") Actually, no, I don't remember, because I can't even remember what I did yesterday...
But there is one conversation I do remember. It's one that still haunts me. And I remember it in great detail.
I went to see my midwife for my visit following the birth of my first child. I had numerous health problems after the delivery, and hoped she would help me resolve them. I can still picture the room, where I sat, and my son asleep in his carrier on the floor.
She looked at me with concern and said, "I wonder if you might be suffering from postpartum depression."
In my mind, I thought: This is not depression. I know depression. I've diagnosed it and treated people for it. This is fatigue and stress.
I shook my head and said, "I'm just exhausted. And stressed. I need to get my health problems under control. That's all it is."
Almost ten months later, I watched a show on television where a woman described her experience with postpartum depression and with tears streaming down my face, I whispered aloud, "That's me."
I called my doctor the next day.
Depression is insidious like that. It hides itself behind circumstances and experiences. It can mask itself as anger or stress or grief. It remains in the shadows until it's become such a part of us, we don't remember when we didn't feel that way. Like the proverbial frog slipped into slowly warming water that eventually comes to a boil, depression creeps up on us, until we can't remember the last time we felt joy.
With my second pregnancy, I told my doctor right away of my history and we prepared for its return after the birth. And it did return, with a vengeance. But the second time around, I told people about my struggle. I reached out for community. I knew I was in the thick of it and that I needed people to walk with me in it. And they did. Sweet sisters in Christ, the pastor of my church, and my family all ministered to me in various and important ways. (I share more about my struggles in A Heart Set Free).
For those who struggle with depression, we need other people. We need those who know us well enough to spot the water boiling, who recognize that something isn't right. We need the church to love, support, and serve us. We need the body of believers to carry us through the darkness until the sun shines again.
How can the church community help those with depression?
- They can help by knowing one another. When we know each other beyond the simple, "Hi. How are you? How was your week?" then we'll know when someone is struggling. We'll notice when they've missed church. We'll see the fatigue and sadness etched across their face. When we take the time to know one another well in the church, we'll know when one part of the body is suffering, because we'll feel it too.
- They can help by serving in practical ways. When someone is depressed, there are many practical details of life that are hard to do. Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ can volunteer to babysit. They can prepare meals. They can drive their friend to the doctor or counselor. They can take over ministry duties for a while. In these ways and more, the church can serve the hurting.
- They can be present. The church ought not shy away from or abandon the hurting, nor should the church fear the depressed person's emotions. They don't have to know what to say or how to make the depression go away. But they can be there for their depressed brother or sister. They can listen. They shouldn't say pithy statements about how they'll feel better if they pray or read the Bible more. People who are hurting don't need advice. They don't need a spiritual to-do list. They don't even need theology lesson. Rather, they need to know they are loved and cared for.
- They can encourage and help their friend get the care they need. The church can encourage the hurting to get help from a wise counselor and seek a medical evaluation. They can offer to drive and/or accompany them to their appointments. And they can remind them that even the giants of faith in church history have struggled with depression (such as C.H. Spurgeon).
- They can remind them of the Man of Sorrows. This is something my pastor did for me. He helped me lift my eyes to see Christ, the One who knows what life is like in this sin-stained world. Jesus took on our frail human flesh and lived a life of poverty, sorrow, and pain. He knew temptation, grief, abandonment, fear, and rejection. He cared about the suffering of my life so much so that he entered into it, living the perfect life I could not live, dying the death I deserved, and rising from the dead so that I would have life eternal. Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows, is my hope both now and in the future. For me, this truth brought light to dark places.
- They can be patient. Some people struggle with depression for long seasons. Some battle with it their entire lives. It's important that the church sticks with them. It's not like getting over a cold. As the church, we need to patiently walk beside the hurting as long as it takes.
Depression is lonely. It's isolating. It's also deceptive. Those who suffer with depression need the body of Christ to walk alongside them, lifting them up when they can't do so for themselves. May we be believers who know when someone in the church is hurting and care enough to journey with them in the darkness. After all, it's what Jesus did for us. How can we do no less?