Pregnant and Not Glowing: Finding Joy in Depression

So how is life now?

Well, it’s only been about a week since diagnosis and beginning treatment. But I already feel so much better. A couple days after starting the antidepressants, I started feeling relief. It was kind of like the first day you start feeling better after have the flu.

And that has taught me something invaluable.

Clinical depression truly is a sickness.

It’s for this understanding that I’m grateful to be going through depression. I’ve never really understood that before. In fact, I used to think quite differently, and quite insensitively, about depression.

In the Christian community, you always hear phrases like “count it all joy” and “rejoice in the Lord always.” We’re commanded to be joyful. But most of my life, I’ve wrestled with this concept. How can I be joyful when I feel sad? Is sadness a sin? Is depression a sin?

If I had been diagnosed with clinical depression a few years ago, I probably would have been devastated. Not because of the depression, but because I thought that depression was all in the mind. That you had control over depression, and could choose to get over it. That depression was the result of not trusting God enough, or being too far from Him, or not doing the things a “good Christian” should do. That depression was a personal failing, and if you just “tried harder” or did the “right things” you wouldn’t be depressed.

I think it’s thoughts like this that can make it hard for Christians to ask for help when they are struggling with depression. My thinking has slowly been corrected over the years, but it’s taken this prenatal depression to finally help me resolve the struggle in my mind.

To be clear, while I do still believe that sin can cause depression (it’s certainly played out that way in my life before), depression is not, by necessity, the result of sin. And depression itself is not a sin.

So what about all those verses telling us to be joyful?

I think Psalm 100 can be of some help here. This psalm contains another famous saying on joy: “make a joyful noise to the Lord.” It is one of the many commands to be joyful.

This was our sermon text this past Sunday. Our teacher-pastor was out, so another man of the church filled in for the message. And he made a distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness is thing-centered. Joy is God-centered.

And that got me thinking. Proper joy is not a feeling. It’s not a “Pollyanna-esque” perspective on the world. It’s the response to what God has done for us. To praise Him and thank Him for His steadfast love. His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”

Sure, joy can bring happiness. But happiness is not joy. True joy is deeper than happiness. Joy is a choice to say “despite what I am feeling at this moment, I choose joy. To praise God because He is good, and He is faithful, and He loves me.”

Depression interrupts happiness, and it can interrupt joy. But it doesn’t have to. I may feel like I’m drowning, but I can still choose to thank God for His faithfulness. I can still choose joy, even when I feel overwhelmed with inexplicable sadness.

I mean, look at David. His humanity and realness and transparency in the Psalms is the reason why that book is my absolute favorite. In Psalm 69, he is drowning in despair and overwhelmed with hopelessness. He feels like he’s crying out to God, but God doesn’t hear him. He is growing tired of waiting for relief from his situation.

But David doesn’t let his feelings control his response to God. Despite his overwhelming circumstances, he glorifies God, saying “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” He remembers God’s faithfulness and love, and chooses joy.

So where am I? I’m trying to chose joy. The antidepressant is stabilizing the biochemical imbalances and life doesn’t look as bleak as it used to. I don’t feel like I’m drowning and paralyzed anymore. But there are still dips and valleys. I still have fears and worries about this pregnancy.

But this is where faith and joy come in. Sometimes, we need medicine to cure a sickness, and depression is a sickness. Antidepressants are not a sign of weakness or personal failing anymore than painkillers are for a broken leg. But, as with all things in this world, medicine can only do so much. Medicine can’t replace my faith. I still have to trust God, and to rely on His goodness and faithfulness. To rest in His love for me, for my baby, and for my family.

It’s a whole lot easier said than done. But, by His grace, I’m learning to choose joy.

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