5 Things Every Woman Should Know About Pregnancy Loss

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Shortly after I had a miscarriage last year, my father-in-law made this comment to me: “What you went through was a big deal, you know.”

His remark struck me as being of one of the kindest things anyone said to me after the incident. I could only nod. The loss of a child at any stage is a big deal, and it felt really good to have him acknowledge that and acknowledge me.

I had support from other people as well. A woman at church gave me a small gift on my first Sunday back. Another woman who had suffered a miscarriage earlier that year came up to me and asked me if I wanted to talk. We both shared our stories. Two friends brought me dinner and pretended not to be horrified by the fact that I hadn’t taken a shower in a few days or vacuumed my floor.

But there were other people who treated me like nothing happened. The people who couldn’t handle hearing any medical details. The people I needed help from that didn’t show up.

However, miscarriage is a big deal, and the worst part about it is that miscarriage sufferers usually suffer in silence. A woman who has had a pregnancy loss may feel ashamed. She may feel that her body is defective. She may feel like no one else understands. Miscarriage sufferers need support.

Even if you have never suffered a miscarriage, you probably know someone who has. And what they are going through or have gone through is monumental for them. Although their reactions may vary, they want to be acknowledged, noticed. Some may not be ready to talk about it, but my guess is that they still need to feel like people notice them and care.

Here are five things every woman should know about pregnancy loss (whether you are going through it or are helping someone who is):

1. Let yourself rest.

My first miscarriage occurred in my first pregnancy. It was an early miscarriage. I was probably around 7 or 8 weeks, but I still had excruciating cramping and pain and several weeks of “getting back to normal” after the miscarriage happened. Needless to say, I spent three solid days in bed. After being in bed for several days, all of the tissue passed, and the cramping stopped. However, the bleeding did not.

The recovery period was very similar to that which I experienced after my full-term pregnancies. I had light bleeding that occurred for several more weeks after the miscarriage, and then the bleeding stopped and normal monthly functions resumed another several weeks later. Even when I was able to resume my old activities and felt somewhat physically better, the grieving process was one that lasted for many more months.

I hadn’t told many people that I was pregnant, so I had the odd experience of returning back to church and work — and telling no one what had happened. While I pretended that everything was normal in my life, I felt very sad and depressed for some time. I eventually did tell some friends at work, and it felt really good to share what had happened. However, the recovery time, emotionally and physically, was more than I expected.

I have found this to be true of many women I have talked to: We as women are so used to being the caretakers of other people, we often don’t allow other people to take care of us. If we have always been in optimal health, we assume that miscarriage won’t take that much out of us.

I had a friend who began miscarrying at work on a Friday and continued throughout her day teaching. She kept popping Advil, left at her normal time to pick up her daughter — had the miscarriage that night — and then returned to work the following Monday. Suffice it to say, she was not able to make it through the day and was given stern orders by our department head to take some time off.

As she recounted this story to me, I was in utter shock! Her body and emotions needed time to heal, but we as women often don’t get the luxury of taking a break. When a miscarriage occurs, however, time is needed to let your body and soul recover.

2. Be your own health advocate.

As I mentioned before, I was extremely naïve about miscarriage. Had it not been for online forums and articles, I would not have known what to expect because no one had ever shared with me about miscarriage. I assumed it was something that would never happen to me.

While I was able to stay at home and pass everything on my own in my first miscarriage, I realize that it could have turned into a situation where I needed medical help. A nurse from my doctor’s office called to let me know that a miscarriage was inevitable based on my low hCG levels but did not really give me advice on what to do.

I never scheduled a follow-up visit or anything to see how I was doing health-wise after that miscarriage. However, in retrospect, I would advise anyone going through a miscarriage to view it as the big deal it is in terms of both your physical and emotional health. I would advise staying in contact with your doctor’s office — really watching and monitoring your symptoms — and throwing aside any qualms about going to the hospital if you are excessively bleeding or feel you need extra assistance.

With my second miscarriage, I was further along (11 1/2 weeks) and had so much bleeding immediately that I had no choice but to check into the hospital. I was a little embarrassed by what a mess I was when I checked in, and quite frankly, I didn’t really speak up for myself like I should have. I had one nurse check me in and then several more rotate through my room to care for me.

I was also scurried off to an ultrasound room and then another room for an examination. No one person was keeping tabs on how much blood loss I was experiencing. Although the doctor mentioned to me that I had an extremely low red blood cell count, I didn’t think to say how many trips I had made to the bathroom or how much tissue and blood I had lost.

At one point, I even had a nurse scold me for passing out, and I was too dumbfounded and weak to even counter.

Shortly after that, I was wheeled into an operating room for surgery, and I thought that my ordeal would be over. However, that was not the case. After the procedure, I was released even though I needed a blood transfusion. I did not realize this until I returned home and began to have problems with dizziness and a racing heartbeat.

Even at this point, I called my doctor’s office because I thought something felt wrong, but they assured me that I was most likely experiencing side effects from drugs they had given me in the operating room. I deferred to their judgment even though something didn’t feel right in my body.

I figured I would get better in a few days. However, when we went to pizza on my birthday, and I nearly collapsed walking across the parking lot, I knew something was up. I went to the follow-up at my doctor’s and laid out my symptoms. It was then that they did a blood test and discovered that my hemoglobin levels were at a 7.1 (a 7.0 is blood transfusion level).

Moral of the story: If something doesn’t feel right, speak up about it! With medical personnel all around us and professional doctors in crisp coats, we assume that they will just know what is going on.

However, I found out that while doctors can tell a lot from certain tests and procedures, you can greatly help them by letting them know about your symptoms, your health history, how much blood you are losing, etc., so that they can truly help you.

3. Ask for and accept help.

My second miscarriage was different than my first because I accepted help. I didn’t try to be the stoic survivor I was after my first miscarriage. I was very open with people that I had a pregnancy loss, and I gratefully accepted the assistance. I know the fear in telling people is that it will be worse to get over or they will act awkwardly around you, but I actually found that not to be the case at all.

Yes, there will be some who say the wrong things that hurt more than help (we will get to that in a minute), but overwhelmingly, there will also be those people who genuinely want to help and can if you let them.

At the start of my most recent miscarriage, I told my husband that morning I needed him not to go to work that day. At first, he just assumed I was experiencing a little spotting, and it was normal. He figured I could just drive myself to the doctor later that day. But I insisted that he stay with me because my mama intuition was telling me that this was bad — I did not want to be left alone with my young children in the state I was in.

Once we ascertained the situation was such that we needed to just go straight to the emergency room rather than the doctor’s office, my father-in-law came to pick up the kids and take care of them. My brother-in-law came to sit with my husband while I was in surgery. We needed help.

And when we came home and I realized that I was not doing well at all in the recovery process, I asked my husband to stay home from work for the next few days. The booster club of his team set up a meal train for us. In the weeks following, I arranged care a few mornings a week for my son (with family members and a babysitter). I was in no position to take care of my kids or my household until my health got better, and I gladly accepted the assistance.

I found people were really relieved to be able to do something for us. People generally want to assist you, but you just have to tell them how they can best be of help.

4. Know that anger is part of the grief process.

People expect to be sad after a traumatic event. They expect to cry and be depressed — but another part of the grief cycle is anger. After my second miscarriage, a good friend of mine gave me a pregnancy loss study to go through. The authors devoted an entire section of the study to dealing with anger after a miscarriage.

When I read it, a lightbulb went off in my head because I realized that I was carrying around some anger, and I needed to deal with it because my unresolved anger was making me act in wrong ways to some people. If the truth be told, the person I was angry at was God, and the other people were just getting the brunt of that.

I could not believe that God would let me go through pregnancy loss two times. I felt absolutely humiliated the second time because I had been so confident that my miscarriage tragedy was in the past. Anger in and of itself isn’t sin — but anger that isn’t dealt with can turn into bitterness and resentment.

I was able to get rid of the anger when I poured out my feelings to God. I also had some trusted friends that I talked with. I told them everything I was thinking and feeling. Being open about my anger and grief helped to get the negative emotions out.

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5. Expect that not everyone will understand.

If you choose to share your tragedy (which I recommend because I believe it leads to a speedier recovery), there will be some people who can’t handle it or won’t know how to comfort you. With my most recent miscarriage, some people did not even acknowledge that I had gone through anything when I re-emerged into the public.

The mistaken assumption people have is that they will hurt you by bringing it up, but I found that it was worse to be ignored. Then there were other situations where I thought I would get support from individuals, but I found them to be too busy or too horrified by my tragedy to help.

In those instances, do not dwell on those hurts. Think back to the times that you failed someone or avoided someone because it was awkward and you didn’t know what to say. For as many people who don’t acknowledge you, there will be those who do, so expect both and know that some people don’t know how to help a person in crisis (especially if they haven’t been through that particular crisis themselves).

You can make it easier for others by just bringing up the topic yourself and showing others that you are in a place to talk about it. And, if you are the supporting friend, a simple “How are you?” after a miscarriage will put your friend who has suffered the loss at ease and open up the conversation to go in the direction the person is most comfortable with.

We as women are used to being the nurturers of others. It is hard for us to accept assistance or allow others to take care of us. However, pregnancy loss is a time when you need to give yourself permission to slow down, ask for what you need from the people around you, and allow yourself to heal.

If you yourself have not gone through a pregnancy loss, I believe that you can still serve as a valuable support to a friend or another woman in your community who has. You can serve her best by checking up on her, listening to her, and being there for her when she most needs support.

As a survivor of two miscarriages, I don’t relish what I went through. However, I did survive — and survive well, with God’s help. He is the binder of all wounds, and He knows just how to take care of you, whatever your loss. You need only let Him. His help may come through the many hands of the people around you.

Is there anything else you would add to the list? Leave a comment below.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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4 Reasons Why You Should Forgive Yourself

forgive yourself

I watched a “Dateline” episode recently where a woman had previously had an affair with the man convicted of killing his own wife. The wife was the woman’s friend. Though she had been cleared of any involvement in the crime, she still felt immense guilt for her involvement with her friend’s husband.

She had this to say: “I will never forgive myself for what I’ve done.”

At one time I would have thought her statement noble. Why should a person forgive herself for getting involved with a friend’s spouse? Like the woman in the “Dateline” episode, I, too, used to hold the belief that I should punish myself for wrongdoing when I didn’t measure up to my own standards. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being angry at myself. I thought Jesus would want me to be mad at myself when I did something wrong.

But that is actually not what Jesus wants from me or the woman in the “Dateline” episode. Although Scripture talks about a godly sorrow that can lead to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10) — this is not a continual unhealthy beating up of oneself over wrongdoing.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even realized I had a problem with unforgiveness of self. I was sitting in a counselor’s office, and she had me write a list of everyone I was angry at that I needed to forgive.

It turns out, I was on my own list. And I was surprised to discover that Jesus wants me to forgive myself. He advocates that I do — and for several important reasons:

1. Because not forgiving yourself rejects Jesus’ work on the cross.

A verse that has become my favorite is Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Even though Jesus is clear that we shouldn’t live in sin, and we need to resist sin and temptation, Jesus never expected us to punish ourselves for our sin. He is very clear in Romans that we are under no condemnation for our deeds.

Earlier, in Romans 7, Paul explains that grace doesn’t give us free license to sin — however, when we do fall short and make mistakes, God tells us in His Word that we don’t have to condemn ourselves.

Condemning ourselves rejects Jesus’ work on the cross. He became a sacrifice for our sins. We can brush ourselves off when we fall, ask Jesus to forgive us (and ask forgiveness from others if we need to) and keep going. To continually think about what wrong we’ve done or the mistakes we’ve made and beat ourselves up for them isn’t biblical.

2. Unforgiveness of self leads to relationship problems.

Not being in right relationship with ourselves affects our relationships with others. Unfortunately, when we choose not to forgive ourselves and carry around this idea that we are “too bad” to forgive, we are not able to embrace or like ourselves. We see ourselves only through the filter of what we’ve done. This affects not only our relationship with self but our relationships with others as well.

Someone who can’t let go of a past wrong may feel inferior to others and feel “too bad” to be liked by another person. Satan can get his way in and convince us we are so unworthy of relationships that we become isolated — all because we won’t accept what Jesus has done for us. Sadly, not only may we begin to feel not good enough for others, we may convince ourselves that God doesn’t want us either.

However, the idea that we’re not good enough to be loved is a lie that Satan spins to get us out of relationship with others and out of a relationship with God. God is clear that He loves us in spite of what we do! He wants us no matter what we’ve done.

 3. Unforgiveness of self can cause health problems.

In a book I reference often in my posts, A More Excellent Way, Henry W. Wright details three ways that we can open the door to what he calls “spiritually rooted disease” — disease that has a root in a relationship breach with God, ourselves or others. Not forgiving ourselves can lead to feelings of shame, self-hatred and low self-worth. Even if we have made a really bad choice and there are earthly consequences for that choice, God wants us to repent and forgive ourselves.

According to Wright, continual negative emotions towards ourselves — rehearsing words of guilt or unforgiveness or shame — can lead to health problems such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.

Also, not forgiving one’s self can lead to mental torment — emotional instability, depression, anxiety, and negative thinking. As I was preparing to do this article, I felt that this term “mental torment” kept coming to mind as something I needed to include. The Bible is clear that anger that is not dealt with can give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:26, 27), and we will be handed over to tormenting spirits if we choose not to forgive (Matthew 18:23-35).

One reason we may not want to forgive ourselves is because we are so angry at ourselves for what we have done. We may not even have sinned. We may have made a careless mistake that caused great damage, and we can’t get over what happened.

I remember after a significant breakup with another person the feelings of anger I held not only towards the other person but towards myself. I felt like what happened was my fault. I kept replaying scenarios in my mind of what I could have done differently to keep the relationship. I spiraled into a dark depression that lasted for several years — and only when I let go of my unresolved anger and forgave the person and myself did I begin to feel free from the dark thoughts that had tormented me about that situation.

4. Because the Bible says to do it.

One of the reasons I haven’t really known about self-forgiveness until recently is because I didn’t know that this mandate was in the Bible. I had read all of the verses about forgiving others, but I didn’t realize that this instruction about forgiving others also extended to one’s self. Recently, I read an article on a deliverance ministry site I have frequented before, and the author pointed out that the “one another” referred to in Colossians 3:13 in the Greek also can be a reference back to one’s self. The verse is as follows:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

I had skipped over this because I generally don’t make it a habit to study the Greek translation of words — however, “allélón” (the “one another” used in the verse) is a reciprocal pronoun that refers not only to others but yourself.

God knew that we would make mistakes and mess up. Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Often, unforgiveness of self makes us feel like we’re the only ones with a problem or broken behavior. The truth is all have fallen short. Because we can’t achieve perfection, God made a plan for us, so that we can be made a new creation, by accepting Jesus’ free gift of salvation.

We shouldn’t abuse that gift by doing whatever we want, excusing bad behavior with, “It’s OK, Jesus will forgive me.” But when we fall into sin, we can call out to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. We were not meant to carry the burden of our guilt or shame. We can give it over to Jesus, knowing that He doesn’t expect us to self-punish or hold unforgiveness against ourselves.

He wants us to confess our sin, accept His forgiveness, forgive ourselves — and move on.

Suggested prayer for self-unforgiveness: Jesus, forgive me for the sin of unforgiveness. I forgive myself for ______________________. Help me to see myself as you see me and not hold my mistakes against myself any longer. Help me to walk freely in the freedom that I am under no condemnation for my sins because of your work on the cross. Amen.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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How Can I Overcome Negative Thinking Patterns and Depression?

If you’ve suffered from depression, you may have read my last post on overcoming depression and the limitations of medicine curing depression and still had lingering questions: So, how do I change my thinking? Is there any way to stay out of the dark valleys of depression?

I’ve collected some truths to add on to my previous posts that have helped me address my own dysfunctional thinking. The reality is that I change when I believe what God says and act on His Word rather than act on how I feel. That is where lasting transformative change happens.

Depression and Negative Thinking Patterns

Like many of you, I have often looked at my circumstances through the lens of what should be instead of what really is. Although it sounds pessimistic, it helps me to know that people will hurt me and let me down — and I, in turn, will hurt others. According to Bob George in Victory Over Depression:

All depression begins in the mind with improper thinking patterns that consist of unrealistic expectations or misplaced dependencies. Unrealistic expectations occur when a person simply does not face life as it really is, but looks at life and people as he thinks they should be. It is expecting perfection from ourselves and others. Misplaced dependencies occur when a person depends upon someone or something other than God for his happiness, self-worth, meaning to life, etc.

For the longest time I held people accountable in my thinking when they didn’t treat me like I thought they should. I was a victim, and until they came to acknowledge their wrong to me, I couldn’t let go of the offense.

This is a very unhealthy way to live because people rarely do or even get what you want. Clearly, I had unrealistic expectations and misplaced dependencies.

I relied way too heavily on the people in my life for my happiness. In particular, as a young person, I had a relationship where I looked to the other person for my sense of worth. I bought into the idea in our culture that significant other persons complete us — and when I couldn’t control how this person treated me, I got depressed.

While I should not possess a doormat mentality where people walk on me and hurt me, I can’t expect others to fill me. That’s what I have God for. Not only have my high standards for others led to grief, my own high standards for myself — self-imposed to avoid rejection — have led to depression.

Again and again, I’ve fallen into the trap of feeling I have to perform to be worthy in relationships. I have to accept the truth that I have value not because of my effort but because God says so. I make mistakes — I mess up — and God still loves me! I’m a work in progress, not a finished product, and that is the reality of the Christian walk.

Handling Disappointment: Key to Dealing With Depression

Facing what George refers to as a “seedbed of disappointment” is where I can choose to let thoughts about how disappointed I am fester, or I can choose to release those bad feelings over to God. As George says:

When you choose to respond to an adverse circumstance in anger, you have begun to spiral down to depression, for all depression is rooted in anger — anger at God, a mate, a friend, an enemy, a boss, a parent, etc. Anger leads you to employ defense mechanisms in order to change a person or circumstance. As these efforts fail, you sink into self-pity. In the pool of self-pity, your anger multiples as you ponder past offense, imagine future offense and experience further disappointment at your inability to control your circumstances. Your anger and self-pity result finally in a state of depression.”

In the past, when my actions and others’ haven’t been perfect enough for me, that has led to disappointment; despair because I can’t do better (or they won’t change); self-pity; then depression. As noted in Victory Over Depression, a better way when facing disappointment is to allow my mind to be renewed.

Renewing My Mind to Overcome Negative Thinking Patterns

Renewing my mind means to literally allow my mind to be re-programmed by Christ. That means I have to spend time in the Word and do what the Word says and the Holy Spirit prompts me to do. According to Romans 12:2:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The New Living Translation states it like this: “Don’t copy the behavior of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

In essence, I have to choose not to conform to the world’s way by reading the Word and allowing my thought processes to align with God’s. As this happens, I learn God’s will for me. And when I act on His will, He changes me!

According to George, the world’s order of thinking is “mind — emotions — actions” whereas God’s way is “mind — actions — emotions.” As we act in the right ways even when we don’t feel like it, our attitude changes.

In her study One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp states it a different way, stressing that trust (acting in obedience) is the bridge to joy. We can’t make ourselves godly, but by acting on what He says, we experience the byproduct of that which is godly attributes of love, joy and peace.

To do this, we have to choose to believe who we are in Christ — what He says about us, and not what others say. For me this has been and still is a struggle for me. Old patterns of thinking still like to creep back — they tell me that it is no use, that I will never be good enough, that I failed again, that nothing will change.

I have to reject those thoughts and instead replace them with God’s truth that I am forgiven, righteous and holy. I can tell God how I feel, tell Him I don’t like the adverse situation I am facing. However, instead of demanding that He change it, getting angry at Him and others when they don’t do it my way, I address it with the other person if necessary, let go and trust God to take care of it.

And switching out my faulty thinking patterns for God’s perfect wisdom gets me on the pathway of healthy thinking.

Related Bible Verses:

Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!”

Additional Resources:

For further reading on disappointment and the fickle nature of our emotions, Joyce Meyer writes about avoiding disappointment in “How to Prevent Slipping into Depression.”

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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Why Medicine Can’t Cure Your Depression

In a recent post, I wrote about Robin Williams’ tragic decision to end his life. Many of my comments about his decision to commit suicide were speculative based on his widow’s comments after his death. And while I don’t know exactly what went through Williams’ mind in his last moments or if he was even lucid in those moments, I can be certain of this: Depression kills.

Current thinking is that depression is a problem best solved by drugs — and the medical community. In recent years, antidepressants were the second most commonly prescribed medication after medication to lower cholesterol. [1]

According to Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, “Much of the growth of antidepressant use has been driven by a substantial increase in antidepressant prescriptions by non-psychiatrists.” [2]

Clearly, doctors are writing prescriptions without taking a look at underlying reasons. And, for some, it’s not working. [3]

The truth is that depression should be addressed as a spiritual problem by our churches and by our pastors, not merely by professionals in the medical community.

The Great Cover-Up

Like many of you, I grew up thinking that Christians shouldn’t get depressed, so when I did experience pain, I masked and denied. In turn, I became completely sad and disconnected with what was going on inside me. Piles of unresolved problems chained me on down on the inside, but I felt there was no one I could share these with.

As a young person, I learned a lot about Christian doctrine and Old Testament tradition, but I don’t remember ever learning about practical ways to manage my emotions or relationships.

It was not until I began attending a church where the pastor held a degree in counseling and regularly offered ministry times at the altar that I began to unravel the mystery of me. The church did not try to pretend away the fact that Christians will have real stresses and problems — and addressed them at a spiritual level.

After battling a profound depression the first three years of my marriage and not knowing the causes behind it, I went down to the altar for prayer. The pastor mentioned that depression can be the result of compressed anger and fireworks went off in my brain. He went on further to say that he felt someone at the altar needed to say the name of a person he or she wanted to forgive. Out loud. It turns out that someone was me.

I didn’t even know that my depression was caused by intense anger that I held towards a person, and the solution for me was releasing that person in forgiveness.

When I did, I walked away completely freed of the dark funnel cloud that had been swirling with me at the bottom of it for some very long, dark years.

Who Should Take Responsibility?

The problem with making an appointment with a primary care doctor and getting a prescription is that the solution offered in most cases is really not a solution — the problem is often covered up, medicated, but not eliminated. The symptoms are addressed without taking a look at the cause(s).

As pastor and author Henry W. Wright notes in A More Excellent Way: Be in Health, depression is a “result of a chemical imbalance in the body. It is produced by conflict at the spirit and/or soul level in which the limbic system responds to this stress and the depression is a result of the chemical imbalance produced by the body in response.”

Drugs can artificially right this imbalance; however, the answer does not address the causes behind the depression — so, therefore, drugs (without other comprehensive services) offer an imperfect cure. As Wright notes in A More Excellent Way: Be in Health, “Drugs don’t solve problems. In fact, drugs can interfere with the dealing of root problems because they mask the real issues.”medication

The answer is to address the problem at the spirit and soul level because that is where lasting results will be found. I am not suggesting that you get rid of all of your depression meds if that is what you are using. If you have been taking medication for some time, Wright stresses that you body may be completely dependent on these drugs to function. And you will need to consult your doctor about the best way to taper off of those when you are ready.

However, I am suggesting that you ask yourself: What could be the root of your depression?

For me, in the case of my depression over an individual, the root of that particular depression spell was unresolved anger that I was internalizing. I have since learned that I have a propensity towards internalizing emotions when I have a problem in a relationship.

This makes me more prone to depression.

Understanding Depression

In Victory Over Depression, Bob George states that depression does not originate in the emotions but in the mind. As such, your response to depression should be as one who understands that your reactions to certain events and situations causes chemical reactions in your body. Similarly, in A More Excellent Way: Be in Health, Wright notes:

Your homeostasis (equilibrium in the body with respect to various functions and chemical composition of fluids and tissues) is controlled by the various hormones. You are very chemical in your creation … For every thought you have, conscious or unconscious, there is a nerve transmission, a secretion of a hormone or neurotransmitter somewhere in your body to react to it.”

As Wright observes, because we are chemical in our composition, our various thoughts have an impact on our nerves and hormones. For every thought we think — something happens inside our body. If we are constantly allowing ourselves to be drawn into negative thought patterns and self-pity — our physical body is impacted.

Similarly, George observes that Christians will experience depression and disappointment, but how we control our thoughts and our thought processes will impact how we feel. According to George:

The degree of disappointment you experience from an adverse circumstance will be in direct proportion to the degree of your basic faulty thinking patterns. In other words, the more unrealistic your expectations, the greater your disappointment when you face reality. It is in this ‘seedbed’ of disappointment where you will have the choice of responses that will either protect you from or make you a candidate for depression.”

Clearly, the reality is not that we will never experience depression as Christians, but rather, that we know and understand what is happening in our minds so that we can combat depression rather than succumb to its devices.

What Should the Church Do?

The job of the Christian community and the church then is to address depression as it is — a problem the church should be adequately versed in and equipped to handle so that Christians do not have to stumble after an artificial alternative in medicine.

People suffering from depression, like I have been at different intervals of my life, are in need of mind renewal and emotional healing like only Jesus can provide. The church can help to offer times of ministry for individuals suffering from depression by providing times in the service and other help such as counseling outside of the service.

While churches can supply these resources, it is ultimately in the offering of Jesus that people will receive the healing they need — He will give a prescription for each individual case.

And unlike the prescriptions of earthly doctors, His prescriptions always provide a lasting cure.

 Notes:

[1 & 2]. Statistics from 2010 CDC data cited in the “Director’s Blog: Antidepressants: A Complicated Picture,” written by Tom Insel, director for National Institute of Mental Health. 2011. Insel advocates a comprehensive approach for the treatment of depression that includes psychotherapy and acknowledges that drugs are not a perfect fix.

[3]. According to a New York Times article “Antidepressants Lift Clouds But Lose ‘Miracle Drug’ Label” about efficacy of antidepressants — 35 to 45 percent reported feeling complete relief from their depression symptoms when they went on an antidepressant while 55-65 percent did not. 2002. It should be noted that the efficacy of antidepressants varies depending on the study.

Additional Resources:

Want an in-depth look at depression? Bob George’s Victory Over Depression talks about what happens in the mind with depression and how to overcome depression.

Are you interested in the spiritual roots of many diseases? Henry W. Wright’s A More Excellent Way: Be in Health talks about spiritual causes for many illnesses such as depression and his advice about how to look at disease from a spiritual standpoint.

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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A Christian Perspective: How to Overcome Depression

When I first moved to Georgia at the tender age of 21, a newly married bride with not a clue about how to be a wife or an adult for that matter, I slipped into a profound depression that lasted for three years.

I really didn’t realize it at the time, but I had walked into the perfect storm, a whirlwind of stressful life changes: a move to a different state into a new role as wife away from my support system of friends and family, a start as a transfer student in a much bigger university, and a transfer to a new branch of Starbucks. I had no idea why I felt the way I did or how to make myself better. “Depression” sounded like a textbook term that had nothing to do with me. It never occurred to me that I was suffering from depression or what the root causes for that could possibly be.

Everything was new. And, to make the transition that much more difficult to embrace, I began to suffer renewed feelings of loss over a previous relationship that I had never been able to find closure in. I faked my way through lectures in lecture halls, shifts at work — and then fell into bed feeling like I was at the bottom of a cycling torpedo of black despair.

I didn’t think there was any way that I could possibly claw my way out of how I felt. One of the reasons that it went on so long is because I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I lived a double life — presenting a smiling façade to the world and suffering alone with my own angst. It was not until I went forward for prayer one Sunday and the pastor mentioned that he felt someone needed to forgive someone and say that person’s name that some things began to click for me. I said the name of the person I needed to forgive; instantly, the black clouds enveloping me parted.

Although I didn’t have all the answers leaving the altar that day, I understood something important about myself: I had been carrying the weight of unforgiveness and the other person’s negative view of me around for years and carried it right into my marriage. I felt so depressed partly because I had so much repressed anger at the individual in the relationship and anger at myself for “failing” in the relationship. Even though I was married, I had never processed through the emotions from the previous relationship; therefore, those emotions reared up at a time when I was feeling insecure, vulnerable and out of my element.

Christians Get Depressed

Somewhere along the way I got the idea that as a Christian I have to be happy all the time or the world will not want what I have to offer, but what I didn’t realize is that the world does not need a false façade or a fake person. The world needs real and authentic, flaws and all.

The reality is not that Christians will never get depressed. Christians do get depressed. We need to look no further than the book of Psalms to see a man often in the depths of despair. David got depressed! He expressed great despair when God took his child that he conceived with Bathsheba; when armies advanced and his enemies outnumbered him; when troubles overtook him and his body was weak and sick as a result.

Depression is not something to hide or pretend away. When we are depressed, our mind is processing through a loss of some kind or reacting to a stressful event or situation. The solution is not to pretend that we don’t have a problem but instead look to the root of the depression and determine the source of our negative feelings. Is there a relationship that we need to reconcile? Do we have unresolved anger towards a person, an individual, ourselves, or God? Have we just experienced a loss of some kind such as a death of a loved one, a loss of a position, or the loss of our health? Those circumstances can encourage negative thoughts that leave us feeling depressed. (More here on Forgiving Others: Taking a Relationship Inventory.)

David had the right idea — he poured out his heart to God and penned his very real emotions into poignant psalms. He didn’t put on a brave front to God and pretend like he had everything under control. He got real and admitted his need for God. However, nowhere does it say in Scripture that God was upset at him for having those emotions. God can handle our bad feelings.

Because of my own struggles since that day at the altar, I have come to understand more about how to overcome depression — and accepted the fact that Christians do get depressed, but we don’t have to stay depressed. We may not get to choose the circumstances that leave us feeling down or the reactions people have to us that make us feel isolated and unloved — but we most certainly can choose the way we handle and react to those times when a blanket of gray envelops our souls.

1. Practice thanksgiving in the moment.

I used to consider myself a realist — I thought that in order to see the world realistically and shield myself from unneeded pain meant anticipating when this pain would rear its ugly head. However, this just made me a paranoid, critical person who wasn’t very fun to be around. Thanksgiving didn’t seem like something that would help me crawl out of the pit of pain I had fallen into.

However, it is no coincidence that so many verses in the Bible stress being grateful in all circumstances — thanksgiving helps to take the edge off of the pain, even forget it. Ann Voskamp recommends listing gifts daily in her study One Thousand Gifts. She carries around a little list and writes down her “gifts” as she goes through her day.

This may not sound like a profound activity, but what I didn’t realize is that I had gotten into the habit of meditating on the negative problems happening in my life, and it was taking my mind to a dark place. The more time I spent stewing over what was wrong and who had wronged me, the more time I spent in the throes of depression.

Habitually listing what I am grateful for and rehearsing that in my mind felt a little forced and silly at first, but as I have continued to engage in intentional gratitude, I have found that my depression lifts much sooner — and I can have peace even in the midst of very stressful circumstances.

2. Prayer.

Prayer sounds like a no-brainer solution that well-meaning people offer you when they don’t know what else to say, but it really does work. Even though it is helpful to talk to others, no one else can help us in our situation like God. I can be honest with him about how much that person’s remark hurt me, or how scared I am about taking a step of faith, or how angry I am at my husband.

Many times, my prayer time is a great emotion neutralizer. I come into it with angry, despairing, devastating emotions and walk out of it with a different perspective, a sense of calm, and a release from all of the bad that has been swirling inside of me. As Philippians 4:6-7 recommends: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Photo Credit: creativewright.com

Photo Credit: creativewright.com

The truth is that when I am at my lowest, I just don’t feel like praying at all, but when I do it despite not feeling like it I really see results. In fact, as this verse suggests, God promises to guard my heart against the anger, despair, and bitterness that threaten to overtake me. God’s peace becomes my protector.

3. Know it’s a season.

The reality with depression is that it sometimes can last for a long time — especially if it is following a loss of some kind. There may be quite a bit of time that passes before you begin to feel good again. In her CNN article “Going Public With Depression,” published shortly after Robin Williams’ death, Kat Kinsman reflects on her own journey battling depression at fourteen and how she feels now as an adult:

Now, 25 years later, I’ve lost too much time and too many people to feel any shame about the way my psyche is built. How from time to time, for no good reason, it drops a thick, dark jar over me to block out air and love and light, and keeps me at arm’s length from the people I love most.

The pain and ferocity of the bouts have never eased, but I’ve lived in my body long enough to know that while I’ll never ‘snap out of it,’ at some point the glass will crack and I’ll be free to walk about in the world again. It happens every time, and I have developed a few tricks to remind myself of that as best I can when I’m buried deepest.”

While I can’t agree with everything Kinsman says concerning depression (namely, I believe that we can overcome our negative thinking patterns and indeed “snap out it”), I like how she acknowledges that we can look to the hope that we may be in a hard season, but it won’t last forever.

Knowing that the depression will pass and that there will be a day when I wake up and no longer feel trapped in a black hole helps me when I don’t feel like talking about it, praying about it, or keeping in touch with the outside world.

4. Keep moving.

In yet another juncture of my life, when I had quit teaching and was feeling isolated and insignificant in my role as stay-at-home mom, I felt like I was in a major slump. Something told me to just keep going. Keep attending church events. Sign up for a mom class. Keep searching for a school for my daughter. Keep showing up at my husband’s basketball games.

Sometimes when we are praying and working through things, and we still feel like we are in the valley — choosing to continue to engage in social avenues helps to lift some of the heaviness. As Joyce Meyer suggests in Approval to Addiction:

When we are hurting, our natural tendency is to nurse our wounds. We may want to isolate ourselves and think about how pitifully we have been treated. I have discovered that when I am hurting, the best thing I can do is keep moving. While I am hurting, I just keep doing what I would be doing if I were not hurting. I go to work, I study, I pray, I go out and preach, I keep my commitments. I keep doing the good things God has given me to do, and I trust Him to take care of the evil things.”

5. Focus on others.

As I detail in another post, I was at the doctor’s after a miscarriage for an ultrasound and follow-up visit, and I felt God’s nudge to minister to some of the nurses and patients at the doctor’s office. I have to admit that I was very uncomfortable with the idea. Offended, even. Are you serious, God?  Do you really want me to say some things to these people when my own heart is broken?

It turns out that reaching out to others in my own pain and sharing my story had a very healing effect on me. I actually started feeling more sorry for some of the pregnant women in the office then for my own un-pregnant state. I have to attribute this feeling to God because my own feelings did not suggest to me that I should do anything but focus on my own state. God knew by pulling my heartstrings that I would help myself by turning outward and aiding others.

(We can often swing to drastic extremes where we try so hard to pretend nothing is wrong and only focus on others that we lose ourselves in the process. With keeping our commitments and focusing on others, I definitely am not suggesting doing these things without taking care of ourselves. There definitely needs to be some alone grieving time after painful events or losses; however, sometimes we can isolate ourselves to the point where we hurt ourselves more.)

As I look back on some of the seasons where I thought that my depression would consume me whole, I can admit quite happily that I made it through. In time, the feelings lifted, and I was able to enjoy life again. Although I was fortunate to get the healing I needed at the altar as a young bride, there have been other seasons that took some persistence and perseverance to make it through the tough valleys.

Simply knowing that bad things will happen, and I will experience negative emotions but do not have to let these things derail or define me — helps a little when sadness steals its way into my heart.

 Related Resources:

Joyce Meyer “The Poison of Unforgiveness”

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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