Friday, April 30, 2010

When Pregnancy (or Lack of) Brings Depression

This week I shared my own journey through depression, sometimes related to chronic illness, other times to infertility or miscarriage, and most recently in the wake of pregnancy and for two years post-partum. Today I want to specifically share a resource for post-partum depression or PPD.

Living Beyond Postparutm Depression: Help and Hope for the Hurting Mom and Those Around Her by Jerusha Clark is a fantastic read for anyone considering trying to conceive. Hopefully you will never need the information there, but it is a good tool to have available and information to be aware of even prior to conception - I truly wish I had known about it before we miscarried Noel or before our living daughter's pregnancy/birth as I think I would have been armed with the information I needed to seek help and prevent much heartache.

One thing I greatly appreciate about Jerusha's book was that even though she herself has not faced infertility or pregnancy loss, she does acknowledge both issues, providing facts that are often overlooked in many PPD resources. While she does not address these issues in depth, she shares that, "PPD can afflict women after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion." She also sites sources to explain that because of "exposure to artificial hormones and psychological stressors" that women undergoing infertility treatment "are at a high risk for developing depression. Approximately 25 to 30 percent of women undergoing treatment for fertility are clinically depressed before becoming pregnant and PPD affects a great number of these women after delivery." These were issues I had long-observed but never seen medically verified, so it was refreshing to find these references in this book.

If you are currently experiencing PPD, I would actually suggest that you ask a loved one (husband, supportive mother, best friend) to read Living Beyond for or with you. Knowing my own personality, I must be honest and say that if I had read it during PPD, because I was in the functional mild-moderate range of illness, while I would have gleaned much helpful information, some portions of the book might have added to my weight of guilt/concern. I do not say this because anything presented us untrue, invalid or even unkind, but because the book is very honest about the burden PPD places on family members and I tend to be guilt-driven very easily, even when in a healthy frame of mind. Likewise, had I read it after miscarriage I think I could have gained a lot of healing encouragement, but would also have found the passages about mothering a newborn quite hard to bear.

Having said all that, Living Beyond is still the most extensive and helpful resource I've found for understanding all the various facets and kinds of depression and what can be successfully done to help properly treat the condition. And I definitely need to note that while PPD refers to depression that comes post-pregnancy, many of the principles there are equally applicable to any form of depression, even those not related to the physical/hormonal shifts of pregnancy, so I would consider this book valuable reading for all women and married couples along with the husbands (Especially!!!), fathers, brothers, pastors or other men in positions to support women through this journey.

Note of disclaimer:
I received no financial compensation for this post, however I did receive a free review copy of Living Beyond Postpartum Depression from the publisher, NavPress. This review is fully my personal opinion and was not reviewed by the book author nor publisher prior to publication.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's Depressing

Today on Facebook I came across the following status update:
DEPRESSION is not a sign of weakness it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long. Put this as your status if you know someone who has or has had depression. Most people wont, but its mental health week and 1 in 3 of us will suffer some point in our lives. Show your support...♥

Depression is something very few people are willing to talk about, but I believe it impacts many more people than most of us realize. I can't even count the number of times, several just within the past few weeks, where women have sat down with me and secretly shared their struggles with depression. It's a journey clouded in shame, something we worry others will look down on us for, judge us over. Sometimes we hide behind a facade of being outgoing, the life of the party. Sometimes it drives us deeper into our own shells.

For much too long the church as a whole has perpetuated the idea that depression is rooted in the sinful inability or unwillingness to allow God to bring joy to our hearts. I do believe that depression often is entangled with spiritual struggles, but often broken spirits comes as a result of the imbalanced hormones and true medical issues that trigger depression in the first place.

I hope to provide several resources for coping with depression in coming posts, but today I want to start simply by letting you know that if you are facing depression, you are not alone. And so I'll start by opening my heart and sharing my own story, beginning in 1991/92. At this time I don't believe I was living in full-time depression, but I did experience frequent, terrifying panic attacks in conjunction with hormonal imbalance triggered by the onset of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I developed a host of fears and phobias and cried frequently, but also had times that were very upbeat and joyful.

As we progressed into 1993/94, joy evaporated. I sunk into a deep, black depression in the wake of infertility grief and all the daily losses of learning to live with debilitating chronic illness. At my lowest, I seriously entertained thoughts of suicide on a regular basis. :( God used my husband, Scriptures and the book The Ache for a Child by Debra Bridwell to begin my healing.

In hindsight I would highly encourage anyone who is where I was then to immediately seek medical and emotional aid though frank conversation with a competent physician and solid, Christ-centered counseling. It is truly a testament of God's grace that when I did not know enough about depression to understand how desperately I needed that help, that God, Himself the Great Physician and Wonderful Counselor, stepped in and brought about the miraculous healing I needed. Hannah's Prayer Ministries was born as a result of this season when God brought me up out of the pit, out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death and set my feet on a firm place to stand beside the quiet waters.

After our first miscarriage (Dec. 94) I had a different depressive episode lasting about 5 months. This time I was simply was void of feeling. Unlike the utter lost-ness, despair and hopelessness of the prior depression, this new grief-based depression over the death of our first daughter left me unable to laugh, cry, smile, be angry or "feel" anything - I simply was numb month after month. My breakthrough and healing here began with the final admission to myself that we had indeed been blessed with parenthood, even if only for a short season on this earth. To actually hear myself say, "I had a miscarriage," a statement that brought about days of gut-wrenching and unstoppable torrent of tears, was a huge milestone. Choosing a name of our daughter, thus "giving her an identity" I could relate to, was another step in overcoming this round of depression and beginning to work through healthy stages of grief.

Noel would be nearly 15 now and I still miss her, grief being a life-long journey. But my depression in the wake of her death was more than just a "stage of grief" and would be medically classified as postpartum depression (PPD), though I had no bring-home baby at the end. I still do not fully understand why, of all our 10 very painful losses, it was only Noel's death that triggered a full depressive experience like this, though I think some issues like our infertility, the fact that she was my first and (at that time) only child, and other life circumstances may have all been contributing factors.

Over the years depression has visited me in milder and shorter seasons, off and on, at various times, often linked to hormonal changes or health complications. My latest real journey through depression came with the conception and birth of our daughter who is now 7. (She is our second our of 3 living miracles.) This time ANGER best defined my experience of peri/post-partum depression. There were many elements that set the stage for this struggle, including secondary infertility, 2 miscarriages a year prior to her conception, a major surgery just a couple months before her conception, significant hormonal imbalance, having to stop our planned adoption due to pregnancy, high risk pregnancy with ongoing perterm labor scares and 13 weeks of bedrest, and out-of-control migraines during her first year or so of life.

It wasn't until after her 2nd birthday that I began to truly feel a connection with this sweet little girl I had prayed and longer for my entire life. I wasn't until after the birth of her little brother the week of her 3rd birthday, when I experienced the normal joys of new motherhood again, that I fully began to grasp and appreciate all I had missed out on, emotionally, over the prior three years. I was a functional mom while dealing with depression, falling into the mild to moderate spectrum of PPD this time, but it was an ugly journey non-the-less. My heart aches for several friends who have experienced postpartum (or any other kind of) depression at deeper levels, including several who have been hospitalized for their own protection (as I likely could have been in the early 90s).

If you or someone you love is walking through the valley of depression, please know you are not alone! Depression is not a sign of spiritual lack or weakness and it is a battle that can be won. Keep watching this blog for future posts spotlighting depression and offering helpful resources. And since the Bible has been my Light through my darkest days of depression (though I have to admit to actually throwing God's Holy Word across the room in my anguish a time or two) I would love to invite you to share the Scriptures that have most blessed and encouraged you in the comments section below.

Monday, April 19, 2010

All About Me?

How quickly I loose focus. How quickly mankind forgets, becomes self-centered:

At the Last Supper, Jesus passed the bread and cup then said,
21-22"Do you realize that the hand of the one who is betraying me is at this moment on this table? It's true that the Son of Man is going down a path already marked out—no surprises there. But for the one who turns him in, turns traitor to the Son of Man, this is doomsday."

23They immediately became suspicious of each other and began quizzing one another, wondering who might be about to do this.

24-26Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: "Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It's not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.

-Luke 22, The Message (emphasis added)

One minute worried about Christ, suspicious of one another. In the blink of an eye they forget why they were even arguing in the first place, Whom they were trying to protect. SELF takes priority over the His Lordship. Pride and greed eclipse protection and love.

I'm writing about them. I'm writing about me. *sigh* It's so easy to loose focus and forget. Lord, please help me to love with Your grace, protect with Your passion, choose my battles to Your honor, and remember that it's really about You, not me!!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Consider the Clovers

Growing in God’s Flower Garden is a sweet reminder by Lisa Copen of Rest Ministries, that we are never "overlooked" or insignificant to God. Take a moment to read it and be encouraged today. :)

...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow...
- Matthew 6:28

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ecstasies and Intimacies

I've been reading through "The Message" for devotional time this year. I know it is a paraphrase, not a true translation, but I love getting a fresh wording on Truth I've read in traditional translations for years. This morning I read:
Jesus said, "Marriage is a major preoccupation here, but not there. Those who are included in the resurrection of the dead will no longer be concerned with marriage nor, of course, with death. They will have better things to think about, if you can believe it. All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God. Even Moses exclaimed about resurrection at the burning bush, saying, 'God: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob!' God isn't the God of dead men, but of the living. To him all are alive."
- Luke 20:34-38

This was Jesus' answer to the Sadducees who were trying to say there was no Resurrection and trap Him with a question about a woman who had been married and widowed repeatedly, asking whose wife she would be in Heaven. I've emphacised the parts that just jumped off the page to me though, that death, something that's certainly been a "major preoccupation" for me, won't even be something I take time out to think about in Heaven. How amazing is that!? Praising the Lord that He will wipe away every tear when death is swallowed up in ultimate Victory!