Christianity and depression: It’s complicated
I’ve always been a happy person. I’m the one others seek out for moral support, or a kind, loving word. It gives me joy to lift others with my words.
As a Christian, I’ve always taken pride in spreading that joy and being a strong witness for Jesus — even when it’s not easy or popular.
Once I hit my 40s, I was home schooling my children and — after years of working in the film and television industries — I was starting to see success with my own production company. And I received an answer to perhaps my most intimate, heartfelt prayer; after years of trying, I was pregnant again.
I know it’s cliché, but for me, life couldn’t get any better. I floated on a sense of security and peace, and at that point, my faith felt unshakeable.
And then in one fell swoop, I was blindsided by tragedy that not only tested my faith, but forever changed my life.
‘That can’t be right’
My family and I piled into the room with the ultrasound tech, both of our boys giddy with excitement to see and hear their sibling’s heartbeat for the first time. My husband and I would marvel at the growth of our new little one. You could feel the anticipation in the room as I was poked and prodded, and we watched the screen.
After a while, the tech asked me to empty my bladder and we’d look again. Hmm, I thought. I returned, and she continued her examination.
I noticed “7 weeks” on the screen. That can’t be right, I thought. I’m almost 12 weeks.
The intensity of the exam slowed to a crawl. A doctor slipped into the room. The two conferred, and slowly the fuzzy picture came into view. “The baby doesn’t have a heartbeat,” the doctor said gently, almost apologetically. The realization of those words sunk into my being. “No!” I screamed. “No, no, no!”
Hot tears stung my eyes, betraying my desire to maintain any sense of composure. A trickle of tears quickly became a stream. “Can you check again?” I squeaked, desperate for hope. They checked. Still no heartbeat. They ushered my sons out of the room, and my husband and I to an office for counseling. My mind was in a fog, struggling to comprehend how our lives could change so drastically in seconds. The doctor presented several options. I’m not sure I processed any of them.
Our family limped away that day, broken and bruised. My heart, and my faith, shattered.
My husband had to carry my oldest son in his arms, as my baby sobbed and asked, “Why?” We all wanted the baby so much. It was my third miscarriage, but I felt so sure God told me this one would be to term.
I just knew it was meant to be. And then, it wasn’t.
A descent into depression
That was the beginning of my descent into a place of darkness and crippling pain that I’ve never experienced before.
The baby died but didn’t pass naturally, so I carried it as I flew out of town to host my only sister’s bridal shower. I was overjoyed for her, yet in utter anguish for me. I felt torn in two. It had been three weeks since I was told my baby was gone, yet she didn’t want to leave my body. It exacted an excruciating toll on me.
We returned home on an earlier flight so I could do the inevitable. Opting out of surgery, I said goodbye to my precious one with the help of Cytotec — a medicine that induces the miscarriage process. Then I started right into the home-school year. I was not physically, mentally or emotionally ready in any sense of the word.
Every day felt like a heavy cloak of darkness, devoid of air. No matter how desperately I tried to rise above the fray, it just didn’t happen. I could smile briefly. Waves of depression would wash over me. It became a struggle to get through the day without crying; to do seemingly mundane tasks like make dinner, clean the house, teach the kids — or even get out of bed.
I didn’t want to think. I didn’t want to feel. And I certainly didn’t want to pray.
A few months passed and I started to feel like maybe I could pull through this after all. I was still bitter and angry with God, but those feelings were dissipating. And then a series of events felt like a sucker punch, leaving me gasping for air. My mother-in-law, suffering from dementia, stayed with us for months, I visited the ER twice for health issues, and then the piece de resistance: My husband lost his job. My faith was skating on thin ice at this point. We lost health insurance, benefits, job security, and to top it off I was diagnosed as peri-menopausal.
Hello, stress. Hello, fear. Hello, depression. Welcome back, old friends.
Prayer isn’t always enough
What complicated my situation was, as a devout Christian, I believed that if I prayed hard enough, confessed enough, and read my Bible enough, my depression would go away.
But it didn’t. And that just added to my struggle.
I had to realize that Christians can get depressed — and this is OK. Depression does not mean you have a weak relationship with God or that your faith isn’t as strong as it should be. This was a revelation for me.
My healing took therapy, and supplements to help my chemical imbalance. It took patience, understanding and compassion from church leaders. It took releasing God from the bitterness I built up toward him. And finally, when I was ready, it took prayer and spending time in God’s word.
People who experience depression aren’t less holy or less saved. They’re human.
I never expected to become depressed. I thought being a Christian, relying on faith, would garner me immunity from ever having that experience. I felt like church taught me to stay positive, never confessing or acknowledging the negative.
This dose of reality has made me grateful for transparency I’ve discovered in church leaders who are addressing depression, and mental health issues. If someone is sick physically, we tell them to go to the doctor. But if they’re sick emotionally or mentally, it’s viewed as not having enough faith. Or even worse, that the person did something bad to bring it upon themselves.
Don’t ostracize hurting people. Embrace them. Love them. Help restore them.
I still trust God. I wouldn’t still be here today if I hadn’t rebuilt my faith. My experience has made me a stronger, better and more understanding person: I am less judgmental, and more compassionate to people who are hurting. I get it. I know. I’ve been there. I am there.
Editor’s Note: (LaKeisha Fleming is a writer, producer, and director who has previously worked with Tyler Perry Studios and CNN. The views expressed in this article belong to the author.)