Up until our last baby’s birth in 2003 I had pretty uneventful pregnancies and recovery times. All that changed in the months following our sweet baby girl’s arrival. My husband and mom had been trying to get me to acknowledge the severe baby blues I was experiencing, but I was trying to be tough. As tough as you can be under the covers in three day old pajamas while your nine year old feeds the other three mobile children. Baby Rilla’s pediatrician and nurses also picked up on what I had been hiding from most people and addressed it with me. A follow up visit with my obstetrician confirmed that I was suffering from postpartum depression.
Fifteen years later I still struggle primarily during the cold, dark winters of Northeast Ohio, but any old overcast season will do. Fun fact: Cleveland has an average of 198 days of cloudy/overcast skies. That number is precisely why the government chose Northeast Ohio for the Ravenna Arsenal during WWII; enemy planes would have had a difficult time seeing the building through the clouds.
My friends and family can all tell you that when more than three days go by without contact in some form something must certainly be wrong. So, I make myself share about my “shade of blue”, trying to remain open and transparent. Being honest and humble about it helps me to remember my human frailty. When I am conscious of my weakness I am even more aware of the Lord’s strength. It is only through Him and His promises that I am able to push through and do the next thing.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:10
During my blue times I also work to adjust my schedule so that I am not weighed down with too many outings and commitments. I stick close to home and focus on the Lord and family. Psalm 37:7a says, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him…” The Psalmist encourages us again, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” (Psalm 27:14) While I am hunkered down, however, I must keep in mind that it is not okay to keep my shades drawn and the phone off the hook. As much as I strongly dislike interaction with others during these times, I NEED that interaction. How can my family and friends encourage and help if I have closed myself off? Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is a favorite reminder to me:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
While I encourage you to be open and transparent about your struggles with depression, I also encourage you to be smart. Choose a friend that you know will direct you to the Word and keep you in prayer. Be sensitive of who you ask; try not to pick someone who is in the midst of their own battle. You certainly do not want to overwhelm them even more! You could, however, remember to pray for them faithfully. Praying and finding ways to serve others keeps my focus outward and not inward. I might bake for a friend or send a card to someone I know is suffering far more than I am. My act of service might not be as time consuming or big as when I am feeling healthy, but it is still an opportunity for me to honor and prefer others.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
The following detailed list has proven to help me lighten the heavy load of depression while caring for a family and home educating.
1. SEEK THE LORD.
Before anything, pray through Psalm 139:23 and 24, allowing the Lord to search your heart for any sin that needs to be dealt with. If the Holy Spirit does not show you anything that could be a spiritual cause of depression make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible for a check up. A couple blue days are normal for being human. Constant, spiraling feelings of disinterest, despair, sadness, confusion, anxiousness, self harm, etc. are not normal and need treatment.
2. CONFIDE IN A TRUSTED FRIEND AND YOUR HUSBAND.
Ask your friend to call and check with you each day. Voice or face contact is best, email will do if no other option.
3. ROUTINE! ROUTINE! ROUTINE!
This is the last thing you want to do when depressed, but it is vital and WILL make a difference. Make a simple schedule and follow it religiously. My schedule even included when to drink water.
4. BEGIN YOUR DAY WITH PRAYER AND SCRIPTURE
Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your works to the Lord and all your thoughts will be established.” How does a busy homeschool mom manage that when even a shower or making dinner seems an unreachable goal? Here are some ideas: Pray in bed before getting up; put a Scripture book in the bathroom; print verses and post them around the house; play an audio of Scripture. Having a designated set aside time each day is best, but do SOMETHING.
5. SHOWER AND GET DRESSED.
Lip gloss, hair, clean clothes. You can do it. Not only does it help you feel a little better, but it helps everyone looking at you to feel better too!
6. MAKE YOUR BED.
Make your bed and open your blinds each day…no matter what. That making the bed part? It matters.
7. HAVE A PROJECT AVAILABLE.
Keep a project available so you make some progress, no matter how small, each day. A puzzle, crossword, copy work, etc. “Copy work” was my favorite because it helped me to focus on the Scriptures that I run to in blue times. Here are some to get you started: Psalm 130, 139, 143, 71, 27, 40 and Philippians 4:8.
8. ESTABLISH REMINDERS.
Create your own Scripture book or gratitude journal. Check Pinterest for free Scripture “printables” to frame and place around your home.
9. MIND YOUR SENSES.
Lighting a candle is a huge help for me when all is dark and grey. That flickering glow reminds me that Jesus is my Light, even when everything seems so gloomy. A glowing Scentsy or oil diffuser can have a similar effect, but that moving light does it for me. Make a playlist of beautiful music to keep on in the background and keep fresh flowers in the house. Keeping fresh fruit and vegetables on hand will also help with the physical side of winter blues. Citrus makes me feel like I am eating sunshine.
10. EXERCISE DAILY – IN SOME FORM.
I don’t like to exercise, period. Ever. Especially when I already feel like I am walking underwater in lead boots. Here are some simple ways to include daily exercise in small doses: Walk to the mailbox, walk the dog, walk up and down the driveway, use an exercise DVD or the treadmill. Even 15 minutes is better than nothing and it DOES help, as much as I hate to admit it…
11. GET SOME SUN.
Get out in whatever sun is available, even cloud filtered rays. Sit in front of a window for as long as you can. Those simple exercise ideas above can help with this as well.
12. LIGHT IT UP!
Purchase some full spectrum bulbs that mimic sunlight or invest in a light therapy system.
13. CHECK YOUR D.
Get your Vitamin D levels checked and take a supplement if needed. Eat more D rich foods such as fish, egg yolks, and beef liver (GAG!).
14. KNOW YOUR IDENTITY!
Seasonal depression is not your identity. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, HE is your identity. It is possible to shine His light to others even when you are struggling.
In closing, let me encourage you with this: please do not feel as if you are somehow not trusting God if you can not get over the hump of physical depression. Many forms of depression are medical or weather related in nature. And remember, just because you might need a little pill for now does not mean you will need it forever. But if you do? Praise God for His provision in this way and continue to seek Him daily as your strength and hope. He is faithful on the mountain tops and in the midst of battle in the valley.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.” Psalm 40:1-3