My past two posts spoke on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), a survey that new moms may receive at their obstetrician’s office. This is the exact survey that I received, but I understand that there are others out there that may have slightly different wording. The goal is the same though: to gage where the mother’s mental and emotional well-being are at. This post is part two of the ten-post series and it focuses on the balance between fighting for joy in God and enjoying pleasurable activities that aren’t necessarily Biblically based. I’ll talk about “self-care” and why it’s important to take care of myself to allow me to care for my kids. The important question that I want to think about is how do I balance taking care of myself, without letting it become something that I think I have to have to be happy? How can I fight to be happy in Christ, even when I am struggling physically, or emotionally?
Question #2 from the EPDS:
Please check the answer that comes closest to how you have felt IN THE PAST 7 DAYS. I have looked forward with enjoyment to things
- As much as I ever did
- Rather less than I used to
- Definitely less than I used to
- Hardly at all
I remember being confused. I really didn’t know how to choose an answer to this question at the time. I honestly don’t even remember exactly which statement I checked at six weeks postpartum, but it definitely wasn’t the top choice. I know that at the time I resented the monotony of caring for a new baby: feed, burp, change, put to sleep and repeat every two hours. Being confined to this schedule and to our house as much as we were (and in the dead of winter) I really didn’t feel like I had “things” to look forward to. From six weeks postpartum on, I saw my answer change to a more extreme negative. I began tracking my lack of enjoyment and tried to understand the root cause and I knew that I had to start with God’s word.
I’m no Biblical scholar, but I worked hard to understand scripture through study, the guidance of my pastor, and excellent books written by other knowledgeable and godly men and women.
To provide clarity, I reflected on where God said we could find true enjoyment in life and the following verses were ones that I deliberated over and read many times.
- Psalm 16:12 says “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” This was one of the common verses I would recount to myself for the majority of my life and I would often pray that God be my one desire, my purpose, my joy. And it usually would take root and adjust my heart. In the season of my PPD, I read this verse and found that I wasn’t joyful, I wasn’t experiencing pleasures. I desired to so badly, but it was elusive and I would cry out to God to restore my joy in full measure.
- Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This doesn’t mean that God will give me anything I want. When I am truly delighting in the Lord, the desires of my heart will be aligned with what He desires. Nancy Guthrie summarizes what I’m trying to saying in a quick video recap. Psalm 16:12 became one of my major desires along with wanting to embrace my role as a mother. I knew that I needed to delight in God if I was to have any true enjoyment of anything. Practicing and seeking what these Scriptures advise while in the midst of PPD felt like drudgery with very little spiritual output. This led to more frustration.
- Psalm 42 addresses a depressed person’s feelings, feelings that I intensely felt, and gives the cure for despondency: “Hope in God!” Yet, I felt forgotten by God because I kept crying out to Him and trying to hope in Him, but I could not feel His presence or find relief from my depression. I truly felt like I was being crushed by waves, repeatedly knocked down by the “breakers” (Psalm 42:7). Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote this quote regarding Psalm 42 in his book Spiritual Depression,
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”
When I read this, I thought “OK self. I am feeling so despondent because I’m listening too much to your negative thoughts and I need to swat them down with Scripture.” I journaled, wrote out my prayers, used the thought log I posted about in “A chart to reorder my thinking.” Rather than allowing my thoughts to affect my mental state, I had to actively speak truth and catch myself when I was believing in lies and giving into them. Still, I felt like I was continually sinking underneath waves and it was exhausting.
I dreaded going to church, something that I typically look forward to, as it is refreshing and nourishing for my soul. I dragged my feet in activities and events that would normally bring me great joy. I no longer sang, which for a vocal major and someone who has sung all her life, was out of the ordinary. I began to withdraw from friends and family members and didn’t want to see anyone.
Compounding all of these depressive feelings was the belief that I was failing as a believer in Christ and as a mother. Some folks told me that maybe if I read my Bible more and prayed more, I would snap out of it and be joyful again. But I WAS reading. I WAS praying. I was praying more fervently than ever before. I was digging into Scripture trying to grab hold of any verse that would bring me hope and joy. I knew scriptures that were relevant and true. Why weren’t they working this time!?
Several weeks later, when I began to feel the full effects of PPD, I sunk incredibly low and no amount of Scripture reading or prayer changed my mindset or heart attitude.
Despite my studies, reflection, and prayer, I still did not feel like there was anything to look forward to except for when the baby slept. When my son was asleep, I tried to rest. It was one less kid to watch because his older sister wasn’t even two years old at the time. I was always exhausted and stressed out so I lived for nap time. I adopted the mantra, “Just make it to nap time,” but that is no way to live.
In order to get better, I realized I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. I started going to see a psychiatrist, sought counseling, met with my pastor, and also some reinforcements were called in; people who cared about me enough to come along side me and show me the light again. They helped me regain some enjoyment of the simple things of life in very practical ways.
As long as I didn’t put my hope of being joyful again in those practical things, the Bible calls this idolatry, I could find the freedom to plan these activities and to not feel guilty about doing them “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:5.
A friend with a Biblical counseling degree suggested I come up with a list of things that made me happy and to try to do at least one per week. Some of the items on my list could cost money to do and some could be free. I initially shrunk away from this advice because my mindset was that I could only fulfill the duty to be a mom and spending time/money on myself would be a waste. The enjoyment of things that I liked was selfish in my mind and I wanted to avoid making them into idols.
So, it took a great deal of effort and convincing by others to implement this plan. My husband started to buy special treats at the grocery store just for me. He posted Scripture verses all over our house at my eye-level so that I would be reminded of God’s goodness.
Several people sent me care packages with things they knew I enjoyed. Along with the professional help that I was receiving, the people in my life gave me a extra boost to get me going. I started to play my piano again, I took warm baths, and called up friends on the phone. I chose to spend money on pleasant, relaxing things like essential oils and dark chocolate. I think orchids are gorgeous and when I saw some for sale at the grocery store, I bought myself flowers! I felt a bit guilty in buying something that wouldn’t last very long, but cheerily sitting on our kitchen table, they brought forth a smile every time I looked at them.
One friend took me out to get a manicure. My sisters paid for my flight out to where they lived so that we could have a sisters’ weekend. My college housemates planned a reunion for us.
My heart’s motivation was not wrong in the enjoyment of things or in looking forward to them. I knew that I should be more grateful for the giver (God or my loved ones) than the gifts. It was not a sin to enjoy these gifts.
So, to summarize what helped me (and maybe it can help you too!) :
- I read God’s word to base my hope and joy in Him.
- I surrounded myself with a support system that encouraged me in my spiritual walk and in practical ways.
- I learned to take pleasure in the good gifts from the Lord and how to not to feel so guilty about it. (You can read through Ecclesiastes in the Bible on this topic or check out this sermon series!)
- I prayed for patience throughout the process.