"My Friend Prozac": Mary Beth Chapman on Battling Clinical Depression
- Tuesday, November 23, 2010
So I met with the doctor. We talked for some time, and he said to me, "I don't know if you're familiar with the term ‘clinical depression,' but I believe you've suffered from it for a long time."
I thought back to my high-performing childhood and the pain and shame of my adolescence. The doctor was right.
It was a relief to know that what I suffered from had a name. At the same time I felt guilty and ashamed. Like everything was my fault. I had no logical reason to be depressed. I had a wonderful, loving, faithful husband and healthy, great kids. We were financially blessed. I wasn't living in poverty, persecution, or pain. Why should I be depressed?
What I began to understand was that this was a medical condition. It wasn't logical. It wasn't a response to my environment. It had to do with my brain chemistry and coping mechanisms that I'd developed over a lifetime. I began to see that I'd carried this for years, that depression had been the filter through which I had experienced much of my adolescence and everything since.
It obviously had affected my marriage as well. And now, with the depression diagnosis, it felt like any problems or differences between Steven and me were automatically my fault, because, well, I was depressed. This dynamic meant that I now carried more guilt, thinking every difference between us was because I wasn't able to let go or lighten up, no matter how hard I tried. It often came down to this: Steven's fun and spontaneous outlook trumped Mary Beth's need for planning almost every time.
Depression also affected the way I reasoned, the way my brain itself perceived everyday life. While Steven might see a problem as an inconvenient obstacle he just had to figure out a way to bounce around, I saw problems as insurmountable mountains.
The doctor prescribed an antidepressant, which was the good news.
The bad news was that the Prozac took a few weeks to ramp up in my system and take effect. So there were many dark nights when I was battling intense emotions of fear and anger, and Steven was on the road. He'd call late at night, after his show, and I concentrated on putting on a brave, fake front.
It was so hard, because sleeping was the one time I was at peace, and he could usually only call after we were all in bed. I would try and tell him news and funny stories about the children. But I didn't want to talk. I just wanted to go back to sleep.
As I said, when I was first diagnosed I felt like I was to blame for everything and anything that had ever gone wrong. Later it would be important to discern ways that Steven's personality and patterns had also contributed to our conflict. We still had to do a ton of work to untangle issues in our marriage and why we both responded certain ways to certain situations. But it helped to know that we were normalizing my brain chemistry so I could perceive things better.
That was good.
But it was not enough, on its own, to really transform me. What I found is that my depression actually became an opportunity to acknowledge to God that He was literally my only hope. In the darkest, loneliest times in the middle of the night, I realized that Christ is truly all I have. I realized that everything else—everything—is fleeting.
If I put my security or peace of mind in my husband, children, or home, I would only continue to wrestle with life and how out of control it felt. I'd already seen how a home and possessions can burn, and I knew that no matter how precious a relationship with a loved one is, it can be lost in a moment of tragedy.
I also knew quite clearly that I couldn't rest my hope or security in how I looked or how productive I was, or anything else that had to do with my hardworking, churning, anxious personality. If my outlook was dependent on me and how together I was, I'd have no peace.
Depression became my friend, in a strange and painful way, a pushy friend I really did not want. But this strange friend made it so clear to me that I couldn't just buck up and feel better, or try harder and do better. I was helpless.
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