"My Friend Prozac": Mary Beth Chapman on Battling Clinical Depression
- 2010 30 Nov
Editor's Note: The following article was excerpted from Mary Beth Chapman's new book Choosing to See.
People who don't know much about depression often think of it as great sadness, and while it is that, it is so much more. I was sad, mad, frustrated, fearful, reclusive, critical, overwhelmed, and hopeless. No one wants all these adjectives... and certainly no one wants to live with a person who's experiencing them.
And here was Steven, trying his best to understand, but because of his positive outlook on life, it was hard for him. I felt like he was just clueless to what was going on inside of me. We'd moved into a new house, I had three children under the age of five, and it was up to me to multitask my way through all kinds of challenges each day.
Meanwhile, Tigger the optimist was getting ready for his biggest tour to date. It would be full of ministry opportunities and happy fans who would applaud his performances and confirm how talented he was.
So as far as Steven's managers, promoters, and music team were concerned, the single focus was "The Great Adventure" tour. As it became more and more apparent that I was overwhelmed and hurting, managers said they could pull the plug on the tour at any point so Steven could care for his family. I knew that a lot of money had already been invested and spent to get this tour off the ground . . . and the way the business works, no matter what, this Great Adventure tour would happen. Therefore, Mary Beth needed to keep herself together.
But I couldn't.
Steven would come home from the recording studio or rehearsals to find me curled up in our bed crying. Emily had started kindergarten. I loved having little Caleb and Will at home . . . but then there were times when they were right under my feet while I'd furiously clean the house, pay bills, do laundry, and try to keep our domestic life afloat, while continuing to manage various business aspects of Steven's career.
Sometimes I would just stop, sit, and cry. Other days, I would actually crawl under my bed or in my closet. I was physically and emotionally depleted, and though I'm a real pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of person, I could not pull myself up and out of this any longer.
One day before Steven was to leave on the tour, we were out on the driveway talking with Steven's manager, Dan Raines. Dan was discussing plans that were taking me by surprise. I like to schedule things on the calendar, be prepared, take care of details, and not get caught by something unknown. I had asked over and over to be given as much information as possible.
But I was now hearing about all kinds of add-ons . . . more shows, television opportunities, interviews . . . things that would keep Steven out on the road longer than I'd been told. This was great for his career . . . but this latest batch of last-minute information sent me over the edge.
I started crying and couldn't stop. I was way beyond the point of caring who saw me. Complete breakdown. I wanted to die. Steven actually carried me into our house, me kicking and screaming all the way.
Dan was very wide-eyed but compassionate. He told us about a good friend in his small group from church who was a psychiatrist. "Maybe we ought to see about getting you an appointment," he told me when I was calm enough to hear anything.
I knew nothing about psychiatrists, except they were for crazy people. And that definitely wasn't me, even though I'd always felt half-crazy and now was flipping out in the driveway and hiding under the bed.
Actually, I had always been quite open to getting counseling help as Steven and I struggled with some of the difficulties in our marriage. We knew the value of having trained people walk through hard places with us.
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.
My husband could not fix me. My closest friends, who somehow loved me too, could not fix me. And Lord knows I could not fix myself. If I wanted to live in a different place than this dark cloud of fear, anger, and sadness, I had to realize that this burden was way too heavy to carry alone. God and God alone was the One who could take the depression and turn it into something teachable. All I had to do was the hardest thing possible for a person like me: I just had to be willing to give up control and give in to Him, and let Him use this cross in my life.
This was passive in the sense that I had to give up my will, but active in the sense of the action that required. It was also active in the sense that there was plenty of work I had to do if I wanted to get better.
But the first step, before my efforts, was to realize that the essential transformation inside of me would not come through my work, but as a gift of grace from God Himself.
Excerpted from Choosing to See by Mary Beth Chapman (Revell, 2010). Copyright 2010 by Mary Beth Chapman. All rights reserved.
Mary Beth Chapman is the wife of Grammy and Dove Award winning recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman. Together they began Show Hope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to caring for the world's most vulnerable children by providing financial assistance to families wishing to adopt, as well as increasing awareness of the orphan crisis and funneling resources to orphans domestically and internationally. Mary Beth serves as president of Show Hope and is a speaker for Women of Faith(r) 2010 with her husband. She is also coauthor with Steven of the Shaoey and Dot series of children's picture books. Mary Beth and Steven have six children: Emily, Caleb, Will Franklin, and adopted daughters Shaohannah Hope, Stevey Joy, and Maria Sue, who is now with Jesus. The Chapmans live in Tennessee.