In my experience, depression has had two opposing effects: it protected me from feeling deep pain but, at the same time, robbed me of relationships and healing.
Thirty-eight years ago today, my life was changed forever. What should have been a time of joy and celebration turned into sadness, despair, and a journey into depression. My two infant twin sons were born too early to survive. All the things that I had learned through my childhood about faith and never doubting God’s plan began to fade. How could something that I thought was in God’s plan go so terribly wrong?
…even though many people said crazy things to me, like What would you do with two? or it’s God’s will or God needed two angels in heaven. These were just a few of the unhelpful comments made to me after the death of my sons.
A few weeks after this happened, I lost the support of close friends when we moved to a big city where we didn’t know anyone. My husband started a new job, and I stayed at home. Unfortunately my parents, who lived miles away, never called or asked me how I was doing.
This is what I had been taught my whole life.
The one bright spot during this time was my dear friend whose family also lived in the area. She would listen to me and encourage me. At some point, she suggested that I see a pastoral counselor on staff at the church where we were attending. I agreed and met with him. After one meeting, he referred me to a ‘prayer’ lady in the church. This again reinforced the idea that my problem was not worth taking up this counselor’s time. I met with the woman one time. But she offended me greatly when she explained the ‘magic’ of her prayer life. She even prayed for parking spaces, and they miraculously appeared. I thanked her graciously, of course, and got out of there as fast as I could.
From my experience, the death of preterm infants or infant death at birth is especially hard for issue for people to relate. I guess maybe they are thinking you can try again, or you didn’t know that child, so what is there to miss? For the ones experiencing the death, it is the loss of children you will never know and the loss of a dream. No one imagines burying a child.
Now that I am years past this experience, I realize the grief that I was experiencing after the death of my sons just backed up to the sadness and hurt of my childhood. If that counselor had just asked me a few questions about my past, I think the floodgates could have been opened.
Someone is referred to me because of a recent death of a loved one. Certainly, I help process the present sadness and grief cycle. But, I also help them explore their life history. Many times the pain of the past is colliding with their present pain.
I now also have a better understanding of my depression at that time. One definition of depression is “anger turned inward,” and I now know that I was very angry that something so natural as having a child could go so terribly wrong. Why did this happen to me? There was no explanation.
It pushed down all the desires of my heart, so I wouldn’t feel the pain of loss. I didn’t want to be around people. I did not want to have to fake happiness.
Depression is a wonderful fog that surrounds us when our pain of sadness, hurt, anger and loneliness is seemingly too much to feel. In the extreme form of it, we cannot work or play. It protects us from pain, but it also disconnects us from relationships. This is the hardest part. We need relationships to recover from our pain. We need to be able to talk about what is happening to us in order to begin to empty the hurts and sadness that we are experiencing.
When I am asking the questions and answering my own questions, this is not healthy. I need another perspective to get a clearer picture of my truth. We need to reach out to safe people, so we can start the healing journey. These people might be a trusted friend who just listens and doesn’t try to fix, or a therapist who can help bring clarity to events and confirm that what we are experiencing is real. We all need relationships to live and to heal.
Miriam Tate is a therapist at Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, TN. Prior to Sage Hill, Miriam worked at the JourneyPure Center for Professional Excellence, a long-term alcohol and drug treatment center founded by Dr. Chip Dodd in Nashville, since 2001. She helps people tell their story and reawakens them to who they are made to be.