This is part two of a series where I’m sharing my experience with postpartum depression and legalism. To read part one, click here.
Also, read Leaving Legalism.
Displayed in a tiny box on the mantle of my heart sat my Savior. He was angry, vengeful, and ready to point every flaw as I walked through each day of my life. He was a system of rules and preferences that, if I could achieve them, pleased my flesh. Serving Him meant completing a, b, and c so I could be in right standing with God.
I threw out CD’s. I shunned some of my family. I pat myself on the back when the guy next to me wasn’t as uber-spiritual as I was. It was all an effort to become more separated unto God, but really it was more about becoming isolated in myself. Living this way was perfectly okay with me, because I thought I was really doing God a big favor.
This is where I’ll note that no one forced me to believe this way. I was sitting under good, solid Bible preaching and teaching. My husband often was the more “liberal” out of the two of us. I simply wanted to be right and do right all of the time. The problem wasn’t my desire, it was the fact that I was trying to do it in my own power and for all the wrong reasons. I was also very spiritually immature and ignorant of the Word.
I knew His saving grace.
I knew that He found me on a Sunday night after I had fought to believe that my good works could earn Heaven. I remember knowing it was me who was headed to hell, in desperate need of Jesus. I knew the feeling of the greatest weight being lifted off of my shoulders as my name was written in the Book of Life. I knew His transforming power and how it changed my life. I knew being set free from a life of trying to attain righteousness.
But it didn’t take long before I was taught that to teach me, He would give me a hard way to go. I was afraid of getting on His bad side.
I knew I couldn’t ever lose my salvation. I knew I couldn’t go to hell.
I just obsessed about always being right.
My third baby was born and it was as though my brain snapped. All of those thoughts combined with my usual hypochondria went scrambling in my brain on repeat. My legalistic thinking is where I immediately resorted to. It didn’t occur to me that it was hormonal. I didn’t discuss it with my doctor. I thought most doctors (especially those in the psychology or psychiatry field) were messengers of the devil. Instead, I resigned that God was trying to tell me something and there was some kind of hidden sin I was unaware of.
To me, there was no way a person who was happily walking with Jesus could feel this way.
“You’re too blessed to be depressed!”
I’d hear that and panic. I knew that I was blessed beyond my wildest imaginations and yet I couldn’t keep it together. I was always obsessing over my kids dying somehow or discovering my baby had passed in her sleep. My stomach always had this sick feeling of impending doom and I couldn’t make it go away. I was motivated and driven by it. I figured that my feelings were the Holy Spirit trying to guide me and direct me.
Those feelings condemned me, tormented me, and screamed that I wasn’t truly His.
I was a terrible mom. I couldn’t breastfeed because I needed to serve God more. I messed up on the piano because I picked the wrong song. My kids got sick because I yelled at them. My house never got clean because God was trying to teach me a lesson. My dog died because I didn’t pay enough attention to her.
Every bad thing that happened had to be a consequence for disobedience to God.
As I shared in my previous post, I was no stranger to panic attacks. This went way beyond. It was my constant mental state. It was who I had become. It controlled me.
I had found myself in a personal hell on earth mixed with babies, late nights, ️laundry, and these oppressive thoughts that were a part of me.
I looked around and the other moms seemed okay. They just prayed and worked through it. It was incredibly frustrating because that had once been me. However, 6 o’clock in the evening came around and I’d still be curled up in tears because of my thoughts. I was in constant torment. I felt it was my fault because I just couldn’t get it together.
My husband, my parents, my in laws, my pastor, my closest friends – they all suggested the same thing.
You are probably suffering from post partum anxiety.
A couple of people even went further and said that my thinking stemmed from a very unhealthy and unscriptural view of God. A view that preached a loving Jesus on the cross, but a vengeful jerk in the sanctification of the believer.
Anxiety takes those normal fears and amplifies them by a thousand. It clutches tightly to them, making it feel impossible to remove oneself from them.
Realizing that perhaps all of this wasn’t my fault was the moment I saw hope.
There was no epiphany. There was no come to Jesus moment where I laid it all on the altar and walked away free of my burdens. I always thought it would work that way.
Instead,I began the journey of admitting that mental illness is real and that it had happened to me.
At the same time, it was also admitting that maybe God was bigger that tiny box I had kept Him in. My black and white rules about how He worked didn’t seem to fit. That awful judgment I had passed on others had turned out to be false.
As I said before, anxiety takes fears and thoughts that already reside in your heart and enlarges it before you. It could have destroyed me. It could have taken my life, as the thought briefly crossed my mind. But I was too scared of dying at that point.
Anxiety was what God used to propel me into seeking answers and demanding truth. Eventually, this thorn in my flesh became my gift.
The next part of my story is an important one. My legalistic thinking and anxious thoughts collided, coming to a head. My head began to spin faster with the thought …
“Truly saved people don’t feel like this. Are you even saved?”