Is it true that if you “feel blue” you must be sick?
Allow me to explain.
I recently had knee replacement surgery and will have to have at some point the other knee replaced.
The surgery involved a two-day hospital stay and follow-up visits to the surgeon’s office. In each case I’ve been asked questions regarding my mental health.
“Are you depressed?”
“Do you feel threatened in any way at home?”
“Are you having trouble sleeping?” (a question that usually relates to anxiety)
“How is your stress level?”
The questions are certainly well-meaning since one’s mental state can have an effect on the healing process. The question regarding depression is especially revealing.
If I were to answer in the affirmative that I was depressed the chances are the surgeon would have prescribed an anti-depressant to go along with my handful of post-op meds.
I knew what they were trying to do (help me) so I answered that I was fine which is not true; yet not a lie.
When medical people ask if you are depressed they tend to equate “feeling blue” with clinical depression. In other words, if you exhibit or confess to “x” number of symptoms you are awarded a depression label.
What I have experienced is what I’ll call “normal discouragement.”
And what would I be discouraged about?
The therapy associated with knee replacement surgery is painful-real painful. The patient, for his or her own good is forced to bend and extend muscles that are in rebellion to the process. When forced, they scream out in pain and I confess to being brought to tears on more than one occasion.
The cycle of therapy and rest is repeated each and every day more than once per day and each day you feel like you are starting over. That is discouraging since progress seems slow.
What else is discouraging is that my wife has to help me dress. It’s minor but never-the-less discouraging to need help in such a simple task.
I’m also useless around the house. My wife works full-time so the division of labor between us has always been fair and not holding up my end discourages me.
The same is true regarding my ministry. Between therapy and doses of pain killers one is not inclined to produce anything useful much less coherent. Hopefully this blog is the exception!
The total of these circumstances and more, result in feelings of discouragement since I am anxious to recover and get back to normal.
I believe that my reaction of discouragement is a “normal” response to the circumstance of major surgery. I further believe to call normal discouragement “depression” medicalizes something that does not need a prescription to cope with. Yet, that is exactly where the process could have ended up had I confessed to depression.
Since I am a Bible-believing Christian, my prescription for my discouragement is different.
There is a battle for my mind going on. One side of the battle says lay in bed, take my pain pills, avoid the more hurtful therapy, and if push comes to shove, settle for a disability.
The other side of the battle says follow the doctor’s therapeutic instructions, press on regardless of the pain because in the long run it will help, and do whatever I can to help around the house as I recover.
Biblically speaking, in my current state, my job is recovery and the side of the battle that says “these are the things you can do to do your job, do them as onto the Lord (Col. 3:23).
This is not always easy but battles rarely are.
Furthermore, there is prayer. There are a great many people who remember me in prayer. My small group leader asked me Sunday how I was doing with discouragement. He used the right word and so my small group prays not only for healing which is important but more importantly that I remain faithful to the battle for my mind and that I grow in Christ through the trial of recovery.
Third, there is the recognition that my wife wishes to serve me. and As she helps me struggle we make jokes and walk down this path together as we’ve had for the past 40 years through thick and thin. Her assists help me with my pride because there simply are times we need help.
And finally there is an attitude of gratitude that I must fight for.
My church is incredibly supportive including my friend and Sr. Pastor. There is no pressure, just encouragement to press on in recovery.
There is gratitude for having the insurance for the surgery. There is gratitude for having a top-notch surgeon and hospital staff.
There is gratitude that our sovereign God has providentially arranged all these things for my good (Rom. 8:28-29). In other words, I do not need meds or psychological counseling; I need discipleship. I need to use biblical tools to fight “normal discouragement” as I recover.
What I’ve said here is nothing new to biblical counselors.
It is interesting to see that even secular psychologists and therapists are recognizing the danger in medicalizing normal responses to unpleasant circumstances.
This link to How to Avoid the Damage caused by Psychological Labeling by Mark Tyrrell is helpful. While I do not agree with every point, it is refreshing to see therapists and psychologists saying something about the over medicalizing of the downers that occur in all of our lives.
It isn’t true that if you “feel blue” then you must be sick.