A Long, Dark Path
About the Guest
Have you or your spouse found yourself in a deep valley of depression? You're not alone. Author David Pierce, husband to popular Christian comedienne Chonda Pierce, talks frankly about Chonda's first bout of depression in their 20th year of marriage. David reflects on the helplessness he felt at times, the solutions they sought, and her sudden relapse after things had started to look up.
Have you or your spouse found yourself in a deep valley of depression? You’re not alone.
A Long, Dark Path
Bob: As a Christian comedian and humorist, Chonda Pierce’s job was to make people laugh. What no one knew was that in Chonda’s own life she was battling with depression, a depression that her husband, David, said was so severe something had to be done.
David: When you get to a point where it’s that dark, you start to think you shouldn’t be here, and she made statements like that to me, and to our daughter, and to her counselor. And the moment she did, the counselor could not let her go back home, and so we had to take her somewhere that she’d be safe.
It turned out to be the best thing, you know. I mean, she called the next day and said, “Please come get me,” and I said, “I’m going to be up there, but I can’t take you home right now.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear from David Pierce today about what it’s like to walk alongside someone who is battling the darkness of depression.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There are times in a marriage when husbands or wives are called to walk down a dark path with their spouse. You’re not sure where you’re going and it’s hard to see, and it can be painful. But that’s part of the ‘in sickness and in health’ that we signed on for when we got married.
Dennis: It is. In fact, when we read the Scriptures in Genesis chapter two, it commands us to leave, cleave and become one. We have no idea what God’s plan is for our lives or for our spouse’s lives, and it really marks the beginning of a true adventure of two people and what God’s up to in both their lives, of experiencing oneness, and not allowing circumstances to divide them.
David Pierce joins us here on FamilyLife Today. He is a professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University. He and his wife, Chonda, and their family live in Tennessee. We first of all just ought to talk about your wife, because that’s really what we want to talk about here.
Chonda has a unique gift and probably several of our listeners already know who she is. But explain that to our listeners if you would.
David: Yes. My wife has the gift of making people laugh. She’s been a comedian probably for the last 15 years. Started out at a little park in Nashville, impersonating Minnie Pearl. Her life had a lot of tragic moments. She lost two sisters while she was in high school – one was 20, one was 15 – within 18 months.
David: So when she found that job at Opryland, and she was a performer, a singer, but there was a moment in there where someone had to impersonate Minnie Pearl. That meant you had to come out and tell jokes, every day, six days a week, and she got that part in the midst of her still grieving. And so she credits comedy to really healing her, and she carried that on. She’s a natural comedian.
Bob: You and she met in high school; is that right?
David: We did. We met in speech class.
Bob: And was she naturally funny back then?
David: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. What she does now on stage is the same thing she was doing in high school.
David: She just has a microphone now. In class…
Dennis: In class she was cutting up, huh?
David: Oh, she was a big cut-up, you know. People ask me all the time, “What’s it like to be married to Chonda?” You know, no matter what I say, it’s going to be an understatement. So I just say, “You know what, she really breaks up the day.”
Bob: You were attracted to this outgoing, funny woman. You guys were friends before you were ever engaged.
David: Right. We were good friends. We lived close to each other, so I would hang out at her house all the time, play with her and her sister, who died shortly after that. I got to know the family really well. You know, my walk with Christ was not real strong at that time. I had a lot of anger, and I had kind of pulled back.
She was a preacher’s kid, and they came to town, and with so much personality it blew everyone away. She was in the midst of her tragedies, so she was struggling with that. And yet she still loved God. I think that was what my attraction was, because I was having tough times and I was angry at God. I wanted to know, “How do you get there? How do you get there through what you’re doing?”
So we became good friends through high school, on through college. I would make fun of whoever she was dating, she’d make fun of whoever I was dating, and then there came that moment when we weren’t dating anyone and it was like, “You want to go out?” We had so much history that it just seemed like we should be together. We fell in love, and have been married almost 27 years now.
Dennis: You were married to a young lady who had always been funny all of her life.
Dennis: How long before you realized that there was a side of her that experienced darkness?
David: We had been married probably about 20 years when she had a bout with depression.
Dennis: So it didn’t show up when you dated.
David: Oh no.
Dennis: Didn’t show up in early marriage as you had children.
David: No. What we learned is that it can happen anytime. What contributes to that? It could be diet. It could be lack of sleep. It could be stress. It could be a collection of all of those or any kind of combination. She was working very hard at that time, traveling a lot, doing her shows, her tours, not real good sleep and eat habits, and I think that probably contributed a lot.
Because we were baffled. We had a good home, the kids were fine and healthy, finances were great, and people would look at her and say, “Why is she so sad? What does she have to be sad about?” And it’s not that. It doesn’t have to do with something that’s making you sad.
There was a chemical imbalance, and we had no clue what to do. They ran every kind of test. We had a doctor friend who was praying that it was a gallbladder, because he’s a surgeon. He wanted to take out her gallbladder.
Bob: He needed a boat.
Dennis: What I want to know is, when did you sense that this sadness was indeed a deep darkness? When did that dawn on you, or when did you come to that conclusion?
David: It was after a long battery of tests. A couple of doctors were kind of saying to us, “Do you think it might be psychological?” And we’re like, “No, there’s no reason. We don’t have any history of this.” But then someone convinced us to – “Let’s start taking some antidepressants,” and we would try one and they said, “Alright, it takes about two weeks to get into your system.” So two weeks go by and no difference. “Alright, scrap it. Let’s try a new one.”
This went on for about three months, and it was tough. I was totally helpless. Chonda would begin the day crying, and would do this all day long. Toward evening she’d start to feel better, and there was this real dread, because she knew, “If I go to sleep, I’m going to wake up crying again.” And she would do that, every day, for about three months, and I was totally helpless. All I could do was bring her food, and try to get her into the living room, out of the bedroom.
Bob: David, you’re a guy. This is the kind of thing that guys want to fix.
David: Oh, yeah. I tried. I would talk to the doctors. After we talked together, I would corner them, “Listen, is there anything I can do? Is there something I can do? I’ll do it every minute, on the minute if I have to. Just tell me.” And the answer was, “No, we just have to wait and see if this works.” That was tough for me.
Bob: Talk about that three-month period and the emotional temperature of your home, and how your kids were reacting to it. Again, I’m thinking as a husband you had to be going, “Lord, just deliver us from this.”
David: Right. My daughter was at college at that time, so she wasn’t in the house, but she did come home for about a two-week period to do the same thing I was trying to do, just “What can I do? What can I do to help?”
Our son, he just tried to stay out of the way. He would corner me every now and then and say, “Is Mom going to be okay? When’s she going to be better?” So the atmosphere in the house is very quiet and dark.
Bob: Was she in bed?
David: She would, if I didn’t get her out of bed. I would at least get her out into the living room so she could lay on the couch, because, you know, that’s part of the psychology. Don’t go back into a cave, so I’d bring her in. We’d watch game shows.
Now, for a long time we’d listen to praise music, I’d sit and read Scripture to her, her brother would come over and read, and we would do that for a long time, and then we’d take a break and she’d watch game shows – just something that was kind of up. But there’s no cheering up, there’s no shaking this off. It just continues.
Dennis: Functionally and practically, you lost your wife for a period of time.
David: Oh, yes. I asked the doctor. I said, “Is she always going to be like this?” And we went to counseling to get some information about what we can do. I told them, I said, “I am here today because I want my wife back. What can we do?” It was so frustrating because you never got a direct answer. It was always, “Well, we’ll try this. We’ll see about this. We’ll wait about this.” That was going against everything that I am. I thought, “You guys are smart. You’ve gone to school for this.”
Bob: Fix it.
David: “Have better answers than that.”
Bob: And you had to be thinking in the back of your head at some point, “If this goes on for years, what do I do?”
David: Yes. It was the practical concerns, and that is that Chonda’s career. She had pretty much become the breadwinner and my big role was to kind of help her with things. I’m teaching, but that’s not going to do a whole lot for our family. And so there was that practical concern, like we may be near the end of this. We’re going to have to – or I’m going to have to go get some other kind of job.
Bob: Did you cancel performances because of this?
David: Oh yeah. We took out a big chunk of time there. There were about three months she did not work.
Dennis: I have to believe that you as a man had to almost go back to your teenage years when your dad was an alcoholic and you were praying a prayer to God, asking him to sober him up. And that didn’t happen.
Dennis: Was there a moment when, in those ninety days, in those three months, even though that’s a short period of time – you had to be praying and things weren’t getting better. Were you feeling, even though this is a totally different issue than alcoholism, were you feeling a little bit of “Here we go again?”
David: You know, I could easily see how that could work, but my experience with my father was so powerful that I actually drew on that. I said, “I’ve done this before, and I know that God is there.” I said, “I don’t understand this little bit right here. This has got me baffled, but I’m not giving up on this.”
So I think rather than that experience making me believe I’m about to do this again and get angry at God again, it pushed me the other way. I said, “No, I’m hanging on even tighter now because I’ve come through some tough stuff and I know this will be better. This will pass.”
Bob: Did you find yourself thinking into the future and thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll have to find a place where they can take care of her throughout the day and somebody can look after her while I’m working.” Did you start to think about her being in a hospital somewhere?
David: Not to that degree. Now we did go to the hospital, and she stayed about a week. You talk about tough, because I had to take her up there late at night, check her in, and she didn’t want to stay, and I didn’t think this was going to go well. But I had no choice.
Dennis: But she needed to stay.
David: Yes, there was a time – I mean, because when you get to a point where it’s that dark, you start to think you shouldn’t be here. She made statements like that to me and to our daughter, and to her counselor. And the moment she did, the counselor could not let her go back home, and so we had to take her somewhere that she’d be safe.
It turned out to be the best thing, you know. She called the next day and said, “Please come get me,” and I said, “I’m going to be up there, but I can’t take you home right now.” But she began to go through group counseling, and shared with other people going through the same thing, and she started feeling like “Okay, this happens to other people. It’s not just me.”
Because I didn’t think she’d like group. I didn’t think she’d want to share these dark moments with anyone else, but she loved it. Don’t be alone, you know. That was the worst thing, to be alone. Even if it was just me in the house, it was lonely.
But when she was with other people who had this shared experience, it began to heal her, and she began to talk about the experience. They talked about theirs and that was so comforting, that by day three she was introducing me to her new friends.
“Here’s so-and-so. He’s suffering with this. She’s got this,” you know, and it was like this community, and they shared the same pain. So that was helpful, and she has counseled people who struggle with this, “You go find some people. Don’t be alone. Don’t wrestle with this by yourself. Your pastor can help and give you good advice, but you need to share community with others.”
Bob: If you had a husband call you today and say, “David, my wife’s right at the beginning point where Chonda was at the beginning of her journey. What do I do?” what kind of coaching and counseling would you give him?
David: Well, I have had that happen, and I try to short-cut things, because we spent a lot of time and weeks and months trying to figure it out on our own, deflecting, not really accepting counsel, not really wanting to go to the group thing, not knowing if that was going to be a good idea and finding out that “Oh, that was the best thing that we could have done.”
And so I try to short-cut that real quick and say, “You find a place that counsels people with depression because they’re going to know. They see this stuff every day; they’ve probably seen thousands of these cases. It’s not foreign to them. Find somebody that knows more about it than you do; find somebody that knows pretty much everything about it that we know, and tap into that.”
Bob: Her first battle with depression, you said, was about a three-month long period, right?
Bob: And then she kind of came out of it, the medication helped, the counseling helped, but she relapsed years later, right?
David: Yes. Yes. The first time she was out with her girlfriends for a weekend at a really nice hotel. They were doing the whole spa thing, and there was no reason to get depressed, but it hit her and she went into a tailspin, and they had to take her to the hospital. We didn’t know – we thought it was something physical. That was the first time we heard about depression.
So she got on this medication and began doing better, so much better that she started to stop the medication, which is a big reason why people relapse, because you start feeling better and you think, “I don’t need the medicine anymore.” Well, it’s the medicine that’s making you feel better, so she began to stop taking that, and that’s when the relapse happened. And when you go back the second time, it’s even a harder fall, and that’s when she did that again.
It took a while – the same medicine didn’t help this time. We had to change medicines. I’m a firm believer in that medicine now, because we tried, tried, tried and we finally found the right one – I think it was the fourth one. It was like a light switch had been turned on, and she was better.
She still takes her medicine; there are no side effects. It’s the best check I write every month, and I’m tempted to tip the pharmacist when I go down there. If this is what’s keeping her mind healthy, then it’s no different than a diabetic taking insulin or anyone else who has to take some kind of medication for their heart. If you stop taking this, the organ is going to fail, and in this case it’s her brain. We don’t want that to happen again; we’re on guard.
Dennis: Undoubtedly there are listeners right now who haven’t had the breakthrough or the medical solution, or for that matter, a spiritual solution to the depression they’re facing or their spouse is facing. It’s pretty tough, because to the person who’s depressed it really is like they’re in a dark valley where there is no way out.
Dennis: It’s hopelessness. What would you say to the spouse in that situation, to the man or woman who’s in a marriage where, man, it’s looking tough for their spouse and there haven’t been any answers?
David: I hope that that spouse and that person is actively seeking some help. Chonda has been approached a lot of times by people who are like what you just described, and she’ll ask them, “Okay, what are you doing about it now? Who are you seeing?” and they’re like, “Well, right now no one.” I think the reality is that people will live with that, thinking that they’re going to snap out of it, thinking that they’re going to get that miracle.
What she tells them is “Maybe that miracle is the knowledge that God gave that doctor to make that medicine, to figure out that this is what you need, and don’t be afraid to take that.” So if someone is in the midst of that and they’re doing all the counseling and testing that they can, then what I would say is just hold on, because this will not last much longer.
You are getting closer, as long as there is something being done. If there’s nothing being done, then you need to get on the phone, the internet, finding a place that’s close by that deals with that type of depression. And make some appointments, because this is not anything you need to handle alone or non-professionally.
Dennis: I can’t help but think as a husband myself, and I’ve never faced anything like this, but it’s in those moments when, I think you pointed out several things that we need: One is you need your own unique trust in God and believe the truth about him, that he is near those who are brokenhearted. Secondly, you can’t go through it alone.
Dennis: You can’t handle something by yourself. I was with a friend recently and just had a conversation with him, exhorting him and encouraging him, “You need a couple of good friends. You need some people who can be burden bearers, not necessarily offering a solution, but offering counsel, being a good listener, and you need to hang in there and persevere, and continue loving your spouse, the bottom line.”
I appreciate your sharing your story and sharing a little bit about what you’ve been through. I’ve got to believe it’s going to help some folks who may find themselves in some challenging circumstances.
Bob: As we’ve talked this week about this issue of depression, we’ve heard from a lot of listeners who are in the same situation that David is in, with a spouse who is dealing with depression, and we’ve heard from folks who are in the midst of it themselves, and we’re glad we’re able to point them to resources like Leslie Vernick’s book, Defeating Depression, or Ed Welch’s book, A Stubborn Darkness.
There are articles on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, there’s a link there to articles that talk about depression, articles that have been provided for us from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the books that are available, about the articles that are available.
There is also information about the book that David Pierce wrote called Don’t Let Me Go. This was the book about the time that you spent with your daughter climbing Pike’s Peak together in Colorado Springs. That’s available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center as well. Again, go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the resources that are available, or call us toll-free at 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” 1-800-FLTODAY.
I know that when families go through an issue like depression, oftentimes the question comes up, “What’s God doing? Why is he allowing this in our family?” Or the question is, “Can God really be a good God when we’re hurting like this?”
Our friend Randy Alcorn has written a helpful 64-page booklet called If God is Good, Why Do We Hurt? We want to make that booklet available to anyone who requests it from us this week. All you have to do is go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to request it, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and ask for a copy of the free booklet If God is Good, Why Do We Hurt?
I know many of you are new listeners to FamilyLife Today. We try to make these resources available from time to time as a way to provide additional input into your lives and to let you know a little bit more about the ministry of FamilyLife. So if you are a new listener, call 1-800-FLTODAY, or go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, ask for your free copy of the booklet, If God is Good, Why Do We Hurt? and we’ll make arrangements to send that out to you today.
And with that we’ve got to wrap things up for today. Thanks for being with us. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to take a little bit of a peek into what happens at a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® Marriage Getaway.
Some of you have been to our getaways, and this will be a great refresher for you as we’ll hear one of the messages from a Weekend to Remember. If you’ve never been to a Weekend to Remember, here’s a chance to get a sense of what goes on, what we talk about at these marriage getaways for couples. So I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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