Depression occurs in the best of circumstances. Florence Littauer had attained all the goals she had set as a young girl. She developed and sharpened her considerable skills in speech, drama, and English; added the polish of a sophisticated socialite; met and married a highly successful young businessman from a prestigious family in a wedding that was covered by Life magazine; and became a moving force in a variety of organizations.
None of those accomplishments filled the emptiness behind the facade of a successful marriage, however. None protected Florence from the emotional devastation that came with having two sons develop a mysterious ailment which, over a few months, changed them from happy, normal babies to ones with no brain activity at all. Her account of how God brought her through the depressions caused by loss, anxiety, guilt, and anger is a testimony to the love and grace of God in the most desperate of emotional circumstances. Her testimony is taken from an interview conducted in May 1980.[As of 2004, Florence Littauer is a speaker and author living in New Mexico]
From the beginning of my life, I wanted to achieve great things and set goals to accomplish them. Having been brought up in three rooms behind my father's store, where to go from the bedroom to the bathroom you had to pass by the cash register, I felt that somewhere in life there had to be something better for me. I started out very early deciding to make myself into something great. I assumed
that if I set goals, I could achieve anything.
In high school, I did all the accepted things to get ahead. I studied hard, joined the right clubs, and was awarded a scholarship to the state university. I went off to become educated and make myself into the kind of person I really wanted to be.
I worked hard in college, where I majored in speech, English, and education and minored in psychology. I studied modeling and drama, read books on etiquette, joined the sorority, ran the parties, became the house president in short, I did everything possible to develop in me a sense of the social graces. When I got out of college, I felt I was not only totally educated, but a gracious lady as well. I was ready to go!
Where I went was back to my hometown to teach high school, and again, everything I touched was successful. I introduced a speech course and had a large student following (perhaps partly because I was the only teacher under 50). I earned $1,800 my first year and felt I was rich. I thought I had achieved all a poor girl from three rooms behind a store could ever hope to accomplish.
As I gloried in my success, one fear began to creep into my heart, as it would with any single English teacher in the hills of Massachusetts: What if I never find a man? One of the problems with having made yourself so wonderful is that there are few men left who are good enough for you, and you don't want to marry downhill. I looked around and found no one in Haverhill I considered worthy of me.
That summer I taught drama at a prestigious girls' camp in the woods of Maine. One evening, as Janice, the sailing counselor, and I were draped seductively over a rock near the local Howard Johnson's looking for some action, a handsome young man came out of the mist. I thought to myself, This is what you've been waiting for all these years, and I began to figure out how I could meet him. As I watched, he and his brother came over to Janice, an old college friend, and we all became acquainted. Little did I realize at that time that Fred came from an English Tudor mansion with a maid in uniform and all the things I had always been looking for.
We began to date, courted for a year, and due to an interesting set of circumstances, were married in a ceremony covered by Life magazine. All these events brought me to the ultimate in my status climbing and confirmed the control I had always felt over my life.
But amazingly, when I got married, overnight I became stupid. Fred took me out of my hometown and down to New York, where I was no longer the queen of Haverhill. The hint of things to come came when we returned from our honeymoon.
Fred announced that he was now going to put me on a training program. I couldn't believe it! After all, I had trained myself. I knew I was perfect, and for the first time in my life someone was telling me, "You're not perfect. You need improvement." Knowing that my husband felt I needed improvement was a serious blow to my self-esteem and led to a low-level kind of depression, although nothing compared to what would come later.
Materially, our married life went along well. Fred was very successful in his food services business and was in demand as a convention speaker. I found I was married to a man just like me. We were both success oriented. As long as we kept our eyes on the goals, we did all right. When we began to check each other out, we didn't do so well. I didn't do things the way he wanted them done, and I didn't feel I was getting the attention I deserved. So we each began to go our separate ways and developed a level of noninterference with each other. I joined many clubs and organizations and worked my way up to president in a number of them.
I had our first child, Lauren, and then four years later another daughter, Marita. Then finally, to our great relief, we had a son, Frederick Jerome Littauer III. While I didn't really like the confinement of motherhood, I did well at preparing my children to speak correctly, to dress properly, and to behave as model children. I felt it was important that children live on the right side of the tracks, attend the proper school, and take the proper lessons. What I failed to realize, however, was that I did not have the heart of a mother because I didn't know how to love another person. I understood preparation and control, the external and superficial things of life, but I didn't understand love.
When our son was about six or seven months old, he didn't seem to be developing as our daughters had. The people I asked about this would say, "Well, boys are slower than girls. Don't expect him to be the same." But I was increasingly concerned when by eight months of age he couldn't sit up at all, he couldn't seem to hold things well, and he didn't seem to be focusing on me clearly. Then he began to have periods of screaming and crying. Many times in the night when I went to him, he would be rigid, and I couldn't comfort him.
These spasms continued to get worse, and finally, just before he was nine months old, I took him to our pediatrician, who was a personal friend. I handed him over in confidence and said, "Dick, just take care of this child and make him right. Find whatever doctor he needs, do whatever has to be done. Money is no problem."
Dick sent me out of the room and called for a specialist from across the hall. They talked for a while as they examined the baby, then brought me back in. Dick said to me, "I think you had
better call your husband and have him come down to hear what I have to tell you."
I called Fred, but he was too busy to come. He told me to tell him when he got home. I went back in, and the doctor said to me, "Florence, I'm sorry to have to tell you this alone, but I'm sure this child is brain damaged. I don't know what happened to him, but I'm afraid he's hopeless. I'm afraid you're going to have to put him away and try to forget about him. Perhaps you can have another one."
I didn't cry until I got into the car by myself. On the way home, I looked at my child and thought, He just can't be hopeless. He is so beautiful. Something must be done for him.
Fred felt the same way when he hear the news. After all, this was his son. Nothing could be wrong with him.
The next day, the doctor called to tell me he had arranged an appointment for Freddie with a neurosurgeon at Yale New Haven Hospital. This doctor went through a series of tests while we watched. Finally he said, "This child is deaf, blind, and his brain is not functioning. This child has nothing working at all except he is alive. There is really no hope for him."
Both Fred and I were overwhelmed. This doctor said it with assurance. He didn't say "maybe"; he said, "There is nothing you can do for this child." He must have said it ten times, because we didn't want to hear it. We didn't want to believe it. Both of us felt we were super beings. How could we have produced this faulty child? It was a hurt to our pride, to our family, to our background. We tried to refute his statement every way we could, but he patiently stood and waited while we told him why he was wrong. And he ended up saying, "No matter what you say, this child is hopelessly brain damaged." That was the answer.
Instead of binding us together, this tragedy was almost the end of our marriage. It was as if Fred said to me, "Good-bye. I am now going to work more on my business." He got himself involved in everything he could, and he came home as little as possible.
Since Fred "tuned out," I had to tune in. I had to take full responsibility for Freddie. I watched him go from a few to ten or 12 convulsions a day. I had the visiting nurse come in and give him shots that were supposed to control convulsions, but they didn't work. I did everything I possibly could to ease the increasing pain he seemed to be having, but nothing really helped.
I discussed with my obstetrician the possibility of having another child, and he felt it would be the best thing to take my mind off this child. Fred and I also discussed it, and, while he wasn't interested in any more children, he thought it
might be the best thing to do to humor me. I did become pregnant, and because I was concerned about the possibility of brain damage, I enrolled in a special program at Yale New Haven hospital for mothers with brain-damaged children. I was assured that nothing would happen with this one.
During this pregnancy, I had plenty of time to evaluate my life. I sat there holding Freddie as he had convulsions, tears running down my face, wondering where I had gone wrong. How could someone with such good motives and such a positive direction ever get into a situation like this, where everything seemed hopeless? I couldn't figure out how I had ended up with a problem on my hands that I couldn't control.
I had my fourth child, gratefully a son, Laurence Chapman Littauer. While I was in the hospital, Fred, who was always attentive when I was in real need, took Freddie to a private children's hospital. He also decorated the nursery. When I came home, everything to do with Freddie was gone. We were both depressed over our failure at this time, and the only thing we knew to do was to try to forget the bad circumstances that caused the depression. We tried to run away from them or ignore them, and we tried to turn our minds in a new direction. We avoided any mention of Freddie. He was now gone; that was the end of that. I gave my entire attention to this new son.
For the first time in my life, I became a fanatic mother. I guarded Larry. I played with him. I mothered him. I didn't let anybody touch him. This whole experience began to break down the exterior wall I had built, and I started to let out some of the emotions I kept so well hidden. I developed some rapport with my two daughters and got acquainted with them as I never really had before. We became a family not Fred, just the three children and me.
When Larry was six months old, we got a call from the children's hospital telling us Freddie had died. Fred and I went to the funeral, and I remember the feeling as I looked into the casket and saw this little child who used to be so beautiful. He had little sticks for arms and legs and was bruised where he had hit the sides of his crib in convulsions. Worse than that, he was dressed in what were obviously charity clothes a little faded outfit. I thought to myself, This is my son, in second-hand clothes, looking terrible. Couldn't you oat least have cared for that child, visited him, done something? Guilt feelings flooded over me.
I was truly depressed at that time and wondered what good there could be in life. When I got home and saw my daughters, always well behaved and looking so pretty, and my new son who was so bright, I thought that if I could only put
Freddie out of my mind again, I would be all right. So I tried to bury the whole scene and forget the funeral. I went into a cheerfulness act and tried to pick myself up.
One week after Freddie's funeral, I went in to pick up little Larry from his crib and noticed that he didn't seem to respond to me or even hear me. I waved my hand in front of his eyes, and nothing happened. I picked him up and actually shook him as I said, "Don't you do this to me! You have got to be all right!" I had really put my faith for happiness in this new body. I remember clutching him in my arms and driving to the same doctor. I barged right in and said I needed to see Dr. Grainger right away. The minute he saw the look in my eyes, he came running over. He examined Larry, and within a matter of a few minutes he said to me, "Florence, I think it's the same thing."
He arranged for us to take the child to Johns Hopkins six months later in August, and during that time of waiting, Larry went steadily downhill. I watched him go into convulsions, doing the same things his brother had done. I went into deep depression, crying day after day. I felt life was worthless and meaningless. I thought of killing myself. But when August came around, I tried to work up a little hope. Perhaps this new doctor would have some new method, some new thought, some new something that would help this child. When I was finally able to talk to the doctor, however, he said, "Well, Mrs. Littauer, I don't have very good news for you."
I asked, "Well, is there any hope?"
He answered, "Come on now, Mrs. Littauer, you know better than that." I knew then that there was no hope.
We took Larry home, his swollen head wrapped in bandages, and after a few weeks his crying and convulsions had all of us in tears. Fred and I took our little Larry to the same hospital where his brother had died just six months before. I remember kissing him good-bye with tears running down my cheeks as I handed him to my husband, who took him inside. I just sat in the car and sobbed and sobbed. That was the last time I ever saw him. They told us he would probably not live to be more than two or three (his brother had died at two), but he is 19 at the time of this interview and is still in that same hospital in Connecticut.
From that point on, my depression was such that I would have tried to kill myself except for the fact that I had those two daughters. Fred didn't matter to me anymore, because he was never around. We just lived together. We never fought. We were both much too refined, too cultured, and too much in control to do that. We were just totally indifferent to each other emotionally divorced.
I didn't know what to do with my depression. Basically, I wasn't a depressive person. In fact, I was extremely optimistic. As time healed the depression a bit and I was no longer crying day after day, I began to work on controlling the depression by keeping it under wraps. I wanted people to see that I was brave and strong, that I could take it. Friends would say to me, "I don't see how you do it," and that somehow picked me up a bit. It was an artificial stimulus, but it did head me in the right direction. I began to go out and get involved in things, and this activity started to lift my spirits.
It was at this point that my husband's brother Dick and his wife, Ruthie, were listening to a Billy Graham program on television and prayed to ask Christ into their lives. As a result, they began to tell us that maybe we needed some spiritual help. Ruthie kept asking me to a Christian women's club, but I assumed it was probably a group of little old ladies, in black dresses with Bibles, trying to be spiritual, and I didn't want anything to do with that. But one day she told me they were holding a fashion show. Now, that appealed to me, and I agreed to go.
To my surprise, the fashion show was beautiful, the music was good, and the decorations were attractive. Then I listened to the speaker, whose name was Roy Gustavson. He told a story of a woman's life that sounded so much like mine that I really thought my sister-in-law had given him advance information. He used Romans 12:1-2 and said that if there were such a lady there that day, she needed to present her body a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which was her reasonable service. She should not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of her mind. He said that she would have to turn the control of her life over to the Lord Jesus.
To me, Jesus was some person back in history who told nice parables and was evidently a good man. I wondered how there could be any connection between Him way back there and me right here. The speaker completed the thought by saying, "You may not see any connection, but the Lord Jesus is alive now, and He will change your life. He will do something for you if you are willing to give your life over to Him."
I prayed along with the speaker and asked that I would not be conformed to the world, that Jesus would come into my life and change me, making me what He wanted me to be. Nothing traumatic or unusual happened at that point. I really didn't know what I had done. I didn't know I had become anything. But gradually my attitudes began to change.
I don't want to give the impression that as soon as I received Christ into my life,
the depression lifted and I was cheerful again. It didn't happen that quickly. But my conversion experience did affect me and my depression in several ways.
For the first time, I began to realize there was some possible control beyond myself. I already knew I couldn't change my two sons and their circumstances. One was dead, the other was institutionalized, and things were out of my hands. While I had been a "religious" person, I had never heard before that there was a being beyond me who could deal with my problems and give me a new perspective.
I don't think I would have been open to this fact previously, because as self-willed and arrogant as I was, I needed to be brought to the bottom before I would look for anything beyond myself to lift me up.
Becoming a believing Christian did not revive my two sons, although that's what I wanted done. It didn't do the impossible, but it did give me the feeling that all was not lost because of this. There was hope in life. I love what Paul says in Philippians 4:11: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." It's such a help to me to realize that while God doesn't necessarily change our circumstances, when we learn to accept them, He moves us on to something better, emotionally and spiritually.
Accepting my circumstances took time. One of the persistent problems was that I always wanted my sons restored, and no one knew how to do that. No matter how I cheered myself by getting involved in things, I would come back home, walk in the door, and be aware that once I had two sons in this house who were no longer there. I could find things to do to keep my mind occupied, and I would feel quite cheerful. But always, when I returned home and saw my daughters and my house, I knew I had lost two sons. I could never get beyond that depressing realization.
It wasn't until I had some knowledge of the Bible and experience in applying it to my life that I was really able to say, "Lord, You have to take care of this problem. I can't live with this nagging, this concern all the time." As I dealt with this and thought and prayed about it, the Lord gave me peace.
Well-meaning friends had made me feel guilty that I had put Larry in a hospital instead of caring for him at home. I prayed for enlightenment, and soon I was able to accept the fact that I had done what was best for my son. I reassured myself: He's where he belongs. He doesn't know me. He doesn't need me. He's in a situation that whatever happens, the best care is available. He's in the best place for him. Only the Lord can rid us of guilt.
The critical point in resolving my depression was deciding I wanted to do something about it. That may sound elementary, but there is a certain comfort in depression. It brings people around us. It brings us attention. It brings us pity from people who want to comfort and care for us. So the turning point for me was when I decided I had better get out of the house, where I had been depressed and crying for months, and get moving and do something. That may have been a human solution, but it works in the spiritual realm as well.
My experience with depression and my counseling of hundreds of others has given me a real appreciation for what friends and relatives can do for depressed people. In my own case, I found they did very little. I don't mean that in a negative way; they were willing to help, but they didn't know what in the world to do with me. They didn't know what to say. Because of that, many friends looked the other way and pretended nothing had happened.
Some of my friends did encourage me to get back in the swing of things. I had to be persuaded to do that. I found it much more comfortable to stay home and be miserable, but they encouraged me to get active again. One friend accompanied me when I went for the various doctors' appointments as we were trying to see our two sons through the various phases. She was the only one to stand by and encourage me.
To those who wish to be of support, I would say: Go and comfort your depressed friend or relative by saying, "I love you, and I am available. I really care, and I will help you." Put your arm around your friend, and hold her hand. Physical contact is very important. It's amazing how people crave a pat on the back, a hand on the shoulder, or just a look of "I care." The Lord has taught me how important love is, and my own experience has shown me the need for compassion for others. Some of the most helpful things we can do are the simplest.
As a friend, you can do these things without having experienced depression yourself. You can say, "I don't understand all you're going through, but I love you, and I want you to know that I will always be here to support you." You can encourage people, listen to their problems, pick them up, and take them out without ever having experienced depression yourself.
If you have experienced depression, it will help you understand the depth of despair your friend may be experiencing. Don't be glib with the advice you give. The natural tendency is to tell a depressed person, "Come on, snap out of it," as if that were all there is to it. If you've ever been depressed, you know what that kind
of advice can do to you it just drives you further down. While depression experiences can aid you in being understanding of another, anyone can provide love and support for others who are depressed.
Those experiences of deep depression happened many years ago, but the memories of the feelings of depression, hopelessness, and futility are vivid today. Perhaps that's why the Lord has graciously blessed me with a speaking and counseling ministry to so many depressed people. Through these deep experiences. God has worked the renewing of my being and the healing of my marriage.
Today, Fred and I conduct marriage seminars all over the country. We know we can help, because the principles we teach rescued our own shattered marriage and have proved true over the years since. While I'm not beyond depression today, I have confidence in One who is in control, One who has loved me enough to bring me down to the depths of depression that He might show me my own limitations and His great power.
Chapter 12 || Table of Contents