My withdrawal from work and church life consequent upon my depression was a quite a heart-wrenching experience. Through the night on January 16th/17th everything changed. Through disturbed sleep, I gradually moved from a position of contemplating how I was going to arrange myself so as to get through what was ahead, to a position where I had concluded that I had to pull out of everything.
At the heart of myself reaching this conclusion was the awareness that I was only digging myself increasingly into a hole. I had gone on since December 19th thinking that I would right myself and be stabilized mentally and emotionally so as to be able to move forward. Reluctantly I had to conclude by January 17th that I was only going further down and there was no stabilizing and rising up. If carried on I reckoned, I would only drive myself further down.
I believe in retrospect this was the sensible thing to do and was important as regards to me re-establishing myself.
Moreover, I want to assert, that there is a general principle of life here which we need to be willing to apply. There are times when we have to admit that to continue in a certain course is only going to have harmful consequences. In such a situation we have to admit defeat and pull back. To do otherwise is to prejudice the welfare of ourselves and possibly many others. I believe if I had not pulled out it would have been detrimental to the welfare of my family and church.
To admit that the pursuit of a certain course is harmful is not easy, but it is wise. However, there must be discernment between copping out and pulling out. The former is a character fault because it indicates that we will not stick with something when we should. The latter is a character asset because it means we do not continue with something when we should not. To discern between the two is very often not easy, but it is essential that we are aware that the two are necessary to healthy living.
From Wikipedia we get “nouthetic counselling” defined as a form of Evangelical Protestant pastoral counselling based solely upon the Bible and focused on Christ. It repudiates mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, fundamentally opposed to Christianity, and radically secular. Jay Adams who has been a key figure in driving forward this approach to counselling defines it as biblical counseling characterized by confrontation, concern, and change in the life of a Christian.
I would be a firm advocate of this approach to helping people move forward through the problems of life. To feel that we can move forward and live healthily and profitably without the informed wisdom of the Lord’s Word is a fundamentally flawed approach. The Word of God keeps us on the right track through all the pains and upheavals of life.
However, the problem with nouthetic counselling is when it overreaches itself. When it is concluded that all problems of the mind and emotions can simply be resolved by hearing the Word, believing it and responding to it in obedient faith, then there is a problem. Let me be clear we must hear, believe and respond to the Word with believing faith. However, it is dangerous to conclude that medication can be of no help in the mental and emotional realm. I have written here about my journey in taking antidepressants. My experience and the experience of many others is that the chemical input supplied by the medication provides the means of stabilising me mentally and emotionally so that I function.”normally”.
It is the medication that has been critical in bringing me through and out of the pit of depression. However, I am also aware that I need the ongoing application of scripture into my life to live godly in Christ Jesus through and out of depression and in all things.
One of my overall appreciations of my time of depression has been the awareness that the Lord has been in the situation. I want to relate one particular awareness of that.
One morning I met a dear friend who, I felt did not appreciate my situation, was not listening to me and had an agenda for me. It was quite distressing given I was very much in the midst of feeling messed up and broken. Later that morning, though, I was in the house of another friend and upon leaving happened to go to the toilet. On the wall of the toilet was the scripture:
For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’ (Jer 29:11-14)
I don’t remember fully how much of the scripture was quoted, but it was the opening part which gave me such encouragement. Others may have plans for me, but the Lord has His plans. Even in my distress, pain and perplexity He was there that day (and I am encouraged is continually with me).
This Scripture was on the wall of a church I attended in Scotland a few weeks later. Again much encouragement came to me through this because it was at a time when I was experiencing further pain.
Similarly, this video was sent through to my wife and on the evening of January 23rd I saw it. Simply, I felt it was powerfully meaningful. The words “You raise me up” I took as a promise from my Father in heaven. My life was flickering at that time, but He would raise me up was such an encouragement.
In all this I felt the tender grace of my Father leading me and guiding me through this time. I may feel I am falling apart, but He is there.
One of the difficulties in handling depression is the tendency to think that, as a Christian, you should not feel this way. We so easily imbibe the thinking that when you become a Christian all of your problems are now sorted; Jesus is alive from the dead, smile and be happy. Now there are elements of truth in that presentation of Christianity, but if that is our only perspective on our faith that in Jesus, then we will be very dismayed when troubles hit us in our mental and emotional state.
Essentially then, I would have no sympathy with the simplistic, Jesus is risen; all your problems are over, perspective on the Christian faith. This is because it is evidently unbiblical. However, I still struggle with feeling the wrongness of being mentally and emotionally frail.
I have mentioned previously here about how Satan exploits the frailties of the mind to his own malicious ends to accuse and spiritually incapacitate the Christian suffering with mental afflictions. The derailed thinking goes something like this. “I’m a Christian, but if I was a strong christian I would not feel like this and other people will think I am a pathetic weakling because I can’t keep it together when I get stressed”.
One of the best antidotes to this attack is consider examples of those who have been evidently used of the Lord, but have suffered much in the mental and emotional realm. We find them:-
- in Scripture: Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is evidently cast down even depressed. David know what it was to be cast down in spirit. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? (Ps. 42:5a) is his lament.
- in history. It is good to read Christian biographies and know of the likes of Cowper and Spurgeon who suffered in this realm.
- in experience. It is such an encouragement to know of other believers who have suffered much with depression. I met a godly lady last month who would be in her eighties who had suffered much through depression for many years. This was such an encouragement to know that someone with such evident commitment to the Lord could suffer so much.
Through this I am encouraged that I am not alone.
The righteous person may have many troubles (Ps. 34:19a) is the observation of David and leads us to ponder upon the afflictions that specifically attach themselves to those who believe in Christ unto righteousness. Someone mentioned to me how Christians suffer particularly in the mental and emotional realm because of the workings of the devil in this arena.
Satan is very clever in using the vulnerabilities of our minds to his nefarious ends. Certainly there have been times during my recent depression episode when I have felt the reality of being bombarded by all kinds of derailed and pernicious thoughts and attitudes. Notwithstanding the vagaries of my mental state that has led to this, I am persuaded that demonic forces love to exploit these weaknesses so as to assail us and bring us down. I have felt that.
Therefore, i need to be aware that there are some very real spiritual matters happening. And I need to take heed to Scriptures which can garrison me from attack and collapse through demonic activity:
- submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (james 4:7)
- take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Eph. 6:14b)
- we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:5)
would be some of those scriptures.
Finally let us rejoice that
- we have a Saviour who prays in John 17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. Our beloved Lord Jesus is praying for us in all our mental and emotional vulnerabilities
- that Psalm 34:19 goes on to say but the Lord delivers him from them all.
As Paul had a thorn in the flesh, which the Lord determined would be better left in situ than removed, so it is that my struggle with depression may be life long. But Paul was not to have the thorn in the flesh for no reason. Rather God had great purposes for him in giving the thorn in the flesh, like He has for all who go through great weakness.
We read in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 : Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Through this experience of depression I am so patently shown my weaknesses. Humanly speaking that can be disastrous. But this scripture transforms everything, because there is a God, who is my Father, who delights to exert Christ’s power through the weakness of His people. I am thereby encouraged to trust in the Lord that my weakness, rather than disqualifying me in God’s kingdom, is actually a great quality that, through His grace, can be the means for His strength is seen. Oh may it be so.
I have been asked several times about the symptoms associated with my affliction. I think for many, there is the assumption, that depression is just a severe case of feeling low in spirits. That would be a reasonable inference from the term “depression”. Given that to be the case “depression” is a little bit of a misnomer and does not fully reflect the totality of the experience. I will first seek to give the overall perspective and then look at detailed symptoms.
- “I can’t cope” is a phrase that embraces much of the experience.
- Not functioning properly.
- Life feels like walking through sludge. Everything is heavy going.
- Overwhelmed by things.
- Cold hands and cold feet.
- Panic attacks.
- Tight chest.
- Seizures in chest region.
- Reduced appetite.
- A mind that goes looking for worries.
- An inability to properly process those anxieties.
- Lack of / disturbed sleep.
- Episodes of sensing darkness in my being.
- Generally “on edge”. Thinking that if certain things happen then I won’t be able to cope.
- Claustrophobia (on occasions) in confined spaces.
- The accomplishing of everyday activities becomes hard.
- Body getting hot and sweaty.
- Burning sensation in chest.
- “Anxious” stomach.
- Feeling light-headed, although that may have been due to medication.
- Sensitive to other people feeling I am acting in an odd way.
All of these detailed symptoms have not been there all the time, but there has been some manifestation of them. I don’t want to exaggerate the severity of them, but they would be a part of the experience. No doubt, others who suffer depression have differing experiences, but I relate what I have been through thus far, in my recent affliction.
I heard second-hand of a depression sufferer saying on the radio, that she wishes that non-depression sufferers could just experience depression for fifteen minutes, so they could know something of what it is like. It was an interesting observation. The experience of depression can be so painful.
As I write this I feel somewhat improved, but still with someway to go. Some of the pain still seems very close in terms of experience and time.
So much to learn. Thank you Lord for recent relief. Thanks to all who have prayed and shown interest.