Sunday, December 27, 2015

Depression and the Search for an Instant 'Answer’

Depression was the most confusing and bewildering experience of my life. I did not know what was wrong with me or what was causing it, and spent countless hours searching for that cause. I truly believed that if I could pin down the cause, I would find an ‘answer’ or solution that would bring instant recovery from the multitude of symptoms that assailed me.

6th January 1990 -
I am a mess and I still don’t know why. I see several possibilities as to what is happening to me:
a) I have suffered a major burnout…if this is correct, for the next six to twelve months I will run around looking for ‘the answer…’
(I had suffered an undiagnosed minor depressive episode in 1986 and spent the whole time doing exactly that.)
b) I need deliverance from something inside me or from a major external attack;
c) I need deep inner healing or renewing;
d) that maybe God is telling me that my Christian walk is unbalanced..."
e) that the enemy has developed a strategy of throwing doubts at me, which I analyse to the point that it destroys that area of my faith.
g) or maybe a combination of the above.


I have many such entries in my diary, written before I was diagnosed with depression by a doctor and a Christian counsellor. These entries reveal that I often feared that the intense suffering I was going through was caused by spiritual causes and required only a spiritual solution. It is common for Christians suffering from depression to suspect this, since their spiritual life is so clearly off balance. Because of this, they may find themselves asking questions like these: “Perhaps God is not the centre of my life like He should be? Perhaps this suffering is caused by hidden sin in my life? Perhaps I am unwittingly living in disobedience to God? And if any of these are indeed the case, has God has inflicted this suffering upon me to punish or discipline me?”

Some Christian circles also view depression as just a spiritual problem that requires only a spiritual solution. Some tell depression sufferers that they just need more faith, or to read the Bible and pray more, or to rebuke the enemy - that it is nothing more than a concerted spiritual attack. (And yes, Satan does attack those who are suffering from depression, but as my counsellor confirmed, this was not the cause of my depression but merely one aspect of it.)

Because I suspected my suffering had a spiritual cause, I kept searching for a spiritual answer in the belief that such an answer would instantly set me free. I believed that if I were to just take one particular step of obedience, or make one significant change in my spiritual life, or find and repent of a hidden sin, the depression will go away. My exhausted mind kept searching for what was causing the suffering, and because my spiritual life mattered more to me than anything else, my mind latched onto a spiritual topic that troubled me. As I examined and debated that topic, I become convinced that it was the cause of my suffering, and in the end, that topic became an obsession that took over my thought life.

In my first session with my Christian counsellor, I shared with her my fear that it was God who was inflicting depression upon me. And she said, “We make the mistake in thinking that because our spiritual life is affected by depression, the cause must be spiritual. But this is incorrect; depression touches every part of us, so why do we think that it will not touch us spiritually?” She then reassured me of the truth - that God does not afflict depression upon anyone. Using God’s Word, she showed me that my fears were unjustified and helped me to find the correct, Biblical perspective on each of them. 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 Corinthians 10:5

For example, the symptom of depression that disturbed me the most was the complete lack of peace, which I erroneously believed to be God’s attempt to guide me. My counsellor confirmed that God does not take our peace away, but gives us a peace that transcends our understanding. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4:7 And also, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

As depression dragged on, my diary entries also show me realising that there was much more to what I was going through than simply a spiritual problem, due to the host of physical, emotional and mental symptoms of depression that were afflicting me too. Yet even there, I kept looking for ‘the answer’ that would instantly set me free.

24th Sept 90 – (this was written after I knew what was wrong with me and how to recover.)
I can remember that amongst the bewilderment, some of the things I wondered were as follows:
since it was so physical as well as emotional, I wondered if it was caused by food allergies, so I considered seeing a specialist; I wondered if there was something wrong with my neck or back, so I was going to see a chiropractor; I wondered if it was caused by my car seat being set back, so I considered putting it forward; I wondered if it was caused by something being wrong with my eyes; and so on it went. Of course, none of these things had anything to do with what was causing the depression, but how was I to know?
(These were all symptoms caused by the depression.)

I learned that there is no single ‘answer’ to be instantly set free from depression, and that it is not easy for us to determine what is causing it by ourselves, since we cannot think objectively while in the midst of it. That is why others, such as a doctor, minister, Christian counsellor/therapist, a wise Christian friend, and even a resource such as the book "Self Help for Your Nerves," can help us to wade through the bewildering mess to find out the causes of depression, and point us in the right direction to recover. In the end I learned that my depression had been caused primarily by genetic inheritance (both of my parents had suffered from it), however, many other factors contributed to its severity and duration: including undiagnosed complex partial epilepsy, chronic insomnia, working myself into the ground, poor diet and lack of exercise, a massive shock, faulty theology, etc.

Depression is a complex illness and normally needs to be treated, which may include medication and Biblical counselling/therapy. And like any illness, even with the correct treatment, recovery and healing is a process that occurs over time. And when the causes of depression and its associated fears/traumas have been dealt with and the fear-adrenalin-cycle has been broken, the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual symptoms will slowly reduce in severity and duration and eventually fade away. And our spiritual life will not only be restored, but can in fact be better than it was previously, as a result of the strengthening of our faith during the trial, as well as being set free from traumas/bondages from our past.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ James 1:2-4

Download an ebook on depression, ie, this blog's articles

All verses from NIV.

18 comments:

  1. Dear Peter, thank you. Your depression was there at least 20 years ago. Had it been around before then? Does it still come back even now? I am trying to find testimonies of "when I am weak then I strong". I am trying to find those who when very weak, that is when God has come through. You say you had wrong theology - I wonder if I had, but know not where to get 'right' theology : other than the Word of God, it is like a supermarket out there. My theology I have been brought up on is 'not through my own effort'; and therefore my inaction through depression, is because I have become so weak, that I have no strength left. But even at my lowest, no Holy Spirit strength comes through. It is as if Jesus is still watching the storm with the disciples in it. At which point will Jesus show himself. I also have been too much maligned by Western Philosophy and Christianity : Jesus will provide. What about all those christians who die of poverty or cancer or torture? Jesus came to them after their death, not before? What does Jesus mean when he says do not worry about tomorrow? How does that help those in sheer despair? How are they able, without their own strength, to turn to Christ? I have found the more I have turned to Christ and saught to follow Him, the more life has become far too complicated for me, I feel I do not know Him at all. The image of Western Christianity is that Christ is always there, ready to pick you up at the last minute. Does He? 100% of the time? I am not sure He made such promises to literally everyone. We see how all the disciples died for Him. Even Jesus died, asking God to help in the garden of Gethsemane, but it did not occur.
    The major verses I rely on are that the Holy Spirit is constantly interceding for us, and that God has put His laws into our hearts. I have faith that such wisdom is inside me, even if I am not aware of it. Thankfully I no longer suffer from depression, and only anxiety sometimes, but I do now suffer from inaction. I do not have the strength to do what a good husband out of work should do. People then judge me, and that then makes me anxious. This has led to a terrible worldly outcome : we are about to sell the house and take the children out of their schools, and who knows what next. Spiritually I believe I am closer to God than ever, but like I began with, He seems to step in to rescue me very late. When this happens I begin to imagine it is just a matter of time before I die. If God literally never gave me what I need to keep me and my family going, there is only one outcome. God can chose to do anything that He wants, if that is what will fulfill His perfect purpose.
    I hope you can shed some light on this.
    In Jesus name
    Paul

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  2. Hi Paul,
    Thanks for your heartfelt comments and questions. I'll try to answer them the best I can.

    As to your first question, I had one minor depressive episode a few years before the onset of severe depression. Prior to that I struggled with occasional anxiety, and since then have had occasional struggles as well, but not with the same intensity as before depression, as I know how to respond to them now.

    I must say that when I was severely depressed, I felt very weak, and during the darkest months could not feel that God was helping me. But when I look back and see what I endured, I can recognise now that He was mostly definitely strengthening me. Once I learned the Biblical principles of how to react to the storms of life, I could feel His strength being released into my life much more clearly. See my post " Breaking Depression's Fear Cycle."

    When I mention faulty theology, I am referring primarily to warped understanding/perspectives of God's Word. (We have to measure all understandings/teachings against the Word of God.) In my case, these included:
    the mistake of thinking God was taking my peace away to guide me
    a distorted view of God as being an over disciplinarian
    mistaken view that God would save me from going through severe trials

    This last point brings me to what you mentioned about Western philosophy. We Western Christians have sometimes forgotten that God looks at the big picture, ie, eternity, whereas we get caught up with the here and now. Yes, Christians do die; they can be tortured, or martyred. But the fact is that the Bible talks about us sharing in Christ's sufferings so that we share in His glory in heaven. And this is not a popular thought today - how many times have you heard that preached from the pulpit?

    In my post, "Has God Abandoned Us?" I wrote - We need to remind ourselves that this world and its troubles are only temporary. We who trust in and cling to Jesus have a wondrous hope – one day we shall spend eternity in heaven and see the face of God and Jesus every day - a perfect place filled with love, joy and peace. We will also have a brand new body that is perfect in every way. When I consider the unimaginable, eternal riches that await us in heaven, the temporary trials I endure on the earth fade into insignificance. Romans 8:17-18 "Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."

    I think our perspective should not be that Jesus is always ready to save us from all suffering at the last minute, but rather, to realise that whatever happens, God is in control, and we need to trust Him throughout it all. And that He will comfort and strengthen us to endure any trials that come our way. If He rescues us from the trial or shortens its duration great! But that will not always be the way.

    I do not know God's solution/will to your current predicament, but it sounds like your mind is running through a lot of "what if" scenarios. What if God comes through at the last minute, what if He does not come through at all? etc. These questions are by products of anxiety, and normal questions too. We all ask them. Never stop praying, never stop trusting, never stop relying on Him, however things turn out, as I believe you are doing.

    As to worrying about tomorrow, we do not need to carry tomorrow’s burdens today. When we get to ‘tomorrow,’ Jesus will be there, ready to help us deal with them.

    I hope all of this has been of some help and encouragement.

    God bless,
    Peter

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  4. Hi M.K.
    Thanks for dropping by my blog and for your testimony as well. It is amazing how God can bring so much good out of such suffering, (Romans 8:28-29) and that He never leaves nor forsakes us. My own testimony is similar, in that He used depression for good, setting me free from life long anxieties that had continually tripped me up previously.

    So lovely to here from you :)
    God bless
    Peter

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  5. Dear Peter:

    Reading your blog was like reading my own tormented thoughts/feelings. I had two severe postpartum episodes of depression/anxiety with the last being 1999. I was so afraid of it every coming back because I told myself I could not live through it again. In 2009 it came upon me again. I struggled for a couple of months in such a dark place of despair and fear but gradually Christian music/God's word and listening to people's testimonies, ie. Joni Erikson Tada's 2008 book helped pull me through. I was elated and almost in a state of euphoria that it was behind me six months later. I vowed I would take care of myself so it wouldn't happen again. As December of that year rolled around I began to get nervous about things I would normally be nervous about and to feel overwhelmed and unable to do certain things. January came and the fear of depression/anxiety brought on an anxiety attack and I can't describe the feeling of despair that set in as I faced yet another episode. Add to that 3 stressors that happened in the coming months and I am in the state that you were in when you describe the doubts that you would analyze and how it would undermine your faith. I find myself wondering what in the world has happened to the way I used to think. I went to see Christian counsellors in the summer when I was at my worst and they used a program called "Caring for the Heart". I was supposed to "break free" but when I didn't the spiritual torment intensified and I can't describe the anguish of soul I have gone through trying to find a spiritual cause and trying endlessly to surrender all in the hopes my depression would heal. I find that even verses don't provide comfort for me. Reading your blog has helped me to see that the thoughts I am thinking are related to this disorder and has made me realize that I am not alone in this type of thinking although your tortured mind makes you think you are.

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  6. Dear Lynne
    You mostly certainly are not alone in this. So much of depression is a result of chemical imbalances in the brain, and although counseling can help, baring a miracle healing, the counseling alone will not bring us out of depression.
    It is normal when depressed to look at yourself and think of what you were like, and recognise that your mind is different. The flexibility and resiliance is gone, and its perspective and ability to reason is distorted. And the frustrating thing is that you can remember being whole, and you want to be like that again, but it seems to be beyond your grasp.
    Learning to accept what we are going through, while allowing time to pass without fearing or fighting the depression, is crucial in coping with it. Sometimes it seems a long wait, but with Christ's help, we can do it.
    Medication can help as well, it did me a world of good back in 1990.
    God bless, Peter

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  7. Peter, man that article you wrote is amazing. ive never seen such a balanced and gentle approach to this subject, I can deeply relate to all that you said even down to your personal examples of trying to find "the answer." Its been 5 years for me now, and it has been hard, so I'm very thankful to find your post and have someone that has made it through ..Thank you for your post
    -Shane

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  8. Peter, my goodness what a fantastic site.

    I have come across many christian blogs who deal with depression, but never one which deals with the subject so thoroughly and from a true Christian perspective. You appear to answer all possible questions.

    I have learned much and will be bookmarking this site in order that I can link to it from my blog.

    I thank God for your life and for His leading you to share your experiences.

    God Bless you more, Carole in the UK

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  9. Hi Shane,
    Thank you for sharing how you have been able to relate to this post. I am praying that our wonderful Shepherd Jesus will lead you gently through this phase and to find peace and wholeness in Him. In Christ we can always have hope, with His strength we can always persevere.
    God bless,
    Peter

    Dear Carole,
    Thank you for dropping by the blog, and for your encouraging feedback. I thank God that He is able to use my experience with depression to comfort others, with the comfort that He has given to me.
    God bless you :)
    Peter

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  10. Hello, your words really did hit my heart straight like a bull's eye. Lately, I seriously feel lifeless, perhaps it's the start of depression. I really wish someone would pull me out from this dark, sad, and lonely world of depression.

    I can't express enough.. this excruciating pain in my heart, leaving me with no direction. I don't know what to do at all.

    I always feel like no one loves and care for me. I don't know what God wants me to do.. or what is God trying to do at all.. I need his help. I wonder if God has heard my cries? Is he working on it? Is it part of his plan.. I always hold on to ''The Footprints'' tight when the storm of life arises.. but then when will my sufferings go away. I can't take it anymore to the extent of wanting to die

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  11. Dear Anonymous,
    Please do not loose hope, with Christ's strength and help you can make it through this. Please take special note that your feelings are being distorted by your suffering - do not trust them! Keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, and on the fact that He is holding your hand.

    Have you seen a doctor and told them how you are feeling? Do you have a wise counselor at your church who understands depression? Getting someone else's perspective can help so much.

    Please read Psalm 91:1-6. Jesus is our shelter, our refuge, his faithfulness is our shield and rampart.

    Hang in there,
    God bless
    Peter

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    1. Suffering from 2nd maj depr episode since early 80s. It seems following committing what I consider a sin to God He let me know or Satan has control or whatever and it has been quite a journey for few mos. Not just depression. All circumstances just lead me to KNOW I turned from God and I KNOW scriptures stating that as Esau if we knowingly turn from God, there comes a point He has to let us go. The thots of that are too much to bear. I have grown childrn and grands and the anxiety overcomes me. I realize I may have sinned by putting my husband first years ago and now realize all our life is huge mistake. When speak to children I feel okay for that time as if in another time. Otherwise in twilight zone. Lost 40 lbs in about 4 mos. It seems Christian having depression is an oxymoron. The fear of what I may have done and it passing to children is severe and the fear of hell. I never had this. Yes I accepted Christ as much as I can know and thot I lived for Him most of my life but now I cannot feel His presence at all and all that is happening in my life reinforces it. I have hurt our income and we are older - I have made a once in lifetime error that cannot be undone. Most know me as kind and sweet; however, all the sins of my life have flashed before me during this time and w/o my trying to see them. Also I see a host of not real Christian living in my family and feel we are being the "evildoers" as Psalm and other scripture speaks of the snares they are trapped in such as Esau. I cannot look at my family of origin as all I have ever seen is sadness or wrong living or depression. I, too, think of suicide to be rid of the enormous thots that prevail. I have always beeen productive and now as you said I wish to curl up when can. I am all ALONE. I am older. I realize I must have tried to be in charge of my life for one as grew up very poor and perhaps could not fully trust just God alone. Also I realize now my husband has not tithed in many years. It is quite painful as that is sin as well. All I know is there is no peace if you feel God is not with you.

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    2. Dear Anonymous
      One thing I would like to highlight, is that depression badly twists and distorts our perspective of the Bible and of God. Thoughts that we could have dismissed quickly with a healthy mind, become obsessive and almost all powerful when depression removes our mind's flexibility and ability to reason. It is because of depression that you can't feel God's presence.
      Instead of focusing on what you can or cannot feel, just focus on Jesus, and upon God's promises instead.

      Please be assured that the Bible is true when it says that if we come back to to God and turn from our sins in repentance, He will forgive us. Do not think you have committed a sin so great He won't take you back. Luke 15;20 "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." That is how God responds when we come back to Him. Remind yourself of this perspective every morning, and throughout each day.

      Please never look at your life as a mistake! God uses ALL things for good in the lives of those who love Him. God has blessed you with a husband, children, and grand children. You need to stop focusing on your sins, and focus instead upon Jesus, and on how much He loves you, on the fact that our sins are forgotten by God. And if He forgets them, you need to let them go too.

      Please do not be concerned about 'tithing.' Tithing was for the Jews, and was for the Old Testament. 2 Cor 9:7 tells us . "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." That is what applies to Christian today, but sadly, few pastors teach this liberating truth. We are to give joyfully, as we decide in our hearts, not giving 10% in fear.

      I hope this helps,
      God bless
      Peter

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    3. Hi Peter, It's Barb. I read the article you lead me to and it was, again, sooo me. I am trying a few things to help the insomnia. it's amazing I am still alive from the lack of sleep...for years. I tried melatonin...didn't do much for me as it does for others and now I am taking extra magnesium and an amino acid called Theanine. The theanine was recommended because I could not shut my mind off at night. I take one 100 mil.in the morning for focus and one at night and one 400 mil.magnesium in the morning and one at night. As long as I make the effort to not allow any fearful or vain imaginations come into my mind as I pillow my head, I seem to be able to dose off and not wrestle as much. I will know more over time. I don't take anything for depression but years ago when I was at my worst, I took etrafon. It was amazing but the doctor took me off...not sure why. later, I took prozac and it seemed to work for awhile. after that, nothing, and then prozac again, but it made me sleepy this last time and I could not cry any more...I didn't like that. Crying is a release for me. It has been over 30 years since I have taken anything and I am trying natural, like the theanine, magnesium and staying away from gluten as much as possible. I just keep thinking, if God would answer my prayers as He did years ago, the way I have requested them, I could know we are on the same page and connected. When He doesn't, I have to fight against the thought that He is not hearing me because I really don't belong to him. He has promised to restore our soul...mind will and emotions and to give us a sound mind. I try to detach the obvious and hold to the word, but I'll say, it is a battle to feel I belong to Him when it goes on and on and on without hearing.

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    4. I can relate to this post. Although I am handing my depression better these days, insomnia has been off the charts. My mind wakes with that early morning shock to the system before I am able to get my defenses up for the day. I wonder after all my prayers, why am I not progressing quicker with this bout. Where is God? Many years ago he jumped to my rescue and led me to so many recourses. Now - instead of asking why God doesn't hear me, I wonder if we hear Him? So much of our suffering is of our own doing in some way or another. Do we take care of ourselves? Do we surround ourselves with drama? Stress? Do we indulge in situations that add to our problems? I believe God is there, I now try to focus on what he has shown me and I pray he now keeps me aware of his teachings. Depression distorts, but we still have the ability to think and use the tools and knowledge we already have ...:) He is there, Are we?

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    5. Dear Anonymous,

      You make good points there, we (myself included) get so busy and unnecessarily buried into stressful situations that we often do not leave time to wait on God and listen to Him. Thank for reminding us to set aside time to seek His face and remember His Word.

      God bless
      Peter

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  12. I have been struggling with depression for two years now. I like your blogs and have downloaded your e book. Thank you very much for all of this information. It brings a lot of comfort. I was told I was ineffective at my teaching job two years ago and encouraged to go on disability for depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and thyroid issues. So, I did, at the advice of my union leader. I am scared of the future as I feel like I will never recover. I am also hurt by the past as I was not very well treated at work by parents who attacked me. I feel tired and unmotivated most days and have suicidal thoughts and feelings at least two or three times a week. I see a psychiatrist and have been on a merry go round of drugs that do not really work. Recently, I saw a naturopath that recommended some herbal and mineral supplements which I am trying. I feel my life is purposeless and I dread every day. I will be 53 years old. I feel like I am doing something spiritually wrong and that is why I am in the state I am. I have been reading and hearing a lot about positive affirmations and declarations that will bring about healing and I feel guilty about not doing these consistently. I also have read that I must align my thinking with God's thinking and if I don't, I am a defeated Christian. I have read and been told that God's will is for me to be healed and that if I declare enough and affirm enough it will happen. I am told that healing is already there and that I just have to appropriate it. I get confused and overwhelmed by all of this and it tires and depresses me even more.

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    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Thank you for your comment. I am glad you are seeing a psychiatrist. Please be completely honest when you see them, especially about any suicidal thoughts. Hopefully these herbal supplements can help, if not, hopefully the psychiatrist can find something else that will work better.

      Please do not consider yourself a defeated Christian. You have depression, and that is an illness. We don't call Christians with illnesses such as cancer or pneumonia defeated Christians, and depression is just as much an illness as they are. Remember that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, and that the work the Father is doing in you, He will bring to completion. So trust in the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, that you are in their hands, that they are at work in you.

      Please also be careful not to be caught up in the 'you should be healed trap.' Yes, I believe Jesus does heal the sick, and that it is God's will to heal the sick, however, in practice, that does not always come to pass. Sometimes it is because God's timing is different to ours, other times we don't know why. The important thing is to focus on Jesus, to focus on knowing Him, and not on the issue of healing. Because whether we are healed or not, to know Jesus, to have Him in our lives, is enough. Please read the Gospel of John, and the Psalms, and ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you through them.

      Hope that helps,
      God bless
      Peter

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