I have asked various people what depression means to them and usually they all answer in a similar way: “feeling blue”, “feeling too tired to do anything”, “lacking interest in anything”, and “thinking the worst of everything” or “an excuse to moan a lot”. I wasn’t surprised by these answers, in fact, before my experience of depression I probably thought the same way but these things are only part of the truth.
I have learned much over the past few years and feel that it is right to share some of what I have learned. After all one person in four suffers from mental ill health at some point in their life therefore isn’t it about time that we as Christians learned something about it?
This is based purely on my feelings and thoughts therefore it cannot be used as a template for everyone but I hope that by sharing my experience that you will gain a better understanding of what is truly a horrible illness.
So from my point of view the most important thing to recognise is that clinical depression has a physical cause. Usually this is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain although sometimes there is a physical cause too. Clinical depression needs to be treated by a GP or Psychiatrist and it is important to remember that to seek help is not failure. Just in the same way that if you had a broken leg you would go to see a doctor so it is with any mental illness.
I have to admit that in the early days I didn’t think I was depressed. I was seeing my GP routinely after having some blood tests and I was a bit weepy. We talked about what was going on in my life and I have to say looking back it’s no wonder I was low at that time. However my GP signed me off work at that point and wanted to see me again a couple of weeks later. It was then that she started me on medication and I have to admit that by this time I had to agree with her that something was wrong as by then I wasn’t really looking after myself and was very emotional to say the least.
I was referred to a Psychiatrist and was eventually seen by them but in the meantime I was seen solely by my GP who worked hard to keep me alive. That may in fact be an understatement as I can honestly say that without her care and support I would not be here today. She treated me with such honesty and understanding that I knew, although I couldn’t see how, that at some point things would improve.
At my worst point I was not washing or bathing, I did not eat much and I did not go out, not even to get basic shopping, except under the cover of darkness hoping that I would manage to get out and back without seeing anyone I knew. Of course if I was going for a GP or hospital appointment it had to be done in daylight so I would shower and plan every part of the trip with military precision including my excuse not to talk to anyone who might try to speak to me on the way. These trips were all controllable but some things that were going on were not controllable.
I didn’t understand what was happening to me. My thoughts kept turning to ways to die. How easy it would be to end it all a no-one would notice, perhaps no-one would even care. Sometimes these thoughts scared me but at other times it just seemed that these thoughts were the truth and perhaps I should just end it all. After all I had proved what a useless friend I was, I was living alone and no-one really wanted to hear about how I was, my mother had told me so many times in the past what a terrible person I was although I hadn’t been in contact with her for many years I could still hear her telling me how disappointed she was in me and well I hated myself anyway so what was the point of living. I had no control over these thoughts and at times I just wanted some rest from them.
I clearly remember one night, sitting with all my tablets on the table, my thoughts relentless in their negativity and thinking I need to distract myself and do something but I was quite weak from not eating and I couldn’t concentrate on the TV or radio. I remember just calling out to God and asking Him to give me a reason not to end it all. Then a thought popped into my head – what effect would this have on your GP? I remember it so clearly as though it were yesterday (as I said before I owe her my life) and all I could think was she would be blamed for giving me so much medication and therefore I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take my life and land her in trouble after she had shown me so much care and kindness. Round about that time I wrote the following:
What Will Tomorrow Bring?
What will tomorrow bring?
Will the dog still bark, will the birds still sing?
In the morning will the sun still shine?
Will I be well, alive and fine?
Or will I feel as I do now,
Hurting as much as my heart knows how?
I’m so tired, yet I can’t sleep
I want to go to the window and leap.
I’m sick of finding words to say
I’ll tell you now I’ve had a bad day.
I’m so down, way down low,
I wish this pain would hurry and go.
Perhaps my Lord will in my sleep
Dry them up, these tears I weep.
I pray my Lord will see me through
Mend my heart, make me feel new.
I know one day this pain will ease
So no more talk of suicide please.
The thoughts didn’t stop and the planning of routes and travel became a bit more obsessive so as not to let this woman down because not to come through as she promised I would, would be failure and I couldn’t allow that. I had to succeed to prove I wasn’t the waste of time so many people had told me I was.
The turning point came when I was attempting to read a book, I cannot remember the name of it unfortunately so I can’t give them the credit they deserve, and read that “no man (or woman) can think their way out of depression since every thought is poisoned at its very root”. I finally understood that these thoughts were not my thoughts and that I really did want to get better. It has taken many years for me to finally have this illness under control with the help of medication but I have been back working full time for a year now. I still have periods of low mood and I have started to show signs of “high” mood as well now. It is an ongoing saga and I will continue to need treatment for years to come but it is better to be treated than to continue in silence because of fear.
What do I mean by that last statement? I was afraid, like many other Christians of having a mental illness of any kind. After all we are told time and time again that “all things work together for good”, “He will keep them in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him”, etc. Christians continually asked “what do you have to be depressed about”, or told me to “snap out of it” or encourage those with depression to “praise the Lord”. When these things didn’t make a difference I obviously didn’t want to get well and they gave up on me. This of course just added to the negative thoughts I already had.
Looking back I just wish that someone would have walked with me from the beginning but at the same time I know that in many ways I needed to do this journey alone otherwise I would still have felt a failure and of course I always knew I was not alone as my kindly GP was always there to encourage me along the way and latterly my Psychiatrist, who does merit some credit. The journey of course continues and I am slowly reaching out to people again and feeling that I can cope with everyday situations but I know I still have to look after myself if I am to remain well.
If you know anyone with mental illness maybe this will give you a new perspective, maybe you don’t need a new perspective and maybe it will encourage you to walk alongside without judging, just encouraging. It may be they need someone to just sit with them, give them a hug or a friendly smile no matter how smelly they are, they may find it helpful to have someone encourage them to wash or bathe. Remember of course that we are all different and need different things so check with the person involved first what it is that they need.
The greatest GP is the one who really makes us us not to end it all. Together with the wonderful Counselor-the Holy spirit-they sit through it all with us. Always remember that the devil attacks us at our weakest points. He never gives up and never goes away unless we repeatedly remind him and us that IT WAS FINISHED at the cross. In 1Corinthians 10:13-we are told that no tepmtation has seized us that is new and that God never gives us a burden too heavy to bear. Read 1 Pet 5:10, Hebrews 4:14, and 2Corinthians 1:3-5