Monday, April 25, 2016

Free eBook on Depression (Kindle, ePub, PDF)

Dear Readers,

I have updated the free eBook on depression written from a Christian perspective, which is available on this blog, Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled.  It is available in Kindle, ePub and PDF formats.

Feel free to share your copy with anyone you feel may benefit from reading it.

Just click on the appropriate link to download:

This book is a collection of the articles from my blog, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, where I share my recovery from depression. The book’s purpose is to offer practical advice and words of comfort to those suffering from depression and anxiety, in the hope of helping them to cope with depression and speed them on the path to recovery. The book has been written from a Christian perspective.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Has God Abandoned Me?

“Has God abandoned me?” or "Why has God abandoned me?" are desperate cries from the heart of many, whether stuck in the depths of severe depression or struggling to deal with a major crisis such as a personal tragedy, chronic health problems, even the destruction of lifelong goals.

After floundering in the depths of severe depression for over three months, I wrote this in my diary:

10th April 1990 –
I see others who live and prosper,
And yet here am I, stuck in this dark prison cell.
Jesus, where are You? Please see my circumstances,
Please hear my prayer.
Please set in motion Your answer, Your solution.
Why have You abandoned me?
Why do You remain silent?
I’ve waited and waited, yet I am met with silence.

Someone suffering from depression typically loses interest in life, experiences a sense of overwhelming dread, has terrifying obsessive fearful thoughts, and also panic attacks, insomnia, guilt, confusion, anger, and a dozens of other disturbing symptoms. A depressed Christian also tends to loose the ability to feel God’s presence, cannot take comfort from His Word, and can no longer feel His love.

If struggling with severe depression or a major life crisis, we may also look at our dire circumstances and jump to the conclusion that these terrible things have happened because God has abandoned us. We cannot comprehend how God could still be with us and yet allow us to undergo such suffering.

Here is another entry from my diary:
28th Feb 1990 –
Dear Jesus, I continually get angry with You.
Why have You allowed this? Where are You?
How long will You remain silent? Why won’t You heal me?
I know what You are capable of, yet You do nothing – why?

We may become frustrated, worried and angry when it feels like God’s Word no longer seems to be working, and when He does not seem to be honoring His promises. We wonder if God has left us to fend for ourselves. We cannot understand why He will not answer our desperate prayers – can’t He see what we are going through? Doesn’t He care?

My diary, 14th June 1990 –
The Heavens remain silent,
and this both angers and disappoints me.
I thought I felt Jesus say that He is carrying me through this.
But how can I be sure?
And if He is, why won’t He let me feel His presence?
Why won’t He help me?
Where is His Word? Where are His promises?

Another common reaction is to fear that we have let God down in some major way, wondering if we have stepped outside His will by disobeying Him, or have committed an unforgivable sin. We wonder if this was sufficient cause for God to turn His back on us and abandon us. And if we get angry with God for letting us go through this inexplicable suffering, devastating guilt may follow these bouts of anger. We may even think that we have lost our salvation and are no longer a Christian.

From my diary, 20th July 1990:
Experiences like the past eight months
almost make you wonder,
it makes me wonder if I am one of His children.

Some Christians suffering from depression or a major crisis say: “It feels like God has abandoned me! I can’t feel God’s presence anymore.” Or, “Why has God abandoned me?”

There are two common threads weaving through what I have written above:

1. We may look at our circumstances and leap to the conclusion that God has abandoned us, and/or
2. We can look at our feelings, and because we cannot feel that God is with us, we conclude that He has abandoned us.

So what can we do when we feel or fear that God has abandoned us? What can help us get through this phase?

Recognise Our Feelings are Deceiving Us

When stuck in the midst of severe suffering, we need to recognise what a friend once told me, “We can’t see properly in times like this. Our feelings completely distort our world view and vision.” It is as though we are wearing extremely dark glasses all of the time. Although light surrounds us, we cannot see it because of the dark glasses.

We Must Not Trust Our Feelings

Bearing in mind that our feelings have become distorted, we must remind ourselves daily that we cannot trust our feelings nor pay them any heed – they are tricking and misleading us. This is hard, I know, because throughout our lives we have learned to listen to our feelings and let them guide us to some degree or another. But what may work for a healthy person does not apply to someone suffering from depression. We need to learn not to place any significance on what we are feeling, and recognise that we may remain in this condition for a while. But be encouraged, this phase does not last forever. When our exhausted mind and nervous system heal, whether this takes months or years, our feelings will return to normal. We will feel God’s presence and love again, and we will take comfort from His word again.

We must not use our Circumstances as a Basis to Conclude that God has Abandoned us

We need to realise that our circumstances are not an indication of whether God is with us or not. We Christians sometimes fall into the error of thinking that while things are going well, God must be with us, but when our world falls apart, it means that God has abandoned us.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Firstly, the Bible assures us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. Secondly, it tells us that we will face trials, and that God will use these for good in our lives, and that He will comfort us in and through them.  

‘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

‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ Romans 8:28

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

We Need to Keep Things in Perspective

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 everyday - 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.

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.' Romans 8:17-18

Trust in What We Know, Not in What We Feel

So if we cannot rely upon our feelings nor upon the way in which we interpret our circumstances, what can we rely upon? We can rely upon what we know and believe.

We know and believe that God is with us (although we can’t feel it), we know and believe that He loves us (although we can’t feel it), and we know and believe His word is all powerful (although we can’t feel it and things seem to be out of control). We know these things because the Bible tells us, and because the Holy Spirit in us testifies to that fact. For now, it is enough to know God is with us, to know that Jesus loves us, and to know that His Word is all-powerful. It does not matter than we cannot feel these things while depressed or our world view has been distorted by suffering.

In reading through my diary entries, it is interesting to see that although I lamented that I felt abandoned by God, in those very same entries, I also concluded that I knew He was still there and still cared for me. I was learning to rely upon His Word instead of upon my feelings.

13th May 1990 –
The Bible says to consider it joy to endure trials,
I must say that there has been no joy in this trial.
It defies any previous experience known to me.
But I’ve been forced to trust God
when it seems like He has abandoned me.
I have been forced to come to a place
where I have trusted Him without feeling like doing so.
All I want to do is cry out that He had abandoned me,
that He is not faithful.
But He is faithful. And I know that.
He is faithful and true. He is Jesus.

14th June 1990 –
I feel so like Job.
“Curse God and die!” my thoughts yell at me.
“Look at this suffering!
How can He be faithful,
when He’s apparently done nothing
for six whole months now - curse Him and die!”

But God is faithful, and I know that –
it is His name – Faithful and True.

Bible Verses that we can Rely Upon

Feelings can change like the wind and are colored by our circumstances, and circumstances can also come and go. However, God's Word remains constant, it never changes. Let us look at some of those Bible verses now – verses we know are true and can be relied upon.

God’s Promises to Never Leave Us

Deuteronomy 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Matthew 28:20 “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

John 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

God’s Promises that He Loves Us

Romans 8:35,38-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Galatians 2:20 The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

God Never Changes

God never changes, He is the one constant in an ever-changing world. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

Assurance of Salvation

If it feels like we think we have lost our salvation, here are a few verses to reassure us of the gift of eternal life that we receive from God when we believe in, cling to and rely upon Jesus.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23.

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 And "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16.

It does not matter if we cannot feel that we are saved if suffering from depression or going through a major life crisis, what matters is that we believe in Jesus and stand upon His Word. (More on this topic in this article.)

Relying on God’s Word, not our Feelings

One last thought before I sign off. When we have learned to cope with or passed out of difficult times such as depression, we will be able to look back upon the phase where we thought God had abandoned us, and we will recognise very clearly that He was with us and holding us safely in His hands the whole time.

We will also realise that it was during this time that we learnt to rely upon and stand on God's Word, instead of relying on our feelings.

Luke 6:47-48 “I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.” 

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The articles on this blog are available as a free ebook Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled

Just click on the appropriate link to download:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

What Causes Depression?

Depression was the most confusing and bewildering experience of my life. I spent countless hours trying to work out what was wrong with me and what it was that caused me to get into such a state.

From my diary, 8th February 1990 -
I think and think,
and try to work out
what has happened to me and why,
and what I should be doing.
But it is a worthless exercise,
I am allergic to my own thoughts.

Months later I learned that I was suffering from depression, and that the illness can be caused by biological, mental/emotional, and social factors, and more commonly, a combination of all three.

Biological Causes

Without going into the technical details, it is sufficient to say that as with any part of the human body, there are a great many things that can go wrong with the human brain and mind. More complex causes of depression can include chemical/genetic imbalances in the brain and glandular disorders. A lack of sleep such as chronic insomnia and a poor diet (including undiagnosed food intolerances) can also cause depression. And ‘there is some evidence to show that severe depression runs in families. This has led to the conclusion that some people innately may be more prone to depression than others...” (1)

I suffered from chronic insomnia in 1989, the year that preceded my descent into severe depression. This had started in my late teens and had grown progressively worse, the result I believe of having undiagnosed complex partial epilepsy. I have only been able to sleep naturally after being placed on anti-seizure meds in my mid-thirties. That year I also made the mistake of eating poorly and skipping exercise. Both of my parents have also suffered from depression.

Social Causes

One thing that I have learned is that our past, and especially what transpired during our childhood years, typically catches up with us once we reach adulthood. Any form of child abuse, whether physical, mental or emotional, and even rejection, can either cause depression or make a depressive episode much worse than it would have been otherwise. Over disciplining a child, or setting unattainable goals or unrealistic standards for them, can also play a factor.

The Christian counsellor I saw when I was depressed spent hours helping me to face and deal with issues from my childhood - issues that during depression had grown out of proportion to become insurmountable stumbling blocks.

Mental/Emotional Causes

‘It is well known that the stresses of life stimulate depression, especially when these stresses involve a loss. Loss of an opportunity, a job, status, health, freedom...possessions...can each lead to depression. Then there is the loss of people. Divorce, death, or prolonged separations are painful and known to be among the most effective depression-producing events of life.’ (2) In November 1989, I suffered a major shock that caused me great stress.

The feeling of being trapped by situations such as those listed above - situations over which we have no control, also contributes to depression, as does a habit of thinking negatively on every aspect of life, including having a negative self-concept.

Another cause of depression is anger turned inward, in other words, towards ourselves. If we are deeply hurt but have no outlet for expressing the ensuing anger, this can lead to frustration, resentment, and deeper anger, which can cause depression. (3)

Guilt, in response to failure or wrong doing, can also cause depression.

One thing I would like to share in closing is that it is common for Christians to suspect that our depression has spiritual causes, since we typically feel so far from God when depressed. I also remember fearing that it was God who was inflicting the depression upon me. When I shared this with my counsellor, 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?” My counsellor reassured me of the truth, that God does not afflict depression upon anyone. God is a loving God who delights in giving us good and perfect gifts, as well as comforting us in our times of trouble.

Download a free ebook on depression, ie, this blog's articles

All verses from the NIV.

(1) Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980, p87.
(2) Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980, p88.
(3) Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980, p88.

How can a Christian get depressed?
Can a Christian get depressed?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Depression and Counseling/Therapy

In order to identify, face and work through the root causes of depression and its associated issues, it is important that someone suffering from depression sees a trained Christian counselor or Christian professional therapist.

I struggled daily with many overwhelming, destructive fears when I was severely depressed. I was reluctant to share these fears with anyone I knew because I was embarrassed by them, was worried what my family or friends would think of me, and I also feared that if I shared those fears with them, the fears would destroy their lives as well.

Painfully aware that my life was a complete mess, I finally admitted that I needed help from a trained counselor, someone impartial with whom I could share what I was going through and confide in without fearing they would judge me or be adversely affected by the things I feared. They would also be able to give me practical counsel and help in determining what was wrong with me and assist in my recovery.

So when I was ten weeks into severe depression I went to see a local minister to receive counseling. Although I truly appreciate the time he gave me, he saw me just the once and sent me on my way. Though he gave good advice, this brief visit provided only minimal comfort and did not effectively address the traumas that haunted me. This is what I wrote in my diary that day. 13th March 1990 – Well, the day finally came where I saw the pastor. I was hoping for some huge touch from God, such as healing, or deliverance from oppression or possession, but no received such easy answer. As we can see, I was still under the mistaken impression that I could find an ‘instant’ solution to depression.

That the pastor saw me only once brings me to my next point – that we need wisdom in choosing the right counselor/therapist, as some counselors lack the knowledge and experience necessary to help someone suffering from depression. Some ministers think a one-off counseling/prayer session is sufficient, they do not realize that counseling needs to be continued for several months if not years, and on a regular basis. Some counselors make the error of using shock tactics in a futile attempt to try to force someone to pull themselves out of depression, which only places the depressed person under more pressure and fear.

If the counselor we are seeing is not able to help us, it may be necessary to seek another more experienced one. And that is exactly what I did. Two weeks later I went to see another counselor, a very compassionate lady and trained counselor who had experienced depression herself when incapacitated by a near-terminal illness. On 19th March 1990 I wrote – I’m a complete emotional and spiritual mess and I need help, dear Jesus, so I’ll be seeing a counselor in ten days, but I feel really guilty for taking up her time. I don’t want to impose on her. It is normal to be reluctant about seeing a counselor, but we must not let this deter us.

The counselor counseled me once a month for several months. She sympathised with what I was going through, offered practical advice, and through prayer, God’s Word, and her own experiences, helped me to face and deal with several deep emotional wounds and flawed thought processes.

Below are some excerpts from my diary about those counseling sessions.

The counselor said that depression is the worse ailment that we can have, because it affects all areas of our lives: mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. We make the mistake of thinking that because our spiritual life is affected, the cause must be spiritual. But this is incorrect. Depression touches every part of us, which means it touches us spiritually too.

The counselor listed the symptoms of depression, which described my condition perfectly. These included having no hope, being unable to see the future, you cannot ever see yourself getting beyond this current stage, you look at everyone else and wish you were any one of them instead of yourself.

She said that I should be on anti-depressants to help me, and that they will start to work after about ten days.

When I found the courage to share some of my irrational fears with the counselor, she gently helped me to see those fearful thoughts from another perspective – the true perspective.

As a result of her counseling, I was eventually set free from one of the greatest bondage of my life. For much of my life my inner peace had disappeared when about to make a major life decision, and only returned when I gave up all plans to make that change. Because of this, and due to the fact that as a child I had been taught that God would take away His peace to guide me or test me, I had reached the mistaken conclusion that God was actually removing my peace to guide me. The truth was that I had been suffering from panic attacks that were triggered by the stress of making those decisions. It was these panic attacks that had been robbing me of my inner peace, not God at all.

The counselor taught me that God gives us peace. Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled.” John 14:27 It does not say “My lack of peace I give to guide you.” We need to make our decisions prayerfully with wisdom based on God’s Word – and do so while dwelling in His peace. She reminded me that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

It was so ingrained in my thinking that panic attacks were God guiding me that I felt guilty and disobedient for no longer listening to them or doing what they demanded, even though I now knew that they were not from God. To deal with this irrational fear the counselor taught me to pray, “What ever Your will is for my life, Lord, please bring it about - even without my obedience or cooperation. You are God; You are greater than me or the circumstances, so You are able to bring about Your will regardless.”

In another session, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the counselor discerned spirits of fear and terror at work in my life. She took authority over these and broke them in the name of Jesus. ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.’ 2 Corinthians 10:4. Note that this was only the beginning of being set free from fear and terror - I still needed to retrain my thought processes away from the habit of fearful thinking. Changing our thinking until it is in line with God’s Word is a slow but very necessary process. ‘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.

During our counseling sessions, the counselor also took me back to some of my childhood traumas. We invited Jesus to join us as we recalled those events. This is what I wrote in my diary after one of these sessions:

8th August 1990 - It was really beautiful to see how Jesus healed me of my past hurts. On that occasion when I was seven, and hated and hit myself, the counselor took me back to that time, and told me to look to Jesus and see how He responded. Jesus told me that He accepted me as I was, and gave me a great big hug, and told me that He loved me, and that I did not need to react that way and punish myself, and that he understood. Jesus’ touch brought deep inner healing. Now when I remember that event, I see Jesus standing there, reaching out to and comforting me, instead of the deep pain that had previously been associated with it.

In August 1990 I read the book “Self Help for Your Nerves” by Dr Claire Weekes. From there, recovery from depression was so rapid that at the end of October, the counselor said I no longer required counseling. Although I was still suffering from many of depression’s side effects, she said it was time to get back into things, and encouraged me to join a home group and to return to active service in the church.

This is what I wrote in my diary following that final counseling session.

21/10/90 –
The counselor said I am to pray every morning:
“Lord, this is the day that you have made,
You have put me where I am in it,
therefore fulfill your created purpose for me in this day.”
Every night I am to pray,
“I thank you Lord, I don't understand - but I believe.”

The counselor said that to be in deep surrender to God
means to never look back
with regret upon the past,
nor forward to what I want to be in the future –
comparing ourselves to what we used to be,
or what we want to be,
is a hindrance for resting in God's will.
Each day I am to say:
“I am content to be who You made me to be, today.
I'm content to be where You put me today,
and I'm content to be how You made me to be today.”

Download a free ebook on depression, ie, this blog's articles

All verses from the NIV.

receiving counseling for depression
Christians, depression, counseling/therapy