Thursday, December 11, 2008

Depression - Empowered by a Lack of Knowledge

They tell us that “ignorance is bliss, what you don’t know can’t hurt you.”

Yet with depression, nothing could be further from the truth, as confirmed by Hosea 4:6. “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” It is ignorance of clinical depression and the way it operates that gives it so much power.

Please note that ‘clinical depression’ is also known as major depressive disorder, organic depression, or simply as depression. Symptoms may include loss of interest in life, overwhelming sadness, obsessive fearful thoughts, fear that this bleak, distressing phase will never end, having no hope for the future, and having disturbing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual symptoms.

If I had known back in the late 1980s what I know now, I would not have fallen victim to an endless cycle of debilitating anxiety attacks nor slipped into a suffocating depression that destroyed my life for eight long months. If I had a dollar for every time I wished I could take my current knowledge back to 1989 and live my life again from that point, I would be rich.

Many positive steps have been taken in recent years to educate our society to the dangers of depression. Radio, television, newspaper and internet adverts warn of depression and encourage sufferers to seek professional help. Nevertheless, I suspect few people in our society can truly relate to what an individual suffering from depression is going through, and even fewer know practical steps that can prevent or overcome it.

Although I had attended thirteen years of school, teacher’s college (with child psychology), and Bible College (with a counselling component), none of the courses taught me specific details about depression or provided a practical guide to overcoming it.

Hence, when I finally slipped headlong into depression at the end of 1989, I had no idea what was wrong with me. As the days turned to weeks and then to months, the fear that this ‘thing’ that had overcome me would never lessen or end crippled me.

I spent hours recording my woes and symptoms in my diary in a futile attempt to work out what was going on. Here is an early entry:

31st Jan ’90 – I feel like the Melbourne weather. I regularly get extremely angry, very angry, even with God. And then, half an hour later, I want to cry, in despair and loneliness…I feel extremely sad for some reason. I even feel extreme momentary excitement every now and then. What has happened to me?

And three months later:

12th April ’90 –
What is this storm that rages within me?
Why won’t it abate, why won’t it subside?
It comes in like a storm, and devours me.
And it won’t go away. It’s nearly four months now.
Four months of doing nothing, just hiding and hiding and waiting

Here is something I wrote in July ‘90, which aptly summarises the abject bewilderment I was experiencing.

A Difficult Road
How should I view my current condition?
This constant state of being ill at ease.
Is it an emotional condition causing physical stress?
Or a physical condition causing emotional stress?
I cannot work it out.
There are so many physical side effects that it could be physical.
Sometimes my shoulder muscles ache to abandon,
The aching pain in my jaw drives me crazy.
My face and arms get a burning, prickling sensation.
My stomach feels trapped, as though it needs to burst,
Or simply feels disturbed.
My chest feels like its going to explode,
And like my stomach, often feels ill at ease.
I’ve also suffered from flu symptoms since April.
These physical problems alone would be enough to cause emotional stress.

And as there are physical problems, so there are emotional ones.
I feel uncomfortable all the time, most notably while at work.
Frustration, irritation, anger and uncontrollable depression are ever present.
Words are inadequate to explain the emotional effects that afflict me.
They vary from a feeling that something big and dark will consume me,
To endless mental churnings that only makes me worse,
To those times where it is so faint that I can only just detect it.
These emotional problems alone would be enough to cause physical stress.

I wish I had a word to describe this ‘illness’ that assails me,
Is it ‘depression?’ I really don’t know.

This uncertainty drove me to the point of despair. On June 14th June ’90 I wrote:

What is suffering?
It must be the human inheritance,
It never ends.
It just goes on and on and on.
And I’ve had enough, but whom do I tell?
How do I get off this merry-go-round?

Eventually, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, but it was not explained to me in sufficient detail. What a relief it would have been had I known that all of the symptoms mentioned above in ‘A Difficult Road’ above were caused by depression. There were other symptoms as well, such as racing heart, missed heartbeats, palpitating heartbeat, obsessive thoughts, loss of interest in live, extreme anxiety, panic attacks – all caused by depression.

When I finally learned that depression’s fear-flight cycle caused all these physical and emotional problems, and that by changing my thought processes they would cease, I felt so liberated. (More on this in a later article.) In John 8:32 Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." As Christians, we also receive help from God’s Holy Spirit. John 16:13 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

Here is an example of how truth and knowledge can set us free from fear. When my son was born, he was placed in a humidicrib because he could barely breathe. The nightshift nurses (he was born at 1.30am) gave me such scant information regarding his ailment that I was greatly distressed. The following morning, however, another nurse explained to me that my son’s lungs had filled with fluid during the caesarean operation, a normal occurrence, and that his lungs would drain naturally, within three days. My fears abated and relief flooded through me, and sure enough, fifteen hours later his lungs had cleared and he was united with my wife and me.

It is my heart felt desire that all may know not only depression’s symptoms so that they can recognise it in themselves or others, but also know how to recover from it. Satan uses our lack of knowledge to attack us. Recall the warning Peter gave us in 1 Peter 5:8 ‘Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ Take special note that Peter says he prowls around like a roaring lion. Satan excels at deceit and deception.

When I learned in late July 1990 a much more detailed description of what was wrong with me, how I came to be in such a state, and how to recover, I no longer considered myself a freak. Instead, I was comforted by the knowledge that I was suffering from a common affliction. Knowledge replaced ignorance, understanding chased away despair, and hope returned.

The same Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus lives in us! Isaiah 11:2-4 ‘the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.’

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    1. Thanks for starting this blog, Peter. I spent years in denial that I could possibly be "mentally ill". And after being diagnosed, it only when I started trusting that God meant my depression for His good could I begin the climb out of the pit. I'm still climbing, and clinging to my Lord. I look forward to more encouragement from you!!

    2. Wow, what a powerful, rich post. I cried when I read your journal entries. They sound like some of mine in my teen years. I also wish I had known then what I know now. God is working mightily through this blog, Peter.

    3. Reading this even now comforts me. When I was in the midst of it, I didn't know what was going on. As a matter of fact, off and on for seven years prior to my worst experience, I'd had a series of "heart events." After every single cardio test out there: tilt table, EKG, Halter monitor, stress test, nuclear stress test, etc, nothing heart related came up.

      Stress, they told me. Little did I know that all along, it was anxiety attacks.

      And what you said about the enemy prowling around and then pouncing on us...that was so true. I remember laying in a hospital bed after the worst racing heart/anxiety attack, I was terrified I was going to hell. I just couldn't get the thought out of my mind. It was like all those stories you hear of old saints on their deathbed, just peacefully passing on, saying something wonderful like, "I'm going to be with my Jesus now." Except for me, there was no comfort at all. I thought it was all over...even in an eternal sense.

      Thing is, the word says neither angles nor demons, nor death or life, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God through Christ.

    4. Thanks for sharing your testimony, Wayne.
      The bewilderment depression causes is terrible. I remember wondering what on earth was going on with my heart, wondered if neck problems were responsible, even began to think I was dying from cancer. But, just like you said, these were all symptoms caused by anxiety - the terrible fear-adrenalin-fear cycle.

      That's a beautiful Bible verse, and so true. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus.

    5. I stopped taking my anti-depressants (venlafaxine/Effexor) in June with doctor's advice as they had made me increasingly sick if my dosage was late (and now seem to have been the cause of my troubled sleep including kicking, shouting, even sleep-walking once) and they were not terribly effective. Over the last week my depression has plummeted to a depth I have never known, a sadness regarding the way we treat our world, the destruction of nature, the wiping out of precious creatures, the pollution and greed and waste that our world is full of. It weighs on me now heavier than ever before. It makes me sick and heart-broken. I wish I could articulate the terrible pain and fear I feel. I feel a fool as the world has always been like this yet suddenly, this last week, I want to die because of it. I write because you offer kindness regarding the use of anti-depressants for Christians. I want to draw nearer to God again. This time has shown me that I need to. But why do I feel afraid of anti-depressants suddenly, or like a failed Christian? And when I visit the doctor and take another anti-depressant how will I cope with these things that made me cry anyway? How do other Christians cope with the trauma of a world that goes from crisis to ever-worsening crisis, where the weak and innocent seem to suffer the greatest? The brutality of the world frightens and crushes me. How do I go on when the news makes me cry? How do I rely on God when I am paralysed by fear? You are kind, please pray for me and perhaps God can help you reach out to me with some encouragement. Linda

      1. Dear Linda,

        I can so relate to what you shared about the anti-depressants you were taking. When major depressive disorder returned to my life two years ago, I just put up with it for the first five months, hoping it would go away. When it didn't I went to see my doctor and he put me on anti-depressants. These, however, caused quite a reaction. I was crying at work, could barely concentrate, and could not control my mind. So he took me off those and we tried again. The second type caused a physical complication, so we tried a third time. Finally, these brought about a noticeable improvement and I am still improving. There are lots of different meds out there so I recommend seeing your doctor and asking his/her opinion about trying other types.

        What you are describing about a deep sadness descending upon you about the woes of this world, heavier than ever before, is another normal symptom of depression. I've been through that as well. In this case I would strongly recommend being careful what you read or watch on TV for a while, and stay away from the news as well. When your mind and emotions are well again, you will be able to read/watch these things without it effecting you like this. There have been times in the past two years when I have not read or watched the news for months. And that helped me immensely.

        Also, go to Jesus and ask Him to carry these burdens, for He is in control of it all, so there is no need for you to carry them too. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28. Also "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." Proverbs 3:5

        Note that a Christian with a healthy mind/nervous system does not see the world as a depressed person sees it, who tends to see everything from a negative perspective. They see the good and the bad, and they carry a deep hope in their hearts that helps them to have a deep peace. They also focus upon the fact that this world is temporary, and that Jesus is preparing a new place for us to live in - heaven, which is our true home. What a wonderful hope!

        Regarding doctors and anti-depressants, this does not mean you are a failure. Quite the opposite, your nervous system is not functioning properly, so getting help is the logical thing to do. You are NOT a failed Christian. You would not feel like a failed Christian if you saw a doctor because caught pneumonia, would you? Depression is just another illness, and like all illnesses, may need to be treated.

        I too have thought about how much worse it would be to go through depression without God there to comfort and guide and help us. Praise Him for his loving kindness and faithfulness.

        Through it all, focus on Jesus, ask Him to hold your hand and lead you through each day, and live them one at a time. I'm glad you hae re-ordered Dr Claire's book, I'm sure it will be of great help to you. (I re-read my copy last year too.) Can you also read all of the articles of this blog as well?

        I will remember you in my prayers as well.
        God bless

    6. I wrote last night and have continued in my troubled state, but your site has encouraged me as it is more full of kindness and practical help than I have found elsewhere. The internet abounds with information but your site is helping me the most by far. I really struggled to find voices online that didn't make me feel terrible for not being able to simply rely on scripture. Of course this brought me guilt and confusion. My mind has been churning and I can't really trust it because my emotions are wreaking havoc with it, so I needed a voice of sense, and you are passing on the words of Jesus to help practically, together with your experiences. I have the phone and my mother and her love and prayer but I thank you for reminding me of Dr. Claire Weekes. I used to have her book but I lent it out many years ago and it wasn't returned. I have re-ordered it today. I looked her up online and all her works, including CD's, can be ordered from here in Australia. My tears continue to flow, the adrenaline surges have made me sick and unable to eat, but I press on because I have to. Tomorrow the doctor. The poor receptionist, my voice was breaking as I spoke to him. This has all brought me closer to God, and maybe some good will indeed come out of it. I prayed earlier and would like to let you and your readers know that although this time is terrible, it would be far more terrifying without my precious God. How would I endure this without Him? I believe that in my various struggles of many years I would have ended my life by now if I did not know Him. Praise God for giving me the glimmer of hope to continue on and the encouragement that I am not alone, that even on the internet, late when I feel I can't call anyone, I can still find others, fellow Australians even, to share with, and learn from. Please continue your ministry, I know God brings people here for practical encouragement and Biblical teaching of His love and His help.

    7. Thankyou for replying so thoughtfully Peter. I'll bookmark this page and I WILL read the articles. Thankyou for sharing your personal experiences too, that is probably not an easy thing to do. I found some discouraging Christian sites before this one, but praise God there are Christians willing to tackle difficult issues with caution and commitment and I imagine a deep sense of responsibility to those in need. Sometimes life-threatening need, so a responsible position to be in.

      Last night God, through Mum, gave me an answer to help me resolve a long-standing & deep fear, & now I think healing in this area has begun (!) and one day freedom will arrive (maybe in Heaven, hopefully sooner). So thankyou for your prayers. I didn't really expect a reply, sorry, so thankyou for your words, they are a lovely surprise and again, so thoughtful. Last night I stopped crying & the sickness created by my anxiety lifted for long enough to eat. Today Mum decided to come over to stay for a few days, and my parents took me to the doctors today. The crying returned but the terrible hours of sickness, from terrible anxieties, have disappeared (please don't come back). My new GP has taken extra care of me, and I have to go back tomorrow for lots of follow-up. Not all doctors have been so helpful. Perhaps God is working with me?? And although I know NOTHING about Anglican churches, I have had one on my mind and this time of desperation has led me to realise I should go there to give church another go, & it is a special church, where broken people are welcomed, so I feel I must be able to belong. Haha. This dreadful last week is helping me. I have cried much today but I have laughed also. I would like to learn a different way please.

      I have prayed for people in genuine need to find your site, or another site like it if it exists, as some Christian sites I found just 2 nights ago could be downright dangerous if relied upon entirely. Thank God I didn't. The gentle love of Jesus shines through on this site. I just want Peace. I think I realise, finally, it's value, & I must remember.

      God bless you too, and your family, Linda

    8. Dear Peter,
      I am slowly reading your articles, although I don't comment on them all. They are helping me very much. I re-read your letter also and have made a copy of the whole article. You have helped me so much. In one of your articles you thought depression had gone from your life, but it returned. Do you have an article about that too? Thankyou for the scriptures here also, I am writing some down now. Last week I became sick within 12 hours of taking a new anti-depressant so had to wait to start another. After a week they are not yet helping but my spirits have lifted some, although things are very difficult and today many tears. Thankyou for your prayers.
      God bless you, Linda

      1. Hi Linda
        Sorry for the late reply.
        That's so good that you can talk to your Mum about these things, and that she is able to help you. My Mum helped me a lot too, and still does, with this latest bout of depression.

        That's encouraging about the new GP too, and I hope the Anglican church is able to provide a lot of encouragement and support too. And absolutely God is working with you - He has promised to heal the broken hearted and save the crushed in spirit.

        Sorry to hear the new med caused complications. I had to try three different meds until we found one that worked. A word of advice too. Please do not read the pamphlet that comes with the meds, that lists possible side effects. Please get your mother to read them, and then she can keep an eye out if any show. In a depressed state, simply knowing what the side effects are can cause us to subconsciously create them.

        Oh, I'm planning on writing about depression's return to my life, hopefully soon. I was waiting for it to settle down more, and after two years it appears that may be happening.

        God bless

    9. Peter

      I am interested to see how your depression is? Are you feeling better? I was in contact some time ago. I reread your booklet as it is one of the best summaries of depression I have come across and it is a kind and gentle take on it with HOPE very much as the message. I am struggling and have done for over 2 years. Its day to day stuff with some better days and still lots of bad days. The better days have been slowly creeping in in the last 12 months. In terms of anti-depressants - I have not really had that I am better feeling from them. They keep a lid on things and take the edge off things. Maybe there is another one out these but my doctor is happy to leave me as is as I am having some good days. Its very frustrating and all consuming. I really hope you are getting well. The blog and your writings are an inspiration to us all. I too find comfort in God. Take Care Michael

    10. Dear Michael
      Thank you for writing, and for your kind words, I am much encouraged.
      It has been over two years now since depression returned to my life, but for a few months now I have seen a definite improvement. It is very irregular, though, as to be expected.
      Sorry to hear about your struggles over the past two years as well, but that's a good sign that good days are creeping back in.
      I am thinking of writing a series of articles soon about when depression returns.
      God bless you and keep you,

    11. Dear Peter, This blog has been such a treasure to me. My daughter, age 19, was diagnosed with depression in May after struggling while away at college for a couple of months. My mother had severe depression that lead to a psychotic break (this was 20 years ago and she is completely recovered now), and my husband has struggled with depression as well. Even witnessing their struggles, I was really clueless. When my girl was tormented by irrational, obsessive fears I begged God to "help me now" and within an hour I found this blog. I found her symptoms affirmed here so clearly that I was able to accept that her mental torment was truly part of her illness. You referenced Dr. Claire Weekes, and I was able to listen to an audiobook by her available through my library that very day. Her approach to breaking the fear-adrenaline-fear cycle has been so liberating. My daughter has improved immensely. She is on medication and seeing a counselor. I believe we caught it early enough that she will fully overcome this episode and be well-prepared in case it recurs. I am SO grateful for your humility, honesty and generosity. You made all the difference in the world.

      1. Dear Debbie,

        Thank you for the comment. That's wonderful news that your daughter is showing so much improvement and taking the steps required to help her recover. So glad this blog has been helpful, thanks for letting me know.

        God bless