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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(All verses from NIV)