When someone who is used to consistent weather patterns migrates to the city of Melbourne (where I live) they are in for a bit of a shock.
We Melbournians patiently endure the cold days of winter while eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring and warmer weather. Spring finally arrives and with it comes a string of warmer, sunny days.
New comers rejoice, thinking that winter is finally over and that warmer weather has arrived!
But then without warning the warm spell vanishes, replaced by a cold snap akin to a typical winter day. Those new to Melbourne are caught unawares by this sudden return to the cold. Dressed in thin summer clothes, they shiver and often contract colds or worse. By rights, November, the month proceeding summer, should be nice and warm. Yet my grandmother, who migrated to Melbourne from Queensland, termed September to November the 'pneumonia months,' since these unexpected cold snaps caused so many illnesses.
In contrast to newcomers to Melbourne, the locals expect these abrupt changes in the weather. Throughout spring and even during December, we keep a jacket handy. If the weather turns suddenly cold, rather than be surprised and caught out, we don the jacket and stay warm.
Recovering from depression can be very much like Melbourne’s weather. Depression begins with a frigid, cold winter of despair and black hopelessness. Then as we begin to recover, it is similar to entering spring, and finally summer, or complete recovery.
Speaking from my own experience, once we start to feel better and realize we are improving, we may entertain thoughts such as, “that's it, I'm on the road to recovery, only clear sailing from here on it.”
Unfortunately, if we think this way we set ourselves up for a fall. Because like Melbourne’s spring weather, even when we begin to feel better, depression still has those cold snaps, those bad days, which can catch us completely by surprise – unless we are expecting them.
That is the theme of this article – even when on the road to recovery we need to maintain realistic expectations and expect bad days or periods to afflict us from time to time. Otherwise when they come, we may become shocked, disappointed, downcast, and even fear we are regressing rather than improving. Such reactions of course do make us temporarily worse.
Yet if we know in advance that there will be these bad patches such as panic attacks, mental churning or the return of familiar disturbing sensations, then we can react calmly and head off a negative reaction that would intensify those symptoms. These bad patches are not significant, just a normal part of the healing process. It helps us a lot if we can accept these bad days without fearing or fighting, and simply wait for tomorrow, or the next day. We need to remind ourselves, “It's just one of those days, but it will end. More good times are ahead.” Sometimes it is a case of four steps forward, three back, two forwards, one back, but upon reflection we will see that we are actually moving forward.
This was something I learnt the hard way, as you can see from my diary.
16th May 1990 –
Two weeks ago I felt almost normal again,
But was I too hopeful?
The last two or three days have been almost as bad as before,
And it has caught me off guard.
A familiar disturbed sensation once again flooded my chest and emotions,
And it was too much for me today.
I have several diary entries to this effect, but eventually, I became accustomed to the cycle of occasional bad days mixed with good ones, and I no longer bothered to record them in my diary. Instead, aware that I needed to let time pass, I concentrated on keeping my eyes fixed upon Jesus, pursuing hobbies, serving in the church, exercising, and so on.
So let us persevere and run the race Jesus has set before us, and keep our eyes fixed firmly upon Him, for He is our portion, our inheritance.
Hebrews 12:1 ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’
Hebrews 12:2 ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.’
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All verses from NIV.