Saturday, May 31, 2014

Occupy Till I Come: Depression & Engaging in Constructive Activities

In the previous article I explained that we must not let depression isolate us. We need to spend time with close family or friends and join a caring Christian community.

In this article I discuss something else that played a significant role in helping me to cope with and recover from depression. The diary entry below reveals something that helped dull depression’s intensity:

28th Feb 1990 –
But those two weeks haunt me.
They do not make sense.
The first one ended after eight days,
But I knew it was the eye of the storm.
Sure enough, two weeks later – blam!
And this second week lasted six intense days,
And it never finished.
It is still going, nine weeks later.
But it is not as bad as it was then.
But that’s probably because I’m busy at work.
As soon as I start to look, I start to sink and say,
“What’s happened to me.
I can’t believe what’s happened to me.”

As mentioned previously, severe depression had left be bedridden for six days as terrifying fears immobilized me – a phase that only ended when my parents returned from a week’s holiday. My mother had bundling me off that bed and busied me with menial chores around the home, as well as providing me with much needed support.

Two days later I had to return to work. My mind was still lost in a miry pit of churning fearful thoughts and I did not want to work, nevertheless, I refused to shirk my responsibilities and risk losing my job. So off to work I went, and as you can see from the diary entry above, being busy at work dulled depression’s intensity.

That is an important aspect of coping with and recovering from depression – keeping ourselves gainfully engaged in constructive activities. This could be a full time, part time or casual job. If this is not possible, we could volunteer to help a charity, such as the Salvation Army or an opportunity shop. We could even volunteer to work in the church office a couple of days a week, or help a family member who runs a business.

Regular work gives us purpose, a routine and keeps our mind busy on things other than the fearful thoughts that demand out attention whenever our mind is idle.

I know that this can be hard to do, but Jesus is there to help us take this step.

‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ Philippians 4:13 KJV.

My wife and I used to visit Chika Honda, a Japanese lady, in the Deer Park Metropolitan Women's Correctional Centre. In October 2000, the government took over management of the prison. While this transfer of management was being implemented, the inmates were placed in a state of lockdown where they could not leave their self-contained units. Chika asked our church to pray that the lockdown would be ended as soon as possible so that she could go back to work in the prison’s workshops. Being stuck all day in a unit with other inmates with nothing to do was unbearable, whereas the job gave her a sense of purpose and achievement.

A special note here - we must be careful not use such activities to run from the causes of our depression. It is imperative to seek help from a Christian counselor or therapist to deal with the issues and fears that caused or are associated with depression.

Let us now read Luke 19:13, where Jesus is seen giving gifts to His servants.

So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. “Put this money to work,” he said, “until I come back.” Luke 19:13

This ‘money’ represents the gifts which God has given us. Putting these gifts into action is another activity that assists with the recovery of depression. To focus on God, and on the needs of others, is a healing balm all of its own.

Acts 20:35 “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Before depression destroyed my life, I had been an assistant pastor and a church musician. Ten months after my descent into depression, when it was clear I was on the road to recovery, my counselor pushed me back into ministry. At her advice, I started with something small – playing the piano in a home group. A few months later I started teaching Sunday School too. After I recovered from depression, I became even more involved using my spiritual gifts in serving the Lord.

Let us take another look at Luke 19:13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. “Put this money to work,” he said, “until I come back.”

Along with spiritual gifts, God has also given us natural talents, in areas such as sport, music, writing, painting, gardening, and so on. When God created us in His image, He also placed in us the desire to be creative. So let us also develop and pursue the talents and hobbies that God has given us – they are a gift from Him.

One of the greatest pieces of advice that helped me in the early days of severe depression came from a friend who had been down that same route. He said, “Find anything that you enjoy, and pursue it. Just try to have fun.”

“Have fun, when I’m like this?” I thought to myself, yet I pressed on and embraced his advice. I bought a computer, played engrossing computer games, and over the next five years wrote three novels and pursued other hobbies too. I also joined a gym. These hobbies helped to keep my mind productively occupied and were a significant factor in breaking my mind’s habit of thinking fearful thoughts.

My friend Sherry Castelluccio, who suffered from severe post-partum depression after the birth of her daughter, offers this advice – “Are you bored at home? Pick up that hobby you put down. Are you lonely? Call that friend you haven’t spoken to in months. You will both be glad you did. Is your body physically sick? Go sit outside in the sun for a few minutes. Find the one thing that makes you smile and drink it up. Surround yourself with children, rent a comedy, finger paint. You are here because God put you here with a purpose. Find out what it is, make it your ambition to find out what you can do to bless others. I have found that the fastest way to bust Satan in the teeth is to do something for someone else. It puts a stop to the feelings of sadness and makes you feel alive and full of purpose, all at the same time. Make yourself laugh. It’s the simplest, most inexpensive cure there is and the most readily available. It changes your whole outlook.”

I have always loved the way which the King James Version translates Luke 19:13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, “Occupy till I come.”

What wonderful advice - keep ourselves productively occupied until He comes. So let us work as we are able, serve God with the spiritual gifts He has given us, and pursue engaging hobbies. Keeping occupied with such productive activities can be of great assistance in helping us to recover from depression by taking our focus off depression’s fears and symptoms that try so hard to immobilize us.

(All verses from the NIV unless stated otherwise.)

Download an ebook on depression, ie, this blog's articles.

(All verses from the NIV unless stated otherwise.)

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    1. Thank you for reminding me I must "Occupy" even when I do not feel like and especially when I am down or discouraged.

      I hope you dont mind. I posted a link to your blog on each of my blogs in the friendly links section. Your blog is a wonderful place for others to visit...and we never know who the person is who needs it most.
      Blessings and prayers,andrea

    2. Peter, I appreciate this post, thank you.

    3. Yes, that was a neat story when you shared about Chika Honda a while back when I left a comment. It's very monotonous kind of life inside prison cells, with tiny windows per cell. It seems so dark for a mind already darkened by depression.
      But I recall Paul. Despite being imprisoned, he chose to write letters and through that, he encouraged so many Christians in his time. He chose to rejoice despite being locked up.
      "And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit."-Ephesians 2:22.
      Thank you for your helpful posts, full of resources and your victory over depression. To God be the glory!

    4. Thanks Andrea, I'm touched that you have shared this blog on your links, and thank you for the encouragement.

      You're welcome, JBR. Hopefully these things that I share can be of help.

      Thanks for sharing Paul's wonderful example, RCUBEs. So many of his letters in the Bible were written from prison. Keeping our perspective upon God's kingdom, instead of upon our troubles and circumstances, is so important, a truth Paul knew very well.

    5. Yes, what you share on your blog are inspiring and helpful, thank you. Blessings dear one.

    6. I'm amazed at your honesty whenever I come here, Peter. Sometimes I think God allows us to endure the darkness just so we'll be able to guide others through it.

      I think that's what He's done with you.

    7. Occupy 'til I come.

      Peter, I abolutely, love this scriptue you have chosen. That is one directive from the Lord that quickly lifts me up and gently pushes me in the right direction, whenever I am going through a patch of discouragement. Sometimes we need that sterness!

      I always add the other scripture to it, which is '..and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. Col 3:23

    8. Hi Carole,
      Thanks for sharing Col 3:23, what an awesome verse, and the perfect companion for Luke 19:13.
      God bless

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    10. Dar Iske
      Thank you for your email. I believe that your lack of energy to work, and tendency to procrastinate, are merely symptoms of the depression, as is the ability to oversleep. I know that becoming depressed for a third time seems unbearable, but perhaps this time God wants you to learn how to overcome it yourself, so that it no longer has such power over you.

      Firstly, if meds help, please follow your doctors advice, as they can greatly reduce the severity and symptoms of depression. Secondly, please get a copy of the book "Self Help for your Nerves" by Dr Weekes and perhaps even the pdf booklet of this blog's articles, "When I am Weak" and learn how to cope with an overcome depression - this will help you for the rest of your life.

      Here are some other ideas which may help you to work.
      If possible, start doing a high-impact type of exercise three times a week, such as body attack aerobics, lap swimming, jogging, anything that will speed up your metabolism. However, as I do not know your level of fitness, it may be wise to consult with your doctor, or a gym instructor, to work out the best type of exercise program for you. Get into it slowly, not too fast too soon.
      Learn how to deal with these thoughts so that they slip to the back of your mind instead of taking over your mind. Then you will be able to concentrate a lot better. (read this blogs articles, read Dr Weekes book.)
      Find a constructive hobby/interest that will take up a lot of your thought life, hopefully one that involves you interacting with other like minded people.
      And of course, keep pressing into Jesus, asking Him to help you through each day by His power.

      I hope this helps.
      God bless

    11. Hello Peter,

      Did you find that you were able to concentrate better because of exercising?

      I really really want to teach myself the piano and know some beginning level but I have such a hard time focusing and concentrating. And I want to be able to write short fiction stories, but again, I cannot really concentrate and do not feel I have any creative ingredients in me to create them. This is what is so frustrating. I want to keep myself active but my inability to keep and stay focused is what is hindering me.



      1. Hi Anonymous,

        I did find it hard to concentrate during the earliest, blackest phase of depression. I found computer games one of the easiest things to concentrate on then. However, I also took up writing, and I found that as I kept at it, I was able to immerse myself in it more successfully, and my ability to concentrate improved.

        Regarding physical exercise - my mind tended to run through its typical fear cycle if I did weights in the gym, but if I did a group class like aerobics or circuit, I could focus on the activity to the extent that the fearful thoughts would be absent during that time.

        So please keep at it, and I'm sure your concentration will improve. Experiment with different types of activities, and perhaps focus on the ones you have more success with, at least initially. Pop over to and consider joining their Writing Challenge.

        God bless