Depression causes many alarming symptoms. An oversensitive nervous system, flooded with negative adrenalin, can cause missed heart beats, palpitating or racing heart, even sharp chest pains. The first time we experience one of these symptoms can be a truly terrifying experience. We may fear we are having a heart attack. The symptoms are so disturbing that we live in fear of their return, and of course, they do return, and return more frequently the more we fear them.
A ‘missed heart beat’ is alarming. It feels as though your heart stops, followed a pregnant pause, then comes a thunderous thump when the next heart beat comes. Sharp chest pains can feel like a knife in the chest. Heart palpitations such as irregular, banging or accelerated heart beats may become our daily companion, while episodes of ‘racing heart’ where the pulse suddenly accelerates beyond the norm, often accompanied by an inability to breath, are frightening as well.
Because of these symptoms, many sufferers of depression live in terror that they are going to die from a heart attack.
It is crucial if suffering from depression to see a doctor. A doctor’s medical examination will be able to ascertain if there is indeed anything wrong with our heart, or, as is normally the case for someone suffering from depression, they will confirm that these symptoms are merely the result of anxiety/depression.
However, due to our heightened state of anxiety, our fears that we will have a heart attack may not abate.
When I read “Self Help for your Nerves” by Dr Claire Weekes, I was so surprised to see all of these symptoms listed, and encouraged by her assurances that these symptoms were nothing to fear once a doctor had confirmed I was physically healthy.
I put into practise her strategy of facing the symptoms, accepting them instead of fearing or fighting them, and I learning to live with them. Amazingly, after putting these techniques into practice, over time these symptoms faded in intensity and frequency, and eventually stopped.
I recall one particular incident when I was learning to live with these symptoms. (I was still recovering from depression.) My boss had arranged for the men of our company to play a game of paintball with the staff of another company. Note that paintball is not my idea of fun - being pelted by ‘supposedly’ soft plastic balls filled with paint is extremely painful and leaves rather nasty bruises.
Nevertheless, I went to play the game and I remember doing my ‘ninja-thing’ where I infiltrated the enemy lines and used stealth to hunt down the opposing players. I was walking through a rocky area overgrown with tall grass when an episode of racing heart afflicted me. My heart rate accelerated through the roof and I found myself unable to breath. Previously, these experiences had unsettled me greatly, but now that I understood that this was just a symptom of depression that would soon pass, I knelt down and waited patiently. Within moments my heart rate returned to normal and I was able to breathe again. I stood up and went back to hunting the opposing team as though nothing had happened.
These symptoms are typical of depression, trying to trick us into believing we are on the verge of dying, when it is merely an over sensitised nervous system causing these reactions.
Let us place our complete and utter trust in God, that He is in control of our lives and that there is no need for us to fear any of depression’s symptoms.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” John 14:1 (NIV)
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