Depression is one of the most confusing ailments that can afflict us. Not only are we stricken by despair, loss of hope, anxiety, panic attacks, and dozens of other unpleasant physical, emotion and mental symptoms, but we may also experience moments of giddy elation.
From my diary, several weeks after the onset of severe depression:
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, or just cry because I feel extremely sad for some reason. And I even feel extreme momentary excitement every now and then. What has happened to me?
At the time I could not fathom why I was feeling so bad all the time, and the existence of these moments of elation just added to the confusion.
I did not realize that my nervous system had become exhausted to the point of collapse and no longer functioned within normal parameters. As well as releasing endless streams of negative adrenalin into my body, it also occasionally misfired in the opposite direction, causing a wave of unexplainable excitement. For a few seconds I felt so good, as though on top of the world, only to crash back to the miry black pit of woe immediately afterwards. Once I understood that this was just another symptom of depression, I was no longer confused by these episodes.
(Please note that the moments of elation I experienced rarely lasted for more than a few seconds. Hypomania or mania - characteristics of bipolar depression - are somewhat different. These episodes can last for several days, and along with euphoria may include periods of increased activity, poor judgement, and restlessness. I have not experienced bipolar depression, so I am only going by what I have read about it.)
Setting Realistic Expectations
I also noticed during depression’s initial stages that I sometimes felt tempted to embark on a grand new venture that would send my life in an entirely new direction.
For example, in November 1989, prior to my becoming depressed, I received an offer to join another church planting team. This offer was later shelved due to a change in plans. When I became severely depressed, and before I knew what was wrong with me, I tried to carry on with ‘life as usual,’ even contemplating going out to plant a new church by myself. Although my mind at this time was so exhausted by never ending panic attacks, I still somehow considered starting new ventures such as this. My perspective of my own condition and abilities was completely distorted.
I never acted on the compulsion to plant a new church, which was good as I would not have been able to carry it through. And had I attempted to do so and failed, I would have felt even worse. Fortunately, I soon realized that I was in no condition to start any major new projects and formed a more realistic expectation of my abilities based on my current condition. Instead, I worked at keeping myself constructively occupied, but I was careful not to commit to anything that I could not cope with.
So my advice to anyone who is suffering from depression and who is considering embarking on a major new venture is to give the idea to God and let Him carry it, and then shelve the idea, resist submitting to it, and it will mostly likely fade away. If the idea does not fade away, I recommend getting a second opinion from someone such as a pastor/counselor or wise friend, and trust their judgment over our own.
We do not need to stop living while recovering from depression, but need to be mindful that we are in a recovery phase and need plenty of rest. We need to set realistic goals for ourselves, and to maintain realistic expectations. Recovering from depression is like recovering from any other illness, it takes time, and we need to go easy on ourselves during that time.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.