Depression, along with chronic illnesses and disabilities, can afflict us with disturbing symptoms so distressing that we believe we cannot possibly live with them. Here is my story on how I learnt to cope with one such distressing symptom.
When I was in my late thirties, the deep rumbling sound in my ears that had began in my late teens, had become rather severe. I was suffering from tinnitus, a condition that produces noises in the ears that are not caused by external sounds. (I have otosclerosis, an inherited disease that causes the calcification of the bones of the middle ear.) Along with the deep rumbling I could also ‘hear’ a loud waterfall, a birdcage full of screeching budgerigars, hissing white noise, and an endless deep monotone humming.
Things came to a head one night in the latter part of 2003, at 3.00am in the morning. A new tinnitus sound, which had initially come and gone intermittently, was threatening to become a permanent fixture. It sounded like someone pushing a very, very heavy wooden desk across a rough timber floor, and buzzed with an irregular rhythm with a one or two second gap between each buzz.
It was so loud and unsettling that I lay in bed for hours, dreading each subsequent buzz, hoping and praying that it would stop and go away, as it had each time during the past week.
I used every argument in the book in the prayers I lifted heavenward. “I can’t live like this, Lord! Haven’t I suffered enough, do I have to have this too? Please Lord, make it stop! The rest of the ear noises are bad enough but this one is unbearable!”
Receiving no discernable response from God, I staggered to the kitchen, hoping to find something to help me sleep, yet by the time I got there, I was consumed by rage at the injustice of this situation. I could not live with a deafeningly loud buzzing sound tearing apart my concentration and setting my nerves on edge, destroying my sleep and ability to relax.
Yet as I looked out the kitchen window into the darkness, I recalled that this was not the first time I had been afflicted with unwanted disturbing symptoms that I believed I could not live with.
Years earlier, I had been afflicted by dozens of unwanted mental, physical, emotional and spiritual symptoms while suffering from severe depression. Desperate to escape those symptoms, I had reacted by fighting or fearing them, which not only made those symptoms worse but also caused new ones to appear.
The most distressing symptom of depression for me was the lack of peace, where I felt disturbed and ill at ease all the time. I thought that if I could regain that inner peace I would be able to cope with life again.
From my diary, 7th July ’90 -
I just wish this sensation of being disturbed all the time would go away.
And know it will never come back.
I am not coping, and I know that.
I keep saying, "If I had inner peace, then I would cope."
Other symptoms I believed I could not cope with included:
From my diary, 20th July ’90 -
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,
my chest feels like it’s going to explode.
And as there are physical problems, so there are emotional ones.
They vary from a feeling that something big and dark will consume me,
to endless mental churnings that only makes me worse.
And now back to 2003. There I was at 3.00am in the morning, reacting to this new tinnitus noise in the same way as I had reacted to depression’s symptoms - trying to flee from or fight it.
So waiting on Jesus, I cast my mind back to remember how I had dealt with depression’s symptoms. Dr Claire Weekes book, “Self Help for Your Nerves,” had taught me to face the disturbing, unwanted symptoms caused by anxiety. She wrote, ‘I have no doubt that you are tensely shrinking from the feelings within you and yet, are ready to “listen in” in apprehension?...Now examine and do not shrink from the sensations that have been upsetting you. I want you to examine each carefully, to analyse and describe it to yourself...Do not tensely flinch from it. Go with it. Relax and analyse it…Now that you have faced and examined it, is it so terrible?’ (1)
So I took those same techniques and applied them to my current situation. Instead of dreading the disturbing new tinnitus noise and listening to it apprehensively, I faced it. Yes, it was bad, and I most certainly did not want it, but as I stood there listening to it, was it really so unbearable? Was it so bad that I could not think, function, or live?
No! Although bad, I could still think, function and live. I recognised that the worst aspect of this situation was my reaction to it – fearing and fighting it and convincing myself that I could not live with it. So I acknowledged there was nothing I could do to make the tinnitus go away and I accepted it instead of fighting and fearing it. I even thanked God for allowing this trial to come my way and asked Him to use it for good. After all, God is in control and there was no need for my heart to be troubled.
Instead of saying, “I can’t live like this!” I decided that I would learn to live with it and let it buzz, roar, and rumble away as though background music to my day. Instead of fearfully dreading the arrival of each new BUZZ, I let them come. If I had to live like this for the rest of my life, then so be it. Paul said that he had learned to be content whatever his circumstances, and by Christ’s strength, I would follow his example.
Comforted by God’s peace, I climbed back into bed, and although the hideous sound continued to buzz in my head, I was soon asleep.
And the good news is that by responding to depression’s symptoms in this way - by facing, accepting, learning to live with them as though background music to our day, and letting time pass, it breaks the fear-adrenalin-fear cycle, causing those symptoms to gradually reduce in severity and frequency, until they fade away completely. (More detail on this in the next article.)
‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’ Philippians 4:12-13
p.s. - By God’s grace, an operation in 2005 that restored about 70% mid-range hearing to my left ear also reduced the tinnitus to about half what it was – that horrific buzzing sound is gone.
(1) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p21.