Depression was the most confusing and bewildering experience of my life. I did not know what was wrong with me or what was causing it, and spent countless hours searching for that cause. I truly believed that if I could pin down the cause, I would find an ‘answer’ or solution that would bring instant recovery from the multitude of symptoms that assailed me.
6th January 1990 -
I am a mess and I still don’t know why. I see several possibilities as to what is happening to me:
a) I have suffered a major burnout…if this is correct, for the next six to twelve months I will run around looking for ‘the answer…’ (I had suffered an undiagnosed minor depressive episode in 1986 and spent the whole time doing exactly that.)
b) I need deliverance from something inside me or from a major external attack;
c) I need deep inner healing or renewing;
d) that maybe God is telling me that my Christian walk is unbalanced..."
e) that the enemy has developed a strategy of throwing doubts at me, which I analyse to the point that it destroys that area of my faith.
g) or maybe a combination of the above.
I have many such entries in my diary, written before I was diagnosed with depression by a doctor and a Christian counsellor. These entries reveal that I often feared that the intense suffering I was going through was caused by spiritual causes and required only a spiritual solution. It is common for Christians suffering from depression to suspect this, since their spiritual life is so clearly off balance. Because of this, they may find themselves asking questions like these: “Perhaps God is not the centre of my life like He should be? Perhaps this suffering is caused by hidden sin in my life? Perhaps I am unwittingly living in disobedience to God? And if any of these are indeed the case, has God has inflicted this suffering upon me to punish or discipline me?”
Some Christian circles also view depression as just a spiritual problem that requires only a spiritual solution. Some tell depression sufferers that they just need more faith, or to read the Bible and pray more, or to rebuke the enemy - that it is nothing more than a concerted spiritual attack. (And yes, Satan does attack those who are suffering from depression, but as my counsellor confirmed, this was not the cause of my depression but merely one aspect of it.)
Because I suspected my suffering had a spiritual cause, I kept searching for a spiritual answer in the belief that such an answer would instantly set me free. I believed that if I were to just take one particular step of obedience, or make one significant change in my spiritual life, or find and repent of a hidden sin, the depression will go away. My exhausted mind kept searching for what was causing the suffering, and because my spiritual life mattered more to me than anything else, my mind latched onto a spiritual topic that troubled me. As I examined and debated that topic, I become convinced that it was the cause of my suffering, and in the end, that topic became an obsession that took over my thought life.
In my first session with my Christian counsellor, I shared with her my fear that it was God who was inflicting depression upon me. And she said, “We make the mistake in thinking that because our spiritual life is affected by depression, the cause must be spiritual. But this is incorrect; depression touches every part of us, so why do we think that it will not touch us spiritually?” She then reassured me of the truth - that God does not afflict depression upon anyone. Using God’s Word, she showed me that my fears were unjustified and helped me to find the correct, Biblical perspective on each of them. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5
For example, the symptom of depression that disturbed me the most was the complete lack of peace, which I erroneously believed to be God’s attempt to guide me. My counsellor confirmed that God does not take our peace away, but gives us a peace that transcends our understanding. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4:7 And also, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27
As depression dragged on, my diary entries also show me realising that there was much more to what I was going through than simply a spiritual problem, due to the host of physical, emotional and mental symptoms of depression that were afflicting me too. Yet even there, I kept looking for ‘the answer’ that would instantly set me free.
24th Sept 90 – (this was written after I knew what was wrong with me and how to recover.)
I can remember that amongst the bewilderment, some of the things I wondered were as follows:
since it was so physical as well as emotional, I wondered if it was caused by food allergies, so I considered seeing a specialist; I wondered if there was something wrong with my neck or back, so I was going to see a chiropractor; I wondered if it was caused by my car seat being set back, so I considered putting it forward; I wondered if it was caused by something being wrong with my eyes; and so on it went. Of course, none of these things had anything to do with what was causing the depression, but how was I to know? (These were all symptoms caused by the depression.)
I learned that there is no single ‘answer’ to be instantly set free from depression, and that it is not easy for us to determine what is causing it by ourselves, since we cannot think objectively while in the midst of it. That is why others, such as a doctor, minister, Christian counsellor/therapist, a wise Christian friend, and even a resource such as the book "Self Help for Your Nerves," can help us to wade through the bewildering mess to find out the causes of depression, and point us in the right direction to recover. In the end I learned that my depression had been caused primarily by genetic inheritance (both of my parents had suffered from it), however, many other factors contributed to its severity and duration: including undiagnosed complex partial epilepsy, chronic insomnia, working myself into the ground, poor diet and lack of exercise, a massive shock, faulty theology, etc.
Depression is a complex illness and normally needs to be treated, which may include medication and Biblical counselling/therapy. And like any illness, even with the correct treatment, recovery and healing is a process that occurs over time. And when the causes of depression and its associated fears/traumas have been dealt with and the fear-adrenalin-cycle has been broken, the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual symptoms will slowly reduce in severity and duration and eventually fade away. And our spiritual life will not only be restored, but can in fact be better than it was previously, as a result of the strengthening of our faith during the trial, as well as being set free from traumas/bondages from our past.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ James 1:2-4
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