Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Depression, Momentary Elation, & Setting Realistic Expectations

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.

Psalm 23:1-3
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.


  1. They say in recovery programs that before entering a relationship, try two things first. Get a plant and keep it alive for one year. Then get a dog and keep it alive for one year. If the plant and the dog are still around after two years, then you can get a girlfriend or a boyfriend. I think the same principal could be applied to depression. If you have trouble keeping yourself alive, don't attempt to nurture anything else just yet. Allow yourself the freedom to move at your own pace and listen to yourself. Every bad day is an opportunity to have a good one tomorrow. As Dori says, "Just keep swimming."

  2. This is good advice for anyone, whether they suffer from depression or not. Waiting before acting out on a new idea is just darn good advice. But it is more than advice for those of us who live with bipolar, it is absolutely essential. You have made a good point. Some of the ideas that we get when manic will just go away if we wait. But oh the joy of the idea that just won't let go, the one that the Lord himself has planted. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Peter, I'm so thankful for this blog. It reminds me of where I have been, how the Lord sustained me, and how He still sustains me. Having been through depression and believing I was going mad, my heart goes out to those who suffer from it now.

    My son in law has just been diagnosed with depression after fighting going to the doctor for almost a year. His marriage to my daughter is very fragile at the moment, I'm praying that now he is on medication, she will begin to see his old self emerging.

    Thank you, Peter, for sharing your story so willingly. May the Father bless you as you continue to write for Him.

  4. Didn't know about the elation. Good advice here, as usual, Peter. Pic goes good with the scripture.

  5. That's what I tend to watch for when I am facing suicidal inmates who have a history of depression. They may act happy but I still send them for "Suicide Watch" knowing that it doesn't last long. I'm glad you talked about it. Because depression is not only "feeling low" as we know it. I love that Scripture you shared at the bottom of your post. That's what the Lord showed me when I was involved in a spiritual battle with my own family. He truly is our "Shepherd"...God bless bro. Peter.

  6. Carrie @ comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com
    You've made some excellent points about having a distorted self-perception when depressed. Although my depression was short-lived, I endured very strange thoughts about myself. My thoughts had a religious tone to them, so they were deceptive. I eventually confided in my husband and close friends the contents of my thoughts. Their "normal" thinking helped balance my depressed brain. After reading your post I have a clearer sense of WHY my mind was off-kilter.

  7. This is very interesting and relevant to me. I have seen in myself this tendency - that when I am most depressed/anxious, that is when I am often most inclined to make committments to church, family, etc. that I am not able to keep b/c of my lack of energy, etc. I don't understand why I do this but being aware of it is helpful and proactive. Also, I didn't know that the moments of elation are symptoms of the depression b/c they actually made me feel like maybe i was getting better but now I know not necessarily so. Thanks again for a great post!

  8. Thanks for sharing this practical advice, Sherry. And I'm a big Dory fan too, I love her one liners :)

    Hi Wendy, and thanks for sharing from the bipolar perspective, and for pointing out the joy when the Lord gives us an idea or vision - something that will not fade or go away, because He is behind it.

    Sorry to hear about your son in law, Lynne, I'm lifting up prayers. Hope the meds can help him to start to be himself again.

    Hi Mary, that's a photo I took in Halls Gap, where we went for a holiday last year. I have another photo of this lake where the water looks like a perfect mirror.

    Thanks for sharing Rosel, and for your ministry and the love and care you show to the inmates.

    You've made a great point there, Carrie. From what I've seen depression can hit Christians quite differently from unbelievers. It is hideously bad for both, of course, but Christians tend to have a host of fearful thoughts with a religious theme, that can be so deceptive and confusing.

    Hi Rose, understanding the way depression works and affects us can bring so much relief. Thanks so much for sharing what you've been dealing with too, and you are not alone, it is a road so many of us have travelled.

  9. Wow, that is insight I have never thought of or heard someone speak of before. Excellent, powerful wisdom that could only be from the Lord. Thank you!

  10. if god doesnt give us more then we can handle, then why do people commit suicide because of depression and anxiety

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Thank for your question, and to answer it one could no doubt write a thesis. Suicide is such a terrible, destructive thing. However, my firm belief is that if all born-again Christians were to keep their eyes fixed firmly upon Jesus, standing on His Word and promises, and therefore maintain their hope in Him, that suicide would never be an option.
      God bless

    2. The Bible states that we are never tempted more than, not given beyond what we can endure (without an out). That is always misread by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13 - "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." Though Paul has a better understanding of God's involvement with trials in 1 Corinthians 1:8-10, and I'll throw in 11 just for our advice - "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many." He just barely made it sometimes except with God's grace and many prayers!