A Very Dark Room

“Must I then, indeed,  Pain, live with you

All through my life? –sharing my fire, my bed,

And, when I feed myself, feeding you, too?”

 Edna St. Vincent Millay

The critical issue many face is just trying to survive the next episode of depression or mania.  Somehow I think that cohabitating with something that is trying to kill you is especially disturbing.  Depression is my mortal enemy and here I am, giving in and actually allowing it to destroy me. How crazy is that?

In a way, it seems sinister, the hair-raising stuff of scary movies. It’s the parasite that makes its residence in the body of its host.  (It sounds like a storyline out of Star Trek.) Some of us get absorbed into a dark melancholy. We instinctively carry despair and despondency wherever we go. It’s hard, but I really believe it’s crucial for afflicted believers to begin to worship again (and again.)

I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit absorbs much of the venom Himself.

When my depression slumbers, life proceeds fairly well.  I can play with my kids, and be a good husband, friend, and neighbor.  Everything seems quiet and normal.  But when the dragon awakes, watch out, there’s going to be ‘hell to pay.’  There were many terrible, dark days that I simply couldn’t get out of bed. I was plagued with awful, dark thoughts. Meds didn’t seem to help me. I felt completely lost.

Depression might strike at any time, and exactly when, you can never be too sure. “How will I handle it next time? Will I be in shape for Christmas, or will I lose it again this year? I just don’t know.” That’s the depressive way. But you know, the Holy Spirit ministers yet, and He will touch my heart again. He gently cares for the depressed.

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,”

2 Corinthians 7:6

My wife and I were missionaries in Mexico for almost three years.  We lived in a “burnt out” and very small trailer, with very sporadic electricity, and no running water. We had a 55-gallon drum for our drinking water, and we tried our best to avoid the mosquito larvae. And part of that time we had to park on the slanted slopes of a volcano. I always wondered what we would do if it decided to erupt.

Sometimes it feels like that, I’m just waiting for the next flare-up of another bout of depression.

“You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!”

Psalm 139:5-6

I am glad that God decided to intervene in my life.  Without question, I need Him to watch over me. I have to believe that He will keep rescuing me over and over. As a believer in Jesus, I know he has put his hands on me.  He shields me from the dragon. 

I have to believe that he protects me from the worst of it.  The Holy Spirit absorbs much of the venom Himself.  I’m very glad that I belong to Him! My fear of a plummeting relapse is now His concern. I bear it no more. It is now His responsibility.

Your brother-in-arms,

Bryan 

 

You can check out my new website at alaskabibleteacher.com

 

Trapped in a Mental Illness

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“I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am like one without strength.”

Psalm 88:4

In May 2011, this is what I wrote–

“I feel like I am going through a meat grinder. Pushed against my will (and desire) I’m finding myself in a place I’d rather not be. My therapist confirmed today that I’m in a “mixed state” where bipolar mania and depression come together.  I suppose you might compare it to two massive ocean currents smashing into each other. In the midst of all this strange crap, I know that Jesus helps those who can no longer hold on by gritty determination.

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Severe depression, yes. But there is also the grandiosity that comes with bipolar. I believe that I think clearer, better, and faster than other people. It’s like I have superpowers.  I will think of myself as extremely gifted, superior to others.  I paint and write poetry and do “noble” things. (I’m working on jumping over buildings.)

But I also have tremendous anxiety, with racing thoughts, and even heart palpitations esp. when I am sitting trying to relax. I don’t sleep well at all, in spite of the sleeping pill, the Klonopin and the melatonin, and the Benadryl, (to make sure I do sleep.)

The endless cycle of feeling really good and then really bad is challenging. 

It’s difficult to have a regular walk of discipleship under these circumstances.  I think being starkly honest and broken over my own fallenness is the key for me. (Now if I can only remember this.)

I continue to take my meds like a good boy. But they don’t seem to work like they used to. I think they can’t handle this particular concoction of depression/mania.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting better, but I never seem to get well!

I know that I’m being blunt here. (Tact has never been an easy thing for me!) As I read I remember the struggle, and how I couldn’t see a way out. I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who led me when no one else could. 

I wrote this post some time ago and decided that it needed to repost.

I’ve been reasonably stable, and I’ve been in a better frame of mind for the last several months. I covet my time alone with God. He heals me. I’ve been captured by Jesus’ love; I know He shelters me with His love. I can live with that.

You must trust Him, and soak up His promises.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

Romans 5:6

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Proximity is Your Choice, So Choose

He is Faithful to You

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
 You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.”
 

“Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73, ESV

Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control. 

One patriarch in the Book of Genesis was told that “he was unstable as water.” And this pretty much describes me as I struggle with depression.  But the promise from Psalm 73 is for a continuous presence.  There is no flickering, no jumping about.  He is steady.  He does not flit or fluctuate. 

He is always, and forever, constantly, focused on you.

He provides guidance, free of charge.  We can experience many confusing days.  We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude.  It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts.  Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.

There is a realization in verse 25. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  This statement declares “point blank” who and what is real. Try reading this verse and emphasize the “you.”

The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places. 

This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’.  The writer is completely over with the things of this earth.  He desires only heavenly things, that which really comes after looking down the long corridors of eternity. He has made his choice. He will follow.

In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness. 

He understands the foolishness of his flesh.  He knows that he has been pathetic and spiritually feeble.  There is absolutely nothing he can do about this.  He has tried and tried repeatedly to change.  His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that pours out on him.  He holds on to nothing. He must stay under the faucet to survive.

But still, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart.  He has done this on an eternal level.  What this means is this:  He has touched me and by that touch has made me like Him. The rest of this Psalm extends and states certain things that the Psalmist has learned himself.

 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
   you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.”

   “But for me it is good to be near God;
   I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
   that I may tell of all your works.”

Psalm 73, ESV

God draws a person, but coming closer is also your choice.

The Psalmist sees that his “nearness to God is my good.”  He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that will be quite wonderful.  There is some effort that must happen.  So he makes God his refuge.  The Lord God is now a ‘bomb shelter’ or a covering for our souls.  He continues this process with a deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God.’

Depression: Some Questions

Here are things I’ve heard over the years that we must take a second look at. Here are some possible answers.

“There must be something wrong with your spiritual life.”

Yes, depression CAN be a result of sin. BUT depression is NOT always a result of sin! If it is, God will tell you loud and clear what the problem is. This saying piles on the guilt for the depressed Christian. It’s unlikely that their depression has a spiritual cause, and this implies that they are not good enough spiritually.  

“Repent and ask forgiveness for your sin!”

Depression is a result of sin, in that if there was no sin in the world depression wouldn’t exist. But then, neither would diabetes, cancer, or any other illness… Sin caused the world to be not-perfect, therefore illness exists. It’s a sin to be depressed, any more than it is to have any other illness. Depression can be used by God to encourage repentance, but in that case, it will be crystal clear exactly what sin you should repent of. If you don’t know or have just a vague sense of guilt, your depression is not the result of sin. 

You need to have more faith.”  “Have faith in God.”

Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” How much faith does it take to hold onto the Christian faith when emotions scream at you daily to give up, get out and turn against God? Very often a depressed Christian will be hanging onto faith by their fingernails in something that requires a ton of faith.  

“Taking antidepressants is playing God, He can heal you.”

Yes, God can heal. Sometimes he doesn’t just flick a switch to make the illness vanish, sometimes the healing comes through the conventional ways of doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, and medication. By persuading someone not to take their medicines in preference for a quick, supernatural healing that God may not have in store for them, the sufferer is being denied something that will help them, right now. 

“Scripture says everything that happens is for your own good!”

The actual verse found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This verse in no way implies that the sufferer should sit back and accept the illness for the rest of their life. It also does not say that illnesses are not to be fought with the intention of a cure. While God may well have things to do with a depressed person, the illness is not a good thing itself, and it may take years before you see positive results from it.  

“You’ve been prayed for, why has nothing changed?”

This can be expressed in several ways and spoken by one of two different groups of people: either the person who asked for prayer or those who prayed for them. We’ll break the underlying situation into two areas: something definite was experienced in the prayer time: chains were obviously broken and new freedom gained, or, nothing apparently happened at all. That is, “I know God set you free,” why aren’t you free yet?

“Depression is a self-discipline problem.”

Self-discipline is important to a Christian. We have to be disciplined enough not to break the laws of the land, and to obey our God. But no amount of discipline will get rid of a medical problem. This statement implies that the sufferer is lazy and could become better by sheer force of will. This is not possible and causes a lot of guilt.

“You’re depressed because you choose to be.” 

Why would anyone choose depression? It is hell on earth. It destroys everything it touches. Families, marriages, jobs, churches, and ministries- faith, peace, hope, and love. Depression corrodes all that it touches.

Does a diabetic or cancer patient choose their disease? Does the blind or the deaf person wake up in the morning and decide they aren’t going to keep being handicapped? These are the questions I would ask.

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“You just need to rebuke that spirit of depression and tell it to leave you. Don’t let Satan steal your joy.”

There are two problems with this statement. One problem is the assumption that depression is caused by demonic oppression. The other problem is the assumption that joy and happiness are the same things. Blaming a “spirit of depression” can be a wonderful cop-out. Just cast out the spirit and you’re cured! No need for long-term support, prayer, counseling, or anything at all! And with this statement comes the implicit assumption that once again it’s your fault you’re depressed, this time because you’re not “spiritual” enough to get rid of the troublesome spirit yourself.

Yes, it is possible that demonic oppression can cause depression. No, demons are not responsible for every case of depression. Imagine what would happen if this statement was directed at someone with cancer, hemophilia, or osteoporosis (“Just cast out that demon attacking your bones and be strong again! God wants to see you running marathons!”).

The second problem with this statement is that joy is equated with happiness. People with depression are not going to be the happiest souls in the church. I’ve heard it said that happiness depends on what happens, whereas joy can exist in very unhappy situations.

“There’s no such thing as mental illness, it’s all in your mind”

Saying this denies that there is anything actually wrong with the depressed person, and implies that they are just making it up. This piles on the guilt again! A mental illness can be defined as one that affects the mind; the brain is allowed to get ill, just as the liver and lungs are.

“It’s your own fault you’re depressed”

This is the kind of thing that Job’s “comforters” said, and it didn’t help then either. Bad things can happen to good people. Denying this hurts the sufferer.

“Pull yourself together”

If you’ve been trying, someone saying this to you comes across as “You haven’t been trying hard enough, do more, and more, and more until you get it right.” So back you go, pushing more and more, and still getting nowhere because you cannot pull yourself out of depression by your bootstraps, and you can’t fix a medical problem by force of will.

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