If you’ve missed any part of this series, click on any post directly below.
Part Two-My Storms in a nutshell
Part Four-More Depression
Part Five-Even More Depression
Part Six-Guest Post, Dan Blanchard
Part Seven-The Last Depression Post
Part Eight-Death of a Child
Part Nine-Death of a Child
Part Ten-Guest Post, Holly Good
Part Eleven-Death of a Child
Part Twelve-Death of a Child
Part Thirteen, Death of a Child
Part Fourteen, Death of a Child
Part Fifteen, Death of a Child
Part Sixteen, Conclusion
When It’s More than the “Blues,”
By Dan Blanchard, M. Ed.
A good friend of mine recently asked for prayers at the outset of our Bible class. His intent was to simply ask those who could, to remain after class and pray with him as he and his family face some of the more grim realities of our nation’s financial woes. He never got the request out of his mouth. In spite of his most valiant efforts, his tear-filled eyes and quivering lip betrayed the deep despair within—and after the third or fourth word broke utterly apart.
Chairs were unceremoniously pushed out of the way as two dozen of his brothers and sisters enveloped him in God’s grace and compassion. And we prayed with him right there on the spot. This was no time to “wait ‘til after class.”
What is this dark specter we call “depression?” Is it a product of psychiatric mumbo-jumbo fueled by the bottomless coffers of the pharmaceutical companies who love nothing more than to concoct a new “syndrome” or “disorder” just so they diagnose and medicate it?
Is it, as I hear all too frequently, some sign of spiritual weakness or lack of faith?
“Christians don’t get depressed. If they do, they’re just not trusting in God enough!”
I know that church folk like nice, neat, clean, uncomplicated answers to complex questions. How do I know? I am a “church folk.” And I hear far too many well-intentioned spiritual siblings stigmatize suffering saints needlessly. In some cases their own wives or husbands or children.
“But it’s a simple matter of…” (choose one): “digging in your heels,” “rolling up your sleeves,” “sucking it up,” (kind of an unsavory term when you think about it), “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” (I’m sorry, but what IS a “bootstrap” anyway?) or… “(insert your favorite lame cliché here _________.)”
I’m sorry, but it’s just not that simple. How I wish it was.
So did Sandy.
Sandy who? You know, the delightfully droll, keenly insightful author whose wonderful words usually occupy this space. “Who is this impostor?” you ask. I am none other than the aforementioned (see Part Four of this series)—drum roll please—“stinkin’ therapist.”
Depression is, sad to say, all too real.
“Well I Set My Sights on Monday, But I Got So…Depressed”
There are essentially two types that are labeled in a variety of ways. For our discussion we’ll call the first organically-based. There is no more complex organ among all of the complicated organs of the human anatomy than the brain. Its neuro-chemical fine-tuning coupled with the efficient “firing” of the brain’s neuro-transmitters help us stay emotionally-balanced. But when that delicate balance is compromised, a discrepancy (imbalance) can occur that leaves one anywhere from mildly discouraged to profoundly disheartened—this in spite of even the best of external circumstances.
This is why Sandy could describe herself as having the other pieces of her life as “intact: amazing church, healthy friendships, thriving marriage, physical fitness” and yet still be absolutely depressed.
Poorly firing neuro-transmitters and neuro-chemical imbalances don’t care about your great job or dream home or awesome church or model spouse, even if you’re life does happen to be blessed enough to boast all of those. This is the essence of real clinical depression: it has nothing whatsoever to do with external factors. It is physiologically-caused.
And heredity—a history of this emotional condition in one or more family members—is a common predictor. In such families, one may inherit a genetic predisposition toward depression (thanks, Mom and Dad!) And until those causes are identified, acknowledged and addressed, you may find little or no satisfaction in any area of your life, no matter how good it may be. And you may inexplicably experience tearfulness (no women, it’s not “just hormonal,” no matter how much your husband may insist otherwise) anger (yep, guys, I’m talking about you), isolation, restlessness or lethargy.
The second type I’ll refer to as situationally-driven. Its symptoms perfectly mimic those of full-blown clinical depression, but usually lack its organic factors. Examples would be profound grief following the death of someone we love, the wretched pain characteristic of a divorce, the despondency following the loss of one’s job or the emotional reaction following any unexpected significant set back in life.
It is that type of event that can totally derail even the best of us. (This newbie blogger also recognizes the reality of someone having one type upon the other…and then this happens, it may even totally disrupt the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe as we know it! Ok, not really, just wanted to see if you were still paying attention. But it can certainly feel that way.)
While space (and time) limitations won’t allow for much depth and detail, let me offer a few observations from one of the great men of the Old Testament who himself suffered a severe bout of depression.
On the very heels of his most memorable personal, professional and spiritual triumph (please read 1 Kings 18 for context), fell into a degree of despondency that was so acute, he asked God to take his life:
Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” (1 Kings 19:4, New Living Translation)
Note a few key factors highlighted above:
He tried to go it alone: When difficulties arose, including a threat against his life, he did the last thing he should have done: withdrew from everyone else in his life. While a perfectly natural human response, it simply served to reinforce and deepen his own depression.
God created humans for community. Seven times God expended creative energy, stood back and announced: “That’s good!” But there was one creation that, when God considered his handiwork, he lamented: “That’s not good.” When and for what reason did that happen? When God observed after speaking Adam into existence: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)
A human being left to himself or herself was never God’s will for our lives. A person in isolation is about as useful and content as one sock.
In contrast, the one phrase that best sums up how early Christians fared so well in the face of overwhelming challenges reads: “And all that believed were together” (Acts 2:43). When things are going against you, don’t avoid, but seek out others.
He was totally spent: He had done too much and gone too far. He was mentally and physically exhausted. With all the strength and vitality of a used tea bag. And in his incapacitated state, he “evaluated” his life and found it wanting. He speaks for many people you and I know today when his tired lips blurt out: “I have had enough!” He was sick and tired. And he was sick and tired of being sick and tired. And so he allowed himself to think the unthinkable: “I don’t want to live anymore.”
We were never meant for ceaseless, relentless, non-stop activity. One of the reasons why depression has become such a prominent issue in our culture is that we live in the land of “24/7.” There is always something to be done and we’re always supposed to be about doing it. Says who? Where’s THAT in God’s word? To the contrary, we were divinely designed to live life in rhythm, in a creative cadence, where there is rest, reflection, recreation built into the weekly cycles of our lives.
“You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but on the seventh day you must stop working. This gives your ox and your donkey a chance to rest. It also allows…you to be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12)
And this was not an option! Ask yourself: “When is my Sabbath?” “When do I schedule my down time? Or do I?” When you get to the place where you can fume: “I’ve had enough!” God is using your stress and fatigue to tell you something. And if we don’t listen, we’re setting ourselves up for a tailspin.
He had lost perspective: Because Elijah had sunk into an unprecedented dark place in his thinking that matched his surroundings (a cave.) And because he had taken the exact opposite measures he should have taken, he essentially “freaked out.” So, the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”
Like many of us, his facts were pretty much accurate, but his conclusion was messed up. It wasn’t even logical. Would the God who had freshly provided him the most decisive victory in his life abandon him now? Not hardly. But because Elijah had shut himself off from everyone and everything in his life that was important to him, no wonder he felt so sad and alone!
Ever done that?
So after being told to get some much-needed rest and to rehydrate and re-fuel (19:5-8) God gently, but firmly tells him: “I have 7,000 others who have not bowed down to the false god of your enemies. You are not now nor have you ever been…alone. Now let’s finish the job!” (From the DBV—Dan Blanchard Version, but hey, it’s basically what he’s told.)
Maybe, just maybe, you need to face the reality that you’re doing too much. That you’re not taking care of yourself. That it just feels like life wasn’t supposed to be this hard. But maybe you’re cutting yourself from critical sources of love, validation and encouragement. And maybe you’ve shut yourself up in a cave and wonder why it’s just so—dark.
But it is in a moment just like that when the gentle whisper of God can be heard (19:11-12)…and your very best and brightest days lay ahead.
This is Sandy speaking here. I just want to thank Dan for taking the time to guest post on my blog today. I knew he would deliver an informative and entertaining post–tastefully seasoned with God’s word. And he more than delivered. In the words of King James, He Rocketh.
We’ll continue this series on Wednesday.