What do you do when you’re down and troubled? Do you cuddle the dog? Do you put the TV on? Do you pop a pill or light a joint?
We’ve probably all had someone tell us when we’re down that there are people worse off than us. That’s supposed to cheer us up. But as a 20th century British comedian, Peter Cook, observed, that just makes us feel bad about the other people as well.
One thing that’s helped me in recent times of feeling down is facing up to the fact that I’m feeling down. And with it I’ve also found comfort in the fact, after all, that others are suffering. I’m not saying that it’s a good thing to suffer, and I’m not saying that we should wallow in our trouble, or that we should not cuddle the dog or do something to “shake out of it”. But there’s a very real sense in which knowing that humanity is born into trouble and suffering, and that just being alive exposes us all to the consequences of being in a fallen world of nature and people…is half of the cure. It’s normal. It’s not an aberration to be down and troubled: it’s natural. It’s part of who we are. It’s life. It’s reality. It’s what humans do.
The other half of the cure (the subject of the third part of my “dark side” series, still to come) is stated clearly in this New Testament quote from Jesus Christ:
I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33 NIV).
By facing up to the reality of our human plight, we can also find the answer to it, in Jesus Christ.
Sometimes the world can be very dark. You can have people around you but still feel lonely. You can feel like there’s nowhere to find relief: there’s no place to turn, no-one to call who cares or who understands. Even if there is, they may not be able to help. With over seven billion people, the world is a lonely place.
Where is God when you need him? Is he there? Does he care?
For some reason, God finds it necessary to sometimes allow us to suffer and to feel the pain of loneliness, despair and hopelessness.
Maybe he wants us to know how other people feel.
Perhaps he wants to break us.
Perhaps he wants us to know how his Son felt hanging on that cross, despised and rejected by men. Perhaps he wants us to get a little taste of the distance between he and his Son when, in those dragging hours, he had to turn his back – a separation even more unbearable than the physical pain of crucifixion.
Perhaps he wants us all to see and experience the cold stark reality of a world which collectively turns its back on him, which rejects his ways, fails to live in love, and serves self. Maybe this is the pain he feels when we distance ourselves from him.
So what do you do when you don’t feel loved? Do you think about yourself, or do you think about him?
People commonly use blogs to talk about their depression…
There’s something very therapeutic about writing and expressing hurts and emotions, and of course there’s always the hope that someone will understand and perhaps care a little bit.
(SPLINTRD “Alone on Parnassus”)
My motivation for discussing a struggle with depression here is firstly to observe and study myself (classic introversion eh?) and secondly to hope that I can help someone else understand their own problem more.
I must declare that I know I have a lot to be thankful for and joyful about. My faith is real, and I do believe that “the best is yet to be”. Much of the time I’m pretty “up” on life (because I’ve trained myself to be so) and I regularly thank God for what I have and for what I’ve had. But there are times when I sink into a deep, dark pit of emotion. It’s not a huge problem for me as it is for some: I can function normally, while perhaps just appearing to have got out of the wrong side of the bed that morning.
Before discussing my own experience there are one or two issues I want to briefly talk over.
DO REAL CHRISTIANS GET DEPRESSED?
I’ve met a few Christians who believe that “real” Christians don’t ever get depressed. Once you get filled with the Holy Spirit, says the theology, nothing will get you down. That little theory is easily shot down, because Jesus, having been filled with the Spirit at his baptism (and in fact filled from conception) was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 KJV). He “wept” when he beheld the tomb of Lazarus, a man he had known and loved, and he “groaned” within himself (John 11:35-58). He sweated drops of blood in Gethsemane.
The many causes of depression include the unavoidable. Such things as brain abnormalities or chemical imbalances are very real. People suffer some terrible losses, betrayals, setbacks, poverty, severe illness and pain. When sickness, disasters or trials come into our lives the real God does not expect us to jump for joy: he feels for us.
IS DEPRESSION SINFUL?
Is depression a sin? I think that much of the time it’s not, that is, when the causes are beyond our control. However, we can become depressed by failing to trust God, and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b). We can become depressed by living in opposition to holiness and obedience to our God. His ways and his commandments are designed for our optimum benefit, not to spoil our fun. Sin is forgivable, if we repent of it.
We humans, particularly those of us with a melancholy nature, are prone to wallow in our negativity. We really need to face up to the fact that this is destructive, it helps no-one, and it’s an insult to our God who wishes us to know his peace and joy.
IS SUICIDE A SIN?
Yes, suicide is a sin, because it’s a decision not to seek God’s deliverance or to trust him, or to accept his will in our lives, and it’s the taking of a life which only God has the right to take. However, sin is forgivable: suicide is not the unpardonable sin, though I would say it’s foolish, selfish, myopic, very sad, and very final.
IS DEPRESSION CAUSED BY DEMONS?
This can be akin to the “devil made me do it” excuse for things we do wrong in life, and I would say that the answer to this question is “rarely”. However, it is Biblical and it can happen. For an example read the account of Saul’s dark moods (1 Samuel 19:9-10).
In many ways depression is always a spiritual condition, because the mind and the spirit are inextricably linked. If you can just step back from your mood enough to observe yourself, you may detect-prayerfully-that it is totally without warrant or purpose. You may realize that the actions you have carried out or contemplated were completely unnecessary and perhaps bordering on evil. You need to repent and think God’s thoughts instead of the devil’s.
MY OWN DEPRESSION
I think I’ve managed to identify the things that cause my own depression. I list most them (not all) here in order of significance.
I feel like I’ve suffered from loneliness all my life. My Dad was a great Dad, but he was largely absent, partly because he worked nights fifty miles from home. My mother was a wonderful mother in many ways, but she almost never showed love or affection in the way I needed it, and while she was the only one at home with me, she didn’t chat with me: when she wasn’t cooking or doing housework she was preoccupied with the TV. All my siblings were older and I often felt like an only child. The loneliness I experienced as a child produced in me an insatiable craving for love and affection which has never been met.
The loneliness has continued to the present. I’m distinctly different to all the men I live among: they don’t understand me, and I have no intention of becoming what I am not in order to fit in. I live far from my roots and the friends I had in my youth, who are not Christians anyway and who are for the most part anti-Christian. Consequently I have no friends. I do have a wonderful, small nuclear family.
You can have people around you but still be lonely. People who talk at you rather than with you are no help, and I know plenty of those.
MY MELANCHOLY NATURE
My favorite book on depression was written by Tim La Haye (ask me for the title and I’ll get the info for you). In it he identifies four basic character types which reflect the nature humans are all born with in varying degrees and mixtures. I could clearly identify my own character type in his descriptions: I am predominantly melancholy. This doesn’t mean I was born incurably miserable and morose: it just dictates to a certain extent how I will naturally see the world and how I will interact with it. Each character type has its good and its bad traits, and unfortunately for me the melancholy has a tendency to get the blues easily, and to be overcome with negativity by imperfection which he detects everywhere he looks. The only remedy, says La Haye, is for the melancholy person to walk closely in and with the Spirit of God.
Nothing brings me down more effectively than fatigue. I’ve always known I needed more sleep than most people do, but for various reasons I never get the sleep I need. I work very hard physically, and I fill up my “free time” in all sorts of ways because I hate to sit around and “waste” time. Fatigue inevitably catches up with me. There’s particularly something about Sunday afternoons, when I don’t just get sleepy, I sink into a dark, hopeless feeling which doesn’t abate usually until I finally succumb to the need to crash (and to pray), and after a couple of hours I’m usually alright again.
THE FALLEN STATE OF THE WORLD
I came to faith in Jesus by discovering that the Christian Bible had a perfect explanation for the fact that life is not as it should be. We age, we get betrayed, bereaved and belittled. We get sick and we get abandoned, and all around us we see the same happening to those we love and to people all over the world. If we’d evolved we wouldn’t care: emotion is totally superfluous and detremental if we evolved. The current state of the world, both in human nature and in everything around us is far from what it was created to be. Some of us manage to face up to that fact, others bury it deep within themselves by any means possible: overwork, entertainment, relationships, booze, and so on.
The fallen state of the world has always been a cause of depression in me. As an unbeliever it produced in me hopelessness (if only in my sub-conscious mind), and as a Christian it causes grief and mourning (Romans 8:22-23).
I can only blame myself for failing to realize my potential in the things God gifted me with. I didn’t know my potential, I was lazy, I was over-modest, and I took far too many wrong turns due to poor decisions. When I became a Christian I stopped working with the talent I had because I thought it was what God would want me to do-a foolish, faulty and unnecessary decision. In consequence I haven’t achieved, I’ve worked in jobs which were demeaning to me, I lost the contacts and friends I had, and I’ve never been able to socialize with people on my own level or with my own tastes since. This has been an enormous source of depression for me.
My advice: use the talents and gifts God has given you, no matter what other people say, and pursue them with all your strength. If they fail, then-and only then-accept that as the will of God.
I’ve heard that even nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…
If there’s one Scripture verse I disagree with, it’s the one in which Solomon says:
“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
I understand that he probably meant there’s no point in dwelling on what’s past or in living in the past. But perhaps there are times when we should evaluate the reasons why what is happening now is not giving happiness and satisfaction, when what happened at a given time in the past did. In other words, perhaps we can improve things by looking at the past.
Anyway, I think it’s natural to look back at the good times, and I’ve had many wonderful and amazing experiences in my life which will never come back, and I loved family members who I’ve lost (especially my parents). I loved my country of origin, the UK, which has changed forever and no longer exists in the form I loved. These things sometimes haunt me and cause sadness or depression because they cannot be recalled or replaced. I’ve played in some great bands, visited some incredible places, enjoyed some tremendously stimulating company, all of which is in the past and not the present. When I think that I have no friends to inspire such times with now I can get depressed.
I am aware, however, that there are many more wonderful times happening now in my life which I will one day look back on and wish I could relive.
I’ve experienced some painful rejection in my past which I’ve never fully recovered from. I know that my God has said “I will never leave you or forsake you”, and I believe Him. I’ve forgiven those who I felt rejection by. But here I live on the earth, among fallen humans, and that rejection has left permanent scars on my mind.
This is Biblical and I know it affects me sometimes, perhaps in my very darkest moments which may not be easily attributed to anything else. If I sense an assault on my faith, my hope or my testimony, it may be a sign that I’m under spiritual attack from the enemy of my soul and my God.
The loss of friendship, culture and the pursuits of my “former” life has left me in a kind of limbo land, where the local church is, as far as I’m concerned, severely lacking in true fellowship and worship, and doesn’t at all replace the things I’ve lost.
My family gives me an enormous amount of pleasure now. Otherwise, I have to fight off the feelings of boredom, un-fulfillment, uselessness and lack of inspiration and stimulation. I’m no TV-addict. I have to work hard to entertain myself and keep myself motivated in life. If I sit around I can fall into depression, and I have a motto:
“Do something, do anything, but don’t do nothing”.
I suppose this takes me back full circle to the problem of fatigue…
I’ve made too many mistakes in my life, blown too many opportunities, and wasted too much time. I’ve hurt people and in turn rejected others who deserved my love and respect.
One of the ways to cure depression, so far as I can see, is to help other people with their problems. When you live life entirely for self you suffer for it. Giving joy provides a good return, if only in your sense of self-worth.
THE TIME OF YEAR/ THE WEATHER
Autumn is a sad time for me: spring is uplifting and cheerful. Wind causes me to feel very uneasy or even depressed. The origin of this response may date from my childhood, when at night as I lay in my bed the winds would whip around the house, make the guttering howl and rattle, and pass through the dark, cold house which was missing one Dad.
HUNGER/ LACK OF NUTRIENTS.
Just as “a hungry man is an angry man”, so, in my case anyway, a hungry man is an uneasy, unsettled and uncomfortable man. A good meal really settles my mood. Certain nutrients seem to help too, and I found that a good multi-vitamin with iron alleviated or lessened the frequency of some of my really deep moods. Alcohol lifts me up but only for a short time of course: it really isn’t a cure. I found wine to be particularly detrimental to my physical and mental well-being. Beer gives a more cheerful feeling-in small doses.
For more read my post “Vincent Van Gogh, God and Me”
Thanks for reading. I really hope my own observations are of help to you. And don’t forget-keep your chin up.