'You Have Severe Drug-resistant Depression'
Before I begin I would like to say that our God is an amazing God, and this account is all due to His goodness, faithfulness and love.
I am now in my 60s. I came to faith when I was 13, on an Easter Day while on a Christian house party in the Isle of Wight, when God was the last thing I thought I needed. I had a Grammar School education and went to university, where I met my wife to be. After university we married and were blessed with two children. I had begun a career in teaching, and we had joined a good church. Then in my 30s following an illness and two years of struggling with post-viral fatigue, I went into depression and left teaching. After a time of recuperation, I managed to get back into work via agencies and adjust to my health situation to the point where I became employed on a permanent full-time basis. That was quite a landmark. Since then my (outer) life has gone on with its ups and downs but my primary focus has been an inner journey towards understanding and healing.
What has been my experience of depression?
Although it set-in during my 30s, I think my depression had some of its origins in a domestic trauma I experienced through the anger of my father in my late teens. What followed was a kind of PTSD reaction, and fear came into my life in a big way, with extreme fear/panic in certain situations, particularly mealtimes, if it happened to be anyone other than family, but also anxiety with regard to relating to other people in a social context. That was quite crippling. I was very confused at what was happening and why. I had strong feelings of self-hate and despising because my fear would make me adopt avoidance strategies and I felt cowardly for giving in to these fears and allowing them to influence my life so much.
Many a time I cried out to God, ‘Why, why, why?’ but the heavens seemed silent.
I wondered who I could talk to about it, but I always had the persistent thought, ‘No-one can help you.’ So I stayed in a confused, hopeless, frightened, anguished, solitary silence, with a fear of anyone seeing this fear and despising me as I did, and I learned to hide these and other negative emotions, particularly anger, and shut them away. Now I realise that what I was believing (that no-one could help me) was a lie which kept me in that anguished state in the ensuing years much longer than I needed to be.
The career of teaching I embarked on was not the right choice for me as it’s a very demanding profession if your heart isn’t in it. And my heart wasn’t in it. And although I ticked the boxes and performed fairly capably, it caused me considerable stress and performance anxiety which wasn’t helpful, plus a nagging feeling of guilt which I didn’t recognise at the time, at the hypocrisy of it all. I wasn’t being genuine. It was all an act, a pretence.
In my mid 30s I had an illness somewhat akin to glandular fever, which left me with a crippling post-viral fatigue, which wouldn’t go away, and compounded the fear, anxiety and stress I was under, and after struggling with it for two years, I suddenly clicked one Christmas into a severe, black, numbing depression, which put me as if in a different world to everyone around me, so near yet horribly distant. Sleep eluded me and as the days, then weeks went by, my fear, anxiety and insomnia grew to the point where in desperation I felt I had to take the medication I had been resisting up till then. Once that kicked in, my life stabilised but it was changed for ever. My health never returned to the point where I could return to teaching, so I resigned, and my career now became one of survival and making a life out of what I had left. I realised I had ‘burned out’, ‘had a breakdown’, and joined a nebulous and hitherto little known and understood stratum of society.
Along with my depression was to come over the years loss of (positive) emotion, a loss of purpose and ambition, impaired cognitive function, including difficulty making decisions and processing negative emotions, difficulty in concentrating, memory loss, fatigue and exhaustion, chronic anxiety, and very occasionally brief (thankfully) episodes of paranoia. At one point my depression was described as ‘severe drug-resistant depression’. So this has been my experience of the illness.
A big breakthrough came for me when I stopped thinking in terms of what I couldn’t do, and began to appreciate what I was still able to do. After leaving teaching my health stabilised to the point where I was able to find part-time work through an agency, then full-time work, and after nine years a permanent position in a modest and low stress office job, in which last year I achieved a 15-years’ service recognition award. That was a special moment.
What has been my experience of depression as a Christian?
Being a Christian has been a key factor in this. I said earlier I came to faith at the age of 13 and it is that I believe that has held me on course through life when so much was turbulent, like a compass on a ship in a storm when the sails have been torn away. I am so grateful that there was instilled in me at that young age the belief in the necessity and discipline of a daily quiet time, membership of a church fellowship, and a Christian wife. Those things and the grace of God have brought me to where I find myself today. There have been times when one or two of those three aspects have gone down, but the third has always held fast. If I hadn’t come to faith when I did, I dread to think how my life would have gone and where I would be now, if here at all. So I thank God for that faith and His faithfulness to me.
Is there such a thing as a faithful response to depression for a Christian?
In a sense my experience illustrates the ‘house built on the rock’ principle, in that I was established in the faith with a Christian wife and secure in a good church when the storm of depression struck, and those factors together have helped hugely to ‘hang in there’ and make a faithful response, stay on track and be where I am today. However it has been a long, slow process, 25 years to date, but then whichever path you find yourself on in life will be a long learning and at times testing process.
My most dramatic illustration that comes to mind when thinking of a ‘faithful response’ happened after my lowest ever point in it all when I was taken by a resolve to end my life and I found a secluded spot and took a serious overdose of medication. By God’s grace I was found and I survived. After three months in a secure psychiatric unit I returned home to continue my recovery. I had 3 more months of feeling not fully there or sentient, but God quickened a scripture to me that helped me through that time - Psalm 23 ‘He restores my soul.‘ There was a return to church and normality and at some point I realised I needed to restore my daily quiet time with God. So I started my days seeking Him.
Looking back that was a key moment. Eight months after my overdose I reverted back to ‘me’ again, which was a huge relief, and I was able after that to return to work building up to full-time fairly quickly. My chronic anxiety however continued and brought me to crisis point, and I realised that my life was not actually fully surrendered to God and that there were things I needed to bring into the light. I found an older Christian and shared with him. He prayed with me and saw me through this crisis time and life went on. I received ministry and prayer through the church and my minister too.
Then one morning in my quiet time as I was meditating in God’s goodness and all that He had done for me, I was suddenly overtaken by an overwhelming sense of God’s love for me which grew and grew to an almost unbearable point where I knew in an instant that if it increased further I would leave this life and body and be no more. I couldn’t contain deep groans and tears of joy at what I was experiencing, which brought my wife rushing down in alarm from the bedroom to find me lying on the floor sobbing, ‘It’s true, it’s all true. God loves me, God loves me, God loves me.’ After an hour or so of that I simply had to come back to reality and realise I had to get myself to work(!), and off I went very red eyed but with a wondrous sense of joy and newness that just went on and on. This intense experience of God’s love changed my life and was to last for the next three years, only gradually decreasing as time went on.
What I had done I believe by bringing what was hidden in my life to light was to make room for an experience of God and His Spirit that I had always sought, but which had always eluded me. To put it another way, in order to bring some new ‘furniture’ into the ‘house’, one has to make room by clearing out the old. And God is just waiting for that moment. His promise is there. It just took me rather a long time to come to it, like the children of Israel entering the Promised Land. But praise God I have now crossed my ‘Jordan’ and am fighting battles* to possess the land promised to all those who love and serve the Lord and are who redeemed by his blood.
So to answer the question I would say, yes, there is a faithful response to depression, but God by His grace has to bring it about in us. Grace is simply the empowering presence of God.
* For example I had one almighty 3-day battle with anger, which threatened to destroyed my mind, but God gave two scriptures which put a sword in my hand and enabled me to come through to victory.
Why am I sharing this?
While I have not yet reached my destination, (I am still not completely off medication for example), God has been good and He has done amazing things along the way. It’s been a huge inner learning curve, and there was much to unlearn before the learning began. On the outside I had everything going for me in life, but inside, emotionally I was damaged, illiterate you might say, and there has been much to learn and understand. My outer career ended, but this inner journey became, and still is, my ‘career’. I know more about this condition now than when it first happened. I am also satisfied now that I know how and why it happened. God has brought much insight and healing along the way. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate Counsellor and opened up God‘s Word to me as well as speaking directly into my spirit in those early days of His anointing to give insight and understanding which has continued on. As a result I am happier and more content now than I have been for many years.
I do believe God heals instantly and that is the kind of healing I think I have always looked for, but I now know that if He had healed me in this way I would have learned nothing. I would not have known how to hang onto my healing and could well have regressed due to old thought patterns, attitudes etc. Old wineskins would not have been able to contain the new wine of healing. What God has done is to do a gradual work of healing, no less a miracle, so that as I retake lost ground I hold onto it. Looking back now I can see this, and so I can trust Him to complete what He has gloriously begun. And I believe if God can do it for me, He can do it for others.
So God bless you, especially if you are a sufferer.