PART 1: INTRODUCTION
1 Days of resurrection
Living through the darkness and shadows of depression can feel like living through our own personal experiences of the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha. We may know anxiety, fear and dread of what tomorrow might bring. We may have a sense of having been let down and betrayed by people we thought of as friends. What is happening to us is unjust and cruel. We look at the devastation of our lives and feel utterly abandoned and forsaken by God.
It can seem as if Easter Day will never dawn for us and we are condemned to live this half-life for ever without understanding why. We might ask, ‘What did I ever do that was so bad that I deserve to be punished in this way?’
The answer to that question is, of course, nothing. Depression is an illness that suffocates many, many people, and being a Christian certainly doesn’t make us immune to it. It’s a terrible thing to live with, terrible both for the person involved and for the people who love and care for him or her, but it’s never something we ‘deserve’ to suffer or a punishment of some kind.
2 What are we recovering from?
For now let’s just remind ourselves of some of the debilitating symptoms of depression and how these may have affected or disrupted our lives. Not everyone will have experienced all these symptoms but I suspect that most will recognize the majority most of them!
• Our mood was very low or flat. We weren’t able to enjoy things like we used to, laugh at comedy, get excited by an action film or care who won a sporting tournament. There was no joy, no warmth, no anticipation and no sense of purpose.
• Although we seemed to lose the ability to experience positive moods and emotions, negative ones remained and may have been very powerful: anger, fear, grief and any number of other destructive feelings may have been crowding our minds.
• Our sleep patterns were disrupted. We’d get to sleep quite quickly (maybe helped by medication) but we’d wake up early, somewhere around 4 a.m., and be unable to get back to sleep, our minds filled with negative and self-destructive thoughts.
• Anxiety and particularly low moods were often at their worst when we woke up and would completely overwhelm us before we had a chance to resist.
• Our eating habits were also disrupted. We might have stopped eating healthily and either lost weight or gained it by ‘comfort eating’.
• We couldn’t concentrate on anything like newspapers, books or television programmes. This might have made it even harder to make decisions and choices on comparatively minor day- to- day things like what to wear or whether to have a bath or a shower!
• Our self-confidence was shredded and we felt useless and bereft of our usual skills. This, combined with a sense of isolation and disconnectedness, made it very hard to socialize. We might have cut ourselves off from other people, even good friends.
• We were (and might still be) taking medication which itself can cause uncomfortable and unwanted side effects.
Any one of these symptoms would have been bad enough on its own. Experiencing all or most of them at the same time was overwhelming.
3 Where are we going?
Recovery doesn’t mean that life goes back to how it was before. For some of us the event or events that triggered an episode of depression may mean that it’s impossible for our lives to return to the same ‘normality’ we used to know. For example:
• We might be facing our future without someone special and precious to us.
• When a long- term relationship is broken, our view of life and the way we relate to others may undergo a radical change.;
• If we have been ‘made redundant’ (and how degrading and depressing those two words sound) we may need to think about changing direction, re-training or self-employment.
If we’d had a serious physical illness or injury we may have had to adapt to a significantly different lifestyle. The same principle applies when we suffer a serious mental illness. We may have to learn to adjust and to accept new limitations in what we can cope with physically and mentally in order to prevent further episodes happening.
4 The process of recovery
Most of the time we seem to travel painfully and slowly. We make progress but then fall back. In our minds we keep revisiting places many times as we go round and round in a loop that which seems to trap us into repeating the same mistakes and getting hurt by the same situations time and time again. But later the road of recovery becomes more like a spiral. We continue to revisit those places but it’s always at a different level with a different perspective, and we make progress in freeing ourselves from the traps.
During this phase of recovery we move beyond that earlier sense of helplessness and weakness. We begin to see hope and a rainbow ahead of us. We are ready to step out and start walking with a sense of purpose.
5 Where is God?
When I look back over those years when everything was so difficult and I was so unhappy and afraid, I see the whole experience as one long struggle to free myself from my past and from old ways of thinking and being that were no longer adequate or helpful.
I feel as if, like Jacob at the Jabbok River (Gen 32.22–-31), I was wrestling in the darkness that seemed unending against an unknown adversary who was almost too strong for me. I know that, like Jacob I sustained injuries in the struggle which cannot be completely healed. Like Jacob I needed to know what or who it was I was fighting and to reach some kind of resolution to our battle. I sense that I am coming out of that struggle with a new identity, just as Jacob did when his name was changed to Israel because he had ‘striven with God and with humans and (had) prevailed’.
I believe that all of us have our own struggles with God, but also that, even if it is with a limp or scarring from the fight, we can and will walk into the dawning of a new day with our new identity and our new relationship with him.