Friday, October 10, 2014

Dealing with Panic Attacks

What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack (also known as an anxiety attack) is a relatively brief episode of intense fear that comes on suddenly, where the person is both terrified of the physical symptoms that are afflicting them as well as by the associated fears that either triggered or accompanied the attack.

A panic attack typically lasts for at least ten minutes but can stretch on for much longer, even hours or days if cyclic in nature. Cyclic panic attacks are where a person is subject to a continuous cycle of attack after attack, with a new attack triggering even as the previous one is fading away.

The fears associated with a panic attack are strongest when the attack begins. These fears demand our attention, yet the more attention we give them – the more we fear them - the greater they become. Fighting, arguing with, fearing or trying to flee the panic attack and its disturbing symptoms causes negative adrenalin to flood our being. This in turn causes even greater anxiety and even more disturbing sensations to afflict us during the attack.

In my case, a typical panic attack included an increased heart rate, flushed face, increased temperature, shortness of breath, chest feeling constricted, a complete lack of peace, and an intense churning/discomfort in the stomach. These physical symptoms were accompanied by a terrifying fear that was so vivid and threatening that I would often ‘scream’ in my mind. Many sufferers wail or scream quite loudly during an attack.

What triggers panic attacks?

A panic attack can be triggered by an extremely stressful or fearful situation, or even by an exceptionally terrifying fearful thought. Subsequent exposure to the same situation or fearful thought may trigger further attacks. Being afraid that another attack may come increases the likelihood of them striking again.

The stress of trying to making an important life decision can also trigger a panic attack. (See below for how this can affect Christians in particular.)

Panic attacks can even trigger without a cause, however, in these cases, the mind typically searches for a reason for the attack, and may latch onto a fear which then becomes the associated fear for that attack. It is typical for the mind to latch onto a fear that has terrified the person in the past.

A mind prone to anxiety is the perfect seedbed in which a panic attack can take root and flourish. Some people by nature have a sensitive nervous system, which can be due to past or recent traumas or even due to genetic inheritance. However, those suffering from depression are especially susceptible to panic attacks as their minds are locked in a state of constant anxiety.

1 Peter 5:8 is a perfect description of how panic attacks operate. 'Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’  Although Satan has been defeated by Christ’s victory on the cross, he masquerades as a roaring lion and tricks people into believing that panic attacks have real power and can devour them, when in fact they have no power at all.

Dealing with Panic Attacks

In late July, 1990, I read ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ by Dr Claire Weekes, which taught me all about the ‘fear-adrenalin-fear cycle,’ (1) and how the more we fear, flee or fight panic attacks, the worse we become as the additional adrenalin produced prolongs symptoms and produces more disturbing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual sensations. It is a very vicious cycle.

To recover from panic attacks we need to break this cycle.

Break the Panic Attack Cycle using the AWARE Technique:

A- Accept the panic attack. Do not fear it or fight it. Fearing or fighting it just makes it worse. Just let it be there for now, like background music. Do not be afraid that you may have more panic attacks in the future. Let them come.

W- Watch the panic attack, by rating it right now on a scale of 1 to 100, 100 being the worse it has ever been in the past, and 1 meaning it has gone. Remember all anxiety attacks follow a pattern in that they increase to a peak and then decrease and stop. So do not be alarmed at its intensity during its worse phase. It will pass.

A- Act normal Carry on as normal. If you are currently engaged in an activity, concentrate on that activity. Otherwise, find something constructive to do, such as going for a walk, weeding the garden, washing the car. If you stop being active and focus on the panic attack and the fearful topic associated with it, it will suck you in and it will get temporarily worse. However, if you carry on as normal, choosing to focus on something else, the panic attack will start to fade.

R- Repeat Let time pass and keeping repeating the above three steps until the panic attack has faded away.

E- Expect Expect the best and remember that this panic attack will end soon just like all the previous ones did. Furthermore, expect each future attack to reduce in severity and duration, the more times you react to them with the AWARE technique. Eventually, you will no longer fear them and will be able to nip them in the bud before they start.

To help with future attacks, write this on a card or print it out and keep it in your wallet/purse:

A- Accept the panic attack. Do not fear it or fight it.

W- Watch the panic attack, by rating it right now on a scale of 1 to 100.

A- Act normal Carry on as normal. Do not stop being active and therefore focus on the panic attack.

R- Repeat Keeping repeating the above three steps until the panic attack has faded away.

E- Expect Expect the best and remember that this panic attack will end.

(These steps are a practical application of Bible verses Philippians 4:12-13, John 14:1, James 1:2-3. If you would like to read further Bible verses to deal with panic attacks, ie, that illustrate the above technique, please read this post, Breaking Depression's Fear Cycle.)

After I read ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ whenever a panic attack hit me, I said to myself: “Peter, you're having a panic attack. Don't fight it or fear it, just accept it, and learn to live with it, don't debate it and argue with it, and let time pass, and it will fade.”

To my amazement, the above technique worked, as it broke the fear-adrenalin-fear cycle. First the intensity of the attacks reduced, then their frequency grew less, and finally I found that in most cases, I was able to nip the attack in the bud before it could take off.

Another thing that can help when afflicted by an annoying re-occurring panic attack is to share the panic attack topic or fear with a wise Christian friend, so that we can get a fresh, healthier perspective on the issue. Although a fearful thought may seem larger than life to us, our friend will see right through it. In this case, trust their perspective, not our own fearful one. (A word of caution, it is not wise to continually run these fears past our friends, as this will not only drive them crazy, but in time we need to learn how to find a fresh perspective ourselves from prayer and Bible study.)

Another small note: if you suffer from panic attacks and you simply cannot put into practice the steps I have outlined above, I recommend seeing a doctor. If the doctor recommends anti-depressants and professional counselling, consider the advice carefully. Anti-depressants dull the effects of depression and panic attacks and this is a huge help in overcoming them. (See my entry, Depression, Christians, and Anti-Depressant Medication.)

2 Timothy 1:7 ‘For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.’ (Amplified Bible)

Panic Attacks and Christians

Unfortunately, for some Christians, a panic attack caused by the fear of making the wrong life choice has another insidious dimension to it. Since they cannot control it or make it stop, and because it is accompanied by a distinct lack of peace, they erroneously misinterpret the panic attack as God guiding them. A common expression not found in the Bible is, “Let the peace of God guide you.” It embarrasses me to admit that for many years I thought panic attacks were God guiding me.

Mistaking panic attacks as being God’s guidance actually makes the panic attacks worse, as such Christians in their eagerness to obey God are (unnecessarily) terrified of disobeying Him. A verse which used to torment me when I resisted and fought against a panic attack was 1 Samuel 15:22 “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD. To obey is better than sacrifice.” As I drew closer to depression as 1989 wore on, I had an attack and lost my peace every time I was faced with a major decision. Every time I tried to take a step forward, an attack (which I misinterpreted as God’s guidance) would send me reeling two steps backwards. In the end, I was too scared to make decisions any more. 18/2/1990 – I’m scared to commit to anything, such as joining a new church, getting a girlfriend, buying a computer, etc, in case He says no. It’s got to the point that I won’t do anything in case God says 'no.'

Can you imagine the relief I felt when I discovered that panic attacks were not God’s guidance, and that ignoring them was not disobeying Him?

The most bewildering aspect of mistaking panic attacks as God guiding us is trying to work out exactly what God is trying to say (since He is not actually saying anything). When severely depressed I was frequently afflicted by cyclic panic attacks over a period of months. These were associated with a large range of fears, most telling me that I was supposed to be doing this or that. Here is a diary entry showing the exasperation I felt at that time.

15/3/1990 – I feel like saying, “What sort of God are You to do this to someone, and why don’t You speak clearly? All You have to do is speak to me or give me a vision, etc, and I’ll obey, but what is this ‘Guess what I’m saying with the hit and miss affair [when I take away your peace to guide you.]’ ”

Before I became depressed, one thing that reinforced my belief that losing my peace due to a panic attack was God’s voice, was that every time I gave into the panic attack fear, the attack ended and my peace returned immediately. For example, once I was about to leave my job, enter part time ministry and look for a part time job. The massive panic attack which followed ceased as soon as I decided to turn down the offer for part time ministry and remain at my job.

However, when I became clinically depressed, giving into a panic attack and doing what it appeared to be 'saying' no longer stopped the attack. The attack just kept coming back, normally by switching immediately to another fearful thought, or topic. This was because while suffering from depression, we are in a state of constant anxiety. This was when I got my first real clue that the attacks and the lack of peace were not God’s attempt to guide me, but something else. Being convinced of this was another matter entirely.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32

Finally in April 1990 I saw a Christian counsellor. She told me that I was suffering from depression, and assured me that the panic attacks and lack of peace were NOT God attempting to guide me. She said that I had been placing my trust in following a lack of peace as guidance – “It’s always worked before” – instead of in Him. Through her counselling, prayer and Bible study, the Lord taught me the following truths, which set me free from the erroneous belief that panic attacks were God guiding me.

Isaiah 9:6 ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Jesus is the Prince of Peace, not the Prince of a lack of peace.

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” It does not say “My lack of peace I give to guide you.”

John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

So if the Bible does not say, “Let the peace of God guide you,” what then does it say should guide us?

Psalm 119:105 ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.’

Proverbs 3:6 ‘in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.’

James 1:5 ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.’

In conclusion, we need to make our life decisions prayerfully, with wisdom based on God’s Word, and we need to do so while dwelling in His peace with an untroubled heart.

A small footnote here. Our heart can of course be troubled without suffering a panic attack – our heart can be troubled by a great number of things. For example we may have agreed to take on one too many jobs, causing such stress that we cannot relax or sleep properly. To reduce our workload here would be the wise choice. This is a case of noting the warning signs of our mind and body and taking appropriate action.

If we are feeling pressured, rushed, or stressed out by any circumstances, we need to step back, meditate upon God's Word, pray and seek His guidance. In such times, we need to wait upon Jesus to receive His rest for our soul. Matthew 11:28. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Now although I was relieved to know that the panic attacks were not God guiding me, the attacks continued relentlessly and with almost as much power. My nervous system was still exhausted, and I was still reacting to the attacks in the wrong way - by fighting and fearing them. Freedom from the panic attacks came when I read “Self Help for Your Nerves,” as I mentioned above.

(1) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p10.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Breaking Depression's Fear Cycle

In the previous article, (Learning to face distressing symptoms instead of dreading them) I discussed the importance of facing depression’s distressing symptoms rather than fearfully shrinking from them, as explained by Dr Weekes, 'I have no doubt that you are tensely shrinking from the feelings within you and yet, are ready to “listen in” in apprehension?...Now examine and do not shrink from the sensations that have been upsetting you. I want you to examine each carefully, to analyse and describe it to yourself...Do not tensely flinch from it. Go with it. Relax and analyse it…Now that you have faced and examined it, is it so terrible?' (1) That is, although we are initially convinced that we cannot possibly live or function while these symptoms rage within us, the fact is that after we have faced them, we realise that we can still live and function with them.

Once we have faced those symptoms and robbed them of their power, the next step is to put into practise a technique that will break depression’s ‘fear-adrenalin-fear cycle,’ as Doctor Weekes calls it.

The Fear-Adrenalin-Fear Cycle

The cycle works like this: we react to depression by fearing, fleeing or fighting it. These reactions cause too much adrenalin to flow, and it is this adrenalin that causes depression’s symptoms. We are so desperate to get away from these symptoms that we fear, flee and fight even more, which in turn produces even more adrenalin, which prolongs symptoms and produces new, even more alarming ones, which we fear, flee, and fight, and the cycle continues.

It is crucial that we recognize that it is this cycle that causes depression’s disturbing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual sensations/symptoms, and that by breaking that cycle, we can eventually be free of them.

Below I outline a system that can slow and eventually stop that excessive flow of adrenalin. The system is simple and presented quite clearly in God’s word, yet it is so ‘unnatural’ that it does not occur to us when lost in a state of anxiety. (The natural reaction to depression is to fear, flee or fight the symptoms.)

How to Break the Fear, Flight, and Fight Cycle:
1. Accept each of depression’s symptoms as being part of our life, instead of fearing, fighting or fleeing them
2. Learn to live with the symptoms as part of our life as if they were background music
3. Let time pass while trusting that God is in control (2)

Our first reaction to these steps could be, “But I don’t WANT to learn to live with these disturbing sensations - I want them to go away!”

And there lies the irony of it all. It is only when we accept those sensations, learn to live with them, and let time pass, that the flow of adrenalin begins to diminish, as it the very reaction of desperately wanting them to go away that makes them worse. And as the flow of adrenalin diminishes, the symptoms lose their intensity, shorten in duration, and slowly begin to disappear. Accepting them instead of fearing or fighting them is the way to make them go away.

The Bible teaches us time and again that we should not be anxious, and it is not just because anxiety is the opposite of peace and trusting in God, but because God knows just how much fear and anxiety harms us. Here are scriptures that illustrate this technique of breaking the fear cycle by accepting, being content, and letting time pass.

Here are some reflections in my diary about putting this technique into practice:

Verses for Acceptance:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. James 1:2-3

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

Verse for Learning to Live with the Symptoms:
‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’ Philippians 4:12-13

Verses for Letting Time Pass while Trusting that God is in Control:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” John 14:1

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6:25,27

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5.

While I was depressed, although I knew the Bible said I should not fear, should be content, and should rejoice in the midst of my sufferings, trying to put this into practice through sheer will power alone did not work. However, once I understood that putting those Bible verses into practice would break the fear-adrenalin-fear cycle, those verses suddenly came alive to me, causing hope to spring forth like spring rains after a drought.

It Takes Time for a Nervous System to Heal

Note that breaking the flow of adrenalin does not happen overnight, it is a gradual process that occurs over time. However, my life is a testimony to the fact that it does happen. Dr Claire Weekes says, “Accept it [the symptom] as something that will be with you for some time yet – in fact while you recover – but something that will eventually leave you if you are prepared to let time pass and not anxiously watch the churning during its passing. But do not make the mistake of thinking that it will go as soon as you cease to fear it. Your nervous system is still tired and will take time to heal, just as a broken leg takes time.” (3)

It is important that we keep ourselves busy as we let time pass while our nervous system slowly starts to heal. We need to go out of our way to find engaging, constructive activities and hobbies that interest us. Physical exercise, such as swimming, aerobics, circuit, walking or jogging, can also be of great help.

Within two months of reading “Self Help for Your Nerves,” a significant number of my symptoms, especially the physical ones, had greatly reduced in severity or ceased altogether. Over the next six months, I joined a new church, became a musician in a home group, started teaching Sunday School, and engaged in normal social activities again. Some symptoms took longer to fade away than others, but by reacting to them in the correct way, they no longer had the same power or intensity as I no longer feared them. Some symptoms, especially the mental ones such as panic attacks, lasted longer, but in time, they too faded away. Counselling was a crucial step in helping to deal with these, by helping me to retain my thought processes and gain new Biblical perspectives on the things I feared.

While stuck in depression, we think we have no future and no hope, but that is a lie from the kingdom of Satan, for in Christ we always have hope and a future. "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9.

Hope enters our lives again when we know it is only a matter of time, whether weeks or months, or in the case of some symptoms, years, for our nervous system to recover from this cycle. After reading “Self Help for your Nerves,” my diary entries went from being bleak and full of despair, to containing hope, like this entry:

28th July 1990 -
This book has taught me how to react so that the merry go round will be stopped. And it’s teaching me how to react whenever it strikes again in the future.

The Importance of Surrender

To recover from depression we need to surrender every aspect of our life, including our desires and will, to Jesus. Romans 8:28 assures us that God is trustworthy and can bring good out of any situation. ‘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.’

We sing, “All to Jesus, I surrender,” but do we really surrender everything? (I am pointing a finger at myself here too!) For when a storm of life comes along, instead of surrendering every aspect of the situation, including our desires, to Him, we typically react by fearing, fleeing or fighting - because we do not want to be where we are. Yet, by reacting like this, we make the suffering worse as this causes more adrenalin to flow.

Even in the midst of the storm called depression, when we accept what we are going through instead of fearing, fleeing or fighting it, when we learn to live with it, and let time pass, we can find rest and experience inner peace again. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28.

(1) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p21.
(2) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p19. Note, Dr Weekes includes 'floating' as a step in the treatment technique, whereas I wrote 'learn to live with it.' In my case I found the 'floating' concept hard to grasp, but easily related to that step (or my interpretation of it) when I thought of it as 'learning to live with it.'
(3) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p22.

All verses from NIV.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Depression and the Search for an Instant 'Answer’

Depression was the most confusing and bewildering experience of my life. I did not know what was wrong with me or what was causing it, and spent countless hours searching for that cause. I truly believed that if I could pin down the cause, I would find an ‘answer’ or solution that would bring instant recovery from the multitude of symptoms that assailed me.

6th January 1990 -
I am a mess and I still don’t know why. I see several possibilities as to what is happening to me:
a) I have suffered a major burnout…if this is correct, for the next six to twelve months I will run around looking for ‘the answer…’
(I had suffered an undiagnosed minor depressive episode in 1986 and spent the whole time doing exactly that.)
b) I need deliverance from something inside me or from a major external attack;
c) I need deep inner healing or renewing;
d) that maybe God is telling me that my Christian walk is unbalanced..."
e) that the enemy has developed a strategy of throwing doubts at me, which I analyse to the point that it destroys that area of my faith.
g) or maybe a combination of the above.

I have many such entries in my diary, written before I was diagnosed with depression by a doctor and a Christian counsellor. These entries reveal that I often feared that the intense suffering I was going through was caused by spiritual causes and required only a spiritual solution. It is common for Christians suffering from depression to suspect this, since their spiritual life is so clearly off balance. Because of this, they may find themselves asking questions like these: “Perhaps God is not the centre of my life like He should be? Perhaps this suffering is caused by hidden sin in my life? Perhaps I am unwittingly living in disobedience to God? And if any of these are indeed the case, has God has inflicted this suffering upon me to punish or discipline me?”

Some Christian circles also view depression as just a spiritual problem that requires only a spiritual solution. Some tell depression sufferers that they just need more faith, or to read the Bible and pray more, or to rebuke the enemy - that it is nothing more than a concerted spiritual attack. (And yes, Satan does attack those who are suffering from depression, but as my counsellor confirmed, this was not the cause of my depression but merely one aspect of it.)

Because I suspected my suffering had a spiritual cause, I kept searching for a spiritual answer in the belief that such an answer would instantly set me free. I believed that if I were to just take one particular step of obedience, or make one significant change in my spiritual life, or find and repent of a hidden sin, the depression will go away. My exhausted mind kept searching for what was causing the suffering, and because my spiritual life mattered more to me than anything else, my mind latched onto a spiritual topic that troubled me. As I examined and debated that topic, I become convinced that it was the cause of my suffering, and in the end, that topic became an obsession that took over my thought life.

In my first session with my Christian counsellor, I shared with her my fear that it was God who was inflicting depression upon me. And she said, “We make the mistake in thinking that because our spiritual life is affected by depression, the cause must be spiritual. But this is incorrect; depression touches every part of us, so why do we think that it will not touch us spiritually?” She then reassured me of the truth - that God does not afflict depression upon anyone. Using God’s Word, she showed me that my fears were unjustified and helped me to find the correct, Biblical perspective on each of them. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

For example, the symptom of depression that disturbed me the most was the complete lack of peace, which I erroneously believed to be God’s attempt to guide me. My counsellor confirmed that God does not take our peace away, but gives us a peace that transcends our understanding. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phillipians 4:7 And also, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

As depression dragged on, my diary entries also show me realising that there was much more to what I was going through than simply a spiritual problem, due to the host of physical, emotional and mental symptoms of depression that were afflicting me too. Yet even there, I kept looking for ‘the answer’ that would instantly set me free.

24th Sept 90 – (this was written after I knew what was wrong with me and how to recover.)
I can remember that amongst the bewilderment, some of the things I wondered were as follows:
since it was so physical as well as emotional, I wondered if it was caused by food allergies, so I considered seeing a specialist; I wondered if there was something wrong with my neck or back, so I was going to see a chiropractor; I wondered if it was caused by my car seat being set back, so I considered putting it forward; I wondered if it was caused by something being wrong with my eyes; and so on it went. Of course, none of these things had anything to do with what was causing the depression, but how was I to know?
(These were all symptoms caused by the depression.)

I learned that there is no single ‘answer’ to be instantly set free from depression, and that it is not easy for us to determine what is causing it by ourselves, since we cannot think objectively while in the midst of it. That is why others, such as a doctor, minister, Christian counsellor/therapist, a wise Christian friend, and even a resource such as the book "Self Help for Your Nerves," can help us to wade through the bewildering mess to find out the causes of depression, and point us in the right direction to recover. In the end I learned that my depression had been caused primarily by genetic inheritance (both of my parents had suffered from it), however, many other factors contributed to its severity and duration: including undiagnosed complex partial epilepsy, chronic insomnia, working myself into the ground, poor diet and lack of exercise, a massive shock, faulty theology, etc.

Depression is a complex illness and normally needs to be treated, which may include medication and Biblical counselling/therapy. And like any illness, even with the correct treatment, recovery and healing is a process that occurs over time. And when the causes of depression and its associated fears/traumas have been dealt with and the fear-adrenalin-cycle has been broken, the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual symptoms will slowly reduce in severity and duration and eventually fade away. And our spiritual life will not only be restored, but can in fact be better than it was previously, as a result of the strengthening of our faith during the trial, as well as being set free from traumas/bondages from our past.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ James 1:2-4

Download an ebook on depression, ie, this blog's articles

All verses from NIV.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Depression: Good Days and Bad Days

Many if not most places in the world have fairly predictable weather. My wife is from Japan. A rainy season of twenty to thirty days of rain occurs every June, and every summer has a withering string of at least forty hot, humid days.

When someone who is used to consistent weather patterns migrates to the city of Melbourne (where I live) they are in for a bit of a shock.

We Melbournians patiently endure the cold days of winter while eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring and warmer weather. Spring finally arrives and with it comes a string of warmer, sunny days.

New comers rejoice, thinking that winter is finally over and that warmer weather has arrived!

But then without warning the warm spell vanishes, replaced by a cold snap akin to a typical winter day. Those new to Melbourne are caught unawares by this sudden return to the cold. Dressed in thin summer clothes, they shiver and often contract colds or worse. By rights, November, the month proceeding summer, should be nice and warm. Yet my grandmother, who migrated to Melbourne from Queensland, termed September to November the 'pneumonia months,' since these unexpected cold snaps caused so many illnesses.

In contrast to newcomers to Melbourne, the locals expect these abrupt changes in the weather. Throughout spring and even during December, we keep a jacket handy. If the weather turns suddenly cold, rather than be surprised and caught out, we don the jacket and stay warm.

Recovering from depression can be very much like Melbourne’s weather. Depression begins with a frigid, cold winter of despair and black hopelessness. Then as we begin to recover, it is similar to entering spring, and finally summer, or complete recovery.

Speaking from my own experience, once we start to feel better and realize we are improving, we may entertain thoughts such as, “that's it, I'm on the road to recovery, only clear sailing from here on it.”

Unfortunately, if we think this way we set ourselves up for a fall. Because like Melbourne’s spring weather, even when we begin to feel better, depression still has those cold snaps, those bad days, which can catch us completely by surprise – unless we are expecting them.

That is the theme of this article – even when on the road to recovery we need to maintain realistic expectations and expect bad days or periods to afflict us from time to time. Otherwise when they come, we may become shocked, disappointed, downcast, and even fear we are regressing rather than improving. Such reactions of course do make us temporarily worse.

Yet if we know in advance that there will be these bad patches such as panic attacks, mental churning or the return of familiar disturbing sensations, then we can react calmly and head off a negative reaction that would intensify those symptoms. These bad patches are not significant, just a normal part of the healing process. It helps us a lot if we can accept these bad days without fearing or fighting, and simply wait for tomorrow, or the next day. We need to remind ourselves, “It's just one of those days, but it will end. More good times are ahead.” Sometimes it is a case of four steps forward, three back, two forwards, one back, but upon reflection we will see that we are actually moving forward.

This was something I learnt the hard way, as you can see from my diary.

16th May 1990 –
Two weeks ago I felt almost normal again,
But was I too hopeful?
The last two or three days have been almost as bad as before,
And it has caught me off guard.
A familiar disturbed sensation once again flooded my chest and emotions,
And it was too much for me today.

I have several diary entries to this effect, but eventually, I became accustomed to the cycle of occasional bad days mixed with good ones, and I no longer bothered to record them in my diary. Instead, aware that I needed to let time pass, I concentrated on keeping my eyes fixed upon Jesus, pursuing hobbies, serving in the church, exercising, and so on.

So let us persevere and run the race Jesus has set before us, and keep our eyes fixed firmly upon Him, for He is our portion, our inheritance.

Hebrews 12:1 ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’

Hebrews 12:2 ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.’

Download an ebook on depression, ie, this blog's articles

All verses from NIV.

  • Bookmark and Share