Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What Causes Depression?

Depression was the most confusing and bewildering experience of my life. I spent countless hours trying to work out what was wrong with me and what it was that caused me to get into such a state.

From my diary, 8th February 1990 -
I think and think,
and try to work out
what has happened to me and why,
and what I should be doing.
But it is a worthless exercise,
I am allergic to my own thoughts.

Months later I learned that I was suffering from depression, and that the illness can be caused by biological, mental/emotional, and social factors, and more commonly, a combination of all three.

Biological Causes

Without going into the technical details, it is sufficient to say that as with any part of the human body, there are a great many things that can go wrong with the human brain and mind. More complex causes of depression can include chemical/genetic imbalances in the brain and glandular disorders. A lack of sleep such as chronic insomnia and a poor diet (including undiagnosed food intolerances) can also cause depression. And ‘there is some evidence to show that severe depression runs in families. This has led to the conclusion that some people innately may be more prone to depression than others...” (1)

I suffered from chronic insomnia in 1989, the year that preceded my descent into severe depression. This had started in my late teens and had grown progressively worse, the result I believe of having undiagnosed complex partial epilepsy. I have only been able to sleep naturally after being placed on anti-seizure meds in my mid-thirties. That year I also made the mistake of eating poorly and skipping exercise. Both of my parents have also suffered from depression.

Social Causes

One thing that I have learned is that our past, and especially what transpired during our childhood years, typically catches up with us once we reach adulthood. Any form of child abuse, whether physical, mental or emotional, and even rejection, can either cause depression or make a depressive episode much worse than it would have been otherwise. Over disciplining a child, or setting unattainable goals or unrealistic standards for them, can also play a factor.

The Christian counsellor I saw when I was depressed spent hours helping me to face and deal with issues from my childhood - issues that during depression had grown out of proportion to become insurmountable stumbling blocks.

Mental/Emotional Causes

‘It is well known that the stresses of life stimulate depression, especially when these stresses involve a loss. Loss of an opportunity, a job, status, health, freedom...possessions...can each lead to depression. Then there is the loss of people. Divorce, death, or prolonged separations are painful and known to be among the most effective depression-producing events of life.’ (2) In November 1989, I suffered a major shock that caused me great stress.

The feeling of being trapped by situations such as those listed above - situations over which we have no control, also contributes to depression, as does a habit of thinking negatively on every aspect of life, including having a negative self-concept.

Another cause of depression is anger turned inward, in other words, towards ourselves. If we are deeply hurt but have no outlet for expressing the ensuing anger, this can lead to frustration, resentment, and deeper anger, which can cause depression. (3)

Guilt, in response to failure or wrong doing, can also cause depression.

One thing I would like to share in closing is that it is common for Christians to suspect that our depression has spiritual causes, since we typically feel so far from God when depressed. I also remember fearing that it was God who was inflicting the depression upon me. When I shared this with my counsellor, 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?” My counsellor reassured me of the truth, that God does not afflict depression upon anyone. God is a loving God who delights in giving us good and perfect gifts, as well as comforting us in our times of trouble.

Download a free ebook on depression, ie, this blog's articles

All verses from the NIV.

(1) Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980, p87.
(2) Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980, p88.
(3) Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980, p88.

How can a Christian get depressed?
Can a Christian get depressed?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Depression and Counseling/Therapy

In order to identify, face and work through the root causes of depression and its associated issues, it is important that someone suffering from depression sees a trained Christian counselor or Christian professional therapist.

I struggled daily with many overwhelming, destructive fears when I was severely depressed. I was reluctant to share these fears with anyone I knew because I was embarrassed by them, was worried what my family or friends would think of me, and I also feared that if I shared those fears with them, the fears would destroy their lives as well.

Painfully aware that my life was a complete mess, I finally admitted that I needed help from a trained counselor, someone impartial with whom I could share what I was going through and confide in without fearing they would judge me or be adversely affected by the things I feared. They would also be able to give me practical counsel and help in determining what was wrong with me and assist in my recovery.

So when I was ten weeks into severe depression I went to see a local minister to receive counseling. Although I truly appreciate the time he gave me, he saw me just the once and sent me on my way. Though he gave good advice, this brief visit provided only minimal comfort and did not effectively address the traumas that haunted me. This is what I wrote in my diary that day. 13th March 1990 – Well, the day finally came where I saw the pastor. I was hoping for some huge touch from God, such as healing, or deliverance from oppression or possession, but no received such easy answer. As we can see, I was still under the mistaken impression that I could find an ‘instant’ solution to depression.

That the pastor saw me only once brings me to my next point – that we need wisdom in choosing the right counselor/therapist, as some counselors lack the knowledge and experience necessary to help someone suffering from depression. Some ministers think a one-off counseling/prayer session is sufficient, they do not realize that counseling needs to be continued for several months if not years, and on a regular basis. Some counselors make the error of using shock tactics in a futile attempt to try to force someone to pull themselves out of depression, which only places the depressed person under more pressure and fear.

If the counselor we are seeing is not able to help us, it may be necessary to seek another more experienced one. And that is exactly what I did. Two weeks later I went to see another counselor, a very compassionate lady and trained counselor who had experienced depression herself when incapacitated by a near-terminal illness. On 19th March 1990 I wrote – I’m a complete emotional and spiritual mess and I need help, dear Jesus, so I’ll be seeing a counselor in ten days, but I feel really guilty for taking up her time. I don’t want to impose on her. It is normal to be reluctant about seeing a counselor, but we must not let this deter us.

The counselor counseled me once a month for several months. She sympathised with what I was going through, offered practical advice, and through prayer, God’s Word, and her own experiences, helped me to face and deal with several deep emotional wounds and flawed thought processes.

Below are some excerpts from my diary about those counseling sessions.

The counselor said that depression is the worse ailment that we can have, because it affects all areas of our lives: mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. We make the mistake of thinking that because our spiritual life is affected, the cause must be spiritual. But this is incorrect. Depression touches every part of us, which means it touches us spiritually too.

The counselor listed the symptoms of depression, which described my condition perfectly. These included having no hope, being unable to see the future, you cannot ever see yourself getting beyond this current stage, you look at everyone else and wish you were any one of them instead of yourself.

She said that I should be on anti-depressants to help me, and that they will start to work after about ten days.

When I found the courage to share some of my irrational fears with the counselor, she gently helped me to see those fearful thoughts from another perspective – the true perspective.

As a result of her counseling, I was eventually set free from one of the greatest bondage of my life. For much of my life my inner peace had disappeared when about to make a major life decision, and only returned when I gave up all plans to make that change. Because of this, and due to the fact that as a child I had been taught that God would take away His peace to guide me or test me, I had reached the mistaken conclusion that God was actually removing my peace to guide me. The truth was that I had been suffering from panic attacks that were triggered by the stress of making those decisions. It was these panic attacks that had been robbing me of my inner peace, not God at all.

The counselor taught me that God gives us peace. Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Do not let your hearts be troubled.” John 14:27 It does not say “My lack of peace I give to guide you.” We need to make our decisions prayerfully with wisdom based on God’s Word – and do so while dwelling in His peace. She reminded me that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

It was so ingrained in my thinking that panic attacks were God guiding me that I felt guilty and disobedient for no longer listening to them or doing what they demanded, even though I now knew that they were not from God. To deal with this irrational fear the counselor taught me to pray, “What ever Your will is for my life, Lord, please bring it about - even without my obedience or cooperation. You are God; You are greater than me or the circumstances, so You are able to bring about Your will regardless.”

In another session, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the counselor discerned spirits of fear and terror at work in my life. She took authority over these and broke them in the name of Jesus. ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.’ 2 Corinthians 10:4. Note that this was only the beginning of being set free from fear and terror - I still needed to retrain my thought processes away from the habit of fearful thinking. Changing our thinking until it is in line with God’s Word is a slow but very necessary process. ‘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.

During our counseling sessions, the counselor also took me back to some of my childhood traumas. We invited Jesus to join us as we recalled those events. This is what I wrote in my diary after one of these sessions:

8th August 1990 - It was really beautiful to see how Jesus healed me of my past hurts. On that occasion when I was seven, and hated and hit myself, the counselor took me back to that time, and told me to look to Jesus and see how He responded. Jesus told me that He accepted me as I was, and gave me a great big hug, and told me that He loved me, and that I did not need to react that way and punish myself, and that he understood. Jesus’ touch brought deep inner healing. Now when I remember that event, I see Jesus standing there, reaching out to and comforting me, instead of the deep pain that had previously been associated with it.

In August 1990 I read the book “Self Help for Your Nerves” by Dr Claire Weekes. From there, recovery from depression was so rapid that at the end of October, the counselor said I no longer required counseling. Although I was still suffering from many of depression’s side effects, she said it was time to get back into things, and encouraged me to join a home group and to return to active service in the church.

This is what I wrote in my diary following that final counseling session.

21/10/90 –
The counselor said I am to pray every morning:
“Lord, this is the day that you have made,
You have put me where I am in it,
therefore fulfill your created purpose for me in this day.”
Every night I am to pray,
“I thank you Lord, I don't understand - but I believe.”

The counselor said that to be in deep surrender to God
means to never look back
with regret upon the past,
nor forward to what I want to be in the future –
comparing ourselves to what we used to be,
or what we want to be,
is a hindrance for resting in God's will.
Each day I am to say:
“I am content to be who You made me to be, today.
I'm content to be where You put me today,
and I'm content to be how You made me to be today.”

Download a free ebook on depression, ie, this blog's articles

All verses from the NIV.

receiving counseling for depression
Christians, depression, counseling/therapy

Sunday, November 1, 2015

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.The AWARE Technique is one effective method used by many to break the cycle:

Breaking 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.

I used to say this little summary to myself when hit by a new panic attack:

Peter, you're having a panic attack,
Just accept it, (don't fear it or fight it,)
Learn to live with it,
And let time pass.

(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.

Friday, October 30, 2015

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.