One of the worst aspects of depression is the mind numbing confusion and bewilderment that accompanies it. Like many suffering from depression, I had no idea what was causing the multitude of troubling physical, mental, emotional and spiritual symptoms. My diary is filled with entries where I tried to work out what was causing them.
2nd Jan ’90 – I often wished Jesus had given me a book, a manual, all on me. It’s so hard - we go through these things that we’ve never gone through before, and we don’t know what’s happening and don’t know what to do.
28th Feb ’90 –
Every day is a nightmare…I just want to hide.
It relents for a day, then it’s back in full force.
Feeling disturbed, pain, anger, distress
and grief soon follow.
It feels like there are little knives
inside my chest and jaw,
and they cut, cut, cut…
I can’t believe this is happening to me
I wake disturbed, I go to work disturbed,
all day, everyday, disturbed.
What has happened to me?
Where has it come from?
Although I was eventually diagnosed with depression, I was only told about some of its symptoms and was given little information as to how it was causing those symptoms. Confusion continued to reign, and when I examined my life and all that was wrong with me, I concluded that I was an aberration - a freak - and I despised myself.
The first time I saw a comprehensive list of symptoms caused by anxiety and depression was in late July 1990, when I started reading ‘Self Help for Your Nerves’ by Dr Claire Weekes. This is the diary entry I made that night –relief is shining through every word:
28th July 1990 –
This book, ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ goes on to…describe EVERY single thing I have been suffering from for the past eight months, and even back for the five or so months prior to that. I had no idea all of the strange things in my mind, body, and emotions, were ALL interlinked and caused by the same thing! And it even says how I've been sitting and wondering what happened to me, and wondering if I’ll ever be the same again? The book explains everything, right down to obsessive thoughts, and that people who've developed this thing have probably been stuck with it for weeks, months, and one guy even had it for ten years.
Understanding Depression Brings Relief
When someone who is suffering from depression realizes that their symptoms are a normal and common reaction to a malfunctioning nervous system, it brings a great sense of relief. Understanding how their malfunctioning nervous system causes those symptoms brings further relief. Suddenly, we no longer view ourselves as a freak. Doctor Claire Weekes writes in ‘Self Help for Your Nerves’, ‘These symptoms are not peculiar to you, but are well known to many like you.’ (1)
Learning this is one of the first steps towards recovery.
We can understand depression when we learn:
- what symptoms depression can cause, and
- how depression causes those symptoms.
Symptoms Depression Can Cause
This is a list of some of depression’s symptoms. I suffered from most of these while depressed.
Difficulty in breathing
Loss of appetite
Missed heart beats
Prickling sensation in the limbs (feels like something crawling or biting beneath the skin)
Sharp chest pains
Obsessive fearful thoughts
Fear of the symptoms outstrips the fear of depression’s original cause/s
Loss of interest in life
Low self esteem
Withdrawal from relationships
Anger towards God
Anger towards Satan
Feeling abandoned by God
Unable to feel God’s presence
How Depression Causes those Symptoms
When someone is depressed, their nervous system malfunctions and becomes over sensitive. A fearful thought that would have dismissed out of hand by a healthy mind, can become an obsessive fearful thought. Fears become larger than life – I remember being unable to differentiate between what I feared and what was real. Dr Weekes wrote, ‘A sudden or prolonged state of stress may sensitize adrenalin-releasing nerves to produce the symptoms of stress in an exaggerated, alarming way.’ (2)
As the first symptoms of anxiety or depression start plaguing us, we unwittingly become our own worst enemy by reacting in one of the following ways:
1) we fear the symptom. And even after a symptom fades away, we are so afraid that it will return that any minor trigger is all that is necessary to bring it back.
2) we try to flee the symptom. We become afraid of the symptom and try to get away from it. However, the harder we run from it, the more we fear it, and the more powerful it becomes.
3) we fight the symptom. Although this reaction feels more positive that fear or flight, it also makes the symptoms worse.
Why does fearing, fleeing, or fighting the symptoms make them worse?
Doctor Weekes calls it a ‘fear-adrenalin-fear cycle.’ Quite simply, all three reactions cause too much adrenalin to flow, and it is the adrenalin that causes the symptoms. It is a vicious cycle. The more we fear, flee or fight, the more adrenalin is released, and the worse we become, as the additional adrenalin prolongs symptoms and produces new, even more alarming ones. Soon we become terrified, thinking, “What else is going to happen to me?”
The good news is that the cycle can be stopped.
The first step is to recognize that the disturbing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual sensations we are experiencing are caused by the cycle. Understanding this brings a huge sense of relief, a significant step in the journey of recovering from depression, as we can see from my diary entry below:
28th July 1990 –
...for the last 8 months, as always, I've reacted to what was wrong with me in the same way. I have been scared of it, and feared all the many side effects and things that were going wrong with my mind, body, and emotions. And my other reaction has been to fight it. (I've even literally said that I wished this "thing" had a physical body, so I could beat the daylights out of it.) And now I learn from this book that these two reactions are the wrong reactions, because they both only make it worse. Basically, my nerves have fallen apart, and have been manufacturing too much adrenalin. When the symptoms come, I have feared and fought, and these have produced more adrenalin, which made me fear or fight more, and it just got worse and worse and worse. It’s a Catch-22 situation, a merry go round…Thank you Jesus for being faithful, for hearing and answering my prayers, and for showing me what's wrong with me.
‘Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.’ Psalm 119:34
(1) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p18.
(2) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p6.
Peter Stone, a Bible College Graduate, has an international marriage and two children. Suffers from epilepsy and otosclerosis. He teaches Sunday school and plays the piano in church.
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