This is my testimony (in a nutshell) in dealing with and eventually overcoming severe depression.
For me, 1989 had been a productive and hope filled year. After graduating from Bible College in 1988, I had joined a church planting team as the assistant pastor. I expected 1990 to be one of best years of my life as I planned to further my theological training and join another church planting venture in pursuit of my goal of becoming a missionary in Thailand.
Probably the primary factor in causing my depression was genetic inheritance, both of my parents had suffered from it. However, there were many other factors that contributed to its severity and duration. Throughout that year a number of factors combined to cause the gradual decline of my mental and physical health. I had neglected physical exercise, eaten poorly and devoted little time to rest and recreation. I worked full time as well as serving part time in the church. The sleeplessness which had troubled me in recent years had developed into chronic insomnia. As I became ever more fatigued, panic attacks and obsessive fearful thoughts afflicted me in increasing frequency and severity, even though I had no idea what they were at that time. Undiagnosed complex partial epilepsy could have been another factor.
On the other hand, throughout that year I remained positive and full of zeal for life, excitedly pursuing my goals.
In late November 1989 I went to Thailand for a hectic ten-day missionary orientation course, where I barely slept at all. When I returned to Melbourne, I fell apart emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Although 178cm tall, my weight had fallen to 55kg. The final straw came a few days later - I suffered a shock so powerful that for almost 24 hours I was unable to complete a single thought in my mind.
After eight nightmarish days that defied all reason, I suddenly bounced back to some semblance of normality. Unfortunately, I collapsed again two weeks later, where my mind unravelled to the extent that for the next several days, I did little else but lay on my bed, rocking from side to side as I tried in vain to pull myself out of terrifying panic attacks that would not cease.
This time, instead of bouncing back, I remained stuck in the hellish nightmare, which continued without respite into the New Year. I felt disturbed and ill at ease all day and could barely sleep at night. My mind became sluggish, stuck in a rut of thinking fearful, anxious thoughts all the time. Many physical complaints assailed me, missed, palpitating and racing heart beats, very painful aches in the shoulders and jaw, nausea and chest pains, difficulty breathing, and more. Emotional symptoms included anger, confusion, irritability, loss of interest in life, fear that I would never escape the nightmare, and I withdrew from almost all relationships. My spiritual life was equally a shambles, I struggled with anger and bitterness towards God, could no longer feel His presence, and felt guilty all of the time.
Although I continued to languish in this miry pit of bleak hopelessness for the next seven months, there were a number of things that slowly helped me cope with the ordeal.
When my mother, who had been away, returned to find me bedridden, she bundled me off that bed and kept me busy me with menial chores around the home. Although this required a massive effort on my part, I soon realised that the distraction provided by these activities slightly lessened the inner pain. When I had to return to work a few days later, although I was still a complete and utter mess, I found that being busy at work further dulled depression’s intensity.
Around that time a friend who had experienced depression, gave me a very helpful piece of advice. “Find anything that you enjoy and pursue it. Just try to have fun.” My unspoken response was, “How can I have fun when I am like this?” However, although very difficult to do, with Christ's help I was able to put his advice into practice. (‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ Philippians 4:13 KJV.) I bought a computer, played engrossing computer games, and over the next five years wrote three novels. These hobbies helped keep my mind productively occupied and were a significant factor in helping to break my mind’s habit of thinking fearful thoughts. I can remember one day when I was lying on my bed stuck in the grip of a savage panic attack, when I managed to fix my eyes upon Jesus, and He said, “Peter, you don't need to do this. Come with Me - I have lots of constructive things for us to do together.” So I got off the bed, sat at my desk and lost myself in one of my hobbies, and started to feel better.
'Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,' Hebrews 12:2
In March 1990 I admitted I needed professional help, so I forced myself to see a trained counsellor. She counselled me once a month for several months, sympathising with what I was going through, giving 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. She also helped me to see the fearful thoughts that were terrorizing me from another perspective – the true Biblical perspective.
Following my counsellor’s advice, I went onto anti-depressants under my doctor’s supervision. Although the tablets did not heal the depression, within two weeks they had significantly dulled its effects. My diary entries began to contain a faint glimmer of hope. With the symptoms dulled, I found myself more able to concentrate on the task of recovery.
During those first eight months, I frequently blamed Jesus for allowing such a thing to afflict me. Why would not He heal me? I read the Bible constantly, spent hours in prayer, but these provided little relief. However, although I could no longer feel His presence, I knew Jesus held me in His hands. I continually reminded myself that He is Faithful and True, and kept reaching out to Him. It was in this time, when my feelings and emotions utterly betrayed me that I learnt to stand fast upon God’s Word and on promises such as: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ Joshua 1:5 and “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:20. This next verse was particularly comforting, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27
In late July 1990, by a miracle of the Lord’s provision, I came across the book, ‘Self Help for Your Nerves’ by Dr Claire Weekes. My life changed when I read the comprehensive list of symptoms that can be caused by anxiety and depression and how they are caused. The bewilderment and confusion that had terrorised me for eight months were replaced by understanding, which brought a tangible sense of relief all in itself. ‘Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.’ Psalm 119:34
Hope also returned to my life when I put into practice the practical steps presented in the book. The most helpful technique was learning how to face, accept, and learn to live with the symptoms of depression rather than fighting, fleeing or fearing them - and then letting time pass. Putting these techniques into practice slowed down and eventually stopped the endless flow of negative adrenalin, reducing the severity and duration of depression’s symptoms, until they eventually faded away.
As I read ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ I realised that her techniques were practical applications of Bible verses that teach us how to cope with anxiety and troubling circumstances, such as these:
'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
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
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.
Three months after reading ‘Self Help for Your Nerves’ my counsellor said I no longer required counselling. Although I was still suffering from many of depression’s side effects, she said it was time to get back into things. 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.
It took about four more years to recover from depression, but I kept busy throughout that time, staying involved with the church, joining a gym, and pursuing engrossing hobbies. Some of depression’s symptoms took longer to fade away than others, especially the mental ones, but by changing the way I reacted to them robbed them of their power as I no longer feared them.
Today I can look back at that time and say that I have no regrets. It was during those years that I learned to rely completely and utterly upon Christ and His Word, rather than upon my feelings and circumstances. I can see how He brought good out of that trial, drawing me closer to Him and setting me free from lifelong anxieties. I also found myself better equipped to deal with future trials.
And now I share my story so that others may find comfort and encouragement, as I received from the Lord in my time of great distress. 'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.' 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
(All verses from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
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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