Fell on Black Days

On May 27 in Seattle, Chris Cornell was laid to rest. I know I’ve already written one post, and I don’t want to look like I’m rehashing the same subject. It’s just that so much about the circumstances in which he died touches on my own experiences with depression and hard lessons I’ve learned through them that one post was not enough.

Depression and Grunge music

The Seattle Grunge that exploded onto the music scene in the ’90s sounded like it came from a city where it rained nine months out of the year: Dark, depressed, moody, brooding, and riddled with distortion and druggy haze, but also brilliantly creative and original. If I asked who were the Big Four of Grunge, I think anyone would say, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Cornell’s Soundgarden. We had already lost Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. In a 2014 interview for Rolling Stone, Cornell said this about them and other area musicians he knew,

The tragedy was much more than the fact that I would never see him again – it was that I would never hear him again. There’s this projection I had with Andy, Kurt, Jeff Buckley and other friends of mine that died of looking into the future at all these amazing things they’re going to do. I’ll never be able to predict what that is. All this music that will come out that will challenge me and inspire me – that sort of romantic, dramatic version of the perspective. When that goes away, for me in particular, it was a really hard thing. And it continues to be a hard thing….

So part of my memory of every record, and certainly Superunknown, there’s an eeriness in there, a kind of unresolvable sadness or indescribable longing that I’ve never really tried to isolate and define and fully understand. But it’s always there. It’s like a haunted thing.

And now those same words apply to Cornell himself. Of the Big Four, three have now lost lead singers to depression and/or drug addiction. The two often go hand in hand. I never got on drugs myself, but I am convinced a lot of drug use associated with these bands was really self-medicating for undiagnosed depression.

Where do “Black Days” come from?

In that same interview, Chris Cornell opened up about depression. On the inspiration behind the song “Fell on Black Days,” he said,

No matter how happy you are, you can wake up one day without any specific thing occurring to bring you into a darker place, and you’ll just be in a darker place anyway. To me, that was always a terrifying thought, because that’s something that – as far as I know – we don’t necessarily have control over. So that was the song I wanted to write. It just took a while.

Cornell accurately described the experience of millions of people living with depression who don’t even know it. You look around at your life, you think you should be happy, and you’re not. You’re depressed, and you have no reason to be. If you can’t be happy when everything in life is going well, how can you ever be happy? Maybe you think there’s no point in going on. Or maybe you sabotage your career or your relationships, so at least then you have a reason to be depressed. It doesn’t make sense to you, but I’m here to tell you there’s a reason for it.

Depression can either be clinical or situational. If there is nothing in your situation that can explain your depression, then it must be clinical. There are a number of possibilities, but the most common is that you have a chemically imbalanced brain. I’ve talked before about the time I went without my AD medication for a couple of weeks, and about the depressed voice in my head. When I was off my medication, the depressed voice in my head came back with a vengeance. But as I took my new medication, the voice went away. What this means is that voice in your head that tells you you’re worthless, you’re a waste of space, you’re a burden, you’ll never be happy so why not end it all, no one loves you, God has forsaken you, blah blah blahthat is the voice of a chemically imbalanced brain.

This is nothing to be ashamed of. Some people are born with a heart murmur. You were born with something like a “brain murmur.” It’s not your fault, any more than the person with the heart murmur. Clinical depression, like all mental illness, needs to be treated like a medical condition.

The shock of my life

I’ve known this for a number of years. Seventeen years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Before that, there had been times in my life I knew I was depressed. But I had always thought it was temporary. There were times in my life when I thought I was happy. But even then, people sometimes asked why I was sad, or even worse, why I was angry. When I found out about clinical depression, this finally made sense. I might feel happy, but chemically, my brain was still depressed. There was this underlying sadness people sometimes picked up.

It didn’t feel like depression, I guess because it was normal to me. It was the way I had always felt. The thing is, when I was diagnosed, I wouldn’t have said I felt depressed. At the urging of my mother and sister, I got myself tested anyway. The results?

You tested high for depression in every possible way.

I don’t think anyone has ever said anything about me that shocked me more. It was totally surreal. It was something I never would have thought of myself in a million years. I thought, it can’t really be that bad, and yet I knew it was true. Like I said, even at times when I felt happy, people around me thought I was sad or upset. No matter how I felt – happy, sad, good, bad, or apathetic, optimistic or hopeless – every moment of my life, I had been living with a brain that was tilted toward depression.

Don’t believe every spirit

If only someone could have been there to tell Cornell, “These thoughts you’re having are not real. I know they feel real to you. They sound like the Gospel truth. But they are not. These thoughts are just chemical imbalances in your brain. Whatever you do, don’t let these chemically induced voices make life and death decisions for you. Don’t believe these voices in your head. Fight them. Treat them like the enemy, because they want to kill you. Don’t let them. God will help you if you call on Him. God can help you fight these thoughts and imaginations that exalt themselves against the knowledge that you are a child of God with unique gifts to give the world, of which the music is part, but there is much more ahead. Even if you have never believed that before, dare to believe that just this once.

Don’t believe anyone who says Chris Cornell died because of drugs. He died because he had a mental illness, an Anxiety Disorder of some kind. How do I know? Because of the medication he was taking. He did the right thing by seeking professional help for his condition. Medications like Ativan can help some people with Anxiety Disorders, just like Zoloft and Trintellix helped me with Depression. Unfortunately, they don’t help everyone. In fact, for some people, it may make them more depressed, more anxious, and more suicidal. And so it breaks my heart that the very thing that saved my life ended up killing him.

 

image of Chris Cornell and Soundgarden performing at the Sound Academy

Related Posts

Chris Cornell’s Black Hole Sun

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Chris Cornell’s Black Hole Sun

As rock fans know, on May 18, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell was found dead in his hotel room in Detroit. It was officially ruled a suicide by hanging. His wife says she thinks it was related to Ativan, a prescription drug mostly used to treat anxiety disorders. I know he had a history of depression and drug addiction. That combination often ends in tragedy.

Still, I have a hard time understanding it, because I saw him on CBS’s Saturday Morning show last month, and it looked like everything was going well for him. He wrote the theme song for “The Promise.”

https://youtu.be/I2Bh0vU6_Lw

I was interested in the movie before. The song was so beautifully poignant, I really wanted to see the movie after that. My girlfriend and I both loved the movie. We had never heard of the Turkish genocide campaign against the Armenians, so we learned something important. Cornell made us both want to see it.

Chris Cornell was touring with Soundgarden and excited about the new music they were making. He was proud of the music he wrote for the movie. He sounded optimistic, and it seemed like he had every reason to be happy with his life now. He did not seem like he had any reason to want to die. That’s why the news came as such a shock. And yet I know that’s what depression can do to you.

I don’t know if Cornell’s case was related to depression. The last time he spoke to his wife, he told her he had taken extra Ativan. I’ve posted before about my use of antidepressant drugs. In my case, they have helped tremendously, but they don’t work for everyone. Sometimes they can make the condition worse, so you have to work closely with your physician if you decide to try it. Any kind of psycho-tropic drug affects everyone differently. It’s possible that too much of it took his mind to a place we can’t understand, where hanging himself made perfect sense. The fact that an anti-anxiety drug was prescribed for him shows he was having some struggles.

When your sun is a black hole

I’ve seen it before, especially in people who struggle with both depression and/or drug addiction. They get treatment, they get clean and sober, and they look happy. They show no signs of being suicidal. They get their career and family life back on track. You think they’ve turned their lives around, then BAM! The news hits you like a 2″ x 4″. You saw them just a few days or weeks ago, and you wonder why you didn’t see any signs.

Since my girlfriend knows I have a history with depression, she couldn’t help wondering about me. I reassured her that I’m not just pretending to be happy. I really am, thanks in large part to her. But that’s what happens to the people left behind. It makes you second-guess yourself and everyone you love, especially if you know they have struggled with depression and/or drugs in the past. They look happy, but how do I know? And so with her worried about me, I gave her my word I would never do that to her. Is that enough? I hope so, because it really was the only assurance I could offer.

I wouldn’t do that to her, or my mother, or sister, or father, or niece or nephew, or brother-in-law, or all the relatives I see most every year in our family reunions, or my friends at church. When I think of Cornell, I feel at a loss. Such a great talent. Such a great voice. Such great music he made. He had a wife and children who loved him. If I was shocked, sad, and baffled, how must they feel?

Higher truth

I don’t care who you are, you have people in your life who love you and care about you. Suicide will leave them devastated and agonizing about where they went wrong. Even if it’s just one person who cares, think how they will feel if you go through with it. Even if no person on earth loves you, God does. If you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you.

God put you here in this life in this time for a reason. If you can’t see that reason, keep trying until you do. I’m still not sure what purpose God made me for, but in my lowest points in life, what stopped me from suicide was I didn’t want to hurt my family, and I didn’t want to die without fulfilling God’s purpose for me. I just kept trudging through the darkness, not knowing if I was going in the right direction, with nothing but the hope that someday, somehow, I would find out my reason for living. And now, I’m finally starting to see that as a possibility.

Some of those things I went through for so long when I was really in the depths of depression, I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I would never want to go back there. But the fact that I can see the light now proves I did the right thing to keep living when that was all I could do. And if I can use that experience to help one person who is lost, who doesn’t see any possibility for happiness in this life, if I can convince you to never give up on life because one day I promise you, you will find your way, then everything I went through was worth it.

Keep hanging in there. Seek, and you will find. You can have a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop depression from sabotaging it.

Related Posts

How Christians Think about Mental Illness Needs to Change

3 Reasons Why Faith Matters in Recovery

Depressed Christian, Part 1 – Four Principles Guiding My Recovery

 

Can Antioxidants Help Treat Depression and Anxiety?

Oxidative stress has been shown to be an important contributor to inflammatory conditions, and in recent years has been implicated in the underlying mechanisms that result in depression and anxiety.

Midtown Psychiatry and TMS Center

ADHD Doctor, TXAntioxidants Depression and Anxiety

When it comes to stress-induced psychiatric disorders, anxiety and depression are the most common. I see this often in my practice. We know that stressful life events can produce a state of vulnerability to depression and anxiety in some people. The mechanisms that contribute to vulnerability of mental illness is an area which needs further study. Although promising research has been done in the past few years that indicates that there are biochemical changes that occur in the body as a result of stress that can be addressed. For patients suffering from stress-induced psychiatric disorders, it is essential to understand the role of antioxidants on stress-induced psychiatric disorders so a plan can be created and implemented to help cope with the effects of stress.

Stress and Nutrition

Research has shown that stress places a demand on the body in terms of nutrition. During a period of…

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The war on Thanksgiving, and Cannabidiol (CBD) as possible treatment for anxiety and depression

Sometime in December, probably multiple times, I expect to hear about the “war on Christmas,” because someone said Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Has anyone noticed there has been an ongoing war on Thanksgiving?

I remember when stores would wait until after Thanksgiving to play Christmas music, put up Christmas decorations, and Black Friday marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Now it’s the day after Halloween. This year, on November 1, I was in a discount grocery store, it was sunny and almost eighty degrees outside, not even a hint of snowflakes, and I heard “Sleigh Bells” through the store speakers. I wanted to shout, “This is just wrong, people! It’s still more than three weeks until Thanksgiving!”

Good or bad for business?

A USA Today article showed the state of the debate from the business side. On one hand, there is question about whether it makes business sense. Instead of resulting in more sales and profits, the numbers suggest Thanksgiving sales dilute the sales and purchases of Black Friday. So you’re open on this holiday, but overall you’re not making any more money. On the other hand, some believe being closed on Thanksgiving will soon be outdated. Most stores used to be closed on Sunday. Now shopping and running errands on Sunday is normal. Will the same thing happen with Thanksgiving?

As long as shoppers want to make purchases on Thanksgiving, stores will continue to accommodate them, [Professor Tom] Arnold said, either in person or online.

Either way, however, it comes down to a business decision. I don’t blame them for that. Retailers need to maximize the Christmas shopping season any way they can. If you don’t make it at Christmas, you don’t make it, I remember hearing years ago. But do you have to make your employees sacrifice a major holiday and the last chance to spend meaningful time with their families before the Christmas rush?

Why am I talking about this on a blog about faith and depression?

Because giving thanks and gratitude are powerful antidotes to depression and perhaps the most important (and underrated) acts of faith. Think about a time when you were truly grateful, from the bottom of your heart. When gratitude overwhelmed you. Were you depressed then? Did it even occur to you that you could possibly be depressed at that moment? That’s what I mean about it being a powerful antidote. You can’t be depressed when you are truly thankful.

We have a day set aside to give thanks for our own blessings and the blessings of this nation. The fourth Thursday of every November. And every year we ignore it, trivialize it, and treat it as a speed bump in our rush to get started shopping for Christmas. Black Friday is threatening to take over Thanksgiving altogether. Taking even one day out of shopping season to stop, remember our blessings, share them with our families, and be thankful is treated as a waste of time, and even worse, a waste of money. Isn’t that a perfect metaphor for our lives? We rush and rush to acquire more stuff and buy the love of our families and never stop to be grateful for what we already have. Sounds like the perfect recipe for depression.

So this year I am going to support Thanksgiving by doing my Christmas shopping only at stores that closed on Thanksgiving Day. And I will wait until after Christmas before I shop any stores that were open on Thanksgiving. The only way this will change is if consumers prove to these companies that it really makes no business sense to try to make people shop when we should be giving thanks.


Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil Good for Anxiety?

The Early Show ran a story on its possible use to help NFL players deal with pain and might even help with brain injuries. It comes from the cannabis plant, but it does not have the psychoactive properties of THC. Doctors are saying it has many medicinal uses including anti-seizure, cancer treatment, and anti-anxiety. It is even said to be a superfood.

Could it be an effective treatment for anxiety and depression? It works through the same mechanisms as AD medication, but it appears to have fewer side effects. If you are taking AD medication, going off it can be rough, even if it’s to replace it with something else. Natural and prescription AD medication usually do not work well when taken together. You should consult your physician before taking on this or any new treatment.

I’m not sure if the research is complete yet, so for me the jury is still out. However, it looks like it could be promising not only for depression and anxiety but for many other serious health issues.


The Voice…that no one wants to hear

To my Tools for Depression, I want to add Nature (Ecotherapy) and TMS. I posted about TMS, a new therapy that involves strategic use of magnets.

Ecotherapy – exposure to nature is good for mental health. An article on Vice.com gives some easy to understand info on the research in this area. A recent study at Harvard University, published in April, is only among the latest of many to confirm this. Peter James, a member of the research team, summed up the findings up this way. “[T]here’s a direct cognitive benefit and restorative quality of being in nature, that we’ve evolved in nature to enjoy being in nature.”

This doesn’t mean you have to move out to the backwoods and reject civilization, a la Thoreau. Simply incorporate time with nature into your routine.

  • Go to a park
  • Notice what’s in your backyard
  • Plant a tree
  • Enjoy a local greenspace
  • Take a break at your favorite lake, river, arbor, or any natural attraction

If you none of this is available in or near your city, maybe you need to petition the authorities to add some. Any locality should at least be able to plant trees along a street or open a park.

image of double rainbow by road

Medication

Taking medication for depression is still controversial for some people of faith. When a psychiatrist first recommended it for me, I had some reservations. However, he had just told me I tested high for depression in every possible way, so I took his advice. There is no doubt it has helped me. Sometimes I have wondered if it’s really working, especially at times when I have been sad, moody, anxious, just fill in the blank with any negative emotion.

I can still say, though, that medication does make a difference for me. I don’t care what Tom Cruise said. I know because a couple of times, I have changed medications. When you change from one anti-depressant (AD) med to another, you first have to wean yourself off of your current med. That usually takes 2 – 4 weeks. Then you can start taking the new. It can take up to two weeks for the new medication to start taking effect. During that transition, those depressed thoughts you had forgotten about can come back.

The first time, I had suicidal thoughts. I can’t say it was the first time, but it was more frequent and intense than ever. Is the new med not working? My doctor said it was a low dose and suggested trying a “medium”dose. Within a few days, the suicidal thoughts stopped. That medium dose worked for me. But without that doctor helping me, I might have thought it was the wrong medication.

The second time was more recent. Bad thoughts came but in a different way. Instead of feeling depressed in the way we usually think of (deep and persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, etc.), it came in a way I had forgotten: Anger. I was angry much of the day. Angry at family and friends over past slights that my balanced brain had forgiven long ago. Angry at the world for the state it’s in and the downward spiral we seem to be in. Unreasonably angry. But when the new medicine kicked in, I was back to being happy. And I am proud to say I did not take my anger out on anyone, even the ones I felt angry towards.

Now some of that anger might not have been unreasonable, especially about the sorry state of the world. I mean, have you seen the election campaign since June, 2015? I think anger toward a certain candidate in particular is very reasonable. Not to name names, but he’s the unhinged one who seems hell-bent on finding just how low you can go and still be elected president. Though he may have finally crossed that line by talking about what he likes to grab. Admittedly, there were a few times the other one made me say, “What the hell were you thinking!” But at this point, I think it should be clear that one may have a gaffe here or there, the other is a nonstop gaffe machine. And that’s putting it as nicely as I can.

But through it all, I did not unleash that anger on my blog. Maybe that’s why I had to let out a little here. Why did I not act out my anger or my suicidal thoughts during those times? Before I started transitioning medications, I made a crucial decision. Until I know if the new med is good for me and until I get my brain normalized again with either the new or return to the old, I WILL NOT BELIEVE THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD.

I got the idea from the movie A Beautiful Mind.

Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize winning Mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., who was found to be paranoid schizophrenic. He had more than just a voice in his head. He had full on hallucinations of three people telling him all these conspiracies around him. When he was diagnosed and got medication, the hallucinations disappeared. However, he was having difficulty with the side effects. He decided to go off the medication. But those imaginary people will come back. Yes, but this time he will know they are not real, and he will absolutely refuse to believe them. It was not easy. Those hallucinations had a life of their own. They tried really hard to convince him to listen to them. But he remained resolute. You are not real. I won’t listen to you. I won’t believe anything you say.

Because of past experience with Depression, I knew I needed to reject, ignore, and otherwise neutralize those thoughts TEMPORARILY. Let’s review what happened in these two instances.

  1. I stopped taking AD medication.
  2. The Voice in my head that fuels my Depression went from being a surly kitten to a roaring tiger.
  3. When the new AD medication kicked in, the Voice calmed down and the bad thoughts sunk back to a normal level.

What is going on? In earlier posts, I’ve talked about the chemical imbalances that exist in a Clinically Depressed brain. It is a medical condition where your brain can’t produce normal levels of “happy chemicals,” and so the “stress chemicals” overwhelm it. Medication helps your brain produce more happy chemicals so it gets balanced. When your brain chemistry is balanced, your emotional state can get back to normal – in a good way.

That last experience changing meds really drove that home for me. The Voice in my head didn’t bother me when I was on meds. But when I was in that transition phase, the Voice came back with a vengeance. Now that I’m on meds again, the Voice is gone. And that’s when it hit me like a revelation of Biblical proportions. THAT VOICE IN MY HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

If you have that Voice too, let that last sentence sink in. That Voice in your head that tells you “I’m no good. I’ll never get anything right. I’m a burden to everyone who loves me,” or even worse, “No one loves me.” Or if you pray or try to live by faith, the Voice will tell you, “There is no God. God hates me. God has given up on me, and I don’t blame Him. I’m like the tree that bore no fruit, so God has cut me off. I’m cursed.” Or maybe you have that angry voice, like I just experienced. And you believe it, don’t you? IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And the problem isn’t so much the voice itself, but that we believe it so readily. At some point, in thinking about this, I was amazed at how anything we hear inside our head, we just believe it. We don’t question it, we don’t evaluate it, we just accept whatever it says, even when it has no basis in reality.

“Everyone hates you.” Oh really? 7.5 billion people in the world, and every single one of them hates you? Oh you just meant everyone in your school or in your town. But still, how many people is that, a few hundred? A few thousand? A few hundred thousand if it’s a major city? How could every one of them hate you? Simple logic should tell you that’s not even possible. But you believe it. Because it comes from your head, so it must be true, right? Are you telling me my head is lying to me? That’s exactly what I’m telling you. THAT VOICE IN YOUR HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

Or if it’s that angry voice, it might be saying, “They’re disrespecting me. They think I’m an idiot. They never listen to me. They’re idiots. They don’t care about me, so screw ’em all.” (Again, that’s as politely as I can say it). And again, IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And bottom line, don’t believe a chemically imbalanced brain, even if it’s your own. You’re just as likely to get the truth from a Magic 8-Ball. Yes, it might tell the truth occasionally, but you’d better ask some questions before you accept that it’s right this time.

I suppose this begs the question, If you can’t believe your own mind, what can you believe? How do you know what the truth is? There is no simple answer to that, and anyone who tells you there is is setting you up for failure. But I will reiterate something I said in a previous post.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it (Isa 53:3-5).
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down (Isa 42:2-3).
  3. Some churches and spiritual leaders are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.
  4. With the right help – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and perhaps medically – you can live a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop Depression from sabotaging it.

image of Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind (2001)

 

Depressed Christian, Part 2: Searching for help

The Internet has a lot of good information, and a lot of bad. If you are a Christian struggling with depression, you might want to search on the Internet for helpful information. You want something that not only helps with depression but addresses the extra dimensions that Christian faith adds to it. For example, I came across one person who said when a psychiatrist told him he would need medication, he felt “like a failure.”

I know what he meant. He felt like a failure because, for Christians, it’s so easy to get the idea that you shouldn’t need help for depression beyond talking to someone, praying, living a faithful life, and obeying the Word. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), so Jesus and faith in Him should be all you need. That might be what you’re telling yourself, and it might be what your church tells you and what you hear from preachers on TV. But you’ve done all that, and you’re still depressed. It must be your fault, right? Wrong. The causes of depression are not just spiritual, and they are not a failure of faith. You need to address more than just spiritual issues. You need to understand there are physical and psychological reasons for depression. And most of all, you need to arm yourself with accurate knowledge so you know how to find the right kind of help.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

To see what’s out there, I searched “depressed christian” on Pchsearch. (Google isn’t offering the chance to win $5000/week for life. Who knows? I might win. And, as unchristian as it might sound, I think some financial security would help my depression to some degree. I’ll probably need to say more about that another time).

As usual with the Internet, the results were relevant but very unequal in quality. They ranged from wonderfully helpful to downright awful, with varying degrees in between. I have ranked my first page results using the customary 5-Star scale, and included notes below about the reasons for the ranking. This is just a first step. The goal here is to help you separate good information from bad.

The articles with a 5-Star rating meet these 4 criteria:

  1. The author has experience helping people with depression, either professionally or personally, and uses sound research.
  2. The author understands the unique ways a person’s Christian faith affects their experience of depression – how it can either help or hinder recovery.
  3. The author addresses physiological causes of depression. Religious people will always recognize spiritual causes. That’s part of the equation, but just as with physical illness, you cannot properly treat it if you don’t acknowledge the physical causes.
  4. The author clearly distinguishes between Clinical/Major Depression (and similar types that are caused by deficiencies or imbalances in brain chemistry) and what I will call “situational depression,” a normal (and often healthy) response of sadness and grief due to some tragic life event or loss.

And of course, the scale goes down from there. Drum roll please…

Setting the Bar for everyone

Brandon W. Peach. (2014, February 20). 5 Things Christians Should Know about Depression and Anxiety. Relevant Magazine.


Not only meets the standards I laid out but also does a great job in identifying the most common pitfalls for people seeking help from the church – and the pitfalls of a well-meaning but ill-informed church giving “help.”

 

Mark Mounts. (n.d.). It Can’t Be Depression. I’m a Christian. Grace Commission International.


If you felt shame or failure over depression because you are a Christian and think Jesus should be all you need, imagine how that is magnified if you are a pastor or priest. That was this author’s situation.

Includes a Sidebar with the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of a “major depressive episode.” This part is a little technical, so here are some terms you might need help with:

  • Psychomotor agitation = purposeless, intense restlessness brought on by mental tension
  • Psychomotor retardation = slowing down of thought and action, most commonly seen in major depression or bipolar disorder.

Good

Author unknown. (n.d.). Christians: Take Depression Seriously. Beliefnet.


The colon is very important in this title. With the colon, it’s an imperative, as in, “Hey Christians! Take depression seriously!” Without it, you have “Christians take depression seriously” as if it’s a statement of fact. Unfortunately, not all Christians take depression seriously.

As the article says, “Those who try to dissuade religious people from getting medical help for clinical depression, claiming that faith alone is the cure, can do devastating harm.”

I’m giving it four stars instead of five because 1) It talks about situational depression vs. clinical depression, but does not distinguish them as clearly as the two five-star articles, and 2) This sentence is confusing: “Psychoanalysis can dig out of the subconscious such ugly realities so that they can be dealt with the effects negated.”
…so they can be dealt with the effects negated. What is dealt with? What is negated? Are the effects dealt with or negated? This is why grammar and proofreading matter.

Still, though, the information is good. The author uses real life and Biblical examples that illustrate vividly just how important it is to take depression seriously and get proper treatment.

 

Karen Morgan. (2004). Depression in the Christian Family: (Part 4 of 5 in Depression series). Focus on the Family.


Both this article and the series have very good advice. I would have given it five stars except it comes from Focus on the Family. I have heard James Dobson, the ministry’s founder, tell parents to reject their LGBTQ children until they agree to live “according to the Word of God.”

This is exactly the kind of rejection that causes LGBTQ teenagers as a group to have a higher rate of depression and suicide than their straight peers. Therefore, I cannot recommend this without a caveat of saying if you are LGBTQ, then aside from this article and series, stay away from Focus on the Family and Dr. Dobson.

However, if you can separate out that baggage and judge the article on its own merits, it’s worth reading. It tells the story of Earle and his experience with severe depression that led him to seek counseling, medication, and even go on disability for a few months. He describes the issues honestly and in a way a depressed Christian will understand.

Another reason I like this article is indicated in the title. Earle’s depression affected his entire family. And that’s something many people don’t think about. Depression doesn’t just affect the depressed person. It causes you to behave in ways that people around you don’t know how to handle, no matter how much they love you. Hopefully, realizing that will prompt you to get the help you need.

 

Stephanie Husk, M.S.W. (2013, April 11) Do Real Christians Get Depressed? Crosswalk.


First impression, I gave it three stars. However, as I’ve looked over it again, I decided to upgrade it to four. For the most part, there is good advice here – for situational depression, and Clinical Depression as well. It might appear to point to sin, i.e., personal failure, as the cause of depression, but it’s actually more nuanced than that. Take this statement for example (I bolded some parts to make the meaning clearer):

  • “…problems in our brain’s chemistry or in our body’s functions are ultimately a spiritual problem…since all of creation is affected by sin. However, this does not mean that the depression is necessarily a result of individual spiritual shortcomings. It also does not mean that a person shouldn’t seek out healthy relief wherever it may be found. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. Solutions to prolonged depression are no less spiritual if they come in the form of changed diet, exercise, cognitive counseling, or medication.”

The “sin” talked about here should probably have a capital S, because it is much bigger than your or anyone else’s individual sins. It is much bigger than social sins of a community, institution, or nation. It is even bigger than the sin of all humanity, as in “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). It is a condition of brokenness, decay, and mortality that afflicts not only humanity but all of creation (Rom. 8:22-23). In this sense, I think it is healthy to acknowledge Sin (with a capital S) as a cause of depression. But I reject any preaching that says you are depressed because you are not “obeying the Word,” you are not praying enough, you don’t have enough faith, or anything along those lines. When you have Clinical Depression, the primary cause is physical, not spiritual.

Fair

Various. (n.d.). How to Cope with Depression as a Christian. Wikihow.


It gives seven steps to cope with depression. Most of the advice is good, though the style makes for awkward reading. Also, some of the “related articles” are not what I ascribe to. Particularly, one says “How to convert a Muslim to Christianity.” My experience of engaging religion and spirituality with a clinically depressed mind is almost exclusively Christian. How Depression affects the experience of Islam, Judaism, or any other religion is something I’d like to address at some point, with people who are more qualified than me.

Now if a Muslim is interested in what being a Christian means to me, I’m happy to share it. And if anything about my experience helps them with depression, to God be the glory. But I know how I would feel if someone said to me, “You must convert to Islam in order to be saved,” or, “Only Muhammad can heal your depression.” I won’t be the one who does that to someone whose faith is different from mine.

 

Various. (n.d.). What Does the Bible Say about Depression? How Can Christians Overcome Depression? Got Questions?


Distinguishes between situational and clinical depression, which is very important. The description of clinical depression is pretty good, but it needs some editing. As in the following with my comments in parentheses.

  • “It may not be caused by unfortunate life circumstances…” (Change may not to is not. We are talking about clinical depression now, not situational),
  • “…nor can the symptoms be alleviated by one’s own will (True. A five-star statement).
  • “Contrary to what some in the Christian community believe, clinical depression is not always caused by sin (Delete always. Clinical depression by definition means the cause is physiological, not spiritual).
  • “They should make sure that they are staying in the Word, even when they do not feel like it. Emotions can lead us astray, but God’s Word stands firm and unchanging (This is an example where, yes it’s true, but it’s important to put it in the right context. And I have to ask, what do you mean be staying in the Word? That can mean different things to different people).
  • “Although being depressed is not a sin, one is still accountable for the response to the affliction, including getting the professional help that is needed (stress the last part of this sentence. Without that, I would reject this advice. For someone in major depression, you
    are accountable for your response is like you should have more faith – whatever that means. The thing to understand if your depression is as bad as Earle (see “Christian Family” article above) is you are accountable in as much as you cannot get out of this darkness on your own, but you can and must get professional help).

One statement was dead on, though. “However, in some cases, seeing a doctor for depression is no different than seeing a doctor for an injury”

Amen and amen! If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this. Seeing a doctor [or psychiatrist or therapist] for depression is no different than seeing a doctor for an injury.

 

Various. (n.d.).  Christian Testimonies about Depression and Suicide. About.com, Christianity.


47 stories of people who found peace to “overcome” depression. Why the quotes? I am always skeptical when people say they are cured or have overcome depression, as if Depression has been banished to the Outer Darkness, wailing and gnashing its teeth, never to return. If so, it probably wasn’t Clinical Depression but situational. They don’t give specifics about how they were cured beyond “Jesus is the answer.”

There was a time when I would have given this five stars. “Jesus is the answer,” I would say as the solution to any problem. Well, that didn’t always work for me, so how can I expect it to work for Muslims, Jews, or even all Christians? I can’t promote that or anything as the one and only answer for depression anymore.

But the stories might give hope to some people.

Bad

Various. (1996, 1999). What Should a Christian Do if Overwhelmed with Depression? Christian Answers.


Although it does acknowledge some kinds of depression are caused by chemical imbalances and may require medication and/or professional help, it puts the stress on spiritual causes: sin, not following the Word, not believing the Bible, etc.

It says, “Aim to work on the causes of your depression, not just the symptoms,” which is what I advocate as well. But working on the real causes requires professional help, not a few Bible verses and a sermon.

Super-Bad

Author unknown. (n.d.). Overcoming Depression. CBN.


Causes named: Physical (not taking care of yourself, illness, medication), Losses and other hurts, Sin.

Not one mention of clinical, bipolar, or any form of depression which is primarily caused by chemical imbalances. Here are some examples that show why:

  • “The Bible says that Jesus ‘bore our griefs’ on the cross (Isaiah 53:4 NAS). He feels our pain as strongly as we do and will carry it for us. Give your hurt to Him. (As in the article above, this can be helpful in the right context. But what do you do next? His answer is…).
  • “Then resolve not to dwell on it again.” (The worst thing to say to someone with Clinical Depression! Right up there with, Stop sinning. Snap out of it. Pray the depression away. All the answers are in the Bible. You’ve got to have more faith.)

Faith, prayer, and Bible study can all be powerful tools in recovery. They are often enough to get over situational depression (though even then not always). But if you are Christian and seeking help for Clinical Depression, I know you’ve already done these things, and they were not enough. And most importantly, it is not your fault that they weren’t enough. Refer to Earle’s story above in the “Christian Family” article.

Downright Awful

Melissa Barnhart. (2013, April 11). Christian Counselor: Depression Demands Living by Faith, Not by Sight. The Christian Post.



Author named is not the professional referred to. Subject of the article is the “professional” who gives this advice. At first I gave the article one star, but then I realized it does not even deserve that, because it comes from a licensed professional. So what is the opposite of a star? A black hole (which happens to be shaped like a Zero).

All about “spiritual causes” of depression, not a word about the physiological causes. Christian or not, a licensed neuropsychologist really should know better.

*****

So that is a sampling of the advice that is out there. As I said above, the intention with this article is to help you separate good sources of information from bad. Some of the “bad” advice can be true and helpful in the right context, as I alluded to a couple of times. What is the right context? That is something I hope to address in future posts. In general, it goes back to the criteria I named above. If you have a type of depression that has physiological causes, you need more than a “spiritual” answer. Just like if I break my arm, I will pray. But I will also get to a doctor as soon as I can.

In coping with depression, I used and still use spiritual sources of comfort. However, I did not get better until I was properly diagnosed and able to address the physical causes as well as the spiritual. That is why I am so adamant about not reducing everything down to “sin” or “lack of faith.” If that messes with your theology, I’m sorry. But I know what kind of religion/faith/spirituality (whatever you want to call it) helped me, and what kind made everything worse. And to paraphrase Paul, I will not submit again to bad faith just to accommodate your dogma.

Related Articles

Roots of Depression, Part 1

Roots of Depression, Part 2

Depressed Christian, Part 1

Reblogs

What is Depression?.

How Christians Think about Mental Illness Needs to Change.

Diet & Exercise

Meditation.

 

Roots of Depression, Part 3

I started this series called “Roots of Depression” to track some of my experiences working in the yard and seeing some of the work as a metaphor for recovery, particularly removing weeds and other undesirable plants so that the good plants can recover and thrive. Gardening, it turns out, is a great metaphor for recovery, happy living, and the human condition in general. No wonder the Bible uses it so much.

In a more recent post, I spoke more directly about my experience of depression and recovery up to this point. It looks like those two series are going to intertwine like vines around an azalea bush but in a healthy way. See? Another metaphor! So as a writer in search of metaphors (really more interesting than it sounds), I want to try to connect the dots between gardening and recovery.

This week’s gardening

This was a tough root, so I pulled out the hand spade to remove it.

root with mystery bulb

You’ll notice there’s a bulb at the end. I didn’t think vines had bulbs at their roots, but as I was removing it, I felt a resistance, as if the bulb were attached to something bigger. I used the spade to continue digging around it and encountered something harder than the soil, bulb-like but much bigger.

big bulb of unknown type
alien bulb

Soon the thing was revealed to me. It was much bigger than a bulb. In fact, it almost looked like an alien pod. I used a toothbrush to remove more dirt from the top and took a picture to show the scale.

alien bulb with toothbrush for scale

If this is a bulb, I have never seen any other bulb like it. What is this thing? What is it doing in my flowerbed? Is it connected to the Azaleas or the vines that keep popping up underneath them like Kudzu? What will it do to the flowers if I remove it? So I’m leaving it for now. But if anyone can tell me what kind of bulb this is, please tell me in the comments below.

In relation to recovery, as you dig up and remove the weeds and their roots beneath, you may find things that you have no idea what they are or where they came from. That’s okay. If you’re not sure what it is or what will happen to the other plants in your garden if you remove it, leave it for now (Mat. 13:24-30). Learn more about it. See what tools are available for you, then put together a plan of action. The video below shows what’s involved when you start removing a root or vine. I looked at the pile of roots that were connected directly or indirectly to one vine and thought, “Wow! This is a mess. And it’s what recovery looks like.”

 

 

Tools for Depression

Now I want to list some of the tools you can use to remove the “weeds of depression” from the garden of your soul. Each of these requires more in-depth discussion than I can give right now. Like any list, this is about breadth, not depth. I want to name as many tools as I can for you, because like weeds in a garden, you will need many tools to remove them all. Real life gardening and yardwork has been good not only in living out metaphors for recovery. It gives me two forms of therapy at once: Exercise and sunlight.

Medication – If you have some form of Clinical Depression, your brain needs help producing “happy chemicals.” Medication is the most direct way to do that, but using it raises issues for some people, and particularly for people of faith. This will be the subject of a future post.

Counseling – It was very disorienting when I had a neuropsychologist tell me I tested high for depression in every possible way. If you’ve been diagnosed, you will most likely need professional counseling to help get re-oriented. If incorporating faith in your recovery is important to you, there are counselors who specialize in that.

Tell that voice in your head to shut up! – You know the one I’m talking about. We all have a voice in our head. If you’re depressed, that voice is the opposite of a motivational speaker. It tells you you’re a loser and gives you all the reasons why. It is quick-tempered and brings back old anger, even for things you and the other person have already made up for. What I finally realize is that voice is not real. It is the product of a chemically imbalanced brain. So drown it out with something positive and uplifting, like…Music.

Music – Does it have to be happy music? Not necessarily. Any music that makes you feel better will help.

Diet & Exercise – I don’t want to be like a certain actor who suggested that all you need to cure Depression (Post-Partum in that case) is diet and exercise. However, you should pay attention to it. Certain nutritional deficiencies can exacerbate depression. And you’ve heard of the “runner’s high”? That’s your brain producing happy chemicals in response to exercise.

Laughter – You’ve heard the saying “Laughter is the best medicine.” It’s hard to be sad or angry while you’re laughing. So watching a funny movie is more than entertainment. It’s therapy.

Sunlight – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression specifically linked to lack of exposure to sunlight. Even if you don’t have SAD, a little more sunshine (with sunscreen) might help lift your mood.

Meditation – Many studies have shown meditation affects the brain in very healthy ways. It promotes calmness, reduces stress and anxiety, and increases your sense of well-being.

Prayer – This doesn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it has been absolutely crucial for coping with stress and with life in general. People of faith, however, tend to think prayer should be the only thing you need to cure depression. I’ve learned the hard way prayer is a great tool – but not the only tool – for recovery.

Favorite activities – This might be the best advice I ever got for coping with Depression: Find something you love to do, and do it (from Kevin Gates, rapper).

Forgiveness – You cannot recover if you are weighed down with anger, grudges, and resentment. If the wounds are fresh, it may take time. But make the choice to forgive, even if it doesn’t look possible right now.

Gratitude – The Law of Attraction says whatever you feel, the Universe will give you more of. If you walk around feeling angry and bitter all the time, the Universe will give you more to feel angry and bitter about. If you walk around feeling happy and grateful, the Universe will give you more to feel happy and grateful about. I don’t hold it as an absolute. I do think there is something to it, though. It’s not the full equation, but it is part of it. Maybe this is why Paul said to the Philippians,

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philip. 4:6-7).

Set the timer – This is a trick I read in an interview with Christopher Reeve. If you remember, he had a horse riding accident that left him quadriplegic. In public, though, it looked like he never let it get him down. One of his tricks was each morning, he would set the timer for twenty minutes. During that time he could cry, rant and rave about how unfair this is, how much it sucks, and when the timer went off, stop right there! Time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and get back to living.

Posture – Will changing your posture really change your mood? There is a mind-body connection. If you are hunched over, arms crossed, looking down, you look depressed and most likely feel depressed too. Straighten your back. Lift your head. Look forward. Open your arms. You’ll not only look confident but most likely feel more confident as well.

Recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – I’m not an alcoholic, but I have found the AA model of recovery very helpful in a number of ways. Its compassionate approach is conducive to healing. It teaches you to take responsibility without beating yourself up. You never say you are “recovered,” but you are recovering. It teaches you to recognize the triggers of addiction, so you can avoid them. It gives you tools to choose happiness over addiction. It invokes the help of a higher power, but what that means is left open to you. And it incorporates the power of a supportive community, which is my next tool.

Community – I believe we were made to live in loving community, at home, at work, in public life. The more places you have it, the better. I remember hearing of a news article with the title, “Loneliness: The Number One Disease in America.” I didn’t read the article, but the title alone is enough to get the point. Depression, especially, is exacerbated by loneliness.

The cure for loneliness is loving, supportive community. I experience that in my family – including oodles of extended family – and in my church. I have said before, even if I did not believe the tenets of the church, I would still go because of the relationships I have there. Whatever a loving community means to you, seek it out. It is the one place where I have always found this scripture to be true:

Give, and it will be given unto you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).

Human touch – Studies have proven what I think most of us know in our hearts. Affectionate touching, from holding hands, to an arm around the shoulder, to snuggling, to hugging, to sex (when it is a genuine expression of love) reduces stress and anxiety and increases feelings of connection and well-being, all of which go a long way to alleviating depression.

But keep in mind, this is only true if the touching is desired by both people. Some people don’t like to be touched (so they say). And not all forms of touching are appropriate in all situations. If you want to incorporate touching to help your recovery, be appropriate and make sure the person on the receiving end welcomes it.

These are some of my tools for weeding out depression. If you don’t mind, tell me in the comments below if any of these have worked for you, or if you use any “tools” that aren’t listed here.

 

Related Articles

 

Roots of Depression, Part 1

Roots of Depression, Part 2

Depressed Christian, Part 1

 

Depressed Christian, Part 1 – Four Principles Guiding My Recovery

You may have noticed I have been reblogging some articles about depression. The reason is I have been working on my own statement about depression, and posting other people’s articles has allowed me to (1) keep content flowing while I work on my own, and (2) start getting information about depression out there.

There are a lot of misconceptions about depression that keep people who suffer from getting the help they need. So in this series I’m going to try to clear up those misconceptions, especially within the church. In my own experience, religion sometimes brought healing and comfort when nothing else would, and sometimes intensified and made my depression worse in ways nothing else could. And so I say I am in recovery from two things: Depression and certain kinds of faith or religion.

The first misconception is thinking depression is only an emotional state. Typically, people say they’re depressed when they are VERY sad. So depression in this sense is extreme sadness. Anyone can feel depressed after the death of a family member or friend, loss of a job, divorce or breakup, or some tragic event in their lives. This is what I call “situational depression.” But depression in the sense I’m talking about is not that kind of sadness. It is a medical condition. It is not something that happens because of life. It is an ongoing condition of the brain.

Did you know that your brain is constantly producing chemicals? More than 100,000 chemical reactions are processed in your brain every second. Obviously that is too much to describe in detail here. For purposes of this discussion, you just need to know that an important part this activity involves the production of chemicals like Serotonin and Dopamine. I will refer to them generally as “happy chemicals.” You have happy chemicals and stress chemicals in your brain. When your brain does not produce normal levels of happy chemicals, you live in a constant, underlying, and invisible state of depression – even when there is no reason for you to be sad. This kind of depression is a medical condition, not an emotional state where you can just “cheer up” or pray your way out of.

I would not know any of this if it weren’t for my personal experience. Sixteen years ago, I was professionally tested for depression. When the psychiatrist gave me the results, he said, “You tested high for depression in every possible way.”

Floored. Stunned. Discombobulated. Those are the only words I can think of to describe how I felt on hearing that. In that moment, my entire view of life and myself changed forever. High in every possible way? There is no more room for denial after that.

And it was not a recent development. I have been living with Clinical Depression all my life. This means my brain needs help in creating a healthy level of happy chemicals. When it does not get help, I walk around moody, temperamental, irritable, and looking angry even when I’m not. I isolate myself and either dread or loathe social interaction. I think all kinds of bad thoughts about myself, friends, family, strangers, the world, God, and life itself. I suffer with anxieties for no good reason. I think no one understands me, so there is no point in talking to anyone.

Of course, I was not like this all the time. It would have been easier to recognize if I were. I had ups as well as downs just like everyone, or so I thought. My emotional/mood spectrum felt normal to me because it was the only thing I had ever known.

If any of this sounds familiar, especially if you can’t identify any good reason for it, you may be one of millions of people living with undiagnosed Depression of some kind. How do you know for sure? Since it is a medical condition, it needs to be diagnosed by a psychiatric professional. But if people close to you think you are depressed, you should seriously consider getting tested. My mother and sister thought there was more going on with me than just the normal ups and downs of life. If they hadn’t urged me to get tested, I would still be undiagnosed, still moody and depressed, and still thinking it was normal.

Sorry for all this boring technical explanation and my personal stuff. But this is important to understand and so easily misunderstood. The depression I’m talking about is not about feeling sad. It’s about living with a brain that does not produce enough happy chemicals. Not understanding that has led to a lot of bad practices and bad advice that make depression worse, not better. When religion gets mixed up in it without understanding what Depression really is, it creates more problems than it solves. An article on Beliefnet said it well. “As we consider the causes of Depression, those of us in the church must face the ways we might be responsible for creating it.”

I’ve experienced some of those ways that church, religion, faith – whatever you want to call your spiritual life and practice – can be responsible not really for creating it, but for making it a lot worse. I thank God from the depths of my soul that He led me out of that and into a church, faith, and spiritual practice that helps my recovery and healing, rather than beats me down for not having “enough faith,” whatever that means. Because the only thing worse than living for ten years (approximately) in a faith or religion that will only acknowledge “spiritual” causes of depression is living in that kind of faith for ten years… and one day.

What I say next, I don’t say lightly. I’m not the type of person who goes around saying, “God told me this, God told me that, God has called me to do this…” So many times I have heard people say things like this and thought, You know what? I bet if I could hear God talking as much as you claim to, right now I’d hear Him saying, “Leave Me out of this!”

It’s not that I believe God doesn’t talk to anyone. I believe God talks to us all the time, but some people hear better than others. I’ve learned from hard experience I don’t hear nearly as well as I would like to. Probably because it’s being filtered through a Clinically Depressed brain. With that disclaimer, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I believe God is calling me to help others who are in the same position I was 16 years ago. People who know they are depressed and in recovery. People who don’t know it but have a sense that something is wrong with them. People who think it’s normal because they have lived with depression all their lives. And more specifically, to help depressed people who are hurt by religion. I believe I am in a position to help point you to what is helpful – and away from most of what is hurtful.

I don’t think I will ever say I am healed from Depression, but the recovery model of Alcoholics Anonymous has been very helpful to me. Just recently I have been able to look at my life today and realize I have come a long way on this road of recovery, though I have by no means come to the end.

There are some lessons I have had to learn the hard way. I hope to spare you some of that drama. With that in mind, here is what I think is most important for you to know.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it (Isa 53:3-5).
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down (Isa 42:2-3).
  3. Some churches and spiritual leaders are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.
  4. With the right help – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and perhaps medically – you can live a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop Depression from sabotaging it.