One of England's finest preachers was C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). During his ministry, he frequently plunged into severe depression, calling out to God in desperation. Through his suffering, he concluded that, "there are dungeons beneath the castles of despair".
We all have times in our lives when life feels dark and heavy; when things just don't seem to make sense the way they used to; when each step seems impossibly difficult. Depression is sometimes a normal healthy response to adverse situations in our lives. Other times the source of our depression is more insidious and deep. It is important to understand how it is affecting us and what we may be able to do with it.
In many cases, depression is about perspective - not that the right perspective gets rid of depression, but the right perspective sustains through depression. This requires truth. To get through depression is to find the truth and hold on to it even if we don't feel like it or believe it at the time.
Sources of depression
1. Endogenous depression is depression from within. It occurs when there is a chemical imbalance in our brains which affects our hormonal levels and the nervous system. This kind of depression needs to be assessed by a doctor, so if you have concerns about depression, please seek consultation from your doctor alongside the counselling or other help you may have.
2. Exogenous depression is depression from without. This is our internal reaction to things that are going on around us - change, stress, death of a loved one, abuse, job change, etc. This type of depression is closely linked to grief because it is the way we are dealing with the change or loss in our life that leads us to experience depression or not. Left untouched, we can become chemically depressed. It is so important that a person experiencing depression of any type talk with someone.
3. Depressed identity occurs when we make the choice to live with the depression, accepting it as our normal response to life. We define ourselves by the way we feel and by what is happening around us. It begins as a reaction to stress or a loss, but if not dealt with appropriately, it can become habitual. Depression then becomes our way of escaping the reality of the pain of loss and avoiding the anxiety of facing our fears. This creates a lifestyle of self-pity and attention seeking (- think Eeyore from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories). Often persons with depressed identity will anticipate disaster. They have the expectation that nothing will go right and if something does go right it is only a fluke.
Here are some signs of depression. Remember that a sign is simply a sign, not a diagnosis. It is important to look at the pattern of signs over time before coming to a conclusion.
- Persistent sadness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt
- Loss of interest in ordinary activities
- Sleep disturbances
- Eating disturbances
- Thoughts of death/suicide
- Restlessness and irritability
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Digestive disorders
- Chronic pain
- Persistent crying
Coping with depression
Sometimes all we can do is cope with depression. It is a journey that takes time. Though this may not sound too helpful, at times all we can do is hang on until the darkness passes. But in the midst of that, we need to be responsible and accountable for who we are and how we are acting in the midst of depression. Here are some thoughts on how to cope with depression:
- First of all, develop a life around prayer and spiritual disciplines - not to get rid of depression, but to be sustained through it
- If minor: Don’t do anything, just wait it out as it is likely a time of self-healing that is needed in you and your body and mind. You know how to do this better than you think, so trust yourself and wait it out, knowing that there is light ahead.
- If major: Identify the loss, accept the loss and the feelings that go with it (give yourself time to grieve), then get on with your life. Whenever possible, act as though the depression does not exist (go out, be with people, stay on a healthy routine as much as possible)
- Find people who have suffered, too; they are often the people with a good perspective on this. How did they get through? What was most helpful? What did they learn?
- Plan a strategy for coping
- List steps to take for a given task
- Develop supportive and caring relationships
- Carry notes to yourself
- Never make important decisions during this time
- Catch negative thoughts - correct misconceptions about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit
- Answer negative thoughts
- Target problems you need to change
- Identify and change underlying beliefs
- Act in spite of your feelings
- Learn to really relax
- Deal with the things that make you susceptible - keep them in perspective, forgive others, connect with people in healthy ways
- Talk to a doctor about medication - the most helpful treatment for depression is a combination of medication (which sustains) and behavioural change (which moves us through depression)
And be sure to seek the professional help you need.
If you think you may be going through depression, please contact us to schedule an appointment with a counsellor.