Monday, October 07, 2013
The Hard Part
My late husband suffered from depression and anxiety. He managed it well most of his life through self-control, hard work and tenacity, living a full and productive life, maintaining great relationships and attaining a modicum of success in his career in such a way that most people would never have known.
Experiencing these conditions may lead some to wonder, "Which came first, anxiety or depression?" and "Was it a chemical imbalance, or was it flawed thinking?" and perhaps even, "Why couldn't he just trust Jesus?" These are all unhelpful and have no clear answer.
If you've even barely touched on this in your life, you will know what I mean. You feel a little blue one day and don't perform as well as you would like and you get anxious about it. Then you become more discouraged because you are so uptight. As Christians, it's even harder because we've been raised with this expectation that if we just trust Jesus, we shouldn't be depressed. We look around at our life and look at all our physical and material comforts and think, "My life is great, I have everything I need and more, there is NO reason why I should be unhappy. So we feel even more guilty for feeling sad and begin to question our level of faith, chalking this up as just one more way we are falling short in our lives. Shame and self-condemnation increase our feelings of failure, which brings more despondency and thus begins a cycle that goes down a dark path pretty fast.
Ultimately it doesn't matter whether depression or anxiety came first or what caused them to spiral out of control. They both existed and they both grew. Even medical intervention would not necessarily have solved the issue.
Brent experienced a depression so dark and an anxiety so great that his mind began to convince him there was something wrong that couldn't be fixed. His general thought was, "Why seek medical help? Why take medication? Why consider psychological counselling? What's the point, it will all end in failure!" This thinking shows how much it was affecting him.
A fairly common catch phrase in certain pockets of Christian denominations is "Jesus plus nothing." This is erroneously applied as an argument against seeking psychological assistance for mental or emotional health issues. While it is quite true in a theological sense when it comes to our salvation: it is through trusting Jesus alone that we receive salvation, but when it comes to dealing with physical or emotional illness, Jesus plus nothing is wrong. God has provided science and medicine to assist in dealing with health issues of the body and mind. In our practical human experience, we need the community of professionals who are trained and familiar with the realities of our physical bodies, including our brain, and the expert training of doctors who have researched these areas. Combine this with the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, gratitude, etc.
Ultimately, we do know that our thoughts and emotions can affect our body but our bodies can also affect our thoughts and emotions. How we treat our physical bodies (how we care for them, what we put into them or on them, whether we get enough rest and proper nutrition, if we push ourselves too hard, and so on) affects our thoughts and emotions. It is all so integrated, we need a balanced and holistic approach along with discernment from the Lord.
Even then, nothing is a guarantee. We are complex and amazing creatures. To say we could do all the right things and visit all the right medical, psychological or spiritual "experts" in order to be healed is to be foolish and presumptive. But do seek assistance. Do whatever you can to seek assistance in dealing with your particular situation.
Please, do this. For God's sake and the sake of those who love you.