I really can’t believe how time flies! Even though I didn’t write on this blog throughout June, I did write a couple of posts on my new blog which is all about writing my autobiography. As with all new ventures, it has some teething issues but here I am, back on my original blog, keeping up my Sunday blog about faith.
Like any self-respecting aspiring writer, I have been doing a lot of thinking and ruminating and some of this soul-searching takes me into dangerous territory, such as my struggles with depression.
It seemed to me that being a Christian made these struggles harder. As I was almost always confronted with an attitude much like that of Job’s friends, so that rather than help and compassion, it was usually judgement and insensitivity. What made this worse was that I understood the response of these well-meaning Christians, I was one of them before I started struggling with depression. So when I feel the dark clouds gathering, I do the only thing I can in such situations, I turn to God.
In my study of the scriptures, I found many Psalms which articulated the exact despair I was experiencing and even when I couldn’t pray and was really down in the dumps, I would just read Psalms over and over and even if I didn’t think the issues were solved or the matter resolved, I would experience the dark clouds lifting and the truth of the love of God comforting me until the next time. This is pretty much how I deal with my depression, because in spite of antidepressants and talking therapies, this is what works for me.
So imagine my delight (and frankly surprise) when last Sunday, the church I attend, All Souls Langham Place, devoted the evening service to a series called Issues Facing Christians – Depression. The purpose of the service was not only to encourage those suffering from depression, but more importantly to encourage the whole congregation, friends and family of sufferers to offer compassion, friendship and prayers for members of the church who might be suffering.
The topic was helpfully delivered in three parts: Depression – The Fact – The need for realism; Depression – the curse – The need for Compassion and Depression – The gift – The need for humility.
The first session was taken by a clinical psychologist who explained that we all misunderstand the seriousness of depression as a mental illness because we use the words in our everyday language. She says that depression needs to be taken seriously, because it’s very common: 1in 6 adults will suffer from depression in their lifetime and in 20 years, WHO predicts it will be the most common illness; it’s debilitating and it’s totally treatable.
She also said, Christians are less likely to admit or recognise depression because of our ‘being full of the joy of Christ’ culture, which I must say was my experience.
Then Mark Meynell, an associate minister at All Souls, talked about depression as a curse which needs compassion and a gift that demands humility. It’s a curse that God understands, as part of our fallen nature, because not only is the Bible full of saints who suffered from depression: Job, David and indeed Jesus, who said, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ but also because the Psalmists express these frailties graphically and candidly. According to Mark Meynell, this is God giving us permission to freely express our despair. After all who better to express it to and who better to deal with it.
For me, in my deep delving into the psalms, I once found a verse that said, ‘When I am down in the pit you are with me’ That was encouragement enough for that bout of depression.
Finally, Mark points to Paul’s reference to God as one who comforts the downcast and his experience with God, when he asks him to remove a thorn from his flesh as proof that depression or indeed any frailty is a gift that causes us to release our ‘strength’ to God, so that in our weakness we are strong in him.
This has certainly been my experience. I never cease to be moved by God’s humility in sending his son to endure the cross, so that when I am down, when I am weak, when I have no answers and no comfort, I can turn to him and he will always answer. This is very humbling indeed and allows me to be a gift to the rest of the body of Christ.
So if you know anyone who suffers from depression, don’t ask why, don’t ask how, don’t ask what it is or when it will be over, just be a friend and give the gift of comfort and compassion, just as our Lord Jesus did for us.