Owen Barfield wrote of C. S. Lewis: “At a certain stage in his life, he deliberately ceased to take any interest in himself…I suggest what began as deliberate choice became at length (as he no doubt always intended it should) an ingrained and effortless habit of soul.
C. S. Lewis had reasons to be depressed – a languishing career at Oxford, a contentious old woman he took care of in his home, his brother an alcoholic, and the death of his beloved wife to cancer. But his life was not found in the circumstances of his life. He discovered his greater self in Jesus Christ and the people in his life. Forgetting yourself is a good antidote to depression and other dark places.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize is a folk song that became popular during the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. It could just as well be a marching song for following Jesus.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:21 that, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In the previous verse He admonishes His disciples to “store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven.” The notes in my wide-margin Bible, dated November 7, 2006, ask Jesus to let me see only heaven that day. I was in the early stages of depression at the time, with the worst to follow. It was like having a cold that later turned into pneumonia. What seeing only heaven meant at that time, I didn’t know, but I learned it in the crucible of my suffering.
God did not cause my depression, but He allowed it, and in the darkness He taught me that He was the light to bring me out of depression. I was in the classroom of depression for four years before the lesson was firmly learned – to keep my eyes on the prize through good times and bad. My graduation present was His leading me out of the most horrible affliction I’ve ever experienced.
“Who are you, Lord?” Paul asked on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. This was in response to the voice of Jesus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Five verses later, the Lord spoke to Ananias, and he answered, “Yes, Lord.” The one answered God’s question with a question and the other with humble submission.
As I stumbled and bumbled through four years of depression, I often asked the wrong question: “Why are You persecuting me, Lord?” I was not responding to God but shouting in the wilderness with no one to hear me. It didn’t happen all at once, but eventually I opened the door of my soul to God’s question: “Are you willing to follow me even in the darkest of depression?” I answered, “Yes, Lord,” and finally followed Him no matter the circumstances or afflictions. I was willing to serve Him in depression for the rest of my life, but He chose to heal me, not because I deserved it but because He’s merciful.
Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 6 not to take things personally but to forgive others who sin against you. He exemplified His advice when He forgave those who crucified Him.
I once tutored a college student who took everything personally – to an extreme. Her life was a mess. When something good happened to her, she felt good. When bad things came her way, she went into a pit of her own making. Her life was all on the surface, like the rind of an orange. It was as if she were undeveloped on the inside. One day she committed suicide.
Robert O’Donnell was a paramedic who saved a young girl fallen into a well. He was famous, and he loved all the attention. When the attention ended, he fell himself – into clinical depression. Eight years after his 15 minutes of fame, he shot himself.
The spirit of depression lurks about fame and fortune. Finish college, and depression waits. Have a baby, earn your first million, win a lottery ticket; the list goes on and on. Ambrose Bierce wrote: “achievement is the death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.”
This lurking depression doesn’t strike everyone who achieves fame or fortune: it strikes those who find meaning outside themselves. An inside meaning is the way to keep depression away. God loves you whether you are a success or a failure. You are His son or daughter. Now that’s real fame and fortune, the kind that sticks with you in all the ups and downs of life.
The fear of the Lord is as unpopular a topic these days as the consequences of sin and eternal damnation. But the Bible says it’s the beginning of wisdom and leads us to life.
To me, the fear of God is like a stoplight that protects me from danger, or a bumper guard on a bowling alley that keeps my ball out of the gutter, or a life jacket that prevents me from drowning in stormy waters.
For those living in depression or other dark places, the fear of the Lord can keep them focused on the promises of God as they obey Him. We’re not to give in to wallowing in self-pity or blaming God for our affliction. We’re to trust in the One who can bring us out of the darkness and keep us safe while we’re in it. As Job said, “Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him.” That’s the prayer of a God-fearing man.
If you are depressed or anxious, the first thing you should do is see a doctor for a complete physical, including a thorough blood workup…before taking medication or seeing a psychotherapist. Among a number of physical conditions that can cause depression or anxiety, an underactive or overactive thyroid may be the culprit.
If your thyroid is underactive, the symptoms may include fatigue, fuzzy thinking, and depression. If your thyroid is overactive, the symptoms could be anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
A woman, who was fatigued and depressed, had had her thyroid levels checked for eight years. They seemed to be normal. It was not until a comprehensive lab test that a doctor suggested treatment. Thyroid disease is not an isolated occurrence: more than twelve percent of the population in the U.S. have some form of it.
Depression is best treated by a regimen of body, soul, and spirit. Start with the body.
One in ten Americans take antidepressants. Two to three hours a week of exercise can replace pills for those mildly to moderately depressed and augment medication for those with severe depression. Here are some facts about exercise:
- Releases endorphins into the bloodstream that is a natural medication for depression.
- May also stimulate the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which is what antidepressants do.
- Boosts self-esteem.
- A study of 45 stroke survivors with depression found that a 10-week strength training program helped reduce symptoms of depression.
- Boosting strength boosts your mood.
- Promotes a rhythm of breathing deeply in and out, which helps depression and anxiety.
Go for Walks Outside
- Sunshine stimulates serotonin levels, which combat depression.
- Gives you energy.
- Moves your thinking from yourself to the nature around you.
Everyone has stress; it’s a normal part of life. Getting up, going to work, driving a car, having a disagreeable discussion, catching a cold, and a poor night’s sleep are staples in the diet of everyday men and women.
The problem is when you dwell on problems and let the stress overwhelm you and you end up with depression, like staying in the woods too long and getting poison ivy. Forget the bad day at work when you get home; don’t dwell on it. Forget the guy who cut you off on the freeway and the argument you just had with your spouse. It’s not what happens to you that’s important; it’s how you take it in. My suggestion – forget it!
I recently came across a book called Back from the Brink by Graeme Cowan. It contains interviews with people from all walks of life who suffer from severe depression or bipolar disorder. In the book, Cowan summarizes what he discovered to be the top ten treatments for depression.
- Supportive psychiatrist
- Supportive psychologist
- Support groups and emotional support of family and friends
- Vigorous exercise
- Belief in God, spirituality, religion
- Fulfilling work, paid or voluntary
- CBT – Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- ECT – Electroconvulsive therapy