Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dear Friends,

How are you? Thanks again for your prayers and support. Here I am again at my keyboard to type our some thoughts and feelings to share with you :) Thanks for offering me a “listening ear”.

Recently, a sister-in-Christ wrote to encourage me in my afflictions. She suggested to me that since I enjoy doing art and crafts, that I should do them when I am down with depression. Actually, when I am well, I can enjoy crafts, reading God’s Words, writing, fellowship, singing Psalms & Hymns, etc. But when I am afflicted with severe clinical depression during a relapse, I am not able to do all these. I cannot experience any pleasure in anything I do. Bipolar disorder and other clinical depressions are medical illnesses that need to be treated. It is different from the normal ups and downs which can be overcome by prayers, reading God’s Words and doing things we enjoy or just having fellowship.

During a severe relapse of clinical depression, I experience the following symptoms everyday for a few months which are beyond my control and I can’t “get out” of it despite many prayers or attempt on my own to do so:

Everyday for at least 3 to 6 months, I experience
- Feeling sad or blue, or “down in the dumps”
- Loss of interest or pleasure in things I used to enjoy
- Feeling worthless, hopeless, or guilty (these feelings are faulty but I was unaware of their faultiness during a relapse)
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Feeling tired or having little or no energy
- Feeling restless and confused over life, God, people, myself, etc
- Lost the ability to experience God’s presence with me (often wrongly concluded God has abandoned me). Often not able to enjoy prayers, reading God’s Words and fellowship with brethren although I continue to do so at a lesser degree with much effort.
- Problems concentrating or making decisions. Often having difficulty coping with challenges at work and thus become less productive and backlogs will built up resulting in increasing stress and feeling of hopelessness.
- Thoughts of death (ie. wish the Lord will call me home soon or wish I will not wake up in the morning anymore) or suicide (think of ways I can end my life which will look like an accident - these thoughts are faulty and irrational but uncontrollable during those times as I could not think rationally)

During an episode like this, I often thought wrongly that God has abandoned me. I thought I will never recover or get well and that it is better for the Lord to take me home and be with Him rather than to go on like that. I tend to isolate myself as I have difficulty understanding what I was going through, God’s dealings with me and also don’t know how to share with others or describe to them what I was going through. These unknowingly only aggravated my conditions as I tend to spiral down further and it is also a vicious cycle. It’s like me going round and round in a maze or sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand the more I struggle in it. Those are very painful and confusing times for me. As a believer who sometimes enjoy very heart warming and sweet communion with our Lord especially when my moods are normal or elevated (an episode of mania/manic), to lost the sense of God’s presence with me during an episode of severe depression, was most unbearable. I can bear with any physical pain or tiredness, but found it most difficult to bear with the thought of the absence of God’s presence with me. These thoughts and feelings are faulty but at that point of time I could not see it that way. The depression affected my brain and caused me to think and feel wrongly. It is a symptom of the illness. Now I can see more clearly. But when I was in it, I couldn’t see it this way. As a result, I experience something like a taste of hell daily, without the awareness of God’s love and presence with me. Just like our Lord has experienced being forsaken by God when He was on the cross! I could understand a little of that anguish!

Sometimes, during such relapses, I wonder whether I am truly converted or that I have sinned a great sin against God. But no amount of self-examination, repentance and prayers could cause me to sense anew God’s presence with me or to know that He loves me still. This is because clinical depression with some chemical imbalances causes me to have very low moods and flat moods, which resulted in wrong thoughts and feelings, and consequently wrong perspective and feelings of guilt, worthless and hopelessness. I am not sure if you could understand the pain and anguish I often experience in such an episode. How can I tell another sister or brother of these thoughts and feelings? Who can understand? Often the kindness of many brethren in being very careful and therefore maintaining a certain distance from me for fear of saying the wrong things to me, have been sadly wrongly perceived by me to be avoiding me or despising me. I also during such relapse, tend to wrongly felt pressurized by the kind suggestions of various brethren on supplements, alternative treatments, etc in getting well. I often felt very confused on what I was going through and what ought to be done to get better. I didn’t have the energy to think or research into these avenues. As a result, I suffered even greater anguish, distress and discouragement. Now in retrospect, I repent before God and seek His forgiveness and that of some brethren for having wrongly misunderstood our brethren. Those were part of my illness actually. Now that I am better and able to think more rationally, I do sincerely appreciate all kindness and God’s goodness to me in providing fellowship and support of various brethren.

In order to help you to better understand what I go through and how I really feel (even if these thoughts are faulty), I hope these sharings and the enclosed article will further enlighten you. Hope it will help you to pray more specifically for me as I continue to wait upon the Lord for recovery and also help you to understand something of what other brethren who suffer similar conditions to me may be going through. I thank God that by God’s grace, through prayers and reading God’s Words, medication, counselling, yours and other brethren’s prayers and encouragements, some supplements, changing of diet, exercise, learning new coping strategies, etc my condition is improving day by day. Thank God for His mercies and thank you for your prayers and encouragements. May we be able to pray and support God’s suffering children whom the Lord has sovereignly allowed to be tried in these ways. God promised that He is working all things for His glory and our good.

During an episode of mania or elevated moods, I will experience the following symptoms:
- Increased energy level
- Elevated mood or high and happy mood
- Less need for sleep or less ability to sleep (sometimes insomnia - not able to sleep totally at night or sleeping for just 3 hours or so every night )
- Racing thoughts or mind jumps around (that’s why I started typing and sharing with you and our brethren my racing thoughts recently)
- Easily distracted
- More talkative than usual or feeling pressure to keep talking
- Focused on getting things done, but often completing little
- Risky or unusual activities to the extreme, even if it’s likely bad things will happen

These severe clinical depression and high elevated mood alternates for several months each until my moods returns to normal. In the recent years, my relapses have been more regular which indicates that my condition was worsening. As I have no awareness of this illness in the past, I have not taken any step to prevent it or shorten it. I am thankful to God that through this recent severe relapse, and after some 17 years of roller coaster rides of mood swings, the Lord has providentially led me now to seek medical and counselling help, besides praying and reading His Words, taking some supplements, exercise and learning new coping strategies, and sharing with my brethren and getting their prayer supports and encouragements. I trust that the Lord will continue to restore me and enable me to learn to manage my illness better so that I can live for the glory of God and be more effective in serving Him.

If you know of anyone else who is suffering from similar conditions to mine, please do let them know that this is a medical illness that can be treated. It is not wrong for Christians to seek medical help or other helps for mental disorders. Just like Christians can seek medical help and other helps when we suffer from asthma, diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, etc, so Christians can also seek medical, professional and counselling help, and other helps with mental illnesses. Please do not hesitate to share my experiences with them and I will be happy to be in contact with them, if necessary, or if I can pray or encourage them in any ways.

In time of severe clinical depression, in particular, it is important to have the prayer supports and encouragements of fellow Christians. But sadly the sufferer is often reluctant to share with people, partly because of the low and depressed mood crippling the ability to share or seek help, and also the various misunderstanding people have regarding this condition (even Christians). In one of his messages of a series of 6 video messages on “The Black Hole of Depression” by Mr David P Murray, a minister from Stornoway Free Church of Scotland Continuing (http://www.sermonaudio.com/), he quoted the following: “In his book, the Practical Workbook for Depressed Christian, John Lockley comments, ‘Being depressed is bad enough in itself but being a depressed Christian is worst. And being a depressed Christian in a church full of people who do not understand depression is like a little taste of hell.’” I know by experience, the pain of this truth. Although unintentional, sometimes the misunderstanding or lack of awareness among fellow Christians in the church resulting in a lack of support or unintentional insensitive remarks to the sufferer of this perplexing illness, can deepens the anguish that he/she is going through albeit unintentionally. Yet God is also working this for the good of His suffering child as he is enabled to look away from men to God alone for Help and strength. But having said that, it is so wonderful and encouraging to have the understanding, compassion, cares, prayers and encouragements of fellow Christians in such a dark and difficult day. It can deepen ones fellowship with God’s beloved people. I am thankful to God that this is now my experience, by His grace! Thanks for making it possible for me by your understanding, compassion, prayers, encouragement and supports. May our Lord bless your kindness to me and His other suffering children. May we all be sanctified through such furnaces of afflictions and be brought to a closer walk with God and one another as we learn to look to the Lord and support one another through all the changing scenes of life in our pilgrim journey until the Lord calls us home to our eternal rest where we can then enjoy Him and one another for all eternity. Then He share wipe away all our tears and we shall forever enjoy His presence and communion.

Thanks again for all your prayers and encouragements. May you continue to know the love of God, His joys, His mercies and faithfulness in your various callings. Take care!

With appreciation and prayers,

Some replies from my friends and brethren-in-Christ whom I shall keep anonymous unless they give me permission to put their names on this webpage:

Dear sister,

Thanks for your sharing sister. Thank God for lifting you up again from your moments of darkness. Indeed no one but you have experience once again the times of God’s gracious help in your deepest moments. We can surely see how you are drawn closer to Him in those times.

Thanks again sister for opening your thoughts to us so that we can have a glimpse of your experience to understand you better. Surely it takes a lot of courage to do that.

Above all we are glad to see that you are once again out of this difficult times by the grace of God. Your experience has also confirm my understanding of what I read recently on clinical depression. I picked up the book from our church library as I recently begin to have interest to understand these areas ….

Dear sister,

Thanks for your email and the articles. The one by Timothy Rogers is very helpful to us and hopefully we can apply some of his advice whenever Providence places us beside someone who is in depression.

I must admit it is quite difficult for me (who is quite optimistic in character) to understand the situation and what’s going on in the mind of someone who is depressed. I called a sister about a month ago, and she was so unwell that she couldn’t even talk to me for more than a minute. And she really sounded terrible. And she has been through periods of severe depression so many times. But your sharings have rebuked me and reminded me that I ought to be much in prayer for this sister, even though I do not understand the ‘why’ or ‘how’ of her condition.

Please feel free to post any of my replies onto your website. I believe it is always encouraging for christians to read of the Lord’s work in his saints, and I’m sure that there will be people who will benefit greatly from the postings on your condition and struggles.

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