Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Email 10 - 23 April 2007 : My reflections of God’s goodness despite the unpleasant prospect of my illness

Dear Friends,

Greetings to you in our Great High Priest Jesus Christ!

It was good to be in the house of the Lord again yesterday to worship and fellowship. Every such opportunity now to me is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Thank God for His mercies.

Thanks again for your prayers and encouragements. It means a lot to me. It is such a tremendous source of support to me as I learn to wait upon our Lord for strength and grace daily and I thank God for you always and your willingness to walk with me through this difficult journey. I recognize this as a blessing from God and a token of His love for unworthy me because of what Christ our Lord has done for us by laying down His life on the cross for us and redeemed us from the power and effect of sins.

Thank God for enabling me to rest well last night. I am up early this morning feeling much refreshed, and so here I am again, at my keyboard typing out some of my thoughts and feelings to share with you God’s goodness to me in many wonderful ways.

I thank God for His many mercies to me in providing very good doctors and counselors for me and also in providing many caring family members, brethren, friends and colleagues. I am especially thankful to God for providing a caring new Doctor, to follow-up on my medications. I realized it can be a long process to find the right treatments for my condition and I am grateful to God for providing a very experienced and caring doctor. The Doctor is a very humorous doctor and I really thank God for him. He has made my first visit with him such a pleasant and memorable one. Instead of sitting in his room and recounting my past history of relapses in tears or anguish, there I was sitting in his room and laughing every now and then at his jokes (which I have to, at times, use much wisdom to discern because he jokes without laughing or smiling!) Can you imagine such comical scene? :-) Well, with God all things are possible!

But I must confess that these few mornings, when I up very early and reflected on what he told me about my condition, tears came to my eyes. He had told me very honestly that based on my family history and history of relapses in the past, there is a possibility that despite being on medication and having other helps, I can still fall into very severe major depression to the point that I am tempted to suicide again, or on the other extreme of the pendulum, I may become very high in an episode of manic to the point that I can become crazy! I felt as if I have been given a “sentence” that is worst than an death sentence or worst than being told I have 4 stage of terminal cancer. To be told that one can either be so depressed to the point of ending ones life in suicide or one can be so high to the point of losing ones mind and becomes crazy, is a very very difficult experience. I take great comfort in the knowledge that God loves us dearly and will not allow us to be tempted more than we can bear. No matter what difficulties or even dark valleys, He in His love and sovereignty, allows us to go through, He is with us and will never never leave us nor forsake us. He has promised:

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: …… Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: …. Fear not: for I am with thee: …..;” Isaiah 43:2-5

I am taking comfort from the following Scripture passages too:

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” 2 Corinthians 4:6-11

“Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:14-18

“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:” 2 Corinthians 5:1-2

Thank God for the book “Broken Minds” by Steve and Robyn Bloem which I am reading now. Steve described in such vivid manner the difficulties he went through in his own experiences with depression and the long tedious process of finding the right treatment for him. Through his writing I could identify with some of his sufferings and I know now that I am not alone in these difficult struggles. In fact Steve went through even more deep trials and sufferings than me as his illness was very severe. The struggles he went through in order to come to term with his illness was understandable as depression is generally a stigma in our society and especially among Christians. No blood test, x-ray, ECG or scan can reveal the presence of this invincible illness yet its effect is devastating. Steve’s apprehension about being put on antidepressant or to “pop the pills” is common to all sufferers of this perplexing illness. Steve share in Chapter 9 The Chemical Response to Mental Illness of his book “Broken Minds”, page 103:

“Christians are still among the most resistant to treatment. We tend to balk at the idea that believers can have mood problems. This resistance persists in part because we have not learned what an antidepressant is or does.

For my depression, I could not think it away, pray it away, or exorcise it. I claimed Bible verses. “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10) did not apply. Group therapy provided only a brief catharsis during a period of moderate depression.

In Christian literature I found little counsel about how Christians should approach the taking of such medications. Few fellow believers I knew were positive about taking such drugs. I could understand that. When a psychiatrist came in to explain psychotropic medicines to our pastoral internship class, I was the first intern to raise my hand, questioning their use.

If I were a pastoral intern today, I might raise the same objections, even though a lot of research has come along to clarify the role of chemistry in mental illness. There is still among Bible-believing Christians a strong tendency either to deny the efficacy of antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stablizers or to try to integrate the place of medication into a nonmedical model.”

On the great temptation sufferers often face and the effects of medications or even ECT treatment in saving lives, Steve shared in Chapter 4 The Alluring Song of Suicide, Broken Minds, pages 60 and 61:

“Above all, do not ‘freak out’ around someone who might be suicidal. A calming word of love may not be all that’s needed, but it’s a start. Overreaction can unravel the fragile web that still holds the person together.

A particular warning about overreacting relates to medication. More will be said below about medication, but a somber warning in relation to depressed people is in order. You may truly believe that all medicines, or at least all antidepressants, are of the Devil. You may be able to convince the person to stop taking medicine, just as you might convince a diabetic to trust God instead of insulin. If you do either, you are betting someone’s life on the truth of your own particular theology. Are you willing to accept the responsibility for sending another person to his or her death?

As both a professional counselor and someone who has been suicidal, I say strongly and plainly that it can be every bit as fatal for someone with clinical depression to stop taking medication as for the diabetic to suddenly quit all treatment. Christians sometimes have a particular aversion to electroconvulsive therapy (E.C.T.) or shock treatments. Family members and fellow church members may be horrified by the thought of them. But it is hard to argue with fact: Someone who has had a series E.C.T. treatments seldom commit suicide. E.C.T. is the psychiatrist’s emergency tool. It saves live.”

I am of the opinion that while self-help techniques and some natural remedies can help people with mild depression, those who suffer from severe depression do need some kind of medication besides these helps to preserve their lives. Medications and medical treatments then must be viewed in these cases as gifts from God and not a rejection of God’s grace. In my own experience with severe major depression and constant struggles with suicidal thoughts and temptations, I am convinced that I need to be on medication during a severe relapse, besides other help which I am already receiving such as prayers, reading God’s Words, fellowship, counseling, self-help techniques, supplement, exercise, etc. Without medications which can stabilize my mood, my condition can deteriorate to such a distressing stage that I lose all ability to think rationally and I can be repeatedly tempted to do away with my own life in moment of weaknesses. I can go through this without anyone’s knowledge and therefore no one can come on time to save me. This is what happened recently on 11 Dec 2006 and what prompted me to finally seek professional help. To protect myself from ever committing such “a sin of the broken minds” (as Steve Bloem puts it) again, I must bear with whatever inconveniences or side-effects these medications may have until God shows me another alternative. To exchange these treatments for the possibilities of other natural remedies which we have no way to know which will work for each different individual, is to take the risk of the possibility of my condition worsening and indirectly led to my eventual suicide. This is possible and I wouldn’t take the risk as suicide dishonour God. But then even on medication, I still have to know that there is still the possibility of such a sad ending. I take comfort that our Lord Who has preserved me through 17 years (or possibly more) of this illness without getting much help in the past, will now with the use of various means, continue to preserve me so that I can live for His glory and serve Him in my limited capacities, as He enables me.

I thank God for the peace and joy in my heart despite this gloomy and uncertain prospect. I am sure this is no least to your prayers to God for me. Thanks for your prayers and support. I am learning now daily to rejoice in the Lord and to be contented in my lot for His grace is sufficient for me. Even when I do not understand the paths that I am to thread, I do trust in His love and sovereignty. Like Habakkuk, I am learning this precious truth:

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places….” Habakkuk 3:17-19

I feel that I am living like a dying man daily. I do not know when I might have a severe relapse to the point that my life may end in some ways or I might one day lose all my senses and mind to the point that I become insane. Truly, our lives is in God’s hands. May God “..teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Psalm 90:12.

I hope to seek and serve our Lord as best He enables me now that I am still sane and have the strength to do so, limited though it is. My limitations will enable me to cast myself more upon Him Who loves us, and depend more on His grace and faithfulness. Though I use whatever means available, ultimately my trust is in God, Who alone can raise the dead and heal all diseases. If He doesn’t, then He will take us home to be with Him where there shall be no more tears or suffering. That is a blessed prospect! So may you too find much encouragements and joy as you seek and serve Him in your various callings and no matter what difficulties or discouragements we face, let us continue to encourage ourselves in the Lord. The reminder from RC Sproul’s message yesterday on the life of David as very apt. He was distinguished as “a man after God’s own heart” because he encouraged himself in the Lord in the midst of severe trials and he enquired of the Lord before he goes his ways. May we learn to do that daily that we may live for the glory of God until the day He calls us home to our eternal rest to enjoy Him and one another for all eternity. To God be the glory.

Yours appreciatively,

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