Thursday, February 28, 2008

What is the meaning of Life?

Whenever I am severely depressed, this question will surface over and over again. During an episode of severe depression that is clinical and last between 3 to 6 months or sometimes longer, to have to face this question every day is a tremendous challenge. Due to some chemical imbalance in my brain in such an episode, I couldn't think clearly nor feel rightly. Depression has a way of numbing my brain so that I am either not able to concentrate to read or think, or my thoughts will be all negative and condemning myself. I seemed incapable of doing anything or deriving any joy in anything I used to enjoy. I could not feel aright, my feelings are either flat most of the time or down most of the time. For some people, during severe depression they will break down in tears and sometimes cry for no particular reasons. For me it was the opposite. In the face of such tremendous pain and struggles, I wanted very much to cry as I felt that may help to release the pain and frustration I am going through during such an episode, but often there are no tears.

During such a episode, I dread to wake up each morning as I couldn't bring myself to face each day. Every morning, when I wake up, I found myself asking over and over again, What is the meaning of life? What is the point of going on like this day after day? I can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. There is no way out of this depths. I have no energy to fight on. So many times I prayed that God will take me home. Living on without the ability to enjoy His love, His Words, public worship, personal devotions, family, friends, work, hobbies, etc is so meaningless. During severe depression, nothing seems to help. Day in day out, night in night out, is the same thing and it goes on for days, weeks, months. Others said they have been depressed before and they just prayed, look to God and they are better. But in severe clinical depression, nothing helps. So no one will understand. What is the meaning of life? Why am I here to go through this suffering over and over again as I have been through it some 12 times by now?

I thank God for leading me to seek help at Counselling and Care Centre in Singapore in January 2007. In my first 2 sessions with my counsellor, Sarah, I recounted to her my past relapses of severe clinical depression in the last 20 years. Sarah noted at the end of my second session with her that there is a phrase I keep repeating and that is during every depressive episodes I will wonder "What is the meaning of Life?". Sarah felt that there is a necessity for me to explore this question and to see how I can get a more realistic and biblical view on this question as that will have an impact in my recovery.

When I first saw Sarah in end January 2007, I had just sought medical help and was on anti-depressant (20mg Fluoxetine or common brand name Prozac). Thank God that I am very sensitive to medication and 1 week after taking Fluoxetine, I was feeling better and more functional. The anti-depressant did not cure me totally but it lifted me up to a more functional level so that I can pray and read the Bible once again and find comfort in God and His Words. I was able to wake up without dreading to face each day and therefore able to cope better with work and life in general. The anti-depressant helped to lift up to a level where my thoughts and feelings are more normal, and I can think more rationally. It was then that I can benefit from counsellings/psychotherapy.

So I was more rational and able to think more clearly when I saw Sarah. After hearing my accounts, Sarah asked me what I think is the meaning of life? Sarah wants me to go home and think about this question and to discuss with her in our next counselling session the following week.

At that time, I was seeing Sarah once a week for about an hour each session. Thank God for my employer and colleauges who allowed me to take time off during working hours to see Sarah. Sarah works in a team with several other counsellors, and our sessions are video taped with my permission. In the room where Sarah counselled me, I only get to see her. Her other colleagues in her team were in the next room, watching the video of our taped session. Towards the end of the session, Sarah will go for a short break of 10 mins to discuss with her team members. She will then come back and conclude the session with me by highlighting some discoveries we made during our sessions and to post some question for me to take home and think and pray about. This was how she helped me to explore my thoughts as I do have some faulty or unhelpful thinking patterns which are so ingrafted in me that I am not conscious of them. But they have tremendous negative effects on my life and learning to identify them will help me to challenge them and turn them to more realistic and biblical thoughts and actions. This is the gift of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or counselling/talk therapy/psychotherapy. I will share more about CBT in future posts.

So on my second session with Sarah, I took the question "What is the meaning of Life?" home with me to pray and explore it further.

To be continued......

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