Saturday, March 29, 2008

God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever

Yesterday, I shared about how God's presence and His Words have been a comfort to me in my struggles with severe depression in bipolar disorder. Even though at times due to severe depression in which my brain was not able to receive the appropriate messages and I could not think or feel aright, God is still with me, He sustains me through very difficult, painful and lonely experiences and I found comfort from Psalm 130 in which I am reminded that as I cried unto the Lord from the depths of the pit I was in, the Lord will deliver me. Thank God for His mercies and faithfulness that usually after 3 or 6 months of such sufferings, the Lord delivered me and the chemical in my brain were restored, I am once again able to enjoy prayers, reading the Bible, public worship, fellowship, my family, my friends, my work, my hobbies, etc etc.

Jenalexa commented that she is glad to hear that I know in the deepest part of my heart, God loves me and I know he is there no matter what mood state I am in. She felt that this is a great testimony to others who suffer with depressive states and feel judged or condemned while in that condition.

Paula said she too finds it very difficult to enjoy things during depression. Then, she feels guilty for that and it just makes her feel worse. Thank God that He understand everything about us, even though we often don't understand ourself. She found that it's when she just let go and cry to God from the depths of her heart that she finds the most release.

It is sad that sometimes Christian are condemned for going through severe depression even when the nature of it is biological or due to a mood disorder. It is a mercy that God understands and allows this thorn in our flesh for His glory and our good. And He loves and cares for us, sustains and delivers us in His time.

Dr David P Murray did 6 very encouraging and information videos on "Depression and the Christian". In his first message on "Depression and the Christian : The Crisis", he spoke about the impact depression will have our spiritual life:

"We might say that there are three main elements in our make-up that affect our overall well-being: our body, our soul, and our mind (our thoughts). These are not three watertight and disconnected entities. There is considerable overlap and connectivity. When our body breaks down, it affects our spiritual life and our thinking processes. When our spiritual life is in poor condition, our thoughts are affected, and often our bodily health and functions also. It is therefore no surprise that when our mental health is poor, when our thinking processes go awry, that there are detrimental physical and spiritual consequences.

The depressed believer cannot concentrate to read or pray. He doesn’t want to meet people and so may avoid church and fellowships. He often feels God has abandoned him.

Moreover, it is often the case that faith, instead of being a help, can actually cause extra problems in dealing with depression. There is, for instance, the false guilt associated with the false conclusion, “Real Christians don’t get depressed.” There is also the usually mistaken tendency to locate the cause of mental illness in our spiritual life, our relationship with God, which also increases false guilt and feelings of worthlessness."

How true that we often mistakenly thought that our depression is due to something wrong in our relationship with God, which increases false guilt and feelings of worthlessness. The truth is for those of us with mood disorders such as bipolar or major depression, our depression is due to some chemical imbalance in our brain which cause our brain not able to send or receive appropriate messages. We can't think or feel aright generally, including spiritually.

And sometimes, sadly, our conditions can be made worst by others, even our loved ones and friends, who do not understand what we are going through and simply accused us of not trusting in God, etc etc. It is particularly difficult for Christians as we get blamed excessively for sin and lack of trust in God when we are in fact trusting in God despite our pains and sufferings, and looking to Him for mercies and deliverance.

Dr David P Murray also spoke about this widespread misunderstanding on depression:

“Being depressed is bad enough in itself, but being a depressed Christian is worse. And being a depressed Christian in a church full of people who do not understand depression is like a little taste of hell.”

As we all know there is a terrible stigma attached to mental illness. This is the result of widespread misunderstanding about its causes, its symptoms, and the “cures” available. Some of the misunderstanding is understandable. Unlike cancer or heart disease or arthritis, there is no scan or test which can visibly demonstrate the existence of depression/anxiety. It is a largely “invisible” disease. We want to be able to point to something and say, “There’s the problem!” When we can’t, we often wrongly conclude, “There is no problem!” Or, if we are Christians, we may, usually wrongly, conclude, “My spiritual life is the problem!”

This misunderstanding is addressed in the excellent book, I’m not supposed to feel like this (a book written by a Christian pastor, a Christian psychiatrist, and a Christian lecturer in psychiatry). Near the beginning of the book, they summarise what they believe and what they do not believe about depression:

“What we believe: We believe that all Christians can experience worry, fear, upset and depression. We also believe that being a Christian does not prevent us or our loved ones from experiencing upsetting and challenging problems such as illness, unemployment, or relationship and other practical difficulties.

What we do not believe; Although at times we all choose to act in ways that are wrong and this can lead to bad consequences for us and for others, we do not see anxiety and depression as always being the result of sin; neither do we

believe that mental health problems are the result of a lack of faith.”

It is absolutely vital for Christians to understand and accept that while mental illness usually has serious consequences for our spiritual life, mental illness is rarely caused by problems in our spiritual life.

Truly, there is still much misunderstandings about depression and bipolar depression even among Christians. It is often ascribed to a weakness in our character, our being too emotional, our lack of faith in God or our sins. There are times when these are true but they are not always so. Thank God that even when we don't understand what we are going through during a severe depression episode due to our mood disorders or other reasons, and others judged or condemn us or misunderstood us, God's love for us remains unchanging and He understands and cares for us. He gives us grace and strength, and delivered us in His time.

Thank God that now my family and friends are more understanding and supportive. I am thankful to God for their love and kindness as they seek to understand my condition and bear with me in my weaknesses and struggles with this chronic mood disorder. I know that at times it can be very difficult, confusing and frustrating for our family, loved ones and friends as they could not understand our behaviours or what we are going through. Thankfully there are many helps available to on how family members and friends can help to understand and care for their loved ones with mood disorder. Thank God for family and friends who cared enough to study depression and how best they can love their loved ones through this condition.

I am thankful to God that He is with me always and He has provided many people who love and accept me, including my many blogging friends! I found that though my flesh and my heart failed at times and others also misunderstood me, God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. What a mercy!

I took picture of these beautiful flowers at the Sentosa Flower exhibition at Sentosa Island, Singapore.

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