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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Struggling With Depression


 Genie, You are Free

I don’t like that term, but after considering a number of alternatives, I decided that there just isn’t a better word to use, because depression really does just suck.  

It’s terrible that it was a factor that led Robin Williams to where he could see nothing worth living for any longer.  But as a friend and I discussed casually today, anybody who has ever really struggled with depression certainly understands the battle Robin faced.  I heard actress Patty Duke discussing her own bouts with depression in relation to a book she has written about her own struggles with it.  

I don’t intend to write an article about Mr. Williams, but his death raises a topic that is so relevant for people struggling in the throes of divorce, but also relevant for countless individuals regardless of their marital status. 

Estimates of the number of Americans who struggle with depression is reported regularly in the media...but I know the number is wrong, because I know plenty of people who have struggled with depression who have never gone to a doctor or counselor to discuss it, so they are not counted in the statistics.  These statistics, at best are merely educated estimates.  

Many people struggle with depression in our world, and some of those people are individuals who smile and laugh a lot in life, at least on the outside.

If you go the topical index of the first volume of my books, Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce, you will find under the listings depression, discouragement, despair, emptiness that the volume contains 18 essays in these categories.  If you add the topics emotion and failure, you find another 11, which means that nearly one third of the book deals with the tough negative emotions individuals experience as they go through divorce.  The writings include the recognition of the reality of these difficult experiences, and some ideas for ways of dealing with these emotions.  These devotions are in there because I know myself what it is to wrestle with periods of depression, especially during the process of divorce.

There are those who believe that all an individual has to do is to pick themselves up and get back to work.  Or that in order to recover from depression we need to replace it with joy, countering the depression with pleasant thoughts and a focus on pleasant things.  Choosing to focus on the positive things in life and be happy... 

Or those who offer lots of other little quick fixes, each of which provides mounting evidence that the person offering the advice has no clue what depression is really like.  None.  

It is true that we can do things to counter the moods of depression, things like medication, sunshine, accomplishing simple tasks, spending time with a counselor, refraining from isolation…there is a long list.  And they can help.  

Perhaps one of the most useful things to note from the suicide of Mr. Williams is that he was doing those things, and yet, it wasn’t enough.  

In other words, there are NOT simple little magic answers and there certainly are not any “one size fits all” solutions.  

Depression IS a tough thing to deal with, and since divorce also means you have lost a hugely significant relationship, then one of life’s support pillars is no longer available.  That alone can be very depressing.

If you have friends or acquaintances who struggle with depression or who are going through a divorce, it is very wise of you to keep in touch with them, to monitor their moods and energy levels.  Doing so may save someone’s life, literally.  

Some may not experience as much depression as others, but some experience incredibly intense depression and, like Mr. Williams, may not be able to find their way out.  There is a time a place for intervention, and hospitalization is sometimes the only way for individuals to turn the necessary corners and receive the needed help.  

As a friend, you can offer support, love, friendship, advice, and it can make a huge difference.  But you must also realize you cannot “fix” individuals struggling with depression…that individual has to make choices themselves, too.  They have to choose to take the medicine, to call the suicide prevention hotline, to quit drinking and adding more depressants into their bodies, to get up out of bed in the morning and do something... even though they don’t feel like they have the energy.  

Sadly, sometimes no matter how much help and support is available, the end of the story may not be a happy one.  And, as those who loved Robin found out, family and friends cannot always change that ending, no matter how much they might wish they could.  

In the news coverage of Robin Williams, as the speakers discuss depression, many times I have heard them use the phrase, “fighting his own personal demons.”  Those who struggle with depression or have friends who do, understand what that phrase seeks to communicate.  However, I would also make a suggestion that this very phrase unwittingly suggests:  there is a spiritual component that makes a difference in the experiences of depression.  As a person who believes that there actually ARE such things as demons, I acknowledge that such beings can afflict individuals with devastating depression…but I would quickly add that I do NOT believe that is always the case.  Brain chemistry, financial upheaval, relationship breakdowns…lots of things can result in depression.  However, to treat depression without considering the spiritual realities of life may well ignore one of the most important components to effective treatment.  Sadly, though, all too often that is exactly the case as people believe a few pills or a few hours of talk therapy can fix everything.

One of the great things about the teachings of scripture is that the New Testament faith is one that is filled with the promise of hope.  

Death is not the end of the story.  

The evil we experience in this world is not the final victor.  

The mess we make in our lives does not mean we are beyond redemption.  

The wounds of our hearts and souls can be healed.  

In fact, Hebrews calls this hope of faith as the anchor for our souls.  Suicide from depression so often occurs because the individual has lost all sense of hope.  Why would we neglect offering the great hope offered by Christ as a significant part of help for those despairing in hopelessness?  

Having a relationship with God does not mean the believer is immune from the struggles and emotions of this world.  And when things like divorce knock us off our feet, faith does not mean that depression is not ever going to come our way.  Faith does offer something beyond ourselves to cling to, and Someone beyond ourselves Who can help conquer in us those things we cannot conquer on our own.  

The apparently suicidal death of Robin Williams is a sad thing.  His family has my prayers.  Sadder still would be if none of his friends ever told him that even in our darkest hour, there is hope, a hope that can be found only in Christ.  Those of us who have times that we struggle with depression may indeed have times we walk through very dark valleys in life.  But if we also have Christ, we never have to walk those valleys alone.  

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