Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: depression

The virtue of vulnerability

Last Saturday, Chris and I attended a Christian writers’ wordshop (a workshop about words). All the presenters were ladies; the attendees were also mostly ladies, plus four men and one boy.

This is cause for much pondering; why are there so few men at this level? Yes.there are many books by male authors on the bookstore shelves and they are popular. But the ladies are by far the majority among writers of self-published Christian books and in Christian writers’ groups.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the ladies are more willing to expose their vulnerability. On the masculine side, we have been taught to suck it up and keep a stiff upper lip. That puts a barrier between us and our readers.

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One of the presenters on Saturday described how she gave a talk a few years ago on her struggle with depression and how God had sustained her and helped her through it. Afterwards a young lady from the audience had came up to her in tears and had been unable to speak for several minutes, sobbing uncontrollably on the presenter’s shoulder. She had thought she was the only person that had ever experienced such depression. The presenter’s vulnerability had made a connection and offered hope.

The great truth that we all need to learn is that it is the things that we don’t want to write about, the things that we are afraid to expose, that will be the greatest help to a reader. After all, we are not writing to tell the world what great people we are, we want to tell people about the great God we serve.

Non-drug treatments for anxiety and depression

There was a full page ad for Nexalin in a recent edition of the Budget. This is a device which emits a low frequency electrical wave that is said to produce positive results in treating anxiety, depression, insomnia, arthritis, chronic pain and similar conditions. These treatments are available at some chiropractors and other alternative therapy clinics.

I would like to suggest a better solution for these, and other, ailments — get a cat.  Research shows that owning a cat will lower stress, anxiety and blood pressure. Cat owners are less likely to suffer from depression and their risk of having a heart attack is reduced by 40%. There is research showing that the vibrations produced by a purring cat are exactly the right frequency to stimulate the healing of injured bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. These vibrations also help heal wounds and swelling.

Besides, cats are just a whole lot cuter. You don’t need to make an appointment and travel to the nearest clinic offering this kind of therapy either. Your cat will make his own appointment to de-stress your day.

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Lumosity better than Prozac?

owl-158414 A recent study of elderly persons suffering from depression compared the effects of playing cognitive training games on a computer to taking a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI). The cognitive training games were found to work faster and better than the SSRI.

I grant that my headline is a bit misleading. The games were not Lumosity, but something very similar devised for the test. And the SSRI was not Prozac, but another common product of the SSRI group. The number of people in the test was quite small, but the results were encouraging and the researchers are planning a study using much larger test groups.

If further testing bears out these results, it will be a hard pill to swallow (bad pun intended) for the drug companies. They are making huge profits from these pills, yet all the medications in this group are required to carry a prominent warning on the package about the risk of suicide. If Lumosity, or similar games, were proved to work for all age levels, that would be wonderful news.

My wife has been playing Lumosity daily for several months and says that she feels much better and is not nearly as absent-minded as she was. Now, she was never diagnosed with depression, or any other cognitive problem, but if playing Lumosity helps her to have a more positive approach to life while dealing with the effects of CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia), I am all for it.

Things that I know about mental illness

1.    I know that mental illness sometimes has external causes.  One common example would be SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a usually mild form of seasonal depression caused by reduced hours of sunshine in winter.  In the area where I live there are 17 hours between sunrise and sunset at the summer solstice and only 7 hours at the winter solstice.  In addition, we don’t spend a lot of time outdoors in winter time.  I think this affects all of us to some extent and spring fever is a very real thing — an increase in energy and enthusiasm that comes with increased hours of sunshine.  For some individuals the seasonal effect reaches the point of clinical depression during the winter months.  The treatment is to buy a “happy light,” a lamp whose bulb emits light that closely reproduces the spectrum of natural sunlight.  Using such a light for a few minutes every morning greatly reduces the symptoms of SAD.

2.    I know that it is possible to suspect that someone has a spiritual problem when it is really a treatable mental illness.  A man I knew became more and more headstrong at work.  Eventually he went for several days without sleep, brushing aside all warnings that this could not end well.  Then one morning he could not face going to work, he couldn’t even make himself get out of bed for several days.  This pattern repeated at several different jobs.  Eventually a doctor recognized the symptoms of bipolar disorder, medication was prescribed and this man’s life completely stabilized, at home and at work.

3.    I know that it is possible to suspect that someone has a mental illness when in fact it is a spiritual problem.  Another man suddenly stopped looking after his livestock or doing any work on his farm.  His behaviour became very bizarre.  His family had him admitted to the psychiatric ward of a major hospital.  After a few days the doctors released him, saying “There’s nothing wrong with him, he’s just stubborn.”  This problem continued for a number of years, until he finally admitted his need of a restored relationship of God.  He repented and made a thorough cleanup of his life.  His wife later said that the last few years of his life had been the happiest of all their married life.

4.    I know that having something useful to do can sometimes reduce the symptoms of mental illness.  Another friend had schizophrenia, couldn’t hold a job, didn’t trust people and sometimes exhibited quite bizarre behaviour.  Then he rented a rouse, agreed to do some repairs and painting in the house in return for a reduction in his rent, tilled up a garden plot and planted a garden.  He lived in this house for one year and during this year he also held a full time job at a factory in a nearby town, by far the longest he ever held a job.  Unfortunately, after that year the house was sold and his life spiralled downward out of control once more.

5.    I have learned that being quick with helpful advice for those struggling with depression or schizophrenia is about the worst thing I can do.  Patient listening and trying to include them in non-threatening social activities is usually much more helpful.

6.    I know that there are a lot of things that I don’t know about mental illness.

Is anybody listening?

Christians who suffer from depression or other emotional or mental distress often face disapproval if they try to find help in psychologists and pills.  It is true that there are dangers with both.  What kind of help are we offering them?

“Why do Christians shoot their wounded?” was the title of a book published some years ago.  The question is entirely valid.  Why do Christians in a fragile emotional or mental state find it so difficult to talk openly with fellow believers of their struggles?  Isn’t it largely because we are apt to make them feel worse?

I believe there is a time and place for professional help and pills.  They can help someone through a crisis.  But many mood-enhancing pills carry warnings that suicidal thoughts may be a side effect.  Some people find that these drugs make them feel worse.

These people need someone to listen to them.  That is probably the biggest benefit from psychological counsellors.  If you pay them, they will listen.  Why can’t we learn to listen to people with emotional struggles?  We may not be able to identify with their struggles, but would it really hurt to listen?

Our listening should not be passive, neither should it be judgmental.  We will make things worse if we tell people to just snap out of it and stop always looking on the dark side of things.  If they could just snap out of it, they would.  We need to remind them of God’s love and our love.

If sin is somehow involved, it needs to be faced and repented of.  But if we begin with the conviction that every emotional or mental disorder has a spiritual root, we will be miserably useless counsellors.

Years ago an older man began attending the congregation where we were members.  He had spent time in a mental hospital and had been given electro-shock therapy.  He was searching for peace, but in a horribly muddled way.  His strong point was that when he was in a struggle, he had to talk about it.  I was one of the brethren he called.  Sometimes we wondered if his mind was damaged too much to ever find his way through, but after several years and many struggles he found the peace for which he had been searching most of his life.  He had a peaceful and calm trust in God.  He was baptized and we enjoyed his fellowship for a few months and then the Lord took him home shortly before his seventieth birthday.

His son also got converted and was baptized, but in one crucial way his nature was the opposite of his father’s — when something went wrong in his life he would disappear.  He could not face the brethren and admit he had slipped.  One day I happened to meet a man who had known the family years earlier.  He said this son had always wanted to be strong, he exercised, rode a bike and lifted weights to increase his strength.  A light went on for me, he was trying hard to be a strong Christian, too.  He has hit some serious lows in life by always trying to be strong.  Things are going better today.

For twenty years now my wife has had almost daily phone conversations with a lady in another province.  This lady had a miserable childhood and seemed very paranoid when we first got to know her.  I will give my wife a lot of credit for the fact that this lady is doing much better today.  My wife has not agreed with the psychotic suspicions of this lady, but has been sympathetic and supportive and has repeatedly pointed out to her that God is more powerful than all the forces of darkness.

We need to let people know that it is OK to be weak.  The Lord told the apostle Paul “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We are not being an enabler of another person’s unbalanced state of mind when we listen in sympathy.  Their suspicions, fears, and bizarre dreams seem like reality to them.  By listening with love and patience, not giving a lot of critical advice but rather offering them truths from God’s Word, we can help them discern between their troubled feelings and reality.

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations (Romans 14:1).

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves (Romans 15:1).

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