Mental weariness. Bodily exhaustion. Self-condemning thoughts. Poor self-esteem. Regret. Shame. Desperation.
At its worst, depression can feel like a living death.
Until about the age of thirty, I did not understand that I had an issue with depression. When I was growing up it was not well understood and there was a lot of stigma. I thought my melancholy was a character defect.
Academically, I did well at school. I studied law at University, completed law-school and got a good job as a solicitor in a prestigious firm in the City.
However, I never liked the job and my mental well-being declined sharply. I ended up suffering a breakdown and had to leave a career which I had trained for years to get.
There was also guilt in thinking that, as a Christian, I should be doing better. I could hear an inner voice saying, ‘Now come on, count your blessings. Pull yourself together. Chin up. Stop being a failure. ’
This voice causes you to become more depressed. You find you can’t simply get rid of the feeling in your own strength and this gives you yet another reason to feel rubbish about yourself.
Over the next few years I got involved in voluntary work and church ministry and my life had various ups and downs. I was accepted for ordination into the Church of England and I worked in a parish in south London, before going to the Lee Abbey community in Devon as Chaplain where I met my wife.
After getting married I became a vicar of a parish in Wilshire and we started a family. My life was blessed in many ways. I had a lovely wife, great children and real purpose in my job.
But the ‘black dog’ of depression and anger (which I learned is closely related) had not gone away. It came to the surface again in serious ways. It threatened to destroy my family life and my ministry.
Body, mind and spirit
One day I heard a medic who specialised in treating depression, Dr Grant Mullen, say that depression needs to be treated by attention to body, mind and spirit. Medication, counselling, dietary changes and spiritual help could all complement each other.
I also felt God speaking to me through the story of Naaman and Elisha in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was successful and respected, but he suffered from an unpleasant skin disease. He went to see the prophet Elisha who told him that to be healed he had to do something he didn’t want to do: he had to bathe in the river Jordan seven times over.
I felt God saying to me that I needed to do seven things that I didn’t want to do.
1. Recognise that my depression affected those I loved as well as myself
If Naaman had refused to humble himself and do what Elisha said, he would have gone home with his pride intact, but he would still have been diseased. He had to swallow his pride to find wholeness. As a husband, father, and Christian Minister, I realised that I had a duty to seek wholeness because of the way it affected those I love.
2. Overcome reluctance to seek medical help
After a previous bad experience with unsympathetic doctor, I was reluctant to go back to a GP. But I realised I had to be honest about how I was behaving. I confessed everything. Mercifully, this doctor didn’t judge me but prescribed me medication that was (and still is) part of my healing. Just like a diabetic needs insulin, I need to raise my levels of serotonin.
3. To seek counselling
My third ‘plunge in the Jordan’ was to seek counselling. God uses wise people to disentangle the knotted thoughts and unhelpful scripts that we are stuck in. I think everyone would benefit from counselling from time to time but for people with depression it can be vital.
The next three were all dietary and lifestyle related:
4. Give up caffeine
In my job, you are often asked ‘Tea or coffee, vicar?’ It’s a bit of pain to always ask for de-caff, but it’s been essential to maintain my equilibrium.
5. Give up alcohol
I have always enjoyed a nice glass of wine. But I knew I had to give up alcohol because it is a depressant. Similarly to caffeine, alcohol destabilises me and it had to go.
6. Be disciplined about sleep
I also realised how important getting enough sleep was. I needed to maintain the discipline to go to bed and avoid staying up late to watch TV, read or work. I know I need to get an average of eight hours sleep or else I can expect problems.
7. Seek healing through prayer
Even though I was leading a church myself, I needed to receive prayer ministry for myself. Deliverance from evil can be easily misunderstood, but it is about prayerfully identifying areas in our lives which need repenting of, making Jesus Lord, and forgiving others. The spiritual battle is real – we need deliverance from the footholds that our spiritual enemy has in our lives.
I have not suffered anything like clinical depression for fourteen years. Even my worst days now are better than what I often experienced before. I thank God daily for this.
Of course, I am not yet completely healed. None of us can be in this life. But through these seven steps, I have experienced the power of God which can break into our lives now and bring significant healing and blessing.