Sunday, 1 June 2014

That's Me In The Corner...

I've wanted to write a post about depression and faith for some time now, but it was always going to be a tricky topic to tackle. In gentlemen's clubs, apparently, there are three topics of conversation that are forbidden; you don't talk money, you don't talk politics and you don't talk religion. Apparently real gentlemen don't discuss women either. This is probably why a lot of chaps seem obsessed by (one of the few remaining topics of conversation) sport; and leads to the obvious joke about men talking a lot of balls...

I'd better nail my colours to the mast right now and own up to be very common or garden vanilla flavoured C of E. I have no idea how other Faiths deal with mental illness, I can only relate my own experience.

Although the term "depression" is not found in the bible, many of the characters obviously suffered with mental health issues. King Saul suffered from black moods (described as an evil spirit) and Elijah suffered great lowness of spirits after his triumphant defeat of the prophets of Baal. St Paul relates of his anxiety and depression caused by his pastoral duties.

But it does seem that depression in the bible is related to events, duties or to a decision to turn away from God. I can't find anywhere the clinical depression that regularly falls from a blue sky to cloud the sufferer in inky darkness for no apparent reason. Yet Christians and people of other faiths are not immune to this disease.

What I have found extraordinarily unhelpful in the past is the attempts by well-meaning Christian counsellors to blame my depression on "sin" and to posit that, once that sin had been identified and repented from, the depression would lift automatically as day follows night.

No doubt unwise life choices contributed to this depression from time to time, but I find much more positive Jesus' reply to a question asked by his disciples of a man born blind: "Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus replied "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him."

So, that's what I try to do: use this condition for good. I'm pretty open about being bi-polar and happy to be known (affectionately) as "Mad Mary". I'm not going to pretend; in the bad times God seems as far away as everything else; but just as I know I have the support of family and friends, even though I can't always feel it, I have faith that God is there too. Each time it gets easier to bear and get through the black fog to the sunshine on the other side; each time the dark tunnel is slightly less oppressive.

And that's a great blessing.

Mary
A Moodscope member.

39 comments:

  1. Morning Mary. I'm really glad you have written about faith. For all its up and downs, and I know many people have had some difficult experiences, as you have, with other people's human interpretation of God, faith can be a flicker of hope shining in the darkness. Your faith shines out Mary, and I pray that in your dark times, you will always see the shimmer of that hope. love Vanessa x

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    1. Thank you Vanessa. This topic was a tough one to write about and I am very grateful for your encouragement.

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  2. Hi Mary - thanks for raising the difficult issue of depression and faith. Like many, I have experienced unhelpful responses from church members, and also fantastic support from them. I think one of the issues, as with the rest of the world, is that Christians find depression hard to understand and so they struggle to know how to respond. For that reason I ran a session at my own church last weekend called: "Depression - the elephant in the church". My hope was to help people understand what it's like to be depressed (for over ten years in my case); how we can view depression as Christians; and some ideas for both individuals and churches to support those who are suffering.
    The evening was recorded and is available as a free download from our church website. I hope some other Moodscopers might find it helpful. http://www.cornerstonechurchkingston.org/sermon/713/a-christian-view-of-depression/
    Thanks again for your post.
    Alison

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    1. Thank you Alison. I have just listened to the download and was chuckling in so many places where your experiences have been so similar to mine. Very useful indeed. Thank you again.

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  3. Hello Mary - yes religion is a tricky subject and one I usually also avoid. I am anti all organized religion although I respect the views of those who do believe and worship, as long as it's not harmful to others.

    Although I don't believe in the God of religions, described in the texts written about him, I have a certain faith in a Divinity. A higher power who oversees our world in ways to which we are not privy.

    Humanitarianism, kindness, trying to do our best by others, self-forgiveness when we fail, not giving up, trying to let go of spite and negativity. Of course,none of us are perfect and we will not achieve perfection, but our intentions are good. That's my divinity. And love.

    My beliefs also include karma and reincarnation - for me this is the only way to rationalise the inequalities and injustice of life, I live with my life-long depression trying to treat it as a friend, not a foe. Trying to do my best by others and not always suceeeding, but trying.

    I see life as a learning course in how to be a better person, but without the rules and tenets of organized religion, just my own inner voice, who I believe is the voice of divinity, telling me what is the right course, which may not lead to my gratification.

    I'm glad that your faith helps you and that it's getting easier to bear the oppressive blackness and return to the sunshine. Appreciation and tolerance of others' views is so important in our confused world. Wouldn't it be wonderful if it was more evident across the globe?

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  4. Mary, thank God and you for writing this piece.
    My faith and my depression is something that I ponder on lots. The seemingly unconnectable, "how can you be depressed if you are a Christian?" Was one of the less helpful conversations I've had! But that tiny seed of faith has helped keep me going through the darkest of the depression days. Even if it was just for that blackest minute, a small chink of hope.
    Thank you again
    GB

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  5. A brave, beautifully crafted, piece on a difficult subject. As a non-church-going but essentially c of e christian, a robust, down-to-earth (ha!) farmer, I am aware of the ethos of many religions and their teachings, and salute many gods, however it's the weather ones that I have particular issue with!

    Religions generally seem to cause more deaths, angst and grief than bringing the calm and discipline that they are supposed to.

    So well done Mary for stepping into the Lion's Den.

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    1. Charlie, yes you being a farmer, I think I can well imagine how difficult it must be to RETAIN your Faith sometimes... !
      Farmers have had some rough old times !

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    2. Hello Charlie, Yes - I come from a long line of farmers too! Those weather gods, eh....... My brother one year saw his whole onion crop (he'd just seeded) blown away in a dust storm. His friend from bible college prayed over those fields and, a few months later, my brother got a full onion crop. (His neighbours had empty fields). A great story: it's just that God doesn't do that every time for every farmer. Every good wish to you in your faith, mental health and farming.

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  6. Thank you Mary. I am a practising Catholic and I am fairly certain I suffer from Bipolar disorder. I can SO relate to how you said your faith seems to be far away as with the other things in the low time. I try to remember to pray Help me Lord, and I do feel frustrated that my faith seems to fall away for a bit every month, until the grey lifts once again. I am finding moodscope invaluable for the daily blogs which come to my email inbox. Thank you. Theresa.

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  7. Thank you Mary for your brave heartfelt words, your an inspiration. x

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  8. Yes, Mary, this is a subject which no doubt affects us all "What do we believe? No doubt, when we are low "God" seems very far away, but when we are very high, as a Bipolic (just made up that word) "God" is so near he seems to be governing my life. Many sufferers believe they ARE "God" or Jesus when they are high. I mostly resonate with Anon 9.09am and it is always good to find someone with similar beliefs. However, I am not sure how reincarnation works exactly, but then who does? I don't think we are meant to try to understand everything, just to do our best with what we have and belief in anything will help, just knowing that you got through before and believing you will get through again may be all the belief you need when you are depressed. AND of course Bipolar is a seesaw and the higher you fly, the lower you go.

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  9. Thanks for this Mary. I don't go to church any more as I couldnt cope with being depressed (and at other times high) but being high does fit in quite well in an evangelical sort of church! I just never knew what was real and all talk about healing emotions, sin, etc etc. i could go on but won't got through to me in the end. i still believe there is a God but that is all. i just cant see how it helps me with my bi-polar

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    1. I can relate to you Ginny. My church believes with enough faith i can get over this. Slowly as i have gotten close to different ladies i have shared bipolar with them they didnt understand my lows. Slowly now they are out of my life. I dont see where God has used this. Ihate it. I dont know who i am or should be. The christians i know have confused me not supported me and my walk with God. My walk is non existant.

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    2. Ginny and Anonymous, I feel for you both. The Church has got some way to go before it sees depression as a real illness like (say) Angina. While God can and does heal, He does not do it to order or to a pattern. Do listen to Alison's talk that she gives the link to above. She speaks from an experience we can all relate to, regardless of the state of our faith. Bless you both.

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    3. Dear Mary, Ginny and Anonymous, I often struggle with ideas of healing - except that healing comes in many forms and sometimes acceptance can be a form of healing - however, I do believe that God comes alongside us and is part of us as we struggle, giving us strength for another day. The image of God hovering over the waters in Genesis was not a one off, perhaps, but maybe an image of the continual creative process as God reaches out into the turbulence of the world and our hearts? Anyway, just a thought! X

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  10. Thank you Mary, I have read this after coming home from listening to a talk on that very same passage at church this morning! I too have heard all the usual things about sin and Christians can't be depressed etc. I have talked to my church leaders about it and tried to educate them better in mental illness, still a way to go but there has been a big improvement, that will only happen by speaking out about it. Well done Mary.

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  11. Thank you for your post.Us Christians never quite know how to deal with depression and anxiety do we, but I'm sure knowing God has prevented me giving in to the suicidal thoughts. A few resources that are helpful...

    I'm Not Supposed to Feel Like This: A Christian Approach to Depression and Anxiety by Christopher Williams, Paul Richards, Ingrid Whitton
    Mind and Soul - exploring christianity and mental health. http://www.mindandsoul.info/
    Living life to the full with God http://www.llttfwg.com/ (Free access via Mind and soul) And if you're not into the God bit - then http://www.llttf.com/
    Our church is running an anxiety course over the next few weeks... there are high levels of mental ill health in our church and there has been a huge response for places. Hopefully we aren't the only church providing this kind of support.

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    1. That's great! Thank you for those recommendations. Alison Mitchell (above) also recommends in her download "Dealing with Depression (Trusting God Through the Dark Times) by Sarah Collins (http://amzn.to/1oj6IvA). Fantastic that your church is running that course. I only wish I could attend (except I'm not well enough at present - ironically - even if I were near enough!)

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  12. I don't fit the mould the church makes but I know jesus accepts me as I am..its through his death & resurrection that I am put right with god not what I have done.i keep away from organised religion & TRUST in my relationship with jesus he wont let me down

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    1. He will not let you down. Continue to trust - and eventually to trust others He has called to Himself. We are all human and failing - but God is in us and working His purposes out. Even when we can't see it!

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  13. Psalm 42:12


    Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
    Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

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    1. Thank you for this. Yes, my hope is in Christ Jesus and I praise Him even when in the black pit of despair. I believe I'm in the pit because it's part of the refiner's fire and not because of some lack in me or sin I have committed. Please do listen to Alison's talk above: it is useful to those of us with depression and those who support us. Every blessing on you.

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  14. That was so lovely, and I've seriously been asking myself about faith and depression, because I feel it's a sin that I don't "wait in joyful hope for the coming of the lord." I interpret that as not having faith, and yet I'm a survivor and believe in really inspirational values, etc. So how do the two inter-relate. My therapist won't talk about it, and yet I hesitate to speak to a clergyman. Your comments were so thoughtful. I loved what you said about "turning away from God." I don't mean that in a judgmental way, but when I am defeated and at my darkest, I could use that as a gentle reminder to turn TOWARD God. That might allow some compassion and release for the straining tension and stress of bearing burdens all on my own, feeling ashamed to even have them. I viewed your posting as an invitation to be open to God and I have a choice whether I suffer or not. God bless you!

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    1. Thank you. Thank you so much. I wrote this post some time ago and Caroline (our esteemed moderator/administrator) has been keeping this on ice/in reserve. I am so grateful and humbled that it has been useful to people. God loves us and will never allow us to be tested beyond what we can bear (regardless of how much we think we can bear), but the Church does need to be educated that depression is an illness just as is diabetes or heart disease or cancer. God can and does heal, but often he choses to stay His hand and to allow us to go through these dark times, time and time again. I choose to believe it will all become clear on "the other side" (and if it isn't then we won't know anyway!) and to refuse to despair but use this "suffering" for good/education. I totally believe we can still have this "deep inner joy" while suffering from depression. If you've ever had a bad hangover (yes, sorry - I have) then you will know that it is something that is happening to you but you know you will get through it. After something like seventeen episodes of depression I'm pretty confident that he clouds will lift and that sunshine will appear once more. As far as faith is concerned, it's a bit like looking at a blue sky with one dark cloud, behind which the sun has disappeared temporarily. It's a nuisance, because it's cold and I have to put on a cardigan or even go inside if it starts to rain, but the blue sky is there on either side of the cloud (even if it's a big one) and eventually it will shine again. I hope and pray that the sun will shine on you again. God bless you!

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  15. Hello Anonymous, maybe try and find a mental health chaplain to talk to if you can, they are a bit of a rare breed, but often useful! X

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  16. Thank you for this Mary. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about people with a faith is that they use it as a crutch. Having and keeping faith is a struggle! Learning that faith and doubt go hand in hand as opposed to a blind conviction has been a great lesson for me. And the church has indeed got a long way to go!

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    1. So true, Scoozle. I remember a line from Steve Taylor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Taylor) "Harder to believe than not to". I cling onto that sometimes - especially when I think I have more in common with the humanists than with evangelical Christians! The great thing about the Church of England is that it covers a great many sinners! Our former curate (now a fully fledged vicar) has suffered depression himself following the death of his sister and has written movingly of that time. (at this point there was supposed to be a link but I couldn't find it - darn) Very sadly, we Christians are not immune from tactlessness. I could argue, quite convincingly, that in fact it is our greatest failing! Bless you Scoozle. I do feel now that I can write more openly about faith and depression because of the many comments above. It's a good and positive place to be and I am so grateful to all of you who have taken the time and energy to post comments. Thank you all.

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  17. Bravo for the bold move of expressing faith within faith. To me there is zero discrepancy between them. Not only did many biblical men and women know depression and anxiety but so have many saints and leaders of the Church universal. St. John of the Cross writing of his 'dark night of the soul' was just that. There are too many to mention here.
    But just think of Jesus' temptation in Luke. Was hw not himself clinically depressed then and in the Garden of Gesemani? His first miracle in Luke was healing a man with mental illness. We are not alone and never have been. God has sent us a spirit of comfort. And now, when able we use that comfort to be Gods instrument to heal others.
    blessings to all
    Margaret Park, MDiv

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  18. Some very informative posts. Thank you.

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  19. Yes...also Caroline and ' team ........ " esteemed moderators/
    administrators " ! THANKS ( see comment 11.15 p.m. Sunday i.e. yesterday ! )

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  20. Dear Mary - I'm a Christian also and really appreciate you bringing up the question of how faith relates to depression and bipolar. I think you wrote well and very wisely - thank you. -Linda

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  21. Shiny Happy People
    We are.

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  22. I really do not think Moodscope is the correct forum to discuss religious beliefs. Religion is a personal thing like sex and politics and should be kept private or discussed in a faith forum specifically for depressed believers. There must be some on the internet for depressed/ bi polar muslims, Buddhists, Jews Evangelicals etc.. Moodscope is multi cultural and covers many countries, different religions etc. Moodscope can not just focus on Christianity as it has done today; it might offend secularists for instance. Please do not publish any more such overtly religious posts. I for one will leave Moodscope if it does.

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    1. That's a shame Im sorry you feel so strongly. I do think this is a forum where people can respectfully offer different perspectives and experiences. I applaud Mary for doing this.

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    2. Hi there, I am also sorry that you feel so strongly about the post. As you will see from the comments, there are many who have differing views and Mary's blog contains just her thoughts on faith and depression. I didn't think it would offend anyone but I did think we may get some differing views, but that's what a forum is for. We are interested in everyone's views and certainly don't want to alienate or offend anyone.

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  23. Thanks. I needed that! I often feel such a failure for not trusting God enough to get the victory. I am reassured though that Jesus understands the depth of our pain, and that he is with us even when it feels he is so far away. He will never leave me or forsake me.

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  24. You might find Thomas Moore's work useful, particularly his book Dark Nights of the Soul. Moore lived as a Catholic monk for 12 years and later became a psychotherapist. He probably defines himself as spiritual, but uses a lot of examples from the world's religions (though mostly Christian I think) so should be insightful and encouraging to believers as well as non believers. He writes beautifully too.

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