Last Day Free & Excerpt

My latest Kindle ebook, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain, is still available for free, but only for today. Here is another except. This is a chapter that exposes the voice a clinically depressed person is likely to hear in their brain. Understanding this voice is, I believe, is the most important factor in recovering from depression.

If you want the book, this is the last day you can get it for free.

The Voice…That No One Wants To Hear

Posted October 28, 2016

Do you have a voice in your head? If you have clinical depression, you probably do. A lot of people claim they don’t. In fact, they think hearing voices is a sign of mental illness. Personally, I don’t believe them. I think everyone has a voice or even voices in their heads. And those who say they don’t are either lying or in denial. Then again, I’ve already admitted to having a mental illness, so maybe I’m the wrong person to ask.

I don’t know how the voices in normal brains talk. However, if you have clinical depression, that voice in your head is your worst enemy. It’s the opposite of a motivational speaker. It tries to convince you you’re worthless and no good to anyone. If you pray or try to live by faith, the Voice tries to convince you the reason your life sucks is God is against you, not for you. “God hates me. God has given up on me, and I don’t blame Him. I’m like the tree that bore no fruit, so God has cut me off. I’m cursed. And there is no God anyway, so why do I care?”

If you know that voice, let me tell you something it doesn’t want you to know. That voice is a liar. This is not something I believe. I know it. Let me tell you how.

Medication And The Voice In My Head

Taking medication for depression is still controversial for some people of faith. When a psychiatrist first recommended it for me, I had some reservations. However, he had just told me I tested high for depression in every possible way, so I took his advice. Sometimes I have wondered if it was really working, especially at times when I have been sad, moody, anxious, just fill in the blank with any negative emotion.

I can still say, though, that medication does make a difference for me. I know because a couple of times I have changed medications. When you change from one antidepressant (AD) medication to another, you first have to wean yourself off of your current med. That usually lasts two to four weeks. Then you can start the new one. It can take several days for the new medication to start taking effect. During that transition, those depressed thoughts you had forgotten about can come back, along with other possible side effects.

The first time I switched medications, I had suicidal thoughts. I can’t say it was the first time (for suicidal thoughts, I mean), but it was more frequent and intense than ever. Is the new med not working? I wondered.

My doctor said it was a low dose and suggested trying a “medium” dose. Within a few days, the suicidal thoughts stopped. That medium dose worked for me. But without talking to my doctor, I might have thought it was the wrong medication.

The second time I switched meds was more recent. Bad thoughts came but in a different way. Instead of feeling depressed in the way we usually think of (deep and persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, etc.), it came in a way I had forgotten about: anger. I was angry much of the day. Angry at family and friends over past slights that my balanced brain had forgiven long ago. Angry at people for the downward spiral the world seems to be in. Unreasonably angry. But when the new medicine kicked in, I was back to being happy. And I am proud to say I did not take my anger out on anyone.

The Decision

Why did I not act out my anger or my suicidal thoughts during those times? Before I started transitioning medications, I made a crucial decision. Until I know if the new med is good for me and until I get my brain normalized again with either the new or return to the old, I will not believe that voice in my head.

I got the idea from the movie A Beautiful Mind. Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., who was found to be paranoid schizophrenic. He had more than just a voice in his head. He had full-on hallucinations of three people telling him all kinds of conspiracies. When he was diagnosed and got medication, the hallucinations disappeared. However, he was having difficulty with the side effects. He told his wife and doctor he wanted to go off the medication.

But those imaginary people will come back.

Yes, but this time he will know they are not real, and he will absolutely refuse to believe them. It was not easy. Those hallucinations had a life of their own. They tried really hard to convince him to listen to them. But he remained resolute. You are not real. I won’t listen to you. I won’t believe anything you say.

Because of past experience with depression, I knew I needed to reject, ignore, and otherwise neutralize those thoughts temporarily. Let’s review what happened in these two instances.

  1. I stopped one AD medication.
  2. The Voice in my head that fuels my depression went from being a surly kitten to a roaring tiger.
  3. When the new AD medication kicked in, the Voice calmed down, the bad thoughts sunk back to a manageable level, and happy thoughts returned.

What is going on? I’ve talked about the chemical imbalances that exist in a clinically depressed brain. It is a medical condition where your brain does not get normal levels of “happy chemicals,” so the “stress chemicals” overwhelm it. Medication helps your brain produce and absorb more happy chemicals. When your brain chemistry is balanced, your emotional state can get back to normal–in a good way.

The Revelation

That last experience changing meds really drove something home for me. The Voice in my head did not bother me when I was on meds. But when I was in that transition phase, the Voice came back with a vengeance. Now that I am on meds again, the Voice is gone. And that’s when it hit me like a revelation of Biblical proportions:

That voice in my head is the product of a chemically imbalanced brain.

If you have that Voice, too, let that sink in. That Voice in your head that tells you, “I’m no good. I’ll never get anything right. I’m a burden to everyone who loves me,” or even worse, “No one loves me. I might as well kill myself.” Or maybe you have that angry voice, like I experienced. And you believe it, don’t you? It is the product of a chemically imbalanced brain.

The problem is not so much the voice itself but that we believe it so readily. In thinking about this, I was amazed at how anything we hear inside our head, we just believe it. We don’t question it; we don’t evaluate it. We just accept whatever it says, even when it has no basis in reality.

“Everyone hates me.”

Oh really? There are 7.5 billion people in the world, and every single one of them hates you? Unless you’re Hitler, that’s not possible. Maybe you just meant everyone in your school or in your town. But still, how many people is that, a few hundred? A few thousand? A few hundred thousand or a few million if it’s a major city? How could every one of them hate you? Simple logic should tell you that’s not even possible. But you believe it. Why? Because it comes from your head, so it must be true, right? Wrong!

That Voice Is A Liar

Are you telling me I’m lying to myself?

That’s exactly what I’m telling you! That voice in your head is the product of a chemically imbalanced brain.

My angry voice said things to me like, “They always disrespect me. They never listen to me. They’re idiots. They don’t care about me, so screw ‘em all.” (That’s as politely as I can say it). And again, it was the product of a chemically imbalanced brain.

And bottom line: Don’t believe a chemically imbalanced brain, even if it’s your own. You’re just as likely to get the truth from a Magic 8-Ball. If it is telling the truth, that’s purely by accident.

{Don’t ask me. I’m a ball.}

I suppose this begs the question, If you can’t believe your own mind, what can you believe? How do you know what the truth is? There is no simple answer to that, and anyone who tells you there is is setting you up for failure. But I will reiterate the four principles I gave you in the introduction.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it.
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down.
  3. Some kinds of faith are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.
  4. With the right help–spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and perhaps medically–you can live a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop your depressed brain from sabotaging it.

That’s all the truth you need for now.

Grace and Peace to You.

P.S. You can download the book to your Kindle device or app with this link.

On Meeting Editors and Agents at Writers Conferences

Most writing conferences offer opportunities to meet with agents and/or editors one-on-one. Some people are confused about the purpose of meeting with an editor. Before you register for a writing conference, you need to be clear about this. And of course, meetings with agents and editors are for writers who want to be published through a traditional publisher. If you are self-publishing or indie-publishing, you don’t need to meet with agents and editors.

Logo for Carolina Christian Writers Conference 2018

But first, you need to understand there are two kinds of editors. Some operate like independent contractors. You can hire one to edit your manuscript. I’m still trying to decide if I want to do that, because it is an added expense, I’ve already done a good bit of self-editing, and I don’t know if it will really help me get accepted by an agent or publisher. But if I were self-publishing – which I’m still considering – I would definitely hire one of these editors, because I don’t have a traditional publisher to provide one for me. However, when conferences offer a chance to meet with agents or editors, these are not editors who edit your manuscript.

The other type of editor works for one publisher, and part of his/her job is to acquire new manuscripts for his/her employer, i.e., sometimes called an “acquisitions editor.” Ultimately, an editor is a gatekeeper to the publisher, but most of them will only accept manuscripts submitted by an agent. An agent has relationships with many publishers. He/she can submit your MS to editors who are looking for your type of book. Though the role of agent and editor is different, they are both at the conference because they are looking for new manuscripts and authors they believe are ready to publish now.

An agent is usually necessary to get your foot in the door with an editor. However, the one exception is at conferences, editors will hear pitches directly from authors. And if they like your pitch, they may ask you to submit a book proposal and sample or even a complete MS.

Logo for Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference

So in moving up the ladder to publication:

  1. An agent shops your MS to (acquisitions) editors.
  2. An editor presents your MS to representatives of his/her specific publisher.
  3. Publisher representatives accept your MS and offer a contract.

At that point, you will want your agent to negotiate your contract with the publisher, and the editor will be your liaison with the publisher.

Moral of the story: Agents and editors are both necessary to get published, so talk to any of the ones who are most likely to be interested in your manuscript.

Q: So this is not an editor who is offering to edit my manuscript?

A: Correct. There may be some of those editors as attendees, but the kind of editors conferences will make available to you are the ones that could potentially get you accepted by a publisher.

Q: If these editors will only accept manuscripts from agents, should I only talk to agents?

A: Normally, yes. But as I said, the one exception to this rule is at conferences. When editors offer one-on-one meetings at conferences, they are offering a rare chance to bypass the agent and pitch your MS directly to them. If they like your idea, they might ask you to submit something to them. Every editor is different in terms of what they want to receive initially, but most will ask for a book summary and/or outline, some sample pages, and a brief author bio. Only submit directly to an editor if they ask, and give them what they ask for specifically.

Q: If through the conference I can get an editor to accept my MS without an agent, why do I need to talk to agents?

A: Two big reasons:

  1. Your chances of being accepted by an editor are still much greater through an agent than on your own.
  2. Even if you do get an offer from a publisher because an editor was excited about you and your MS, you should still have an agent represent you in contract negotiations. If publishers can take advantage of you, they will – even Christian publishers. They’re not bad people, but this is a business to them. They want the most advantageous deal they can get. An agent knows the tricks they will try to pull and how to protect you from them.

Q: What if I do get a publishing offer, but I don’t have an agent?

A: Contact a few agents who represent your type of book and tell them you have a publishing offer and need an agent. My guess is your phone will ring off the hook.

Q: How do I know what agents and editors are interested in?

A: Find a recent copy of the Writer’s Market. For the editors listed in the conference, look at their publishers and see what they publish. That will tell you what the editor is looking for. You might be able to find a copy in your library. However, if you are serious about getting your MS published through a traditional publisher, it is worth buying. If you want to focus on agents, the Guide to Literary Agents can give you more detailed info.

Q: So at the conference, is it better to talk to an agent or editor?

A: It’s best to talk to whoever is most likely to take an interest in your manuscript. You will need both of them to successfully navigate the publishing process. If you get an editor first, you should have no problem finding an agent. If you get an agent first, his/her job is to get your foot in the door with an editor. Where you start your journey is not nearly as important as finding someone who really wants to help you get in.