Book Excerpt and Fifth Principle for Recovery: The Voice … That No One Wants to Hear


Image of a double rainbow
Nature is good therapy.

My fifth principle of recovery says, “Never trust a chemically imbalanced brain, even if it is your own.” The post below is an excerpt from my award-winning book, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain. It was originally posted to a blog called “Fawns of Naphtali.” Strange name, I know. It became a chapter in my book, and it explains how my experience with antidepressant (AD) medication taught me clinical depression has a voice. You must learn to identify and neutralize it if you want to recover and live a happy and fulfilling life. Here is how I did it.

Medication and the Voice in My Brain

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. There is no doubt it has helped me. Sometimes I have wondered if it’s 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 don’t care what Tom Cruise said. I know because a couple of times, I have changed medications. When you change from one anti-depressant (AD) med to another, you first have to wean yourself off of your current med. That usually takes 2–4 weeks. Then you can start taking the new. It can take up to two weeks for the new medication to start taking effect. During that transition, those depressed thoughts you had forgotten about can come back.

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

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 that doctor helping me, I might have thought it was the wrong medication.

The second time 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: 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 the world for the state it’s in and the downward spiral we seem 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, even the ones I felt angry towards.

Now some of that anger might not have been unreasonable, especially about the sorry state of the world. So then, 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.

My Beautiful Mind

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 these conspiracies around him. When he was diagnosed and got medication, the hallucinations disappeared. However, he was having difficulty with the side effects. 

He decided 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 taking 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 and the bad thoughts sunk back to a normal level.

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

That last experience changing meds really drove that home for me. The Voice in my head didn’t 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’m 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 last sentence 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.” Or if you pray or try to live by faith, the Voice will tell you, “There is no God. 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.” Or maybe you have that angry voice, like I just experienced. And you believe it, don’t you? IT’S THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

And the problem isn’t so much the voice itself, but that we believe it so readily. At some point, 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 you.” Oh really? 7.5 billion people in the world, and every single one of them hates you? Oh 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 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. Because it comes from your head, so it must be true, right? Wrong!

Are you telling me my head is lying to me? That’s exactly what I’m telling you. THAT VOICE IN YOUR HEAD IS THE PRODUCT OF A CHEMICALLY IMBALANCED BRAIN.

Or if it’s that angry voice, it might be saying, “They’re disrespecting me. They think I’m an idiot. They never listen to me. They’re idiots. They don’t care about me, so screw ’em all.” (Again, that’s as politely as I can say it). And again, IT’S 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. Yes, it might tell the truth occasionally, but you’d better ask some questions before you accept that it’s right this time.

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 now I have posted on all five of my principles for recovery. Here they are to review.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it (Isa 53:3–5).
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down (Isa 42:2–3).
  3. Some churches and spiritual leaders 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. 
  5. Never believe a chemically imbalanced brain, even if it is your own.

That is all the truth you need for today.

Grace and peace to you.


Originally published at http://fawnsofnaphtali.wordpress.com on October 29, 2016.

rough looking kitty meme, "When you had a rough day but are trying to stay positive"

My Fourth Principle for Recovery: Getting the Right Help, Part 2

In my last post, I introduced my fourth principle for recovery: With the right help, you can live a happy and fulfilling life. For most depressed people, getting the right help begins with testing. I talked about standard testing for depression in the last post. If your depression is bad enough, you may need testing for more specific types. At my mother and sister’s suggestion, I got tested for clinical depression. At the time, I don’t think the standard tests I’ve read about would have caught it in my case, so I’m glad I took their advice.

Getting Tested for Clinical Depression Was Different

If you are considering getting tested for clinical depression, I can tell you a few things you probably won’t find online. I won’t give away too much. Part of the effectiveness of the testing comes from going in fresh. But in many ways it was not what I expected.

It Was Not Talk Therapy or Psycho-Therapy

It did not involve talking about my emotions or childhood. It did not involve my history, or how I’ve been feeling the last few weeks, or trying to determine if there’s a particular reason for depression, or if it is just always there regardless of any reason. Someone observing would not have thought it had anything to do with depression. The psychologist (I say psychologist, but I don’t know exactly what his title was) gave me various tasks to do and questions to answer. After each task, he asked why I did it that way or why I concluded what I did.

The only thing I recognized as “psychiatric” was the Rorschach inkblot test. You’ve probably seen it on TV. They show an inkblot, and you tell them what it looks like. On TV, they usually say a bat or a rabbit or something simple. My answers were much more elaborate. In fact afterwards, I asked if I could get copies of them, because I thought I saw scenes that could be used in a fantasy or sci-fi story. Turns out they are copyrighted, a trade secret, or something like that. In other words, they’re not available to the public.

It Takes More Time

With the standard question-and-answer tests I’ve seen, I can’t imagine them taking long. That kind of testing was made for something more general. It is one step in a process for your doctor to determine if you need treatment for depression or something else. The test I took was to look specifically for clinical depression. It took around two or maybe three hours. The time it takes for each person varies, because there is no time limit for the tasks. So if you took the kind of test you see online, and it only took a few minutes, that was not a test for clinical depression. There is a difference between situational depression, which usually does not take long to identify, and clinical depression.

Trust the Process

Like I said, you might not see what the questions and tasks you’re given have to do with depression. Clinical depression is not about how you feel or how you’ve been feeling the last two weeks or more. It is a condition of the brain. One thing about your brain. It is always with you no matter where you go, what you do, what’s happening to you, or who you’re with. Your brain is unique. But if you have clinical depression, it is there in your brain. And just like your brain, it is always with you, no matter how you feel. Even if you don’t feel depressed at this time in your life, you still could have clinical depression.

After the process was over, I realized the tasks and questions the psychologist gave were designed to give him a window into how my brain works. That is the only way to detect clinical depression. Somehow, the psychologist has to see your brain at work, how it processes information, and how it responds to various challenges and stimuli. That’s why he asked me to explain my thought processes each step of the way. Each answer gave him a little more data about how my brain worked.

Disorientation

When it was over, I set a follow-up appointment to get the results. The psychologist said I could bring someone in with me if I wanted. My sister was happy to do it. She should have been, since she roped me into it in the first place. So she was there when the psychologist gave me the news: “You tested high for depression in every possible way.”

The world stood still. It was so shocking I didn’t know how to respond. If he had said anything else, like I tested moderate to severe in every possible way, or I tested high in half the ways, I would not have been surprised. But high in every possible way? How was that possible? I only felt mildly depressed. How could I have tested high in every possible way? That would not have been the case with one of those standard online tests. I’m not denigrating them. I’m just saying diagnosing clinical depression as opposed to situational depression is much more involved than that.

As I adjusted to the shock, the next thing I felt was shame. Because I am a Christian.

What Will This Do to My Testimony?

I had struggled mightily with depression in the past. But I always thought it was in specific episodes. I was depressed in college. I was depressed during and after my first year of Divinity School. I was depressed when I turned thirty, and I was nowhere near where I was supposed to be in life. And each time, I said, Jesus delivered me from it.

If you are a Christian, you might have picked up the message that you should be able to overcome depression by faith alone, because Christ is all sufficient. He is all you need for peace of mind. You’ve heard others give that testimony. You wanted it to be your testimony.

Do you see the joy on my face? It’s because of Jesus.

Since I found Jesus, I don’t get the blues.

I can’t be depressed, because the joy of the Lord is my strength.

Too blessed to be depressed.

rough looking kitty meme, "When you had a rough day but are trying to stay positive"

For me, all of that went away with my diagnosis. I wanted that testimony to show people what a difference Jesus made in my life. But I also learned long ago that in my relationship with God, honesty is much more important than having “the right testimony.” Honestly, as much as I wanted it, that was never my testimony. But there was still a part of me that thought it should be my testimony.

Here’s what you need to understand. Christ is all-sufficient when it comes to salvation, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. When we get to heaven, we probably will never be depressed again. But when it comes to life on earth, we will sometimes need help from people, whether it’s warm bodies to carry things when you move, doctors and nurses to bring you back to health from sickness or injury, or mental health professionals to help you diagnose and treat mental illness. Christ is not at all offended if you need help from a professional, whether your illness is physical or mental.

Getting Reoriented

The psychologist explained clinical depression is a condition of the brain. It means my brain does not produce enough natural antidepressants, like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. It’s a natural condition and nothing to be ashamed of. A diabetic has a pancreas that can’t produce insulin. There is no shame in that. It says nothing about that person’s faith or lack thereof. If my brain doesn’t produce normal levels of “happy chemicals” (as I call them), I shouldn’t be ashamed of that either. It can happen to anyone, regardless of what kind of faith they have.

Just like there is treatment for diabetes, there is treatment for clinical depression. That usually starts with antidepressant (AD) medication and counseling. Counseling, I had no problem with. But I had some resistance to medication.

***DISCLAIMER: In the medical field, the effectiveness of AD medication is being seriously questioned. Just keep in mind, any psychotropic drug affects each person differently. My experience might be the same as yours, and it might be totally different. You should never take one without a recommendation from a doctor or mental health professional. And you need to pay attention to how it affects your thoughts and emotions, especially in the first few days or weeks. Before you start taking AD medication, be sure you know what to do if your condition doesn’t improve or gets worse.***

With that disclaimer, I’ll tell you why I took it, and why I’m glad I did.

Medication

Most doctors seem more reluctant to prescribe AD medication today than when I was diagnosed. Part of the reason is recent studies have indicated it is no more effective than a placebo for anything other than severe depression.

Okay, but remember, I had just tested high for depression in every possible way. The diagnosis of clinical depression meant I had been living with depression my whole life and did not even know it. If that is not severe depression, what is? If my diagnosis had not been so extreme, I would not have even considered it. I would more likely have accepted counseling and tried doubling down on faith confessions, positive thinking, motivational messages, and meditating on scripture. I’m not saying those things were not effective for me. They kept me going in some of my worst and darkest moments. But I had been doing all that for almost two decades, and I still tested high in every possible way. That realization took down most of my resistance.

There was also the comparison with the diabetic. He/she needs to take insulin, because their body can’t produce it. If my brain doesn’t make normal levels of “happy chemicals,” taking medication for that is no different.

She Is So Much Nicer Now

This was also where having my sister there was helpful. She knew some things I didn’t. For example, she knew of a relative who had recently started AD medication. “She is so much nicer now,” I said. Oh, and another who was moody and had a volatile temper. “That was depression?” I had never made that connection before with him or myself.

In the past, I had chalked up my own moodiness to “artistic temperament.” But it had never occurred to me that was a sign of depression. This is one way you can be depressed and not know it. You know some of the signs, but not all of them. Like here, I knew I was moody and temperamental, but I didn’t connect that with depression. And seeing how much nicer that one relative was with medication, I thought maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing for me.

Perfectly Timed for College

The psychologist also told me clinical depression usually gets its worst between late-teens and early-twenties. Bang! That was totally true for me. At first, that was connected to a crisis of faith. But even after that crisis was resolved, I still had this malaise I couldn’t shake. It was so hard for me to get motivated for anything back then. I thought it was the work of the devil. Finally, I realized, it was the work of my chemically imbalanced brain.

Furthermore, whenever I had a crisis of faith, depression always accompanied it. So how do you know if this is the situational depression of a dark night of the soul, or clinical depression felt more intensely because you’re wondering, “What the hell is God doing to me?” You don’t without getting tested.

What about “Artistic Temperament”?

I wanted to be a writer. Let’s face it. Some of the greatest writers and artists in history were very moody and temperamental. I can’t diagnose them, but it’s likely most of them had clinical depression or similar mental illness. But is that where their genius came from? Was depression the muse that inspired their work that we still celebrate today? What if they could have taken AD medication so as not to be tormented with those dark thoughts and emotions anymore? Would that have made them less creative?

Many times, depression compelled me to write something. It was therapy before I began therapy. If I lose that, will I lose some of my creativity or my urge to write? Can I really be an artist without the temperament?

The psychologist’s answer was, in effect, yes, I could. Since I started AD medication, I’ve been able to go back to some of those dark places when I needed to without being caught up in the darkness myself. I can write about the insanity I experienced without re-experiencing it. And I still feel the urge to write, even when I don’t feel depressed. In fact, the most depressing thing for me is to go a few days without writing. That’s when I really get moody and temperamental. So if you are a creative or artistic type, I can tell you taking AD medication has not dampened my creativity one bit. In fact, now I have so many ideas, there aren’t enough hours in a day for me to write them all.

One More Tip No One Told Me

So I had the results of the test. I had the beginnings of a plan for recovery. I accepted the diagnosis and agreed to medication. The psychologist recommended a pastoral counselor for me, because I knew I would need help with some of the theological issues I still had. I left with a copy of the report, and my sister and I sat down in a coffee shop to talk more about the implications of all this.

One thing I remember from the conversation was the relationship between depression and anxiety. In addition to depression, I seemed to be more anxious than people around me. My sister said that depression and anxiety were located close to each other in the brain. If you have issues with one, it’s common to have issues with the other. That reminds me of Chris Cornell. He took Ativan for anxiety, but in some of his interviews he also talked about depression. The good news is if you treat one effectively, it often helps the other. That has been true of me, and I wish it had been true for Cornell.

Overall, after adjusting to the shock, it was one of the most enlightening days of my life. My recovery began that day. But there was one thing I wish someone had told me. Don’t read the results of your test. Normally, I’m the type of person who would say, “If you have the test, read it. The more information you have about your condition, the better.” This is an exception. That report was the most depressing thing about myself I have ever read.

You don’t need to read it to know what you need to. Ask the psychologist who tested you about the results, what they mean, and what kind of treatment you need. Don’t throw it away. Keep a copy of it in case you need to make a disability claim. But don’t read it unless for some reason you absolutely have to.

Life after AD Medication

Back in college, I had this voice in my head that was so negative and so condemning, it felt like it came straight out of the pit of Hell. I could cast it out in Jesus’ name. Temporarily. But anytime I failed, or my prayers weren’t answered, the voice returned. And in some ways, I felt I deserved it, because I still didn’t have enough faith (whatever that means). In the Word of Faith, they tell you that voice is a demon or the Devil. And then, it changed from the Devil to Jesus, beating me up for not having “enough faith” to get what I prayed for.

Fortunately, I did learn not to associate that voice with either one of them. I had an incredible Epiphany that drove it away for a couple of years. But eventually, it came back. After a few days on medication, that voice went away for me. I don’t know if there really are such things as demons or Satan, but I do know this. If a pill can make it go away, it’s not a demon. For that matter, it’s not Jesus either. It’s a mental illness.

Here’s another thing that happened. I used to think I had ups and downs like everyone else. I could be happy or sad, stressed or at peace, friendly or misanthropic. But even when I was happy, there was this underlying sadness I couldn’t get rid of. I never felt like I belonged anywhere, even among friends. I thought it was normal, because that was how my brain worked. When I started AD medication, those feelings finally went away. From that, I learned that however your brain works, you will think it’s normal because everything about your experience is processed through your brain. If your brain is naturally tilted toward depression, it will color all your experience with that brush. That was why I didn’t recognize it as depression except when it got really bad.

Takeaways

That leads into my fifth principle for recovery: Never believe a chemically imbalanced brain, even if it is your own. I will dive into that in my next post. Until then, here are your takeaways.

  1. Situational depression is much easier to recognize than clinical depression. Situational depression is about how you feel. Clinical depression is a medical condition.
  2. Because they are different, the testing for each is different.
  3. Testing for depression is only one part of a process to determine if you need treatment for depression or something else.
  4. If your family and friends think you are sad or depressed even when you don’t, you should seriously consider testing for clinical depression.
  5. Sadness and lack of motivation are not the only signs of depression. Anger, moodiness, and a quick, extreme temper are also signs.
  6. Like any medical condition, clinical depression has nothing to do with faith or the lack thereof. Don’t believe anyone who tells you faith should be all you need to treat it.
  7. AD medication is normally for severe or clinical depression. Research has not confirmed effectiveness for less severe kinds of depression.
  8. If you have severe depression, it’s no sin to try AD medication.
  9. Like other psychotropic drugs, AD medications affect everyone differently. Before you take it, make sure you know what to do if your depression gets worse after taking it.
  10. You do not have to read the results of your test. Just follow the advice of the one who tested you, and you’ll be on your way to recovery.

Grace and Peace to you.

P.S. I’ve talked about how my sister and mother encouraged me to get tested. You might be wondering about my father. He recently confessed to me that he thought I had problems with depression too, but he did not know how to talk to me about it. So it’s official. Everyone in my family knew I was depressed before I did (see Takeaway #4). But that in a nutshell is why I’m writing these posts and why I wrote my book Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain. I’m sharing what my clinical depression looked like as best I can, in the hopes that A) someone undiagnosed will see themselves in it and be prompted to get help, or B) someone who cares for a depressed person can use it to help share their concerns.

References

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-tests#1

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/default.htm

Alternatives to Anti-Depressant Medication

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/alternative-therapies-depression#1

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/natural-cures-for-depression_n_7502392

My Third Principle for Recovery

Does faith help or hurt recovery? In my experience, it depends what kind of faith. In most religions, I would say there three possible meanings of faith.

  1. Faith as a set of rituals and doctrines accepted by members of a particular religious order. For example, if someone asks, “What faith are you?” it’s like asking, “What religion are you?” And you could answer, “I’m of the Catholic faith,” or “the Presbyterian faith,” or “the Jewish faith,” or whatever.
  2. Faith as belief. The Apostle’s Creed, for example, has many statements about what Christians believe. Those beliefs we usually say we accept by faith.
  3. Faith as trust. If someone says, “I believe in God,” that usually means they believe God exists and would be the second kind of faith. If someone says, “I have faith in God,” that is usually more personal. That person claims to have a relationship with God built on trust. This kind of faith doesn’t have to be religious. You can faith in your family, a mentor, a friend, a program like AA, anyone or anything you think is trustworthy.

When you encounter the word faith in the Bible, or you hear people talk about faith in church or synagogue, it could mean any of these. Usually, you have to infer the meaning through context. For example, Genesis 15:6 says of Abraham,

And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

(Gen 15:6 NRS)

When it says Abraham “believed” God, what kind of faith is it talking about? Not the first. There were no temples or organized religion about the God called “the LORD” at that time. Is it the second, belief? God had just promised him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in heaven (Gen 15:5). He believed that promise, so it could be belief. God said it, and he believed it. But the Hebrew word for “believe” in verse six can also mean “trust.” Maybe the point is not Abraham’s belief itself. Maybe it was trusting God, believing the one who promised was trustworthy, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Faith and the Third Principle

I’m talking about this because my third principle is: Some kinds of faith are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.

So of the three, which is best for recovery? Number three. Lesson’s over. You can go home.

Sorry, I wish it was that simple. Any of them can help with recovery.

Regarding the first kind of faith, if you are part of a church, synagogue, or other organized religion, you can probably gauge whether it helps or hurts your depression. How do you normally feel when you leave the service? Uplifted or beat up? I’ve experienced both. If it’s the former, it’s good. If it’s the latter, it’s bad.

Regarding the second, if you believe in the tenets of a religion, it can be a comfort. I can sometimes calm myself by repeating the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed. On the other hand, feeling pressured to believe something you don’t is likely to make you more depressed. But ideally, one and two should lead you to three.

The third, a trusting relationship with your higher power (whatever that means to you), I think, is essential to recovery. However, trust in a higher power, just like in a person, does not happen automatically. It takes time and experience. And like recovery, it is mostly one day at a time. But any of these three meanings could legitimately be called faith. Each of them plays a different role in the life of a believer, but number 3 is the one I have found most helpful.

Another Kind of Faith?

There is one more type of faith that seems to be uniquely American, and I don’t mean that in a good way. I say that because most preachers of this kind of faith historically began in America. It is no longer unique to America, but even most of those who are from other countries learned it from Americans. I would advise you to avoid it altogether.

When I was involved in it, it was often called the Word of Faith or Full Gospel movement. Some other names I’ve heard are “Health and Wealth,” and “Prosperity Gospel.” Unless it is a local church broadcast, this is the version of faith you usually see preached on television. They own the Christian networks, and the biggest names have audiences in the millions.

This type of faith says, If you believe something enough and do not doubt, your faith becomes some magic force you can use to coerce God to give you whatever you ask for, as long as you can find a passage in the Bible that promises what you want. You stand on that promise until God gives it to you. And you don’t take “No” for an answer.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1 KJV) is one of the most popular verses for explaining this. Faith is what makes the unseen seen. When you hope for something, it is not seen yet. But faith (belief) will make it manifest. And so basically, this says God is under your control.

But before you buy into this, you need to ask, “Did God really promise this? Did God promise health, wealth, victory and success in everything I do?” The Word of Faith preachers say yes, and they have a whole litany of scriptures about how you will be healed and prosperous and victorious in every situation—if your faith is strong enough. They quote all these Bible verses that sound like that’s exactly what God promised every believer. On the surface, it looks like trust, because you are taking God “at his word.” That is, if God promised it in the Bible, they believe it. That means they trust God, because they know God is not a liar.

“(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden,” by Lynn Anderson

Did God Promise That?

But what if God never promised you that? Would you still trust God? See, I was in the Word of Faith for a long time, over a decade probably. When I prayed, I would have my verses lined up, and I prayed, and I believed, and I received the way they taught, and it never manifested. I thought it was my fault, because I didn’t have enough faith, or I had too much doubt for it to happen.

But faith that is trust recognizes God is in control, not you. You can’t use faith to force God to give you what you want just because you quote some Bible verses around it. God may answer you like the leper who came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus said, “I am willing. Be clean” (Mat 8:2-3).

But we don’t always get our prayers answered like that. And so, if you’re in a model of faith that says God promised this to you, it feels like a betrayal if you don’t get it. But if you understand God never promised that specifically to you, you can still pray and ask God, and trust that God hears you.

But not all of us get our prayers answered like that. And so, if you’re in a model of faith that says God promised this to you, it feels like a betrayal if you don’t get it. But if you understand God never promised that specifically to you, you can still pray and ask God and trust that God hears you.

And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

(1Jo 5:14 NRS)

But there’s the rub. If we ask according to his will, God hears us. “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” said the leper. That’s the model of faith the church has taught from Jesus to the apostles to the saints of the last 2000 years to today. It is the most authentically biblical model of faith. It has been practiced in both Judaism and Christianity from their origins, and it is the essence of AA’s third step, which says surrender your will and life to the care of your higher power.

Promises. Promises.

The Word of Faith does not belong to any legitimate, Biblical understanding of faith I outlined above. Of course, I understand why it’s so popular. I practiced it for over a decade. I was a true believer in that model of faith. The problem is, they don’t read the Bible in context. If you don’t read it in context, you can find promises of health, wealth, success, or whatever you want. If you can find it in the Bible, God has to give it to you. God has no choice. And if you can make the Bible say anything you want and then use that to make God give you whatever you want or do whatever you want, then wow! Suddenly, you’re like the young John Connor in Terminator 2.

“My own terminator? You have to do what I say? Cool!”

You have access to power most people can only dream of. All you have to do is believe what the Bible says. You literally have the keys to the Kingdom, on earth and in heaven, right there in your Bible. Who wouldn’t want that? I saw the appeal, and I went for it.

When the Other Shoe to Drops

Unfortunately, all those promises of health, wealth, and success were taken out of context. I learned that the hard way, but thank God I learned. Now, I’ve come to the conclusion that when you read the Bible in context, there are only two things God promises to you and me personally: forgiveness for our sins, and he will be all with us always (as in eternal life). That’s it. Those are the only things the Bible promises to you or me as individual believers.

I think this is why people get fooled. It’s not just about people reading or not reading their Bibles. I read my Bible daily, and I still got fooled. The problem is most people don’t know how to read the Bible in context. So when they say God promised you things that God never promised to you as an individual believer, you don’t know they are taking it out of context. The result is they misrepresent God and set you up for disappointment. I lived with that disappointment long enough. I can tell you, it is no fun.

Faith in Magic or Faith in God?

The way I see it, if you want to live a life of faith, you have to choose between two types of faith. Will you choose the faith that trusts God’s promises of forgiveness and restored relationship with God? Trust in the promise that God will be with you always? Faith that trusts that God loves you and desires ultimately for your good, even if you don’t understand how your current circumstances have anything to do with your good? Faith that acknowledges God is in control, not you?

Or will you choose faith as a “substance” that claims if you know how to use it, God will have no choice but to give you the desires of your heart? Which one will you choose? Faith as trust, or faith as magic? I chose the latter, and it almost ruined me. Because over and over again, I kept trying to force God to fulfill promises that God never made. Trust me, that is a losing game no matter how many aces you have up your sleeve.

So when I talk about faith that is good for recovery, I mean a trusting relationship with God, or your higher power if you prefer. This is the kind of faith Jesus taught, his Apostles taught, and the church has taught for the last 2000 years. Yes, that tired, old, dead tradition (as Word of Faith preachers call it) is what taught me what true faith is. And really, full disclosure, if I had received the miracles and healings and wealth they promised, I’d still be in the Word of Faith camp. But when that didn’t come, I almost lost my faith. Actually, I did lose my faith. I lost my faith in magic and found my faith in God.

What Kind of Faith Is Good for Recovery?

I don’t know where you are on your journey. Maybe you want to believe in something but don’t know what it is. If so, that’s not a bad place to be. Your search could lead you to your higher power, one that is worthy of your trust.

Maybe you’re in a good traditional faith, but you’ve encountered this magic faith, and those promises of health, wealth, and success are tempting you. Maybe you’re already in the magic faith like I was, and it’s not working for you, and you think it’s your fault. It’s not. It’s not your fault that it’s not working. It has nothing to do with whether you have “enough faith” or not, because God is in control, not you. The only thing you did wrong was believe people who preached a different gospel. That is the only thing you did wrong, and you can stop following them at any time.

You can come to faith as trusting God, trust that God loves you, trust that your sins are forgiven, because while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Trust that God ultimately is working for your good. I have been in that kind of faith for a while, and ironically, this is not the faith that promised me healing. But I have experienced healing here, healing that never would have been possible if I had continued to believe I could control God with my “faith.”

My third principle of recovery says, Some kinds of faith are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.

Here are some questions to ask before you apply any type of faith to your recovery.

  1. Is it about faith in God or faith in faith?
  2. Is faith about making God give you what you want, or is faith about acknowledging God is in control?
  3. Do they only talk about success and victory, as if no one who has faith ever fails at anything, is poor, or gets sick?
  4. Is the Bible like a magic spell book to them, as if it will give you anything you ask, if you quote the right verse?
  5. How do they explain when it doesn’t work? Is it always your fault?
  6. Do they talk about “believing God for something,” as opposed to believing in God?
  7. Is there any room for reasonable doubt, or do you have to believe everything they say, no questions asked, even if you know it’s not true?

Trusting God doesn’t mean you never have doubts or questions. It means you trust God loves you and will never leave you or forsake you in spite of your doubts and questions. It doesn’t mean you expect God to stop anything bad from happening to you. It means in the midst of trials and tribulations, you trust God is with you and will work this for your good, as Paul said in Romans.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

(Rom 8:28 NRS)

That is the only kind of faith I have found to be sustainable, healthy, and good for recovery.

Grace and peace to you.

The Suffering Servant and Recovery from Depression

In the last post, I laid out the background that led to Isaiah chapters 40-55, often referred to as Second Isaiah. This is its own section that addresses the Jews living in Exile in Babylon. They have experienced the harshness of God’s judgment and humiliation and suffering at the hands of the Babylonians. But the message of Second Isaiah is one of hope. He says their period of judgment is over, and they will soon be allowed to return to their home and rebuild Jerusalem.

You might ask why I believe this theory of Second Isaiah when it isn’t mentioned in the Bible. The main reason is the difference in tone between First and Second Isaiah. First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) is clearly addressed to people pre-judgment, while Second Isaiah only makes sense post-judgment, where sweeping announcements of forgiveness and restoration can be spoken in ways not possible for First Isaiah.

One of the most striking features of Second Isaiah is the figure of the Suffering Servant, a mysterious figure whose suffering brings healing for the nations. Bernhard Duhm is credited with first identifying the songs of the Suffering Servant in his 1892 commentary on Isaiah. He recognized the four songs in Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-7; and 52:13-53:12. In some commentaries, the songs might be longer. But this designation will work for our purposes.

The Suffering Servant in My Principles of Recovery

My first principle for recovery is “God is for your recovery and healing, not against it.” I connected that with Isaiah 53:3-6. My second principle for recovery is “God will not kick you when you are down.” I connected that with Isaiah 42:2-3. So now I’m going to show you how those passages helped me formulate those first two principles for recovery. I’m going to go backwards in terms of the principles and start with the song of Isaiah 42.

The Second Principle: God Will Not Kick You When You Are Down

You might be wondering what does the Jews’ experience of Exile and Return have to do with your experience of depression.

A dark night of the soul happens at the intersection of faith and depression. Usually, something has happened to you that you think shouldn’t have happened, and you wonder why God would treat you this way. Sometimes, it’s not something that happened to you, but rather feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of injustice in the world and wondering why God would allow it to continue for as long as it has. You want to do something about it, but you feel helpless. You pray, but you don’t see it making any difference. Maybe you reach a point where you’re so depressed, you can’t pray at all. Maybe you are so angry you are no longer on speaking terms with God. Or maybe you have become so disoriented you no longer believe in God at all.

The Jews in Exile experienced all these things: disorientation, humiliation, confusion, anger, unbelief, you name it. Even if they still believed in God, they could not trust God anymore. God had let them down when they needed God most. In some of the Psalms, we see they were not shy at all about telling God exactly how they felt (Psa 137).

God could have responded with anger in kind. God could have reminded them how they let God down by failing to be the example of justice and righteousness God had called them to be. Instead, God’s answer to them begins with comfort (Isa 40:1-2). That sets the tone for all of Second Isaiah. Not that there are no reprimands from God, but they are much gentler than First Isaiah and balanced with the promise that they would return home.

Is It about Me?

I believe before we make any personal application of scripture, it’s important to understand the context where it was given initially. I imagined the Jews in Exile when they heard the words of Second Isaiah, learning to hope where hope before seemed impossible, learning to trust God again, basically rebuilding their faith from scratch, and finding the courage to respond when God reached out to them.

As I came out of one of my dark nights of the soul, these words leapt off the page at me.

… a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; 

(Isa 42:3 NRS)

I don’t know if I can adequately describe the circumstances when I felt the full weight of those words. As I said, I had just come out of a dark night of the soul. During the dark night, I was filled with guilt over “disobeying” the Holy Spirit and “not believing” God’s word.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

(Rom 8:14 NRS)

For almost any Christian, that is great news. If you see yourself as a child of God, you want to be led by the Spirit of God. Through some bad teaching, I began to hear a voice I thought was the Spirit of God. The catch is, if you are being led by the Spirit of God, you must obey. And your obedience must be unhesitating and without doubt and fear. Whatever the Spirit commands, you must obey. If you hesitate, that is the same as disobedience. Some hesitation and doubt is okay in the beginning, as long as you obey. But over time, you should come to a place where you obey without hesitation and without doubt or fear.

For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. 

(1Sa 15:23 NRS)

Do not rebel against the Holy Spirit. I would hear the voice saying, “Witness to this person, witness to that person. Lay your hands on that sick person. Give money to this ministry. Give money to person.” And I would hear stories from people who said they heard the same voice, and they weren’t sure at first if they should do it, but they obeyed. They prayed and laid hands on the sick person, and they were instantly (or after a few tries) healed. They gave money to whom the Spirit told them, and they received more money just a few days later. They witnessed to the person, and the person gave their lives to Christ. In their stories, success and reward always followed obedience and faith. You hear those stories, and eventually you start asking yourself, “Why am I not getting the same results?”

When I looked for answers, one of my TV mentors said, “Either you or the Bible is wrong. Which is it?”

Well, if it’s between me and the Bible, it has to be me. I still have too much doubt. Doubt creates fear. Fear creates hesitation. And after you’ve followed for some time, hesitation is the same as disobedience. You’ve been a believer for six years or however long. You should know by now God’s word is the truth no matter what the circumstances say. If the voice you hear agrees with God’s word, hear and obey.

How do I know I’m supposed to witness to everyone the Spirit tells me to?

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

(Mat 28:19-20a NRS)

And again,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

(Act 1:8 NRS)

How do I know I’m supposed to pray for and lay hands on every sick person the Spirit tells me to?

And these signs will accompany those who believe: … they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

(Mar 16:17-18 NRS)

And again,

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

(Mat 10:1 NRS)

How do I know I’m supposed to obey the voice of the Spirit in giving money to this person or that ministry?

… give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

(Luk 6:38 NRS)

and again,

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

(2Co 9:6 NRS)

So there you have it. The voice of the Spirit I’m hearing and the Word of God are in agreement. Now, I understand they were taking all these verses out of context. But at the time I didn’t know that. And every time I failed or hesitated to obey, I would be wracked with guilt afterwards. I would pray for forgiveness and repent and promise never to do it again, but of course I did it again. And each time, the guilt doubled, because I promised to obey but did not. I would beat myself up, and the voice of the Spirit would pile on.

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? (Luk 6:46)

I can’t help it. I’m afraid, and I don’t know how to stop being afraid.

Didn’t I tell you in my Word I have not given you a spirit of fear but of power, of love, and of a sound mind? (2 Tim 1:7)

Yes.

So why are you afraid?

It might not work.

What do you mean it might not work?

I might not have enough faith for it to work.

Why wouldn’t you have enough faith? I have promised you everything in my Word. I have given you my Spirit, the same spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. Why do you still not believe me?

I don’t know.

Let’s be honest. You’re afraid of looking foolish, aren’t you?

No! Well, maybe.

So you are disobeying because you love the praise of men more than the praise of God (Joh 12:43).

NO! That’s not it! I love you, Lord!

But you love the praise of men more. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Rev 3:16)

No, Lord! Please! Anything but that! Lord? Lord? Are you there?

{Silence}.


No matter how low I felt, the voice of God could always make me feel lower. And no matter how many times I fell down, the voice of God would kick me. Except … it wasn’t the voice of God.

What Was Really Happening?

There are two explanations I think are most likely: 1) The voice came from internalizing bad teachings; or 2) the voice was the product of a clinically depressed brain. I believe it was a combination of the two. A chemically imbalanced brain will speak to you, and it will sound like the truth. Add to that a belief that it is the voice of God, and you are sure to get kicked when you are down. You are sure to be led astray.

Why did I believe it was the voice of God? Because, as I said, it spoke from the Bible. It has to be true, because the Bible is the Word of God, right? On the factcheck.org scale, I would categorize that statement under “True, but misleading.” This is going to be a controversial statement, but it needs to be said. The Bible is the word of God, if and only if it is rightly interpreted and rightly applied. Let that sink in. The Bible is the word of God, if and only if it is rightly interpreted and rightly applied.

There are many different interpretations, many different rules people have formed for how to apply the Bible. How do we know which is right? I have spent the last forty years trying to answer that question. I can’t give you everything that came of that in one blog post, but I can tell you this. The Bible has to be read in context. That is why, in the last post, I gave you a basic historical background of events leading up to Second Isaiah, and the background of Exile and Return in which Second Isaiah was written. That is called context.

When I made the decision to go to seminary, people in the church I was in at the time said, “They’ll teach you not to believe the Bible.” Again, true, but misleading. What they did was teach me how to read the Bible in context. As a result, I started to believe the Bible again but not in the way they taught it.

The hallmark of bad teaching is they quote the Bible, but they never teach the context in which it was written. We have to understand what Second Isaiah would have meant to the Jews in Exile, because that was who it was written for originally. Then, maybe we can glean some message for us today. The same goes for all of the Bible.

The Suffering Servant and the Voice in My Head

In addition to the bad teachings and the clinically depressed brain, I had even more dysfunction. I listened to that voice in part because I thought I deserved it. I deserved to be kicked when I was down, because I repeatedly disobeyed the voice of the Holy Spirit.

So going back to that voice that said Christ was going to spit me out of his mouth, at the same time, I heard another voice underneath my guilt and depression, a still, small voice that did not come from the deepest depths of my soul. That voice said, “I love you.” Not “I love you, but you need to start obeying me.” Not “I love you, but you need to change.” No “but”s at all. Just “I love you.” Period.

That voice comforted me at first, but then I rejected it. I chose the voice I thought I deserved over the voice God graciously offered. But then I lost faith in the voice kicking me when I was down. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I rejected that one. What was left of the voice of God? I read again this suffering servant song, and when I came to the line that said, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench,” then I understood. Even though Second Isaiah wasn’t speaking to me directly, I am the bruised reed he will not break. I am the dimly burning wick he will not quench. God will not kick me when I’m down. That’s how I know that other voice is a false God.

And with that old voice bound, gagged, and kicked out of my head, I listened, and again I heard the voice of the Spirit saying, “I love you.” A voice as gentle and mild as the suffering servant, not crying aloud and making itself heard in the street, so soft you can only hear it if you quiet the false gods in your head and listen for it. “I love you,” with no qualifiers, as if I had already received from the LORD’s hand double for all my sins. That was the voice of the Holy Spirit. That was the voice I finally learned to listen to.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

(Rom 8:1-2 NRS)

What about You?

Have you ever heard a voice you thought was God? What was it like? Did it kick you when you were down? Hopefully, I have convinced you that was not God. If you have clinical depression, you might be more prone to hearing that voice (and thinking you deserve it) than most people. I overcame it, and so can you. So I want to invite you to take this little spiritual exercise.

Go into a quiet room with a notebook and pen. Not a phone or laptop, nothing electronic. Sit quietly and listen. Try to quiet your mind and listen from deep within. Just give it a few minutes, as long as you feel comfortable. Write down whatever you hear.

Do you think it is the voice of God? Why or why not? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.

Book cover Dark Nights of the Soul on rustic table
Winner Nonfiction, Writer’s Digest Self-Published Ebooks, available on Kindle through January for $0.99. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083JNXHZF

Translation Notes

קָנֶ֤ה רָצוּץ֙ לֹ֣א יִשְׁבּ֔וֹר וּפִשְׁתָּ֥ה כֵהָ֖ה לֹ֣א יְכַבֶּ֑נָּה (Isa 42:3 WTT)

a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; (Isa 42:3 NRS)

Halladay’s lexicon would translate qaneh ratzutz as “a crushed reed,” as in 2 Ki 18:23. However, most translations render it “a bruised reed,” probably because of the phrase lo’ yishbor, “he will not break.” It doesn’t make sense to say, “he will not break a crushed reed.” How can you break something that’s already crushed?

Uphishtah kehah, Halladay’s lexicon says phishtah is a wick of flax, but it calls phishtah kehah is a dimly glowing wick. Lo’ yichbennah, “he will not extinguish.”

These are two beautiful metaphors for gentleness toward vulnerability. The reed is already bruised. Just a little pressure will make it break. But the servant of God will not break it. A dimly glowing wick is easily extinguished, but he will not quench it. In modern vernacular, we might say, he will not kick you when you’re down.

References

Duhm, Bernhard. Das Buch Jesaia (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1892). Cited in Wikipedia, “Servant Songs.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_songs

Book cover-Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Living with the Depressed Brain by David Anderson

Book Excerpt: Dark Nights of the Soul

Book cover-Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Living with the Depressed Brain by David Anderson
Free on Kindle until July 28

I have published an ebook on Kindle. It is available for free through July 27. Since I am self-publishing, I can show you an excerpt without asking the publisher for permission. I am the publisher, and I give myself permission. The book is called Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain. You can use the link to go straight to the page on Amazon to download it.


Depressed Christian, Part 1

There are a lot of misconceptions about depression that prevent people who suffer from getting the help they need. In my own experience, religion sometimes brought healing and comfort when nothing else would, and sometimes it made my depression worse in ways nothing else could. And so I say I am in recovery from two things: depression and bad faith.

The first misconception is thinking depression is only an emotional state. Typically, people say they’re depressed when they are very sad. So depression in this sense is extreme sadness. Anyone can feel depressed after the death of a family member or friend, loss of a job, divorce or breakup, or some tragic event in their lives. This is situational depression.

But depression in the sense I’m talking about is not that kind of sadness. It is a medical condition. It is not something that happens because of life. It is an ongoing condition of the brain. This is clinical depression.

The Depressed Brain

Did you know that your brain processes more than 100,000 chemical reactions every second?[1] Obviously, that is too much to describe in detail here. For most purposes, you just need to know that an important part of this activity involves the production of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. I will refer to them generally as “happy chemicals.” You have happy chemicals and stress chemicals. The brain processes them, but most of them are actually produced in the gut. This is why people with depression or anxiety often have gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses as well.[2] Regardless of where they come from, when your brain does not get normal levels of happy chemicals, the stress chemicals affect your mood. You live in a constant, underlying, and invisible state of depression–even when there is no reason for you to be sad. This kind of depression is a medical condition, not an emotional state where you can just “cheer up” or pray your way out of it.

I did not know any of this until I was professionally tested. The psychiatrist summed up the results like this: “You tested high for depression in every possible way.”

It was one of those moments when I knew my life would never be the same. How I viewed myself, life, the world, God, and everything changed forever with that one sentence. I only felt mildly depressed, and I still tested high in every possible way? I never thought it could be that bad. Yet, as the psychiatrist explained it, I saw how it was not only possible but explained a lot about my whole life.

Clinical depression is not about how you feel at any given moment. It means you need help in creating a healthy level of happy chemicals. Without that help, I walked around numb, moody, temperamental, irritable, and looking angry even when I was not. I isolated myself and either dreaded or loathed social interaction. I thought all kinds of bad thoughts about myself, friends, enemies, family, strangers, the world, God, and life itself. I suffered from anxieties for no good reason. I thought no one understood me, so there was no point in talking to anyone.

Of course, I did not feel that way 24/7. It would have been easier to recognize if I did. I had ups and downs just like everyone, or so I thought. My emotional/mood spectrum felt normal to me because it was the only thing I had ever known. This is what it’s like to live with clinical depression and not know it.

If any of this sounds familiar, especially if you can’t identify any good reason for your sadness, irritability, apathy, or hopelessness, you may be one of the millions of people living with undiagnosed depression of some kind. How do you know for sure? Since it is a medical condition, it needs to be diagnosed by a medical or psychiatric professional (See Appendix B). But if people close to you think you are depressed, even when you don’t, you should seriously consider getting tested. I only got tested because my mother and sister urged me. If they hadn’t, I would still be undiagnosed, still moody and depressed, and still thinking it was normal.

Bad Faith

Clinical depression is not about feeling sad or anxious. It’s about living with a brain that does not get enough happy chemicals. It is very important you understand this, because when religion gets mixed up in depression without understanding what it really is, it creates more problems than it solves. An article on Beliefnet said it well: “As we consider the causes of depression, those of us in the church must face the ways we might be responsible for creating it.”[3]

I’ve experienced some of those ways that church/religion/faith–whatever you want to call spiritual life and practice–can be responsible for creating it or making it a lot worse. I thank God from the depths of my soul that He led me out of that and into a church, faith, and spiritual practice that helps my recovery and healing, rather than beats me down for not having “enough faith,” whatever that means. Because the only thing worse than living for ten years (in my case) in a faith or religion that will only acknowledge “spiritual” causes of depression is living in that kind of faith for ten years…and one day.

A New Mission

What I say next, I don’t say lightly. I’m not the type of person who goes around saying, “God told me this. God told me that. God has called me to do this.” So many times I have heard people say things like that and thought, I bet if I could hear God as well as you claim to, right now I’d hear God saying, “Leave Me out of this!”

It’s not that I believe God does not talk to people. I believe God talks to us all the time, but hearing God is tricky. I’ve learned from hard experience that I don’t hear nearly as well as I would like to. Probably because it’s being filtered through a clinically depressed brain.

With that disclaimer, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I believe God is calling me to help others who are in the same position I was. People who know they are depressed and are trying to be happy. People who don’t know it but have a sense that something is wrong with them. People who think it’s normal because they have lived with depression all their lives. And especially, depressed people who have been hurt by religion. I believe I am in a position to help point you to what is helpful–and away from most of what is hurtful. I don’t think I will ever say I am healed of depression. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they call themselves recovering alcoholics, not recovered.

Just recently, I have been able to look at my life today and realize I have come a long way on this road of recovery, though I have by no means come to the end. This journey has been a quest for happiness, purpose, and meaning in spite of a brain that is tilted toward depression, and God has been with me through it all. There are some lessons I have had to learn the hard way. I hope to spare you some of that drama. The greatest happiness, purpose, and meaning comes from helping others, so I pray this will in some way help you.

Grace and Peace to you.

P. S. The book Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain is available for $0.99 on Kindle for a limited time.


[1] “How Many Chemical Reactions Occur in the Brain Every Second,” Answers.com, http://www.answers.com/Q/How_many_chemical_reactions_occur_in_the_human_brain_every_second

[2] “The Brain Gut Connection,” Johns Hopkins Medicine, retrieved March 14, 2019, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection

[3] “Christians: Take Depression Seriously,” Beliefnet, July 26, 2016,  https://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/health/emotional-health/christians-take-depression-seriously.aspx