Brother B is replaying his interview with me from December 6 as a “Best of” episode on his show, “This is the Situation,” on 100.9 FM in Muskegon, Michigan. He said he chose this episode because he got a lot of positive reviews for it, and he feels it speaks to a lot of what is happening now in this country. And I would say around the world as well. What we have been through the last year has taken a toll not only on physical health but mental health as well.
On the radio at 100.9 FM (In the Muskegon, Michigan area).
On the “Tune In” app. They offer a premium service, but you won’t need it for this. Search for Muskegon 100.9 FM, and it should come up. If you don’t have it, you can follow this link to download the Tune In app from the iTunes store. http://tun.in/sfh1j. Or here on Google Play.
And hopefully, I’ve given you enough keywords that you can find it on Google if all else fails. We talk about some of the principles in my book, how you can have clinical depression and not know it, and how I have been able to find happiness and faith in spite of a brain that is tilted towards darkness and depression.
And he made this promo was so cool.
Brother B, it was an honor to be on your show the first time, but even more to be chosen now as a “best of” episode. I’ll be listening again.
Podcast tagline: “Learning and sharing our ‘failures’, setbacks, comebacks, and pivots, and talking about the tactical steps you took to get through the bump in the road.”
This is my third appearance as a guest on a podcast, and each one has been a great experience. Each one has challenged me in different ways while encouraging me to talk about something I’m passionate about, which is helping people with depression find a faith and plan for recovery that works for them. If you want to know how to get an introvert talking, that’s how you do it.
In keeping with her tagline, the theme was about being diagnosed with clinical depression and living in recovery from it. Among the things we talked about are
The difference between situational and clinical depression
How I found out I have clinical depression
Signs that you should be tested for clinical depression
How some kinds of faith can help recovery
How some kinds of faith can hinder recovery
Some tips on coping with depression under pandemic conditions
Reconciling faith and science, and how both were important to me in recovery
Depression during the holidays
I ended up talking more about religion more than I thought I would. Though Jenelle is not religious, she did not shy away from asking me about it. And she had some really nice things to say about my book. The episode lasts for about an hour, but it could easily have gone on all night. I have learned in those situations I need to be mindful of the time, because not everyone wants to hear my perspective for six hours, no matter how brilliant I think it is. But I have listened to it, I’m delighted with the result, and I hope you will get some value from it.
In the end, she said the book was helpful to her understanding of friends or family members who struggle with depression, which affirmed something I had hoped. Even though I had to talk about my faith and how it affected my experience with depression, I had hoped it would be helpful to people who don’t necessarily share my faith or beliefs. I can’t thank her enough for that vote of confidence.
If you are looking for podcasts with hosts that are eager to help you get your message out, and you have a topic that matches the tagline of “Ebb and Glow,” I would strongly recommend Jenelle. She put me at ease and drew out some things I didn’t even know I wanted to talk about.
The difference between situational and clinical depression
Signs you may have clinical depression
Faith that is good for recovery versus faith that is bad for recovery
Some encouragement for those experiencing depression because of racism (you can thank Brother B for that)
My “red pill” moment about the Prosperity Gospel/Word of Faith movement
Learning compassion for yourself and others
What the Bible is all about in one sentence (And no, it’s not John 3:16)
This is of course part of a promotion for my book, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain. He made a really cool promo that I want to continue to use to cross promote his podcast and my book.
Like my conversation with Steve Pederson on The Dream Highway podcast (episode 26), it was a great experience for an introvert like me. I have talked a lot about living with clinical depression, but I have not talked much about being an introvert. Most people think introverts are shy and quiet, so you might be surprised to learn I enjoy interviews like this. But being “shy and quiet” is not the whole picture. Introverts tend to think a lot about big issues, like climate change, the state of the government, repercussions of policy and court decisions, what does freedom really mean, existential angst and such. Because of that, small talk is a challenge for us, so we often appear awkward in social situations.
But if you get us talking about something we are passionate about, we can talk all day. And I could have in both those cases, because I am passionate about writing and helping people struggling with depression. Fortunately for you, each episode is less than an hour.
A word about the YouTube channel
I set up a YouTube channel called Almost Ordained. Though I’ve had fun with it, I think I need to switch it to a podcast. I’ve been frustrated somewhat with aspects of video production. The last episode I filmed hasn’t aired, because the lighting was just out of control. Light, dark, light, dark … that’s what made me say, enough is enough. The episodes are still available to watch if you want to catch up on them. And I’m glad it was still up when Brother B sent me that promo, so I had a place to post it. But apparently, I don’t have the technical set up to make my own videos. Less can go wrong with audio, so I will give that a try.
That’s all for now. Until next time, remember these words from Matthew 7:12,
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
On the radio at 100.9 FM (In the Muskegon, Michigan area).
On the “Tune In” app. If you don’t have it, you can follow this link to download the Tune In app. http://tun.in/sfh1j. They offer a premium service, but you won’t need it for this. Search for Muskegon 100.9 FM, and it should come up.
We will talk about some of the principles in my book about how I found out you can have clinical depression and not know it, and how I have been able to find happiness and faith in spite of a brain that is tilted towards darkness and depression.
In the series of character studies on Abraham, I’ve been
taking my cues so far from Hebrews Chapter 11 and the stories that it relates about
Abraham as an example of great faith. We’ve learned a lot about him and there are
still more stories to go. So I want to go back now to the beginning and see how
this story developed.
In some ways, Abraham represents a transition from really
ancient times, when in the Bible you regularly see people living lifespans of
hundreds of years, to getting closer to lifespans we are accustomed to.
If you go back to the first man, Adam, we have this.
When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred thirty years; and he died.
(Gen 5:3-5 NRS)
Before this, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel, and Cain
ended up murdering his brother, Abel. So now they have another son when Adam is
one hundred thirty years old.
Don’t roll your eyes at me
Now if you’re rolling your eyes at me and saying, “Come on. We
all know this is a fairy tale. It never really happened,” stop! It doesn’t
matter whether it “really happened” for what I’m doing. I’m not looking at history.
I’m looking at this story. So even if you don’t believe it really
happened (and I will admit I have serious doubts myself) that doesn’t change
the story. I’m looking to see what it would have meant to the people for
whom it was originally written. Every nation in ancient times has some kind
of origin story, and most of them we agree didn’t really happen. But we still
study them to learn something about the people. What does this tell us about
the people and how they saw themselves?
So even if you don’t believe this is real history there are
still plenty of reasons to study it. In this case, I’m looking ahead to the
story of Abraham and Sarah. There’s a pattern developing, and it’s going to be
important when we get to Abraham and Sarah.
So when Adam is one hundred thirty years old, he has a son
named Seth. Today, we couldn’t even imagine most of us living to one hundred
thirty years old, much less, if we make it, then having a son. It would have
been the same for the original audience of this document. It goes on to say,
The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred thirty years; and he died.
(Gen 5:4-5 NRS)
So Adam, the first man in this saga, lived nine hundred
thirty years. Here’s some interesting trivia. Who was the oldest person in the
When Methuselah had lived one hundred eighty-seven years, he became the father of Lamech. Methuselah lived after the birth of Lamech seven hundred eighty-two years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty-nine years; and he died.
(Gen 5:25-27 NRS)
So the answer to that question, it was Methuselah. He lived nine
hundred sixty-nine years and had his first son at one hundred eighty-seven.
By the time we get to Noah and the flood, he was six hundred
years old when the flood happened. He lived a little bit longer after the flood,
so he was somewhere in his six hundreds when he died. We’ve gone from 900-something
to 600-something. And then we get to the descendants of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
Abraham’s Story Begins
The stories of Abraham are bookended by genealogical
frameworks. So the genealogy of Shem is officially the beginning of Abraham’s
When Shem was one hundred years old, he became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; and Shem lived after the birth of Arpachshad five hundred years, and had other sons and daughters.
(Gen 11:10-11 NRS)
So his total lifespan is six hundred years. His father lives
into his 600’s, so this is still in the same ballpark. He has a son named
Arpachshad when he is one hundred. Remember, Abraham was a hundred when he had
When Arpachshad had lived thirty-five years, he became the father of Shelah; and Arpachshad lived after the birth of Shelah four hundred three years, and had other sons and daughters.
(Gen 11:12-13 NRS)
Okay, Arpachshad is thirty-five years old when he has his
first son. This is much closer to our normal, and importantly, closer to the
normal of the first audience of the book of Genesis. There’s also a dramatic
shift in lifespan. We’ve gone from his father living six hundred years to four
hundred three years for Arpachshad. He was the father of Shelah.
When Shelah had lived thirty years, he became the father of Eber;
(Gen 11:14 NRS)
Shelah is thirty when he has his first son. Again we’re in territory
that’s closer to the experience of the original audience. I’m going to skip
ahead to verses 20-21.
When Reu had lived thirty-two years, he became the father of Serug; and Reu lived after the birth of Serug two hundred seven years, and had other sons and daughters.
(Gen 11:20-21 NRS)
Again, we’re still in this normal range of having the first son somewhere around thirty years old. The lifespan, though, is going down. Shelah in verse 15 lived four hundred three years. Now Serug lived two hundred thirty-nine years. This is a few generations later, and you see there is a definite downward trend in terms of average lifespan. I’m going to skip ahead to Nahor.
Nahor Became the Father of Terah
When Nahor had lived twenty-nine years, he became the father of Terah; and Nahor lived after the birth of Terah one hundred nineteen years, and had other sons and daughters.
(Gen 11:24-25 NRS)
We’re getting close to the birth of Abraham, and there is a
significant drop off from over two hundred years. Nahor had his first son at twenty-nine,
but lived after that one hundred nineteen years. So he lived to be one hundred
forty-eight. That’s still a long time by our standards, but it is a far cry
from the nine hundred sixty-nine years of Methuselah, and the six hundred years
of Noah and Shem. When we get to Arpachshad, it’s four hundred some years, on
down to Reu, who lives two hundred some years. And now Nahor, Abraham’s grandfather,
is down to one hundred forty-eight years. Next is Terah, who was Abram’s father.
When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
(Gen 11:26 NRS)
Does that mean they were triplets? Maybe. Maybe it just means that by the time he was seventy, he had three sons named Abram, Nahor and Haran. So when Terah was seventy, Abram had been born. They’re still living pretty long lifespans, into their hundreds, but again you see the downward trend.
Abram and Sarai
When we get into the story of Abram and Sarai (later renamed
Abraham and Sarah), he was eighty-six when he had his first son, Ishmael. But
his wife, Sarai, still had not had a son. She was ninety-one when she had her
first son, Isaac, and Abraham was one hundred. On average, men are having their
first son around thirty years old. The author is showing that this is late for Abram
and Sarai to be having children.
Since Eve, the author did not talk about the mothers in detail until now. This was a patriarchal society. The lineages were traced through the father. But it was important in this story that Abraham and Sarah have a son. It was so important that even when Abraham was one hundred, God came in and said, “It’s not too late.”
He went on to live to one hundred seventy-five. Sarah was one
hundred twenty-seven years old when she died. When you first hear that, you
might think that it was not impossible at that point, since people were
living well into their hundreds on average. They were still in middle-age. The
man still might be able to rise to the occasion. The woman still might be of
fertile, childbearing age for that time. That would not have been normal, but maybe
it would have been possible.
For writers: Know your audience’s expectations
The original audience probably would have wondered the same
thing. The author wants to establish that Abraham and Sarah were both “too old”
to procreate when Isaac was born. The author will make that clear at the right
time. But at first, he wants to keep that question open.
Aswriters, we can learn something from this. The
author knows his audience’s expectations. They have heard stories of people in
ancient times living for hundreds of years. Before we even meet Abram and
Sarai, the author is hinting at the answer, but not giving it away. He has
established the average lifespan and average age when the first child is born
has been going down steadily from Adam to Abraham.
When the moment of truth comes in the story, the author says
when Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac, it was impossible not only
for her but for Abraham. They had stopped having sex some years earlier. That
part of their marriage life was a thing of the past. She had passed menopause, and
Abraham was no longer able to rise to the occasion. To an audience that has
heard of ancient lifespans being a few hundred years, he has hinted just enough
in the genealogy to prepare them for this. She was ninety, he was ninety-nine,
and even with the average lifespan back then, they were too old.
Also for writers: Foreshadowing
The first eleven chapters of Genesis answers questions about
the origins of the world, people, and nations. The author, however, draws the
added benefit of foreshadowing from the genealogies. When God promises a
son to Abraham and Sarah, it is a crucial moment in their story. Abraham is
ninety-nine, and Sarah is ninety. If you compare them with Methuselah, you might
think they were just teenagers. They have plenty of time to have a son.
But the genealogy showed how, over time, the average age for
childbirth and lifespan went down steadily. By the time you get to Nahor,
Abraham’s grandfather, people are having their first child around thirty on
average. Is it too late for Abraham and Sarah?
The author doesn’t necessarily need the foreshadowing. He states
clearly that Sarah had passed menopause, and they were no longer having sex, so
yes, it’s too late. But the foreshadowing hinted just enough to raise the
question for a second and create a little more tension, before dropping the
anvil on their hopes.
Foreshadowing is a good technique, but you have to know
how to use it. If it’s too heavy-handed, it usually backfires. The reader
sees it coming, so it lessens the impact. The author of Abraham’s story in Geneses
used it subtly, and it added another layer of tension.
If you want to learn more about using foreshadowing effectively, this is a good example to study.
Skim chapters 5 through 11 of Genesis. You don’t have to memorize everyone’s names and ages. Just notice how the numbers go down.
Then read chapter 18. Start with verses 1-10 and pause. The angel of the LORD has just made the promise. You know Abraham and Sarah’s ages as compared with the last four generations or so. How does it feel? Do you wonder if it is still possible for them?
Then read Sarah’s reaction in verses 11-12. That’s your answer. Sarah (and we must assume Abraham also) believes that ship has sailed.
Not that it’s a surprise, but did that moment of uncertainty make the impact of her hopelessness stronger for you? It did for me. So there’s an example of an effective use of foreshadowing.
Do you think you could use it in your story? How could you
use subtle foreshadowing to heighten the tension at your story’s crucial
What do you mean “too old”?
Then the angel of the LORD steps in one day, visits them in
their tent, and says, “By this time next year Sarah will have a son.”
She laughed, and the angel is like, “Why did you laugh?”
She said, “I didn’t laugh.”
“Oh yes, you did laugh.”
Great use of dialog, by the way. You feel her nervousness
when she says, “I didn’t laugh.” And then her embarrassment when the angel
says, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
But the angel said something to her that turned things around. Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?
They had heard promises like this before. God had promised
Abraham a son of “his own issue,” but God did not say when and did not promise
it would be with Sarah. So he ended up sleeping with Hagar, because Sarah said,
“I can’t give you a son. Go in to my handmaid. You need to have a son, because
God commanded it.”
He did, and he had a son. God promised to bless Ishmael. But this time God promised specifically, not just Abraham’s issue, but you, Sarah, will have a son by this time next year. I know it looks impossible, but is anything too wonderful for the LORD?
They counted God faithful
The angel of the LORD said in effect, “God made a promise. Do
you believe it?”
They did, even though it was “impossible,” and even though anyone
would probably wonder why God waited until now to fulfill that promise. Of
course, it wouldn’t have mattered whether they believed or not if Abraham
couldn’t get it up. God must have given him some heavenly Viagra. (Hey, the
Bible talks about this frankly, so why can’t I?)
Shortly after that encounter with the angel, Sarah started menstruating
again. This was their chance. If Abraham was able. Around the same time,
Abraham’s dead flesh came back to life. Guess what, Sarah? For the first
time in several years, they came together again as husband and wife.
God told them they would have a son together “at the appointed time,” which was within one year. They named him Isaac, which means “he laughs,” because they had both laughed when God first said it to them.
They did not believe instantly. They did not believe constantly throughout their lives. They went through periods of doubt, probably wondering if Abraham was insane. But this time the angel promised, they both heard it, and they knew God was serious. They counted him faithful who had promised, and that’s why they are in the “faith Hall of Fame” of Hebrews Chapter 11.
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.
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? 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. 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.
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.”
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
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