- Mental Health
The Reality of Depression
Although it is not a visible condition like having a limb missing, depression is still very real. Many people, who have not experienced the same as the depressed person, act as if they do not realise this, which may well be the case. They are impatient with the depressed person's tendency to focus on and speak of past negative experiences or to seemingly overreact to present ones. This attitude in turn makes the person's depression worse, so that there is a vicious circle. As somebody with a depressed wife, whom I love very much, I have the incentive to try to break that circle by sharing things gained from my own experience with her. Naturally the experience of others will be different according to the precise characteristics of the depression in their case.
My Wife's History
The kind of depression my wife suffers from is that brought on by an accumulation of negative experiences down though the years, each one adding to her emotional vulnerability. In her case, she experienced as a child beating and abuse, including sexual, from other members of her family, who in later years also took advantage of her financially. She was widowed after less than 2 years of marriage to her first husband who had given her one son. Because she was a widow with a legitimate son, she was discriminated against by the benefit system because, it was said, unmarried mothers are more vulnerable. She married again and had another son but after some years her second husband started to beat her, influenced by some of his friends. They were divorced and she fled the house with her children. She was bullied at work and therefore had to keep leaving jobs, which, besides causing her financial hardship at the time, curtailed her eventual pension entitlement. Now, when she encounters domineering attitudes in people, they remind her of the factors that so damaged her earlier life.
The Need for Patience
My wife has often said she is amazed at my patience with her, especially as she knows I sometimes lose it when technology is not functioning correctly. I simply answer "Love is patient" as stated in 1 CORINTHIANS 13.4.The Greek word in that Scripture verse is "agape", the love of divine origin. That love is available to all who know Christ, as well as the "philia" or brotherly love and the "eros" or sexual love, with which the world is more familiar.
The Importance of Faith
I am glad to say that my wife knows Jesus as her Saviour and the way she witnesses for him to others puts me to shame. She encouraged quite a number of people, to come to her former church and find Christ, including a drug addict, who was afterwards saved, delivered from drugs and baptised. She was a steward and pastoral carer there, besides leading for 8 years a choir, which put on two successful gospel concerts. She has likewise brought others into the church where she is now with me. When God uses people, Satan loves to attack them. After Elijah's spectacular humiliation of the prophets of Baal in I KINGS chapter 18 he was plunged into the depths of depression. (1 KINGS 19.3,4). Similarly, depression gets in the way of my wife's experiencing that "peace of God, which transcends all understanding" PHILIPPIANS 4.7, because of the way it magnifies the irritations of life.(Magnification, as with a telescope or magnifying glass is not making something bigger but making it look bigger)". When you are somebody who sees the cup as half full and are close to somebody who sees it as half empty, patience is undoubtedly needed. This is my impassioned plea to exercise it for the sake of your depressed loved ones or friends. You may be on a bus going to an appointment for which you are late. Perhaps the bus is delayed because of somebody with a wheelchair getting on or off. That person deserves your patience because of their condition. The same is true of somebody suffering from depression.
Job was a character in the Bible who was the subject of a contest between God and Satan. He was a godly man and Satan said he only respected God because of the affluent life he was enjoying (JOB 1. 9-11). God gave Satan permission to test Job him in various ways. After losing his donkeys, his camels, his sheep, his servants and his sons and daughters, he still accepted his lot (JOB 1.20-23). But then Satan was not satisfied and asked God for permission to do more to test Job (JOB 2. 4, 5). God gave Satan permission to affect Job's body but not his life (v.6). Then Job was afflicted with sores all over his body. When his wife challenged him to curse God and die, he still responded in a godly way (v. 9.10). Then three friends came to be with him (JOB 2. 11-13). After this, in chapter 3, Job became very depressed with his situation. In the ensuing chapters, his three friends have much to say to him. The trouble is, though it was very eloquent and sounded very educated, what they had to say did not meet Job's needs at all but rather made the situation worse. This is the problem posed by depression. Well meaning people can say what they think is helpful and it may, in absolute objective terms, be very true and constructive, even Scriptural, but it may only exacerbate things for the depressed person. We need to be good listeners, not lecturers.
When my wife, whom at that time I did not know, was receiving counselling for depression, her counsellor advised her to exercise assertiveness in one chosen area. She chose her name. Some people had the habit of calling her by her third name, Frances, instead of her first name, Marie, which she prefers. Such a thing may seem insignificant to someone who is not suffering from depression. But we need to respect the wishes of those who are depressed regarding such things as this. She decided to be assertive in this area, including the pronouncing of the name with the first syllable short and the second long. There is somebody who instead, to this day, pronounces the name with the first syllable long and the second syllable short, despite being told many times. To make it worse, there are those who make excuses for her. This hurts Marie because she sees the right pronunciation of her name as a medication that needs to be applied consistently. Others may see it as a triviality. They still need to respect her feelings.It is cruel to do otherwise.
Organisations that do not make provisions for disabled access in their premises can be prosecuted. Physical disabilities are catered for. Depression however can easily be overlooked or attributed to the person just being awkward and responses are based on this, which is tragic. None of us likes people being abrupt with us but for many of us it is just one of those things we don't take any notice of. Not so for the depressed person, for whom it can be very hurtful and they do not have the emotional resources to ignore it. When I gave my bridegroom's speech at our wedding in 2006, I likened it to saying to a blind person behind you "Look where you're poking that white stick!" So please be thoughtful when speaking to a person who you know to be depressed. Try and put yourself in their shoes.
Useful Despite Depression
Depression does not make a person useless. Famous people such as comedians Tony Hancock and Spike Milligan suffered from it. Still they were in their element making people laugh. I mentioned that Marie had led a choir in a church for eight years . She found this very therapeutic, as well as being a blessing to a great many people. In 2004, following a change of leadership in that church, the choir was disbanded. This was a bitter blow to Marie who then started coming to the church where I was. When remarks are made rubbing it in that she no longer has a choir, this is like a dagger piercing her heart. There are activities or memories that help to alleviate a person's depression and, when these are attacked, whether unwittingly or otherwise, it can be very destructive. Therefore if you know of an activity that is, or has been, giving much needed help to a depressed person, for compassion's sake, be supportive and do not say negative things about it even though you may not have any personal interest in it.
On September 18th 2010 my wife's mother died in French Guyana where she had gone to live when Marie was only 16. She had not been able to visit her mother for 20 years prior to her death owing to lack of money, neither had her mother ever seen her two sons. She was likewise unable to attend the funeral because of cost, plus the fact that her passport had previously been stolen. These factors, plus a traumatic experience she had had just hours before receiving news of her mother's stroke, which was to prove fatal, added to the impact of the bereavement on her. For some perhaps the fact of not having recently enjoyed the presence of the now deceased person and the geographical remoteness of the death might perhaps seem a factor to reduce the pain of the bereavement. But in my wife's case these facts made it worse for her. You don't have to be depressed for this to be the case but it is probably more likely if you have depression.
During 2013 my wife went to have Talking Therapy, provided by the National Health Service. These were one to one sessions and she was impressed with the patience and understanding of her therapist. She also went to Manage Your Mood and Relapse Prevention courses, both of which were group sessions, where people shared and compared their own experiences that have caused them to seek therapy. She was impressed by the fact that she felt more at ease at these than she did in church. I have heard from other sources that, sadly, churches are sometimes not the most understanding environments when it comes to emotional problems and some of the triggers to depression discussed at the sessions aptly applied to some of her experiences in church. We have both now stopped attending the church where she was with me , even though I have been there all my life,.In December 2013, she and I had opportunities to serve in another church where we were much appreciated. Sadly though, her experiences in one church have marred her incentive for getting deeply involved in another. I am praying for her to be freed from this inhibition and believe God will answer in His time. In the meantime we are seeking God's will for the future which, for me, cannot lie in a place where my wife feels too under pressure to come. It's very sad that some people come and take office in churches to exercise power without compassion but sadly it does happen.
God Answers Prayer
In September 2014, I was out with my wife and we met a woman whom she knew from years back, who told her she was now attending a particular Pentecostal church. It also turned out during the conversation that another woman Marie knew from a previous church, about whom she had told me, but with whom she had lost touch, was now at the same church. Her brother was the Pastor there. Marie and I visited this church the following Sunday and we both experienced such a presence of the love of God and a wonderful atmosphere of praise that Marie has totally regained her incentive for going to church. I so thank God for his wonderful answer to prayer. Both of us look forward very much to Sundays. Miracles do happen!