Thursday, August 14, 2014

There But for the Grace of God . . .

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It would be wrong of me not to stress the fact that I am not a psychiatrist, counselor, or medical professional of any kind. My views of  depression have been formed from discussions with licensed medical professionals and from reading texts written by credible and reliable health-care practitioners. Please do not mistake my comments as anything other than the thoughts and opinions of a layperson.

When the word went out that the immensely-talented Robin Williams had passed away, social media was filled with videos of hilarious comedy routines, clips of favorite movies or episodes of "Mork & Mindy", and tributes from the famous and not-so-famous. I laughed as I watched until-then forgotten appearances on "The Tonight Show" and favorite scenes from movies such as Good Morning Vietnam; I cried as I read his daughter's tweet, in which she quoted from The Little Prince.

Then came the news that Mr. Williams had committed suicide. With that announcement, the tenor of some comments changed. Some people took it upon themselves to criticize Mr. Williams, to accuse him of being weak or selfish. I wasn't laughing -- or crying -- anymore. Instead, I felt disgusted and appalled by the callousness of those who took it upon themselves to pass judgment in such a manner.

Fast on the heels of, and primarily in response to, those negative reactions came the posts and tweets in which people shared their views on depression. Some of the information was very informative and, from what I know, accurate. Unfortunately, some of it was not.

One Facebook post encapsulated much of what I consider to be inaccurate information, and I couldn't help but think of times over the years that well-meaning (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here) individuals have made similar comments. I'd like to take this opportunity to address a few of the claims made by these individuals.

 

Claim 1: Depression is a "focus on ME, ME, ME" and we must remember that it's not all about me. 

The premise here is that those dealing with depression are egotists; they are self-centered individuals who choose to think only of themselves. First of all, I do not believe that depression is something people choose. Period. Secondly, as I understand it, when a person is depressed, it is as if they are standing with their face in the corner of a room with dark gray or black walls. It is not themselves they are focused on; rather, they can see nothing but the darkness, the gloom, the despair that overwhelms them.

 

Claim 2: Some depression may have a physical cause, and consulting a doctor may be warranted. However, most depressed individuals should: a) remember that other people have had and do "have it worse" than they do and rejoice in their suffering, and b) "buck up" and be thankful for what they have.

There is, as I understand it, a vast difference between "having it worse" and suffering from depression. I've experienced difficult situations. Early in our marriage, my husband and I often had less than $20 left over after bills were paid and very basic groceries purchased, with 30 days until the next paycheck. I've lost both of my parents, and I've dealt with other issues that brought me varying degrees of physical suffering. I reminded myself then that others were going through much worse, and I thanked God for His blessings and for using my circumstances for His purposes. I was suffering, yes. I was sad, yes. But I was not depressed.

Depression is not caused by external circumstances and has nothing to do with how bad a person "has it". Most of us have heard that it is caused by a chemical imbalance, but medical experts explain that it is more complex than that but that the roots of depression are biological. To say that a person who is suffering from depression should just buck up and rejoice is like telling a diabetic to throw away their testing strips and insulin and instead just grab a hymnal and sing a worship song or two.

 

Claim #3: Depression is caused by unconfessed sin; as a result, those suffering from depression need to confess their sin, repent, and mend their ways.

I know a minister who for several years struggled with depression. He shared with me that at first, he tried to cure his depression by practicing his faith even more vigorously. More hours spent reading the Bible, more hours on his knees in prayer, heartfelt and rigorous self-examination followed by sincere confession and repentance, and very deliberate efforts to make appropriate changes and, when warranted, restitution for his sin. He continually gave thanks to God for his mercy and grace.

His depression continued to envelop him; gradually, he became so overwhelmed by what he calls a "spirit-crushing unrelenting oppression" that whispery thoughts of suicide began to lurk at the edges of his consciousness. He shared that with his wife, and she insisted he see a Christian physician. He was evaluated at length, medication was prescribed, and within a month the dark cloud was lifted, and he felt (in his words) "like a normal human being again". I've never forgotten what he shared with me.

 

Sadly, I have far too often forgotten something my grandmother told me when I was about 10 or 11 years old. She cautioned me that whenever I feel the urge to judge someone else, to say that their bad circumstances were their own fault, or to congratulate myself on the fact that I was not like them, I should remember one little phrase. "There but for the grace of God go I."

There but for the grace of God go I.

There but for the grace of God goes each one of us.

Yes, God is full of grace.

And who am I -- who are any of us -- to in turn refuse to show grace to those around us who struggle with depression?

 

If you have any reason to believe that you are afflicted with depression, please consult with a licensed professional that you trust and feel comfortable with. Share with them openly and honestly so that they have all the information they need to provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan. 

Please share your thoughts via a comment here or, if you would prefer, by emailing me at pattimiinch@gmail.com.  Also, I hope you will "Like" my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pattimiinch58) and join in the discussions there. 

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