A fresh fight with the black dog

Those of you that know me well, have known me some considerable time or who have followed this blog for a fair amount of time, will know that I have suffered from some pretty serious depression. I had very minor episodes in my teens, a slightly more serious bout at university (though, at the time, I didn’t recognise it as such) and, around 10 years ago, an incredibly serious 2-year episode. You can read a little about that more serious one here if you’re so inclined.

Since that particularly horrendous period, the issue has been kept under control with medication and I have access to some tools that can help stop things deteriorating. Generally speaking, so long as I took my medication, I could function happily and normally. During that time, I have had very occasional – and not especially serious – ‘flare ups’. These have rarely lasted more than a few days, or a week at most, and – in reality – the worst anxiety was the fear that the worst form of it was settling in for the long-haul again. In every case, however, my mood lifted pretty quickly and I was never impeded from doing anything I usually do.

For the first time in ten years, that has changed. Several weeks ago I had what I thought was another mild ‘flare up’. As with every other time, I presumed it would go away as quickly as it came after a couple of days. Alas, several weeks on, it not only persists but seems to be getting worse. Fortunately, the particular tablets I’m on means my appetite is unlikely to completely fail like before. But, despite the supposed sedative effect of the meds, my sleep has been affected. Other of the unglamorous physical symptoms, that I shan’t bore you with, seem to be kicking in too.

I had the unenviable task of, for the first time ever, standing in a pulpit and preaching to people whilst feeling severely depressed. This was accompanied by some of the unfortunate physical symptoms that do not lend themselves to standing in front of people (which I shall leave to your imagination) and which I well remember struggling with back as a school teacher. By God’s grace, I had a family holiday to a much sunnier part of Europe a week or so ago. On the one hand, I probably wasn’t looking forward to it as much as I might have otherwise. On the other, it offered some relief and distraction from the usual thoughts and feelings that attend depression and gave me, for want of a better phrase, a legitimate reason not to feel guilty about not doing certain things.

I have been back for a week and am seeing little improvement. Whilst I haven’t dropped any commitments or failed to do anything that I ought to have done as of yet, one can’t help but feel it is only a matter of time. It has been said by more than a few godly folk that sleep is God’s way of showing that he can get on just fine without you. Perhaps depression is the means he uses to get it through the head of those too thick to clock on to the daily reminder.

Nonetheless, as one conditioned to think in terms of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy nowadays, I am still minded and grateful for several things:

  1. God will use this to make me more like Christ somehow. At the minute, I don’t know how. It is difficult to see through the bleakness some days. I am quite sure, but for the grace of God, I would have become an existentialist philosopher by natural temperament. But I am not one. I am in Christ, I have his Spirit and somehow this is part of his work of sanctification. I am not sure of the whys and wherefores right now, but this I know and I can cling onto it.
  2. God has provided me with an eldership team that cares for his church. What is more, God cares about his church more than we do – and I think I care about it an awful lot – and I am convinced he has provided these other godly men to help lead the church despite my obvious weakness.
  3. God has provided me with an eldership team that cares about me. Without going into any sordid detail, that has not always been the case. But, by God’s grace, both the men I work with now clearly care about me and both I and my wife care about them. They have both expressed a desire to help and support as far as they are able. I am extremely grateful to them both for this.
  4. When I first came to the church, the Lord allowed me to organise such that I was able to plan sermons about 3 months ahead of time. I am so grateful the Lord allowed me to maintain this because it is coming into its own now. The Lord saw this issue three years ago and let me plan (unbeknownst to me) to mitigate the issue at this time.

If you do so, I’d value your prayers. If I seem more morose than usual (already a low bar, I understand), I apologise. If I come across as more curt than usual, please don’t take it personally. Rest assured, it’s most definitely me and not you.

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