Depression is real – John Le

The following has been written by my dear brother in Christ – John Le. He joined our community group just a little under a year ago and has been a valuable and wonderful addition to our community. 

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Caution: Excuse the terrible writing, I suck at poetry stuff. Also, this might be a really long read

Prologue

Perhaps this is not the encouraging thing to be reading to start off this year. To be honest I don’t know what even compelled me to write about something so uncomfortable, cringy and exposing either. But I guess upon glancing through all the reflections of 2017 of other people on my newsfeed, it has prompted me to speak out my thoughts on the past year and on the years to come.

From all the social media surveying that I did, I collated a range of responses of people’s reflections on 2017, heading into the new year that can be summarised into these 3 points:

– 2017 was a challenging year for me, but I’ve learnt a lot – hope 2018 will be a great year! 😊

– 2017 was the best year of my life, got to do so many things this year – hope 2018 will be even better!

– 2017 was such a terrible and abysmal year, 2018 will be my year!

The pattern to be noticed here is that no matter what we have gone through the past year, we look forward to the next year. Why? Because every New Year is an opportunity for us to start afresh. New Year = New Me. Everything that has happened in 2017, no longer matters, because 2018 is the year where I get to start making new resolutions: like studying harder, training harder, build new friendships and fostering existing relationships, and most importantly, to put all the negativity that came with 2017 and put it aside. 2018 is my year!

But do all of us welcome the new year with all its abundant opportunities, despite the great levels of uncertainty that it also brings, with such beaming optimism? I know I certainly don’t, and often I have difficulty responding to everyone who has wished me a “Happy New Year to you John,” when my frail conscience conjures these thoughts riddled with pessimism:

– What exactly is going to be great about 2018?

– 2015 was a bad year, so was 2016, and 2017, what makes 2018 any better?

– Will 2018 really be a good year for me?

I wonder if any of you feel the same? I think there’s quite a few number out there that feel like they are contemplating the upcoming trials and tribulations that awaits them in this new year and whether they could even wake up the next day, feeling hopeful that things will ever get better.

And with that, it’s time for me to compilate all my thoughts and emotions in (what is certainly) a reality that is dark, suffocating, and seemingly endless for many of those who are suffering depression.

Enter the mask of a depressed person

I admit, I’m depressed. 

And I’ve had depression for a long, long time. But more often than not, it is so hard to admit that you have depression. Some of you are aware, some of you might have a general idea, but many of you know me to be energetic and goofy Johnny. 

The mask that I’ve created, the persona that I’ve branded myself to most people that I have currently met, is someone who is funny, quirky and passionate. Someone you can crack a laugh with, and someone you certainly can get along with. And that is what makes depression so difficult to recognise – how can someone be so cheerful, hilarious and fit, actually be so depressed? Sometimes even I forget I have depression, underneath the happy, charming façade that I’ve fabricated myself! I believe I (and many other sufferers) hide our own skeletons in the closet as a defence mechanism for a variety of reasons, but here are some general ones:

– How will people perceive me if they know I have depression?

– Will the dynamics of our relationships change if they know I have depression?

Personally, I know that if my depression is exposed out to the public for all to see, then:

– my workmates will see me differently and treat me differently (“Is John able to perform at work efficiently and effectively? Or will we need to hire someone else?”)

– at the very least, friends and family will over-analyse my social behaviour, which changes the way I relate them (and I don’t like change) in varying degrees like, “Are you alright John?”, “Why are you always tired, are you sad?” 

– in worst case, people would break off the relationship (perhaps because they just don’t want to be dealing with a troubled person)

– most importantly (for me), the opportunities for me to serve God in vocational Christian ministry will be compromised (“Who wants a depressed person to be leading God’s people? We need a charismatic person to lead!”. “He’s only going to be bring trouble in our ministry.”)

I won’t dig too deep on the symptoms of depression, neither will I expound upon the different variants of depression or how you can re-engineer your brain to perceive depression in a different light, and remove any preconceived stigmatic notions (mainly because I am no mental health expert or a counsellor, and even till now I’m still thinking through these matters with a vast amount of ignorance). But my intentions are that you can seep into my perspective on what exactly is going on beneath the mask, and into the mind of a depressed person.

Enter the mind of a depressed person

Trying to internalise every thought that comes into my mind, in order to give an appropriate description of what goes on in a broken mind, is a hefty task to say the least. Maybe it’s just my poor imagination and vocabulary, but I really can’t describe exactly what depression is, despite all of these years having it. But I know for certain that it’s definitely very dark and cloudy in here. I guess it’s kind of like this bottomless chasm that has joy-draining chains that chase you around to the ends of the earth (I’m getting better at this imaginative stuff haha). These chains will come for you at any-time and when you are caught, you get reeled into this deep, dark chasm. This can happen whether I’m studying or working or hanging out with mates. And what happens when I’m in this deep, dark chasm? Well, all these sinister and depraved thoughts start to protrude into my brain:

– Why do I feel sad? If there is no reason to be sad, why can’t I stop being sad?

– Why am I working so hard, for something that doesn’t really matter?

– Why can’t I experience any joy, like all of my other friends are?

– What is the point of living?

– I just want to crawl into a ball and morph into a rock.

– Dying would be nice right now.

I often entertain many hours in my day during the week replaying various scenarios emulating my own death. I often ponder at the mundaneness of life and wonder when this will ever end. My self-confidence and self-value vanishes in a blink of an eye and I long for my existence to pass away into the wind. These menacing and cancerous thoughts permeate into the very fabric of my being, influencing how I interact with others as well as individual activities that I participate in:

– Everything that I eat tastes bland.

– I don’t want to see or talk to people.

– I become less thankful for the things that people do for me.

– I’ve used up all my energy trying to smile.

– I’m willing to take more dangerous risks.

Often these feelings and actions are irrational, and I can’t find any particular reason to justify why I feel this certain way, or why I’ve done this certain thing. And understandably, this makes it very hard for people (with/without depression) trying to help those who have depression. How can we solve this problem and get to the heart of it, when we don’t even know the problem or what the root even is? 

Enter the heart of the problem

People get depression from a variety of different causes and reasons (which I won’t get into) and I personally can vaguely pinpoint when I started on this rocky journey. But as I try to purify myself of this parasitic disorder, it just seems as though that no therapy session, anti-depressant meds or any scholarly expertise on this matter, will ever rid me of this mindless misery. At most that these things can do, is mitigate my panic attacks and temporarily make me forget my dark reality for a little while, until I eventually succumb to my mental depravity again. None of these things ever get to the root of the problem, but merely manage the symptoms that stem out from the root itself (that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be using these methods to manage your depression, use them where you can!).

All of us know that there is just something about this world that is so very wrong – that it is broken and subjected to corruption. And we long to see this world and the people that live in it being made right in some way, shape or form. 

The Scriptures say that God has made all things in His creation good in His eyes (Genesis 1:31), and at the epitome of His creation, was humankind (Gen 1:26-27). We were made in the image of God (nothing else in this creation can ever claim this!), precious and dearly loved by God, and made to look after His creation under His sovereign rule (Gen 1:26).

But because mankind decides to reject God’s rule and make themselves King (Gen 3:6), sin has entered into the world, corrupting our hearts, our minds and our bodies, as well as tarnishing the blessings that came with God’s creation. We live in a chaotic, and disordered world, where pain and suffering is present and death comes knocking by the door. The most saddening thing of all, is that all of us have fallen short of the glory of God, and we have incurred God’s wrath for all the wrong things that we have done. 

And as a consequence of the Fall, our hearts and our minds and bodies are broken. Our hearts are darkened, with an innate hatred for the Creator and a deep desire to serve oneself. Our minds are futile, a mind that has given up wonderful truth to embrace a big fat lie that is all against God’s good order for things and His truthful intentions. 

This is where I believe the heart of the issue really lies within. 

Depression comes from the direct conjuring of the debased mind that seeks to empty out God and His goodness in our lives, and instead to replace the void in our lives with godless deception of nihilism that not only deviates from the goodness of God, but brings spiritual intoxication to our souls. 

Here are a few distinctions:

– Our depressive minds deceive us into believing we have no value, when in the contrary God has made us in His image, precious and dearly loved by Him! (Gen 1:26-27). We are intrinsically and intimately valuable to God, so believe it! 

– Our depressive minds deceive us into believing that there can be no joy, when in the contrary God has made many things on Earth for us to enjoy (like food, travel, games, music, sports etc.) and human relationships for us to abide in, as a massive token that life is meant to be given as a blessing! Give praise to the God who has given us all of these wonderful gifts! (Matthew 5:45, James 1:17, 1 Timothy 4:4)

– Our depressive minds deceive us into believing that there is no meaning to this endless suffering and no meaning to this life, when in the contrary God has planned out everything within His sovereign decree that every single thing that has happened in your life was intentional for your good (Romans 8:28-30). How comforting to know (and how often do we forget) that God is so powerful and He is on our side! (Romans 8:31). He directs our entire lives by His hand (Proverbs 16:9), and often He puts us through calculated trials to refine us, as a divine sign of His love for us (Hebrews 12:4-13).

How often do we forget the goodness of God in our lives, when our depraved bodies continue to drag our minds into the mud, lying to us in our heads that we are nothing more than stardust floating about in the cosmos, with no intrinsic value and with no directional purpose in our existence. 

The heart of the problem is at the very heart itself – as long as our rebellious hearts continue to distrust God and His kindness, our minds will be blind to the everlasting, redemptive promises that God has prepared for His dear children.  

Enter the wondrous promises of God in redemption 

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The greatest thing about all this is that I know, deep in my heart, that all this will not be in vain. That all this suffering will not be meaningless. And in fact, the astounding and amazing hope about the promises that God has made in His Scriptures in light of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ should bring us tears of wondrous joy:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)

And it continues to say,

I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:6)

I am bouncing on my chair in exhilarating joy at these words as I’m writing this! Let this unimaginably juicy promise sink into our minds, for this is the true cure to our depression. Indeed, more so than that, but the true cure for all the brokenness, corruption, injustice, inequality, and all the depravity of this fallen world. God is preparing a new heaven and a new earth, a dwelling place for us where He will reside with us! He will personally come and wipe everything away from us, our pain, our tears, our darkened thoughts. Our minds will be set free from the bondage of depression, to be able to embrace the inconceivable joys that come with this new creation! I just can’t help, but long for this extraordinary promise to come to pass already, as my fleshy body groans like the apostle Paul’s to be clothed with my resurrection body! (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).

My fellow brothers and sisters, if we do not abide by this amazing promise then what hope do we really have?

Will it ever get better?

Though God has richly given us so much, we so often forget this eternal inheritance that we have been given, especially during those slow seasons. Indeed, most of us have already deposited these truths into our hearts, yet we still struggle to trust God with His providence in our lives. When someone tries to comfort me in my sorrow by preaching to me of the gospel promises, I’m often tempted to reply, “Mate I already know all those things, and it doesn’t help.” 

We feel like even if God has promised us this, will I even be able to finish the race? Everything is so dark, and I can’t see the finish line. My body groans the words “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). Father, the race you set before me is far, far, far too long for me.” I feel like a lost child wandering in a foreign land, longing to be back at home where I belong.

I feel like a lost child wandering in a foreign land, longing to be back at home where I belong.

Will it ever get better? 

One of the most helpful things that I’ve gotten to learn on this rocky adventure was to see how the apostle Paul felt about his own suffering and pain. The Scriptures are beautifully written, in that it encapsulates so vividly the tone and the emotion of its writers, especially in Paul’s writing. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-6, Paul received a remarkable vision and revelation from God. But the ego of the human heart easily inflates, so in order for Paul to not boast in his own glory God placed a ‘thorn’ into his body:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Breaking down this passage has enlightened me with a few significant observations:

1. The ‘thorn’, that brought Paul pain and suffering intense enough for him to plead to God for, was God-given. Though it was by Satan’s agency, God had sovereignly given Paul this thorn through Satan. 

2. The ‘thorn’ was given to Paul with divine intention in mind, that it was given to him to “keep [him] from becoming conceited” (2 Cor 12:7). If God decided to give Paul this thorn as a way to control his self-exaltation, what makes us exceptions to this rule?

3. Paul prayed for this thorn to be removed 3 times (2 Cor 12:8) but God refused to answer his prayer. On the contrary, however, this does not mean that God is absent (albeit we often think God is). Again, God had a divine purpose to why He inflicted Paul with this thorn, which leads us to the last point

4. God’s divine purpose for this thorn infliction on Paul was so that he could truly harness the raw power of God in his own afflictions. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). Let’s unpack that for a minute. It is through our physical afflictions that we draw closer and closer to the true power of Christ, rather than to rely on our own self-sufficiency and boasting. As long as our wounds and sores are open to leave space for God to work, then God will surely pour more grace and more grace to work on those wounds. And it’s amazing that Paul stopped praying for the removal of this affliction afterwards, because that’s all we need! Trust in the sufficiency of God to walk us through this hard, rocky path to glorification. 

There’s a lot more to expound upon, but I think this post is getting a bit too lengthy. If you have made this far, well I have no words (or maybe too many of them). I can honestly say that I am slowly, but surely am taking pride in our own depression. Weird, isn’t it? The power of God is quite mysterious, yes. I definitely would not have longed for Christ and for His return and for eternity’s rewards as much as I would if not for my depression.

For my Christian brothers and sisters who are afflicted with the same thorn as I, may I encourage you deeply to be rooted continuously in the love and grace of God, and that it is a God-given desire for your frail bodies to yearn for eternity (Romans 8:22-23). The finish line is there, so let God use His power to hold your hand and take you there!

For those of you that aren’t Christian but have read all the way to the end here, thanks for giving your time to read my post. Depression doesn’t discriminate, whoever you are, and if you are finding this rocky journey to be difficult, you aren’t alone. May I offer you a final encouragement: that there is an eternal hope that can only be found in the Gospels, that all things will be made right and that your sorrows and tears will all be gone, if you believe in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peace and grace to you all,

John Le


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