What happened to me
I appeared to be moving along smoothly as a Christian. After 37 years in the classroom, I was still very much enjoying teaching. Being admitted to a psychiatric ward could not have been further from my mind. After an exhausting holiday to South America, my anxiety forced me to pace day and night with only a few hours of sleep. I lost a lot of weight. I also experienced uninvited slanderous and blasphemous thoughts, totally out of context.
I had a powerful vision of being thrown into hell which I could not get out of my mind. On another occasion, I had a very strong thought of “Why don’t you just curse God and die”. Afterwards, I walked in a fierce lightning storm hoping I would be struck down. Ultimately, intense suicidal thoughts compelled me to ask to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.
I earnestly pray that I may be able to comfort you with the comfort I myself have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
I am mindful that Bible verses like “Do not worry” and “God works all things for the good of those who believe” may seem unhelpful at the moment. As humans, we share many fundamental characteristics although on another level we are all unique. Thankfully God has the whole picture and knows the best way to take each person through the valley of the shadow of death.
These are the things that helped restore my health and faith. When depressed, it is difficult to concentrate, so I suggest you take your time through each section.
Go to part 2 of 21 Things That Helped a Depressed Christian
16. Improving physical and emotional health
These things help me
- Avoiding caffeine after 1 p.m.
- Having a good sleep pattern.
- Watching my weight.
- Admitting to myself and trusted others when I have a problem.
- Avoiding excessive sugar and alcohol.
- Exercising regularly.
- Addressing issues and not hiding from them.
- Dealing with emotions and stop thinking I am invincible.
- Relaxing and enjoying what I am doing.
- I learnt that I should not be embarrassed if I cry as Jesus wept (John 11:35).
- Not isolating myself from my family or friends or other Christians.
- Putting aside my pride as pride blocks the road to recovery. John Bunyan puts it well when he says that man can be easily blown up with the “gunpowder of pride, and self-conceit”. 1
17. Help from a secular writer.
Claire Weekes was an internationally renowned medical doctor who spent her life helping those who were nervously ill.
Caution: Although this book recognizes the value of prayer, faith, and religion, it is, in essence, a secular work. It does not recognize the crucial spiritual aspects of depression. In doing so, it overlooks our spiritual enemy (the devil).
In spite of this, I bring Claire Weekes’ work to your attention. Here are 20 things that helped me from her book Complete Self Help for your Nerves.
1. Accept the strange sensations connected with a breakdown.
2. Do not be discouraged if you cannot make decisions when you are ill. When you are well, it will be easy enough to make decisions.
3. Let there be no self-pity.
4. Understanding what happens when you become nervously ill, is an important key to recovery.
5. Fear is a vicious circle. You are fearful and this fear can generate more fear (a second fear). Your hands may shake and this may cause you to fear more and you spin into a vicious downward spiral. Try not to add this second fear.
6. A nervous breakdown can produce some strange symptoms like the sound of a gun going off in your head. Do not worry about these sounds; they are harmless.
7. When you are depressed you will despair but never totally despair.
8. Realising that if today is not a good one, it doesn’t mean tomorrow will be the same. Tomorrow is another day.
9. Make sure you have a thorough medical checkup from your general practitioner.
10. Wild imaginations are prone to come at night.
11. Fear is the fertile bed from which a nervous breakdown or suicidal thoughts could come.
12. Depression can be triggered by an exhausting surgical operation, an accident, a debilitating disease, strenuous dieting, conflict, sorrow, guilt, shame or disgrace.
13. Learn how to deal with that “dreaded morning feeling”.
14. If fatigue makes concentration difficult, do not try to force thought; be prepared to think as slowly as your tired brain allows.
15. It is essential to let time pass.
16. Place your bed so you can see the outside on waking.
17. Depression is a temporary illness.
18. Confidence is born by going on, despite defeat.
19. Let there be few regrets and fewer ‘if onlys’.
20. Remember, an hour spent in bed in panic will exhaust you more than light occupation will so get off that bed.
18. Learning that God’s ways are not my ways
From a human point of view, I did not want to be disciplined nevertheless, God had different ideas. The Bible tells us that God will discipline those He loves (Hebrews 12:7) and it will not be pleasant at the time (Hebrews 12:11). In other words, we all make mistakes and our heavenly Father corrects us as we go.
Repentance requires humbling yourself and, humanly speaking, I wanted to avoid this. The Bible says we are “easily entangled in sin” (Hebrews 12:1). I needed to repent and not hide my sin. As King David said: “when I kept silent, my bones wasted away … then I acknowledged my sin to you … and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 22:3, 5).
Note: When I was depressed, I had an urge to confess everything to everybody. Resist doing this as the Bible does not require us to do so.
I didn’t want to suffer although the Bible tells me I will suffer. The disciples said: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
“Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.” 24 (Charles Spurgeon)
19. Music: a resource for healing
1. I Will Arise and Go with Jesus (Words by Joseph Hart (1759), adapted by Julie Miller)
“Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall, if you tarry ’til you’re better, you will never come at all. Come, ye sinner, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore, Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power.”
2. Never Give Up on You (Julie Miller)
“I remember when we first were friends, I’d sit on your steps and cry back then, you stood by, helpless while my soul burned down, had no water, but you stuck around, you were there when Jesus rescued me, you were a witness when He set me free.”
3. Hope of Glory (Randy Stonehill)
“For every mile of rocky road you climb, there is a jewel added to your crown, And for every doubt that drags you down sometimes, there is an answer that will be found. Do not forget love’s greatest story. God knows the tears you have cried; just set your sights upon the hope of glory – it was for this that Jesus died.”
4. The Frog Galliard (John Dowland)
7. Terpsichore: Ballet (Michael Praetorius)
8. Sonata in E major, L 23 (Scarlatti)
9. Earl of Essex Galliard (John Dowland)
10. Air on G String (J. S. Bach)
11. Prelude BWV 846 (J. S. Bach)
12. Minuet in G Major (Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach) (J. S. Bach)
13. The Well-Tempered Clavier: Book 1, 1. Prelude in C Major, BWV 846 (J. S. Bach)
14. Für Elise (Beethoven)
15. Something Changed (Sara Groves)
16. It is Finished (Red Mountain music)
17. You Say (Lauren Daigle)
18. Do it Again (Elevation Worship)
19. The Robe (Wes King)
20. How Can You Say No (Julie Miller)
21. Carolyn (Wes King)
22. When I Hear the Praises Start (Keith Green)
23. Grace by which I Stand (Keith Green)
24. Broken Things (Julie Miller)
25. Rushing Wind (Keith Green)
26. Help My Unbelief (Red Mountain Music)
Lyrics from one of my songs
“I am so weak, you are so strong, in the shadows, let me sing a song. You reached down into the fire, as the flames got higher and higher, how can you explain Lord you still know my name?, and in the raging sea, you still love me. See my cup, an empty cup, can you fill it, can you fill it up?”
20. Learning to fight very hard in the spiritual world
“Satan is an enemy of God and goodness; he is the hater of all truth … He is full of malice, envy, and revenge: Satan’s quiver is full of poisonous darts.” 1 I must fight as hard as I can, as my wicked, intelligent and supernatural enemy (the devil) is a murderer, seeking to kill me (John 8:44). So, with such an enemy as the devil, do not be surprised when weird and potentially frightening things happen.
“The devil is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12). I had underestimated the depth of the devil’s hatred for me and his power to deceive.
Ephesians 6:10-18 tells us that we can protect ourselves from the devil by, among other things, reading God’s Word (the Bible) and by praying. The battle is in our minds, so we must keep a watchful eye on our thoughts.
The devil is tempting us with words (thoughts, often lies) and we must use the Word of God, the real truth, as a weapon against him. In the spiritual battle, we are told that we are to; “Humble ourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!” 2 (Martin Luther)
21. Life-giving words from Bridge, Sibbes, Spurgeon, Whitefield and Luther*
God literally used these men’s words to save my life!
Note: In my depressed state, even the Bible was very difficult for me to read because it dealt with death, sin, judgment and hell. These preachers discuss all these things so you may find it difficult to read at times. Because of the depth within these writings, take time to reflect as you read.
William Bridge (1600-1670): The books of William Bridge are still in publication 300 years after his death. The words of his book entitled A Lifting Up of the Downcast shows Bridge’s amazing spiritual insight into Christians who find themselves in total darkness. A correct diagnosis is more than half the cure but William Bridge does not leave it there. He gives directions for applying the remedy. I thank God for William Bridge! 3
“If God be in a [gracious] covenant with a man … he shall never lie under wrath again … God’s mercy shall never be removed from them … [and they] … shall never be thrown into hell and … have you … the people of God, any just … reason to be cast down, or to be discouraged? … Surely you ought not to be so!” 4
“A man is never more fit to comfort, to relieve, to satisfy others in their fears, than when he has been in fears, and doubting himself … Thomas having doubted, knew how to deal with a poor doubting soul.” 6
“Be sure that you think of Christ in a right way and manner … We are very apt to have mis-thoughts of Christ; as Satan does transform himself into an angel of light, so he would transform Christ before you into an angel of darkness. But the Scriptures [make Christ] very amiable unto poor sinners. Are you accused by Satan, the Word, or your own conscience? He is called your Advocate. Are you ignorant? He is called the Prophet. Are you guilty of sin? He is called a Priest, and High Priest. Are you afflicted with many enemies, inward and outward? He is called a King, and King of kings. Are you in difficulty? He is called your way. Are you hungry or thirsty? He is called the Bread and Water of Life. Are you afraid you shall fall away, and be condemned at the last? Christ is our second Adam, a public person, in whose death we died, and in whose satisfaction we were satisfied.” 23
“As godly men shall never be condemned for their sins, so their sins shall never part God and them … their sins shall never part God and them: their sins may cause a strangeness between God and them, but shall never cause an enmity; their sins may hide God’ s face from them, but shall never turn God’s back upon them. Those whom God loves, he loves unto the end. ‘I am the Lord that changes not’” 7
Richard Sibbes (1577-1635): Richard Sibbes is best known for his book of practical help for the bruised Christian entitled The Bruised Reed (free audio download). “Sibbes never wastes time” wrote C. H. Spurgeon, “he scatters pearls and diamonds with both hands”. 15 Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones says that “When I was overworked and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil, I found that … the writings of Richard Sibbes (known as the ‘Heavenly Doctor Sibbes’) in this book, The Bruised Reed, was an unfailing remedy to quiet, sooth, comfort and heal me.” 8
“We learn that we must not pass too harsh judgment upon ourselves or others when God exercises us with bruising upon bruising.” 9
“If Christ be so merciful as not to break me, I will not break myself by despair, nor yield myself over to the roaring lion, Satan, to break me in pieces.” 10
“Since Christ is thus comfortably set out to us, let us not believe Satan’s representations of [Christ]. When we are troubled in conscience for our sins, Satan’s manner is then to present Christ to the afflicted soul as a most severe judge armed with justice against us. But then let us present him to our souls as offered to our view by God himself, holding out a sceptre of mercy, and spreading his arms to receive us.” 11
Charles Haddin Spurgeon (1834-1892): Due to his clear and down to earth preaching, Spurgeon was referred to as the “Prince of Preachers” or “The People’s Preacher”. He frequently preached to audiences of more than 10,000 people. It is encouraging that men like Spurgeon struggled with depression but were still able to live a very productive Christian life.
“Nothing puts life into men like a dying Saviour.” 12
“Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.” 14
“Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means … I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts thereon, that younger men might not fancy that some strange thing had happened to them when they became for a season possessed by melancholy …” (From the article Did You Know That Charles Spurgeon Struggled with Depression?)
John Flavel (Puritan theologian, 1628 – 1691)
John Flavel created a conversation between God the Father and God the Son.
Father: “My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls that have utterly undone themselves and now lie open to my justice. Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them. What shall be done for these souls?”
Son: “O my Father, such is my love to and pity for them that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Guarantee. Bring all your bills, that I may see what they owe you. Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them. At my hand you will require it. I would rather choose to suffer your wrath than they suffer it. Upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.”
Father: “But my Son, if you undertake for them, you must pay the last penny. Expect no discounts. If I spare them, I will not spare you.”
Son: “I am willing, Father. Let it be so. Charge it all to me. I am able to pay their debt. And though it will undo me, though it will impoverish all my riches and empty all my accounts, yet I am content to undertake it.” 23
George Whitefield (1628-1688): Many acclaim Whitefield as the greatest evangelist of all time. It is estimated he spoke to 10 million people in an era before amplification was available.
“Answer always, the Tempter’s [the devil’s] despair, as you blessed Lord did, with an “It is written.” Tell him [the devil] that you redeemer lives ever to make intercession for you … And though you have sinned much, that is no reason why you should despair, but only why you should love much, having so much forgiven.” 18
“Another device I shall mention which Satan generally makes use of, to get an advantage over us, is to tempt us to have hard thoughts of God, when we are dead and barren in prayer.19
“Rejoice, therefore, my brethren [and] … know that by this you are partakers of the sufferers of Jesus Christ. Consider, that it necessary that such inward trials should come, to wean us from being too dependent upon feelings, to teach us to follow Christ, not merely for His blessings, but out of a principle of love and obedience.” 20
Martin Luther (1483-1546): One of the most important figures in church history. Luther saw the foolishness of so-called indulgences where people paid money to the Catholic Church to supposedly release loved ones from purgatory. He was responsible for the Reformation in which Luther defended the great doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’.
“When you become aware of your sin and frightened by it, you must not allow the sin to remain in your conscience. This would only lead to despair. Rather, just as your awareness of sin flowed to you from Christ, so you must pour your sin back on him to free your conscience. So be careful you don’t become like the misguided people who allow their sin to bite at them and eat at their hearts. They strive to rid themselves of this sin by running around doing good works. But you have a way to get rid of your sins. You throw your sins on Christ when you firmly believe that Christ’s wounds and suffering carried and paid for your sins.
As Isaiah said, “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Peter said Christ himself “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). And Paul said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). You must rely on these and similar verses with your whole heart. The more your conscience torments you, the more you must rely on them. For if you don’t do this and try to quiet your conscience through your own sorrow and penance, you will never find peace of mind and will finally despair in the end. If you try to deal with sin in your conscience, let it remain there, and continue to look at it in your heart, your sins will become too strong for you. They will seem to live forever. But when you think of your sins as being on Christ and boldly believe that he conquered them through his resurrection, then they are dead and gone. Sin can’t remain on Christ. His resurrection swallowed up sin.” 21
“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!” 22
* Always check everything against the Word of God.
1 John Bunyan, The Holy War, A version in easier English by Geoffrey Stonier, p. 73.
2 Martin Luther, in Theodore G. Tappert, editor, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (Philadelphia, 1955), pages 86-87.
3 4 6 7 23 William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, The Banner of Truth, 2016, Back Cover, p. 71 and 73, 132, 70, 63
8 9 10 11 15 Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, Foreword (x), p. 5, 10, 62, Foreword (vii).
12 Charles Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 38: Sermons Preached and Revised in 1892.
14 C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning (New York: Sheldon and Company, 1865), April 5, p. 96.
18 19 20 George Whitefield, Satan’s Devices.
21 Martin Luther, Faith Alone, A daily Devotional, Zondervan, 1998, Jan 7.
22 Martin Luther, in Theodore G. Tappert, editor, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (Philadelphia, 1955), pages 86-87.
23 Quoted in The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ” by Ray Ortlund, p. 42.
24 Blue Letter Bible