“UNDERSTAND the Impact of My Suffering.”
No two experiences of depression-anxiety are the same. This is partly because every person is unique. But the differences in experience go beyond personality and life history. It is not just that each individual who experiences depression-anxiety is unique, which is true, but also that each anxious-depressive experience is itself unique. In this section, we want to examine many of the factors that account for this.
As you assess these factors in your life, avoid two temptations. First, as we’ve already said, do not allow them to overwhelm you. Nothing you will read is more true because you read it. You are only acknowledging the reality that already existed. Second, do not minimize your experience because someone else’s experience may involve more factors. You are equipping yourself or your journey; not racing anyone else in their journey.
1. Cause of Depression-Anxiety: There is no one-cause for depression-anxiety. Most of the debates about whether depression-anxiety is a caused by a chemical imbalance, bad choices, relational wounds, weak faith, or other factors over simplify the experience. The answer is, “Yes, all of these can cause depression-anxiety.” The question is, “Which of these is the leading contributor to your experience?” To help you make this assessment see www.bradhambrick.com/mentalillness. The point here is that the type of cause-trigger for your depression-anxiety will contribute to the degree and type of impact it has on your life. In the resource link above we help you assess the difference between biological, environmental, and volitional causes for depression-anxiety and develop an approach for the wise utilization of medication based upon the leading contributor to your anxious-depressive experience.
2. Duration of Depression-Anxiety: We can endure anything for “a little while.” But when a little while continues and we are unsure when it will end, we begin to lose hope and this compounds our emotional experience. The longer we struggle with anything, the more we begin to view it as inevitable and embrace it as part of our identity.
“The longer we struggle with a problem, the more likely we are to define ourselves by that problem (divorced, addicted, depressed, co-dependent, ADD). We come to believe that our problem is who we are. But while these labels may describe particular ways we struggle as sinners [or sufferers] in a fallen world, they are not our identity! If we allow them to define us, we will live trapped within their boundaries. This is no way for a child of God to live (p. 260)!” Paul Tripp in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand.
3. Number of Occurrences of Depression-Anxiety: A struggle can be “long” by virtue of its duration or its repetition. “Not again” can be as painful as “How much longer?” When your experience of depression-anxiety returns after seasons of relative dormancy, you can begin to feel like “times of peace” are merely “seasons of waiting” for pain to return. When the return of depression-anxiety is unpredictable, the recurrence impact factor is even greater. It can be hard to rely on God’s grace as new each morning (Lamentations 3:21-26) when you are relying upon that grace for a struggle you’ve already faced.
4. Number of Attempts to Overcome Depression-Anxiety: More difficult than mere recurrence is having to refight a battle you believed you had already won… or, at least, withstood. It feels like being required to retake a class you thought you passed, but found out a semester later you failed on a technicality. It feels like being required to pay a bill twice because the clerk wasn’t paying attention the first time. When depression-anxiety recurs after we thought we had overcome, it takes away any sense of “final-ultimate victory” over this experience. We begin to fear depression-anxiety’s fiercest forms in its milder expressions; as if every thunderstorm was going to have hurricane level impact.
5. Reaction of Friends and Family: Many people are uncomfortable with the unpleasant emotions of others. If they do not know what to say or do to “make things better,” they avoid the person who makes then uncomfortable. Other people do not understand that depression-anxiety can often be a persistent, recurring struggle, so they get upset with the person they perceive as “attention hungry.” If you have lost friends or have strained relationships because of these dynamics, this adds to the impact of your suffering.“Friendship is very important for those with poor mental health, but it is very hard to be a true friend to someone in such a condition (p. 33).” Kathryn Greene-McCreight in Darkness Is My Only Companion
“[Testimony] The most profound sentence uttered by my spiritual director, when I was in the midst of my depression, was, ‘I am not afraid of your despair!…’ It is uncomfortable for many caregivers to enter the dark night of the soul with those who traverse the path of despair. [Advice] Walk with the despairing person and listen, rather than attempting through words to coerce the person to walk a different path (p. 26).” Robert Albers, William Meller, and Steven Thurber in Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families.
6. Losses Associated with Depression-Anxiety: You can lose more than relationships. We can lose confidence, jobs, money, opportunities, and many other things. When this happens the experience of grief – denial, anger, sadness, and identity confusion – can be added to the experience of depression-anxiety.
7. Interpretation of Depression-Anxiety Experience: You will be more equipped to resist the content of unhealthy interpretations of your depressive-anxious experience if you are able to identify the common patterns they take. In his book Christians Get Depressed Too David Murray addresses nine unhealthy thinking patterns (pg. 36-43, bold text only).
- False Extremes – Various forms of all-or-nothing, black or white thinking.
- False Generalizations – Assuming an unpleasant experience will become the new normal for life.
- False Filters – Ignoring, “filtering out,” any positive experience that does not fit with our down mood.
- False Transformations – Changing our perspective on positive experiences to make them seem bad.
- False Mind Reading – Assuming negative opinions about ourselves in the minds and mouths of others.
- False Fortune-Telling – Living as if our negative expectations of the future are true.
- False Feeling-Based Reasoning – Treating your negative feelings and assessments as if they were facts.
- False “Should’s” – Giving moral weight to expectations that are either unrealistic or not moral matters.
- False Responsibility – Taking responsibility for events or other people over which you have no control.
Read Philippians 4:8-9. As you look at the kinds of thinking Paul says we must discipline our mind to engage, do not think of this list as “types of content.” Yes, Paul is addressing the content of our thinking. But following his instruction will also correct the “pattern of our thinking.” The nine patterns above are corrected as we follow Paul’s instruction. Also notice that Paul talks about living these things out in community (v. 9). The most effective way to learn these new patterns is to associate with people who think this way and imitate their life (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:1).