originally written in 2008
rev. 2017 by lawngren
There is a Valley of Darkness that some of us walk through even when the sun is shining. Depression is just a word for most people, but for some of us, it is all we can feel, all day, every day. Chronic depression, clinical depression, whatever you want to call it, when it walks into your life and makes itself at home you may not even see it for a long time. After a while, though, it runs your life, controls your thinking…that may seem an exaggeration to one who hasn’t yet realized that it’s DANGEROUS, NOT NORMAL, and NOT HEALTHY to be severely depressed ALL THE TIME. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t experiencing normal life, or even normal depression. I came close to suicide about half a dozen times before I managed to get control of the monster. I found a way to get out of the black cloud of despair that wrapped itself around me like a vicious, living fog. It no longer controls me or poisons my life. It has no strength left with which to grasp me. The sun shines brightly for me again. I laugh again. I’m glad to be alive again.
I remember standing in an American desert, listening to the SILENCE, the complete, continuous silence. I remember the heat and the dryness that were so INTENSE, so absolute…so beautiful. There was nothing to distract the mind beyond cactus and an occasional buzzard. I felt a strong desire to walk far out into the desert, far beyond sight or sound of other people, and just lie down in that intense, hot, dry SILENCE and wait for eternal peace and rest. Dick Francis expressed true chronic depression very accurately in his book Blood Sport, through the words of the main character, an investigator, who incidentally struggles through his worst period of depression in that same American desert. This investigator mentions that in the worst cases of depression, suicide appears the only logical and the only possible relief. He understood. Unfortunately, he couldn’t offer any help beyond “grit your teeth and suffer”.
My depression deepened enough for me to try to arrange an “accidental suicide” in the summer of 1980. I don’t care to go into details, but this occurred at least four times over the next several years. An intense desire to commit suicide was frequently present in my mind until sometime around 1990. I never trusted the “professionals” enough to tell a shrink. I was afraid they’d wrap me up and put me away without being able to do anything for me. I wanted the ability to commit suicide if I decided to, and I thought that being a patient/prisoner/victim in a mental institution might have made that difficult.
I think I was right about the “professionals”. From what I’ve seen others put through, I don’t think the “professionals” have either ability or compassion.
I was ashamed to tell any friends or family, and I also feared that they would send me to a psychiatrist. However, I think it’s necessary to have some kind of help for this condition. This is the account of the help God gave me, and how you can have God’s help yourself. This account deals specifically with God’s help in defeating depression, but He is able and willing to help you with any and all problems you have, even if you got yourself into trouble through ignorance, hard-headedness, stupidity, or even evil intentions. All it takes is repentance on your part. The rumors are true: God forgives.
If you suffer from depression, here is the solution I found. I know it works. If it didn’t, I don’t see how I could have survived. I began applying this solution in 1990. I felt slightly better within two days. Within six months the battle was essentially won, and within a year I actually felt pretty good. I have had no relapse in the following years (twenty-six years as I write this updated edition). Compared to what I felt in the Valley of Darkness, my present state of mind is wonderful. It’s great to feel human again. It’s great to be able to enjoy life again.
I have had one extremely frustrating period of about one year when I was making a renewed effort to accomplish something, anything, with my life other than just work, eat, and sleep. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. By the time I discovered it, I had gotten bitter toward, but not depressed. But He showed me the way out of that, too. That’s another story for another time.
At the worst period of depression, I was working at yet another job that I HATED, forcing myself to get out of bed every morning, grumbling all the way to work, coming home tired, dirty, and disgusted. I constantly asked myself what good it was to go on living like this, and I never found a good answer. Being a Christian, I used to complain bitterly to God at rather frequent intervals. One morning on the way to work, the spring weather was warm enough that I rolled down the window of my truck. Naturally the wonderful, invigorating, beautiful sights, sounds, and smells of spring flooded in. Birds were building their nests and announcing Spring’s arrival with a resounding anthem of joy. I could smell the flowers in bloom, the trees were budding, the sun was shining so brightly it was almost unreal – I could even see it from the Valley of Darkness. Suddenly a small, quiet voice said to me, “You’re always blaming God for everything that goes wrong. Why don’t you thank Him for the things that are right?”
I instantly realized that this would be only just. I realized the truth of the voice, and I was ashamed that I had been unfair to God. After all, He didn’t have to give us a planet filled with overwhelming, intoxicating beauty. We could be living on a planet as barren as the moon. So I immediately began to thank Him for each and every beautiful thing I could see, hear, and smell around me, and for a route to work that took me through the midst of such beauty. What Jesus said is true, “Consider the lilies…even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as one of them.” (Matthew 6:28-29)
The same thing happened the next morning. I repeated the process, and to my amazement I actually felt a little better. That evening when I got home, because I realized fairness demanded it, I began to thank God for every good thing that had ever happened to me – like the Bible says, “Whatever is good and perfect comes from above, from the Father of lights. Unlike those lights, He never changes or casts shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)
The next morning, I actually felt noticeably better. I decided that thanking God just might have something to do with this incredible happening, so I continued to thank Him for everything good I could think of, even during the day. Over the next several weeks the change was very definite and I found that I did not so easily sink back into despair. In amazement, I intensified this new habit and the results also intensified. I was experiencing it, and still I almost could not believe it. I began to have conversations with God again instead of just complaining to Him. The feeling that God was my enemy was slowly replaced by the feeling of partnership with God that I had known years before. I actually began to feel joy! again. Once again my feelings began to be based not on my circumstances or emotions, but on my personal relationship to God which results from what God did through His Son Jesus:
[Jesus is speaking here] “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only natural son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life. God DID NOT send His son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through His son. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in Him is condemned already, because he has not believed in the only natural son of God.” (John 3:16-18)
I used to think that it was extremely arrogant of God to demand that people thank Him for the things He did for them. I discovered that expressing your gratitude to God is the best possible cure for terminal depression. After you’ve made this a habit for awhile, you begin to realize that God really does love you – that’s why you have so many things to thank Him for. This is why Jesus told His disciples, “Until now, you have asked for nothing in My name. Now ask, and you will receive, so that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) When you see with your own eyes God’s responses to your requests in Jesus’ name, you will be full of joy. That feeling won’t last forever, and you won’t get everything you ask for, but you’ll never forget. The memories will strengthen your faith in Jesus, and that will help you deal with the rough times.
I must add that although God sometimes answers prayers from non-Christians, He does so in order to show them that He’s real and listening. He will not keep on responding to one who only wants God to be his personal problem-solver. If He responds to you, you must then respond to God’s demand that you believe in Jesus and start acting on Jesus’ commands. If you don’t, then you’re on your own again.
Remember that the first and most important thing is to know that the God of the Bible is real, and that Jesus is real, and to be a believer in them.
(If you’re not sure, ask God to show you! If you are willing to follow truth wherever it leads you, He will respond.)
Second: thank God for all the good things He’s done for you, and make this a daily habit. If you think He’s never done anything for you (apart from letting His uniquely-born Son be tortured to death so you can get into Heaven), ask Him to show you if He has. You’ll be shocked.
Third: practice spiritual breathing. When you breathe, you exhale bad air and inhale good air. By “spiritual breathing”, I mean that we should be conscious of our mental habits, our thought patterns. As soon as we realize that we’re falling back into destructive thoughts, we should ask God for help in “exhaling” the destructive thoughts and “inhaling” healthy, joyous thoughts. DO YOU SEE WHY THIS COMES THIRD? We who suffer from chronic depression have learned the hard way that we CAN NOT produce healthy thoughts on our own, at least not for very long. God must help us with this. Christians will find that the intensity and frequency of unhealthy thoughts lessen as they practice the last two steps (thanking God and “breathing” spiritually), but for me at least those unhealthy thoughts are still there. They just don’t poison my mind any more, and those two steps are the reason. The Apostle Paul gave a very good description of the “inhaling” part of “spiritual breathing”:
“Be cheerful in the Lord always. I repeat: be cheerful! Let your moderation be known to everyone. The Lord is very near. Don’t be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your request to God, and the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will surround and protect and guard your hearts and minds in Messiah Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is agreeable, whatever has a good reputation – if anything is excellent or commendable – think about these kinds of things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9)
Folks, it’s true. It works. I know. Try it. You will find your way out of the Valley of Darkness. I made it and so can you.
Of course, even without chronic depression, life can get brutal. These practices I’ve just described help immensely with the “normal” malfunctions of life as well. Also, it is at least possible that we will see in our lifetimes a return to open, government-approved persecution of Christians. IF THAT HAPPENS (if you’re a Christian) remember that your faith in Jesus includes, at no extra cost, membership in the Micro-Mega Club. Hebrews 10:35-37 in the original Greek says in essence that a MICRON of your time and effort in this life spent being a believable witness about Jesus will pay a MEGA dividend in the next life.
MICRO = .001, MEGA = 1,000,000!
Move the decimal over and you see that this is a billion-to-one return on your investment. There is no better investment strategy in the entire cosmos. (I checked.) You may be broke and miserable in this life, but if you are a righteous believer in Jesus, you will be overwhelmed by the payoff in the next life. Don’t miss it!
If you are not a Christian, you can become one. God loves you and wants you to join Him in His joyous Heaven for all eternity. He loves you no matter what you’ve done. In Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11, God says that he has no pleasure in the death of a wicked person, that he would rather the wicked person turn from his wickedness and live. A pardon for every sin you’ve ever committed is yours for the asking in Jesus’ name.
“I will not for any reason reject anyone who comes to Me.” (John 6:37)
“I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For every one who asks, receives; every one who seeks, finds; and the door is opened to every one who knocks.” (Luke 11:9-10)