Monday, April 29, 2013

The Pendulum: Depression and Anxiety

Since being officially diagnosed with postnatal depression I've done a fair bit of pondering over the past few weeks.  The main questions I keep rehashing in my mind are:

Am I sick?
Or am I sinning?
Or is it a bit of both?

If depression is an 'illness', am I responsible for my actions?
Or is it like cancer in that it solely needs to be treated by medication alone?
Do I have a part to play?

I've found the Christian and the secular approaches to depression and anxiety to be both helpful and unhelpful as I've been in recovery.  While many Christians do see depression as a mental illness, and I've had many Christian friends from church and elsewhere who've offered AMAZING support, Christians with depression are always going to encounter the, Anxiety is a sin, and, You need to have joy in the Lord responses.  These responses are truly shattering if you have depression.  Yes, there is truth that we are all guilty of not trusting God and giving way to fear and anxiety, but to say such blunt things to a fellow Christian who is suffering is cruel to say the least.  I do not want to be depressed and I do not want to be anxious.  I want to have joy in the Lord.  But I am also sick and need medication to help me think clearly.  I know some Christians are sceptical about mental illness, thinking that doctors hand out anti-depressants like they're lollies, but I can honestly say medication has been a real blessing for me.  I'm gradually starting to feel like myself for the first time in a long time.  I can see why it is tempting to be treated entirely by the secular approach.  Non-Christians tend to offer a lot more sympathy.

There are inevitably many secular approaches that I find unhelpful or limited in their helpfulness.  As great as psychologists can be, I find it hard to have conversations when we have such differing worldviews.  I need to be reminded that God is sovereign, not to 'believe in myself'.  I am not strong; I am weak, but I have a great God who wants to shoulder my burdens.  For this reason I'm hoping to see a Christian counsellor when I get discharged.  I need someone who sees depression as an illness, but reminds me that God is there and that He has paid the penalty for all my sin.

Having said all that, I do really appreciate the holistic approach that this place is offering me.  Obviously it is lacking in the spiritual sense, but I have found the practical nature of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to be beneficial.  The staff here acknowledge that I am unwell and need medication to help me get well, but I also need to do some of the work.  I have to confront my anxiety about going out in public with Rory.  The medication helps stabilise my mood so I can then start examining and correcting negative thought patterns that have built up over time (and there are a lot of them).

Am I sick?  Yes.
Am I accountable?  Yes.

Satan knows that if he attacks the mind, then it is often more harmful than if he were to attack the body alone.  A man's spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? Proverbs 18:14.

I found this article, Double Dangers: Maximizing and Minimizing Mental Illness (via In All Honesty) to be very useful in pondering this subject.

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