God and Depression

“Does God care about me?”

“Why do I suffer so, Jesus?”

“Please help me, God”

“Where are you? Do you even exist?”

People suffering from depression ask these questions in the silence of their hearts. They cry out to God just as others have for millennia when faced with great sorrow:

“My tears have been my food day and night.” Psalm 42:3.

Beyond therapeutic and psychopharmacological bromides, we all seek loving comfort. Sometimes we get it from others – – sometimes we don’t.

We’ve reached our limit to cope, to keep it all together. We’re worn out by the battle.

We’re searching for answers: “Why me?”we ask. Even when we get answers (e.g. it’s “biochemical” or too much negative thinking) from others, the pain may not abate. And so we ask more existential questions about the nature of our suffering.

Barbara Crafton, an Episcopalian Minister and depression sufferer, writes in her book, When Jesus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet, about this mystery:

“In several ways, above and beyond the genetics, family upbringing and “slings and arrows” of our existence that has brought us to this point in our lives, there is a real mystery to suffering. Why do some people suffer tremendously while others not so much? Why do some people with a certain makeup come down with depression while someone with a similar history do not? It’s a mystery. Often, while people who get treatment and help come to find out some of the reasons that they’re depressed, it often isn’t enough. The answers don’t always heal us.”

lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, who struggled with depression his entire life, was quoted in the book Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness:

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction     that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

Much like Lincoln, we can feel powerless to stop our depression. It is BIG and we are small. Anything other than the crushing experience of depression feels unreal. We’re not in the normal stream of life that everyone else is swimming in: we’re drowning.

I had never encountered any pain greater than depression. Other types of pain I could deal with and recover from: a burst appendix in college and blown out ligaments in my knee years ago. But depression? There wasn’t any surgery I could have, no caste that could be fitted. I felt like I was dying. In the book Unholy Ghosts: Writers on Depression, writer Susanna Kaysen captures this experience:

“The worst thing about depression – the thing that makes people phobic about it – is that it’s a foretaste of death. It’s a trip to the country of nothingness. Reality loses its substance and becomes ghostly, transparent, unbearable. This perception of what’s outside affects the perception of the self, which explains why depressed people feel they aren’t ‘there.’”

So in the face of so much pain, we look for power outside of ourselves. We place our hope in Someone bigger than our depression – – God.

It’s tough to pray when we’re depressed

Praying when in the throes of depression is a challenge. We might not be able to muster the energy, feel like it isn’t making a dent in our depression; or, worse yet, our faith falters and we stop believing.

We grow despondent.

We give up hope.

We give up on God.

We want salve on our wounds, but depression just keeps throwing salt in them. We yearn so badly for God’s direction (“Show me the way out of this darkness”), but it always doesn’t come.

Barbara Crafton writes:

“It makes every bit of sense for a person to whom faith is a matter of importance – even one who doesn’t think that all human sorrow can be magically prayed out the window – to hope that it will somehow illuminate the darkness of depression. We understand that nobody ever promised us a rose garden, but could we perhaps have a little light?”

Depression is a terrible liar

In a sense, depression is a temptation. It calls us. It whispers in our ear that all is lost and that we’ll never find our way back home. It’s a terrible liar, really.  It spins the yarn that we’re worthless and there’s no point in living.  And these messages repeat themselves over and over again in our minds and souls.  And they all seem so true and unchangeable.

John Piper wrote in When Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God – And Joy:

“…We should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

Who do You say I am?

One of the most powerful scenes in the Bible is when Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Who do you say I am?”

I like to imagine Jesus standing across from me. He’s looking directly into my eyes. I reach out to Him. and say, “Lord, who do You say I am?” It clearly isn’t what my depression judges me to be. Jesus is always affirming, always loving, always telling us just how precious we are. THAT is the voice we need to listen to and embrace.

A Light in the Darkness

Mother Teresa once wrote:

“If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness,’” After her death, Many suggest that she suffered from clinical depression and long periods where she sought to understand God’s absence in the face of so much inner pain.

motherteresa

Therese Borchard writes:

“I spent a week with Mother Teresa and her Sisters the winter of 1994. I stood beside her for about two hours as we distributed Christmas gifts to orphaned children. I sensed sadness in her. But her light overshadowed it. Unlike a person wrapped in severe depression, wearing the expression of despair, she exuded light and hope. When she prayed, her deep love for God was visible, even contagious.

This saint of darkness has much to teach me about how to live with inner anguish.

First of all, I should stop referring to my depression and anxiety as the “Black Hole,” (singular and capitalized), and call it, as Mother Teresa described her difficult places, the “dark holes.” Because the darkness is never black, or without any light at all. Her legacy is proof that hope and faith and love prevail, even in the dark night.”

A few years ago, I composed this prayer.

Dear God,
I am on my knees, because I don’t have the strength to stand up.
My strength is gone. I can’t deal with my depression by myself any longer.
I am lonely.
I call on You.
I have faith that Your strength is bigger than my depression,
that Your mercy and healing white light will show me the path home.
I am not alone.
You’re rod and staff comfort me as I walk through the valley of the shadow of depression
and there is nothing I shall fear.

Amen

So don’t lose hope. Don’t lose God. He’s working somewhere in the pain to heal you.

As Pope John Paul, II wrote:

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

By Daniel T. Lukasik, Copyright 2015

 

 

 

 

One Trial Lawyer’s Journey From Severe Depression to Greater Fulfillment

I do not consider myself a lawyer. I am a human being who took on the role and career of a lawyer for 25 years. Unlike some people who entered law school with a burning passion to practice law, I ended up there because I was confused about my career direction and had no career counseling. Stop here. If you don’t feel excitement and joy when thinking about a career my hindsight advice is don’t enter it!

After a couple of years in NYC working for a small firm I quit because I hated following orders due to my anti-authoritarian streak dating back to early childhood. When I left for California I passed the CA bar exam, worked briefly for a solo practitioner, and then opened up my own solo practice. During my first few years I took whatever I could get including cases involving wrongful employment termination, wrongful eviction, workers compensation, and personal injury. I gradually steered my practice completely into plaintiff’s personal injury because I come from a family of physicians and I was truly fascinated by the medical aspects of these cases.

After I while I became rather successful as a lawyer, especially because I had a nose for what made a good case, I enjoyed investigating the facts, I cared about my clients (most of them anyway), and I frequently knew more about the medical/psychological aspects of the client’s injury than the defense. My Achilles heel was my biological tendency toward anxiety and depression which, to my mind, are two sides of the same coin.

Although I got excellent results in my cases I was plagued by fears of failure and so I worked myself to the bone when it came to preparing for depositions, hearings, and trials or opposing motions to compel discovery or obtain summary judgment. Although I was never sued by a client in 25 years I always worried that the innately disgruntled ones who complained about everything in their lives might sue me. So I worked extra hard to make sure their cases turned out well. To put in all these hours I gave up on exercise, sat more, and ate unhealthy, high salt, high sugar foods to give me some compensatory pleasure. Stop. If you are doing these things you will damage your physical and mental health. Our bodies crave outdoor exercise in the fresh air and they crave real food, not the processed crap made in factories.

At the beginning of the 1990s I took on some new challenges. I moved to a larger, more expensive office. I became a homeowner. And, my wife became pregnant with our first child. In the mid-1990s, I developed a bridge phobia, a phobia involving the fear I would fall out of the window of a tall office building, and panicky dread over crime in our neighborhood which seemed to be getting worse every day. To help myself through these irrational fears I became a good friend of Jack Daniels. This nearly led my wife to divorce me. The threat of divorce woke me up like a cold shower. I went to see a psychiatrist who put me on Zoloft and I stopped drinking. Things got better. We had a second child, a son. In the coming years I became a very good father. I adore my kids. They adore me. Both kids are flourishing. This is something I am very proud of.

In the decade between 1995-2005 I handled an increasing number of cases involving traumatic brain injury and made significant income. Initially these cases were very exciting. Over time they became a drag. Why? The defense, which had paid up relatively quickly in the early days, now used scorched earth tactics by hiring experts in human factors, biomechanics, neurology, psychiatry, neuropsychiatry, neuroradiology, etc. I had to hire counter experts in each field and I had to pay to depose every over-priced, hostile defense expert who gave me all their specious reasons why each client was a neurotic, a hysteric or a malingerer.

I felt like Sisyphus, the man condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a steep hill every day. The litigation costs drained my coffers to the point where I was late on my rent, my copier machine rental, my records fees, and witness fees every month. In the midst of these depressing circumstances my mother suddenly died of a brain virus. And then, one day, my wife noticed we were completely out of money and our home equity lines were maxed out. I instantly plunged into what my psychiatrist called a psychotic depression in which I heard a voice from within me tell me to die over and over again, relentlessly 24/7 until after 4 days of it, I went to a hospital emergency room.

The psychiatrists who cared for me in the hospital told me I had snapped as a result of an inborn vulnerability to depression, years of stress from legal practice, and the trauma of my mother’s death and insolvency. They told me never to return to legal practice. My past 8 years have been a journey back from severe depression and into a new, more fulfilling life. Thanks to a private, own-occupation disability policy I was able to pay my family’s living expenses while recovering.

upward-spiral

I researched and wrote my book for lawyers, The Upward Spiral: Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing, on stress and depression while studying and practicing Buddhist meditation. I became ordained as an interfaith chaplain and sat with dying patients at a local hospital. More recently I entered an MS program in mental health counseling at Capella University. I anticipate becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at the beginning of 2017. I am finding my studies, practicums, and internships in mental health graduate school to be very meaningful and fulfilling.

Law is a very stressful profession which produces severe depression in one out of every five lawyers. What is my message to my colleagues in the law who suffer depression?

First, face the depression. Do not deny it and self-medicate it with unhealthy substance or behavioral addictions.

Second, try medication. For a depression with obsessive, suicidal rumination (like mine) it can be life-saving.

Third, see a therapist (a psychologist, MFT, counselor or social worker) so you can explore and understand the bio-psychosocial roots of your depression and choose the best form of therapy to resolve your depression.

Fourth, consider couples counseling or family therapy so your spouse and children can understand your depression and have an opportunity to educate you as to how it is affecting them. This can lead to improved understanding, communication, and cooperation at home within the family system.

Fifth, consult experts in nutrition, exercise, and sleep to develop ways for you to eat healthier, exercise more, and sleep better. A wonderful book on these topics is Go Wild by Dr. John Ratey.

Sixth, spend more time in nature because there is nothing better to quiet the mind, ease the sore psyche or restore the spirit.

Seventh, take time to actualize your potential as a unique self through whatever activity calls to you, be it photography, calligraphy, water color painting, baking, cooking, etc.

Good luck. I know you can beat depression and be happier.

Harvey Hyman, J.D. spent 25 successful yet stressful years practicing personal injury law in New York and California.  Thanks to an episode of severe depression in 2007, he found happiness and joy that had always eluded him.

 

Built by Staple Creative