Walking through the dark valley of depression
October 5, 2012
FORT BLISS, Texas -- As autumn brings cooler temperatures and thoughts of holiday activities, I ask you to pause for a moment to reflect on how depression can wreak havoc in people's lives. Most of us know a relative, a loved one or a friend who struggles with depression. Sometimes, you or I might be the one experiencing an inner anguish. There are numerous factors that cause depression, including biochemistry, genetics, family history, substance abuse, being ill, diet and experiencing a difficult life event.
A common component of depression is isolation. People withdraw from friends and family and even from their God. With severe depression, hopelessness becomes a constant shadowy fog that prevents people from the awareness of goodness around them. Finding hope in the midst of this gloominess is the key.
When I have experienced walking through a dark valley, seemingly alone, I recall the times when I felt at peace with the world. I remind myself of the times when God was evident in my life -- not just the close calls during combat, but those times when just the right person is there at just the right time to encourage me. I find hope in the Bible.
The story of Job, a man renowned for his suffering, illustrates God's faithfulness and His Supremacy. Without it sounding like a platitude, God does have a much wider view of the intricacies of life than I do. There are times in which I am angry at God because all I can see and feel is the pain. It can be hard to understand how God's goodness does not always come in a pleasantly gift-wrapped box. This is when faith moves from a cognitive belief into a course of action.
I trust God has goodness in mind for me and I hope in His faithfulness, even through the dark nights of the soul. The act of prayer is meaningful. Prayer can be meditative, applicative and thanksgiving and may include reconciliation of a broken relationship with God.
Prayer can also be simply resting in silence, being aware of the presence of the Divine. Faith matures through exercising during difficult times. If life was easy, we would all be simpletons in our faith journey.
Additionally, I make an effort to connect with friends and family. Depression has a way of cornering us into a place where we do not want to be bothered. There is a tendency to sever the link with humanity. This is when hopelessness becomes a serious risk to a person's life. Belonging to a community is essential. This may be represented by your family, friends, social group, co-workers and maybe even combative opponents. It takes courage to share struggles with others.
However, the risk of appearing vulnerable for a short period is far better than appearing weak forever because you are no longer alive to prove yourself strong again. Staying connected with other people can be life saving. It is also a good practice to evaluate your relational environment to ensure you are being positively encouraged and not negatively reinforced. Are your activities and discussions life nurturing?
By engaging in your faith and seeking to stay connected with others who provide positive support, one can not only survive a period of depression, but even grow through the experience. One can find catalysts for spiritual growth by reevaluating the image of God and yourself that you have lived with.
For some, depression can be a crisis of faith and some of us may need to re-examine, in light of our woundedness, what we were taught about God and what we were taught about ourselves. Some of those beliefs of childhood may actually hinder recovery. Some old images of God may not carry you through your dark night of the soul. This can be a time of spiritual awakening to discard yesterday's image of God and of yourself and to grow into new ones. This process is a mark of spiritual maturity where one moves away from simple naivety into allowing God and yourself permission to experience disappointment and still hold on to hope.
If you are struggling with depression, I encourage you to seek out a chaplain for pastoral support, encouragement, and prayer. The Lord be with you, always.
To contact a chaplain at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, call (915) 569-2235.
To reach a chaplain on Fort Bliss, contact (915) 568-1519.