Depression works in cycles.
In understanding depression, it’s also important to understand the patterns of depression. Depression typically works in cycles. J. Adams was describing depression how often someone has a problem, and then when that problem is not dealt with well, there’s a simple response. They kind of spiral down. That often leads to a complicating problem, and it can keep going down, and down, and down. And one case I saw of a man who was concerned about current events in politics in a certain country, actually, from which he had immigrated, and when he was supposed to be doing his work, he was checking up, because he was so concerned about the politics in his home country, that he wasn’t doing his work, he was doing that. That was making him feel badly for not getting the work done, and he was overwhelmed with worry about that, and as that pattern kept going, he just spiraled down, and down, and down. Hopeless thoughts lead to greater hopelessness. When one is depressed, especially if they’re obsessing over something, then they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which makes them feel more guilty and more depressed. Some depressed people can cycle back up again. And, again, it depends on the cause, but there’s certainly cases, if it’s the mom who’s struggling with her kids, and she’s not getting much done, just kinda lying around, feeling worse and worse, we wanna deal with the heart issues of her seeking the Lord, her finding security not in her performance but in Christ. But it is also true, as part of helping her would be, “Okay, you’ve not gotten anything done in two weeks. “Today, let’s try to do 20% or 10%. “Let’s do a little bit with a strength “that God gives you.” And often people gradually will cycle out of depression as they assume more of their responsibilities, they have encouragement as things get done. And, as they see God working in them, and as they see God helping them to be faithful that works them out of it.
Another aspect about the cyclical nature of depression is that the people who are prone to depression often cycle in and out. In secular studies, just observing depression, the people who are prone to depression, over time, whether they’re Christians or not, whether they’re on drugs or not, whether they get talk therapy or not, over enough time they typically come out of it. There was one survey saying that median was 23 weeks. I find this to be useful information for a counselee. And, of course, the counselee may have his own history or her own history, where, “Have you felt this way before?” “Yeah.” Five years ago, three years ago, and now again. And, on one level it can be depressing to say it keeps happening, but it also is encouraging that each time God has lifted you out of that. And then the way, apparently, God has made us, most of us, even unbelievers, there’s a resilience that you can’t stay down there all that time. And for a believer, you can look back and say, “God has delivered me in the past. “And this present season of pain, of sadness, “will be over before too long.”
And then, as I said, some observe their pattern, if you observe the pattern it’s one, when they come out of it, they kinda go from too slow to too fast. I think those people too, they can be labeled bipolar, manic depressive, those labels don’t mean they have to live that way. I think a person can be taught and counseled how, during the time they’re tempted to be low, to make the low not as low, and to fight the temptations with truth. And likewise, when they tempted to go too far too fast, be hyperactive, again, to live in fellowship with God, listening to others and their wisdom to be able to mollify the extremes. Another aspect about depression is it often takes a while, a long while, for a person to come out of depression. There’s not always a quick fix. There are some problems, spiritually, where like when David in Psalm 32, when he repented, he prayed later, “Restore to me the joy “of my salvation.” Sometimes, things can get better fast, but often for depressed people, it just takes a while.
One of the most interesting, and yet sad, of all the Psalms, is Psalm 88. It used to be, I avoided bringing this one up with depressed people because it could be kinda depressing to read. Most of the Psalms, when the psalmist has a complaint, he’s describing his sorrows, by the end of the Psalm, things get better. He turns to God, he trusts God, God restores him, kind of a happy ending. Psalm 88 is a sad psalm with no happy ending. And the psalmist is saying, “I’ve cried out “by day and night before you. “My soul has had enough troubles, “my life has drawn near to Sheol. “I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit.” He’s saying, “You have put me in the lowest pit, “in dark places. “Your wrath is rested upon me. “My eye has wasted away because of affliction.” On and on he goes, and you get to the final stanza, you think, “Is he gonna get better?” The Psalm ends, “Oh, Lord, I’ve cried out to you for help. “Why do you reject my soul? “Why do you hide your face from me? “I suffer your terrors, I’m overcome. “Your terrors have destroyed me. “They have surrounded me like water all day long, “they have encompassed me altogether. “You have removed lover and friend far from me, “my acquaintances are in darkness.” The end. There’s no happy ending. I think the happy ending is it got in the Bible, and sooner or later the psalmist came out of it, and his relationship to God and the joy of his salvation was restored. But you may meet with somebody for an hour, and try to build them up in the hope we have in Christ, and build them up in the Scriptures, and in the end, you’d say, “Well, you feeling any better?” they’ll say, “No, I feel worse.”
Sometimes, I will take a depressed person to Psalm 88, or their family, and say, “Sometimes, “it just takes a while, and you have to wait. “There’s not always a quick fix.” A depression is also very serious. I’ve seen people spiral down so far they are debilitated, they don’t go to work. I’ve seen someone just curled up in a fetal position in his bathroom, not able to move. Depressed people are at risk of suicide. Most suicides are depressed people. Jonah, he was depressed because God showed mercy to the Ninevites. He wants to die. When Elijah was exhausted, he wanted to die, too. Depressed people are often angry people, they’re angry at God sometimes, they’re angry at themselves, they’re angry at others. Depression and anger are often very closely related. Both are often a reaction to circumstances. And then, in understanding depression, as I mentioned in the introduction, counseling depressed people is hard. Counseling a depressed person is like trying to rescue a man who’s drowning. They may pull you under, they get kinda clingy, too. And they might get mad at you if you don’t fix it right away.
Ed Welch’s book calls depression a ‘stubborn darkness’. You as a counselor don’t always see rapid results, and sometimes to be a compassionate counselor, is just you’re walking through the time of sorrow with this brother or sister. You keep telling them the right thing, thing they already know, truth they already know. As they’re tempted to doubt, to point them to faith, and point them to Christ. But, as I said, depression usually lifts over some period of time, and, in my own experience, when I, over ten years ago, had the one really major time in my own experience, it wasn’t like one day I woke up and things were fine. It’s just kinda like, it felt almost like the world that seemed black and white gradually faded to color again. Gradually, I became, instead of just struggling just to endure another day, and just barely getting things done, again having some passion and some joy. So, it takes patience. Depression can be contagious in a sense. It can affect the person around the depressed person, and it can even affect you.