What is the relevance of spiritual faith to a depressed person?
My short answer would be that it absolutely necessary for recovery, but that it is also a two- edged sword.
The purpose of this chapter I will be primarily talking about Christianity. I will also talk about the role of twelve step groups a little later in the chapter.
I must point out that I am a Christian and have been so for the greater part of my adult life. I was not brought up in a church going Christian family, although I think that my father believed in God. In some sense, I might have been a Christian as a young boy, although I didn’t verbalize the prayer of salvation because I had never heard it and wouldn’t have known what it meant. As kids growing up the nineteen fifties and early sixties, we were blessed that the public school system was favourable towards prayer and the daily reading of Bible stories. As all my elementary school teachers included these two routines following the playing of Oh Canada, the Canadian national anthem, I assumed that it was mandatory for my elementary grade teachers to lead us in the Lord’s prayer and to read to us from a book containing Bible stories.
I now think that because of these two spiritual exercises practised by the public school system I came to believe in God. In reality, I cannot remember a time where I doubted God’s existence. I was probably not a saved, born again Christian, but could definitely be considered to be a believer. This does not mean that I always tried to walk out the Christian lifestyle. There were many times in my life when I didn’t.
I didn’t officially get ‘saved’ as it is termed in Christianity until I was twenty-seven years old. This occurred only because an ardent local minister came to my mobile home to witness to me. Ironically, this was not the first occasion would someone tried to lead me to the Lord.
Around two years earlier, a young Christian couple came to my apartment to share the Good News of the Gospel with me. During this occasion I was not receptive at all to hearing about Jesus. I only recall that the man who tried to witness to be me was called Hugh and for years after I felt sorry for the way I treated these young evangelists.
Hugh, if by some miracle, you have been reading this blog post or listen to my podcast show, I want to sincerely apologize for my behavior that evening. I just want you to know that you planted a seed and that I became a born-again Christian two years after you witnessed to me.
This has entirely nothing to do with today’s topic, but I just looked up at the calendar on my desktop computer to see that I am writing my first draft of this blog on July 14, 2017. On this day or date, I should say, that in 1966, I was at the Winnipeg Arena watching the Rolling Stones in concert. I can recall that my ticket cost fourteen dollars, the Rolling Stones only played for twenty-five minutes, with sound transmission coming through their woefully inadequate Vox amplifiers and that the girls screaming from the audience almost drowned out The Rolling Stones’s music.
Now back to my original topic, depression and spirituality. My whole thesis is that the depressed person has to one degree or another lost hope. The answer, of course, is to regain the lost hope or possibly experience hope for the first time. That’s where Christianity comes in. The Gospel message offers the guarantee that if we have truly given our life to the Lord, when we get to heaven we will enjoy an eternal and wonderful life.
There are certain theological streams that seem to contend that this is about the only promise that Christians can count upon and that this only occurs after physical death and the end of our earthly life.
Although this hope can be very comforting, I was also looking for hope during my earthly lifetime. I was never quite satisfied with a Christian theology that implies that our life on earth was just to be tolerated as we attempted to live a holy life, but that for the real reward, we would have to wait for heaven.
In January 2017 a very unusual thing happened. I received a phone call from a teacher who taught a special education class. He asked if I could cover his class for two days. As the teacher’s medical condition was more complicated then he first expected, my assignment turned out to be multi-day assignment lasting seven teaching days. I probably had not taught seven consecutive full days in about fifteen years.
After two days, I was visibly tired. By the fourth day my wife almost begged me to cancel the remainder of my assignment. Although I knew that I was severely exhausted and that there was a real possibility that I could die if I finished the assignment, I told my wife that I was determined to teach the whole seven days, no matter what.
Although, I was able to fulfill my job commitment, I had not made a wise decision from the perspective of my own health.
Two weeks prior to accepting this assignment, I made another very foolish and risky decision which I would not recommend to anyone. I’ve been reading Dr. Peter Breggin’s books that talked about the dangers of taking psychotropic medication. Dr. Breggin had recommended embarking on a very gradual withdrawal of these medications only if one was under the close supervision of medical professional. For some strange reason, probably my propensity to take risks, I did not follow Dr. Breggin’s instructions. I attempted to stop taking all my medications at once. Consequently, I experienced horrible withdrawal symptoms for a couple of days. By the third day of drug withdrawal my wife became very worried about me and called for an ambulance. After spending several hours in the hospital the nurse said that I could go home. I have very few memories of this incident. I recall the paramedics talking to me before they transported me to the hospital and the nurse waking me up, but I don’t remember the medical technicians doing medical tests on me.
Shortly after this experience I made a rational decision to slowly and gradually resume taking my psychotropic medications. After I completed my seven day subbing extravaganza I contracted either a viral or bacterial infection. This illness was serious enough to require two rounds of different antibiotics. Even with this medical intervention, it took my body and mind three more months before I felt well enough to attempt a return to work.
My return to substitute teaching was successful, but painful.
I found that I constantly had to push myself to complete an assignment. As I needed the money, I probably accepted more teaching gigs that I should have. I was more than ready to go on holidays in June 2017.
I’m hoping and praying for the day that I would be capable of consistently working a succession of full days and still have the energy to pursue my hobbies after the work day is done.