A Sidekick's Blog

Back From the Brink | March 21, 2016

Well I think I can finally write about my recent brush with death, and maybe I can do it with less of that false sense of shame rooted in the total fantasy that true Christians never get anxious, never get depressed or suicidal, and never give up hope. While I am ashamed of this in a powerful sense, in another sense I think it’s really important as a disciple of Jesus to share my weaknesses and failures as a means to help others. I’m sure that King David would rather that his sins of lust and murder were not recorded in the bible for all of history! Yet they are instructive for the rest of us forgiven sinners, all of whom are lust-driven murderers at heart anyway, and me most of all. I also want to offer encouragement to saints who are dealing with depression and ashamed to admit it, much less to actually get help. The idea that “real” Christians never give in or lose hope in the face of overwhelming odds and impossible circumstances is totally bogus, unrealistic, arrogant, and dangerous! Here are a few examples from the Scriptures of great men of faith who suffered from depression even to the point of pleading for death, just as I did. I also want to state very clearly that those who vehemently oppose the use of medication for treating even extreme mental illnesses, based on the notion that “the problem is sin, not chemistry,” may be liable in part for the profound and prolonged suffering of those believe them; and may even be liable in the Day of Judgment for lives lost. While I can agree that sin is the root of every form of mental illness, and that exposing the sin, and learning and practicing repentance the ultimate cure, I cannot and will not discount medication to help address the damage done by such sin. Persistent mental stress causes physical and chemical changes in the body. Like in the normal “fight or flight” response to a physical threat in which the body dumps adrenalin into the bloodstream, increases pulse, raises blood pressure and respiratory rate, and readies itself to repel an enemy – if that adrenalin dump occurs and no physical battle or flight follows, then real damage can be done! This ain’t Star Trek where you just cancel red alert, disarm torpedoes, power down shields and phasers and be on your merry way. That adrenalin surge needs an outlet. And if it doesn’t get one, it’ll do some damage of it’s own. If that is repeated a lot – or if it happens almost continuously as in the throes of unrelenting depression, whatever the cause, then real, measurable, chemical and physical damage follows. Leaving that untreated is inexcusable if a simple medicine is available to interrupt the cycle of continuous adrenalin surging without a “fight or flight” following and the organ and tissue damage resulting from that. If you tell me I should be ashamed to be taking an antidepressant for a while until I sort out and deal with the cause (sin) of my depression, then I’ll tell you that you should be ashamed for multiplying the suffering and threatening the safety of sinners just like yourself. When I no longer need the antidepressant I’ll quit using it. But until I identify the sin behind my depression, learn what real repentance from that sin looks like, and practice that repentance until it becomes a new habit, I’ll take whatever help I can get to interrupt that destructive chemical cycle that interferes with that repentance!

So here’s the story, briefly:

A lot has happened in the past two months, including a near-hospitalization for an episode of such deep despair that I became briefly suicidal. Marital and financial stress has gone on for so long that something snapped when I got turned down for the umpteenth time for a decent job. The only thing that saved me was the fact that I published my feelings and intentions online and someone who saw it alerted someone who intervened. It has been a few weeks since then now, and medication and counseling (not from a psychiatrist or psychologist, but a “nouthetic” counselor, bible-based) are helping me keep a lid on that despair while I undergo training for a permanent new job. It’s far better than the well drilling job I was doing before! I complained about safety there and it got me fired, so I went ahead and filed an OSHA complaint against that stupid arrogant buttwipe, then took the only available job that wouldn’t take me far from home. It was selling carpet, tile, hardwoods, vinyl and other flooring. I’m no salesman, and I was failing miserably at it. That’s when I finally had my “breakdown” of sorts. We were two months behind in bills, I was forced to give up a car I had just bought in December because we couldn’t afford the payments, our landlord was threatening eviction, and then I got turned down for a dream job after two interviews. My wife still had only part-time minimum wage work in a small retail shop (and that’s with an MBA degree!). I was done with life and ready to end it. If I hadn’t said something, I would have pulled the trigger and ended my profound sorrow and hopeless misery.

Because others intervened, we got some help with overdue bills, got caught up on rent, took drastic steps to curb unnecessary spending (cut the cable, let the car go, took in a family member to help with the rent, and count every penny of earnings, spending absolutely nothing on anything we don’t absolutely have to have. I got hired only last week, finally, and have been training. This job appeared literally out of the blue, one day before I was supposed to go back on the road in a truck for no other jobs where we live. Doing so would have ended my counseling and put me right back where I was. So this job can only be a gift from God. His Name be praised and His will be done!

I don’t think I’m out of danger yet. Lingering despair lurks just out of sight. My wife has our firearms safely hidden away. I’m only in the second week of nouthetic counseling (my wife is going with me), and I still need the antidepressant, while we uncover the sins that have taken us so far down this road, learn what repentance for those sins looks like, and practice it. And then navigate out of this mess. It will take time. But for the first time in many years, I have some hope for a way out of these lifelong issues of sin and bad decisions.

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