My Wife’s Battle With Depression (Part 2)

Thank you for your warm and encouraging response to Shona’s article yesterday in which she began to share her terrible experience with depression. Here’s the second part of her story.


IMG_3426During this dark season I would sleep with exhaustion, but then awaken in an instant several minutes later, unable to stop the rage of mental torment. I concluded that the Lord had given me over to the Devil, that I could not be a Christian, and all that remained was for me to fall into hell. Long before my alarm clock went off each morning, I awoke suddenly like a startled bird. While the rest of the house slept, I had to get up, to get away from this pain. Waves of tormenting thoughts crashed on the shores of my heart: “What’s going to happen to my children on the way to eternity? Who will bring them up? What a tragedy of immeasurable consequences; a mother who lost her mind and her soul. They will have to live with that. What about David, my poor husband, who sees that something is terribly wrong with me but can’t fathom it? What will happen to the baby I am carrying, for whom I feel no emotional connection?”

Reality versus Unreality
I tried to focus on verses of comfort from my Bible, with a ferocious intensity, but in so doing I became more and more obsessional. I turned all the Bible’s encouragements against myself and applied all its condemnations to myself. Adding to my mental exhaustion, I scoured books that I thought might rescue me from these dark depths: books such as Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan; The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall; and Spiritual Depression by Martin Lloyd- Jones. I gleaned some truth from these books that kept some hope alive, but it was all too intense and exhausting.

There were glimpses of reality but only occasionally and momentarily. Surely the Lord said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). He stilled the storm for the disciples. He would never cast away any who truly seek him. What were the last twenty-five years of my Christian life all about? He never saves and then lets go. That was my daily debate. Yet just as soon as I grabbed reality, delusional thoughts, subjective feelings, and deceitful unreality would crush all hope.

The beautiful sunshine and the singing of the spring birds were an agony. The beauty of the night sky and the array of stars, which testified of a faithful Creator, only served to break my heart yet further. I thought back to my childhood, when I would often sit outside my home in the Scottish Highlands looking heavenward and singing the words of Psalm 8:3–4. But now, instead of that free and happy childhood, life was over. I had lost the Lord—if I ever had him. He was gone forever. All hope was gone.

Spiritual Problem?
As a family doctor, I had treated many people in similar situations, and if I had heard my story in the consulting room, I would have objectively diagnosed: “Mentally broken and severely depressed.” However, the subjective side of me—much more persuasive and persistent—convinced me that my problem was spiritual, a lack of spiritual will or trust. If only I could have greater faith in God, then everything would be okay. After all, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). But I was in the eye of the storm, weakened and disorientated, which is not the best place to make accurate assessments.

Eventually, when I finally crashed on the rocks in March 2003, David and I decided to call in my father, an experienced pastor of fifty years who would surely be able to find my spiritual problem. However, when he heard my story, he was convinced that it was not so much a spiritual problem as a mental and physical problem with spiritual consequences. He said that due to many factors, including burnout and long-term stress, my body was run down and my mind was broken. The normal physical and mental processes were disrupted, and, as a result, the most precious thing in my life was profoundly affected—my relationship with the Lord. That was a massive turning point for David and me, and it led to God opening the door to a wonderful recovery and a beautiful refreshing of my life that I want to share with you in my book Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands.

Spectrum of Suffering
Although your story may not be as serious or severe as mine, my subsequent experience of meeting and counseling other women has convinced me that many Christian women are trying to do what almost destroyed me; that is, run overwhelming lives at an unsustainable and miserable pace. Although not all of you will end up crumpled on the ground, feeling close to death like I did, many of you are suffering somewhere on the spectrum:

stressed —> anxious —> overwhelmed —> burned out —> sad —> depressed —> suicidal

By God’s grace my race did not end there, and yours need not either. In Refresh I’ll share with you how God taught me to embrace a grace-paced life in a world of overwhelming demands.


Grace-Paced Life Links

Blogs

Stressed to the Max: How Do You Know if You’re Too Stressed?
Why did Sharon rejoice when she put her smartphone through the washing machine?

“It’s not the normal response to rejoice and thank God in these moments, but the gift of three weeks phoneless was such a blessing. Proper enforced rest. Until that moment I don’t think I truly realised just how tired and stressed I really was.”

Avoiding Burnout as a Biblical Counselor
“Almost everyone in the counseling profession experiences burnout. Even those of us outside the profession who take time to regularly have intentional conversations with others might experience burnout. We often find ourselves in these roles because the Lord has gifted us with concern for others and confident patience to see their long-term good. ”

What to Do When Work Stress (Literally) Makes You Sick
“Alyson was 35 when she had a stroke. The ambitious attorney awoke one morning unable to move, the left side of her body paralyzed. She was due in court later that day, so before calling for help, she reached for her phone and dialed her assistant. The stroke was the match in the powder barrel. For days, Alyson had ignored the warning signs, including ringing in her ears, visual impairments, and exhaustion. Her doctors had trouble pinpointing the source of her stroke — after all, the vast majority occur in those over 65 — but they all offered their best guess: stress.”

10 things to know about sleep
You probably don’t want to know this, but you should.

How To Fall Asleep And Why We Need More
“Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain,” Walker says. “Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it.”

Don’t be afraid of the big bad medication
“We need more women like Shona who will share these things with us. It helps to remove the stigma of this struggle. If we’re ashamed, we might not seek help, and that can’t be good for us or our families.”

How Leaders Accomplish More by Doing Less
“Leaders, do you ever feel like your workload is just too much? Is it difficult to know what to prioritize?  As a leader you’ve probably gathered great experience in a variety of work. You can probably generate a lot of activity and knock out a lot of tasks. But are you accomplishing the right things? Are you trying to do it all? In this updated article, Matt Perman shares ways that you can accomplish more for your organization by doing less.”

Infographic: Do Women Need to Slow Their Pace?

Video

Doc Parsley, an ex-Seal who is now a doctor to the Seals, specializes in sleep science and nutrition. The first 30 mins of this video on sleep are well worth listening to.

murray-books


My wife’s life-or-death battle with depression

I’m full of admiration for my wife Shona’s willingness to open up about her struggle with depression in her new book Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands. As you can imagine, it’s extremely difficult and nerve-wracking to be open and transparent about this when there is still so much stigma attached to mental illness in the church. But her hope is that her story will encourage other secret sufferers and those who minister to them, and also point them to God’s abundant provision of so many different means of healing for those with similar struggles. This is an extract from the first chapter of her book. If you’d like a copy of the book to review on Amazon, social media, or a periodical, please contact me.


IMG_3420I was a crumpled heap. The billows of mental pain buffeted me, leaving me barely able to breathe. I agonized over how a life that had been so full of happiness, so full of God’s blessing, could become so helpless and hopeless. For five months I had fought hard against the possibility of depression. After all, part of my job as a family doctor was to help patients recover from depression. Why was I now hearing my story in their stories? Why was I so afraid to see myself in their stories?

“Only the weak get overwhelmed and burn out. Only Christians who have bad genes or have experienced a real tragedy get depression. Ordinary Christians like me don’t. I must be an apostate who is depressed because God has left me. There’s no hope for me. No one and nothing can fix me. Even if they could, I don’t want to live without God. Yet I don’t know who he is anymore. I don’t know where he is. I don’t see him anywhere. Why did he leave me? Will he ever rescue me? Or will I die in despair?”

My mind spun like this, minute after minute, day after day, tortured by terrifying thoughts of God and my own tragic destiny. Until one day in March 2003 I spoke these words to my husband David through waves of tears: “I am a ship smashed against the rocks. My life is over!” Something gripped him at that moment that set us both on a course that would change our lives, a course that would eventually refresh my life and teach me how to embrace a grace-paced life in a world of overwhelming demands.

Panic Attacks

In the months leading up to my shipwreck, I had become utterly exhausted and had completely lost my appetite. I simply had no desire to eat. One evening I tried to rest and read a book when suddenly, from nowhere, I felt a terror within, as if something awful was about to happen. My heart was pounding for no apparent reason, and I couldn’t make it calm down. Over subsequent weeks I had several of these fearful episodes.

I was very sad and would cry for no obvious reason. Loneliness enveloped me even when I was surrounded by those who loved me. I became obsessional in my thoughts, sometimes inexplicably mulling over sad events for hours. The terror episodes came closer together so that I was constantly terrified. My heart would pound away, sometimes for hours. Distraction seemed the best policy, so I just kept myself busy in an attempt to run away from these strange and terrible sensations, but also because there was so much to be done.

By now my enthusiasm had gone. Diaper changes, meals, groceries, mothering two lively little boys, caring for a busy toddler, and another baby on the way became scary prospects. I dreaded the mornings, and I wanted to hide under the covers; but a strong sense of the needs of others kept me going and going and going. Weeks went by when I could hardly sleep, and I cried a lot more. Nothing interested me. I felt I was a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad daughter, and a bad Christian. Guilt over a myriad of tasks not done—or poorly done by my standards—suffocated me. And despite running at top speed, the finish line was never in sight.

Despair Envelops

Concentrating on my devotions became increasingly difficult, and I felt that the Lord was far away. Mental exhaustion had me in its grip. One particular night as I tried to pray and kept losing track of what I was thinking or saying, I began to feel that I was falling off a cliff; I fell deeper and deeper, and there was no bottom. My whole emotional world fell apart. Through the night, I struggled between sleep and wakefulness. The most terrifying images and thoughts of God poured into my mind like an unstoppable fountain. I would respond with verses of well-known psalms, which I repeated over and over in a desperate attempt to hang on to God and his promises. I cried and cried to the Lord, but the darkness of despair descended. Like a tiny boat lost in a convulsing storm, having lost its rudder, my mind was broken, my emotions crippled, and the waves of despair plunged me down without mercy.


Read the rest of Shona’s story tomorrow.


Check out

Blogs

Sola Scriptura Then and Now
Don Carson’s extended article is the read of the day. It helps to put the following articles in historical and theological perspective.

What is Sola Scriptura Protecting Us Against? More Than You Think
“Contrary to popular misunderstandings, it is not the belief that the Scriptures are the only authority.  Christians have other legitimate authorities in their life (their elders, classical creeds, etc.), but only Scripture is an infallible authority…Sola Scriptura is designed simply to prevent these other authorities from ruling the Christian and to keep God’s Word rightly as our ultimate guide.  Here are three examples of such authorities.”

Why Special Revelation Trumps General Revelation
“Both the general revelation of God (creation) and the special revelation of God (Scripture) are gifts for which we should be very thankful. However, because of the effects of sin on the mind of man (theologians call this the noetic effect of sin) and the rest of creation, we need special revelation to govern our interpretation of general revelation. Let me explain.”

14 Women of the Reformation That You Probably Never Knew About
“All too often, the textbooks focus solely on the men of the Reformation—Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and others—and fail to take notice of the faithful women who served among, beside, and with the Reformers. These women were dedicated to the gospel of Jesus Christ, some to the point of martyrdom. Many of these women were well-educated, especially by the standard of their time. They read theology books, especially the Bible, and anything they could get their hands on from the reformers. Their inner circles of friends were part of long and frequent Bible studies. Most were wives and mothers. Some were also authors, apologists, ex-nuns, and queens. All were faithful servants of Jesus.”

Conversations through 95 Theses – Does Sufficiency Necessitate Competency?
“As a biblical counselor, I have no problem saying that Diane Langberg is more competent in counseling sexual abuse than I am, even though she is not a biblical counselor. As a movement, I believe we should be less averse (a.k.a. more humble) to making these kinds of acknowledgements.”

Fifteen Unusual Hospital Visits Experienced by Pastors
If that was all a bit heavy, have a laugh at these unusual visits pastors experienced.

How Leaders Accomplish More by Doing Less
“Leaders, do you ever feel like your workload is just too much? Is it difficult to know what to prioritize?   As a leader you’ve probably gathered great experience in a variety of work. You can probably generate a lot of activity and knock out a lot of tasks. But are you accomplishing the right things? Are you trying to do it all? In this updated article, Matt Perman shares ways that you can accomplish more for your organization by doing less.”

God’s Alarm
My Dad narrates his lifelong battle with his alarm clock and points us to a spiritual lesson.

Kindle Books

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Ed Clowney $2.99. You will love this wonderful book.

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson $0.99.

The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help from Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times $3.99.


How to write a book with your wife

My wife’s first (and she says “only”) book, Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demandsis officially released today.

I say it’s Shona’s book because although it’s also got my name on the cover, it really is her story. We are co-authors but not co-equal authors. So how did that joint authorship work and how does the content of Reset for men relate to Refresh for women. What bits did I write, what bits did Shona write, what bits did we write together, and how can you tell the difference?

Having looked at various jointly authored books, we decided against writing Refresh as “we,” because it’s for women and, well, I’m not not a woman! We also didn’t like the idea of switching from “I (Shona)” to “I (David)” whenever we used material from Reset. That just seemed awkward. Therefore, although we wrote it together, “I” (Shona) is used throughout. So what are the differences and overlaps between the two books? Here’s how Shona puts it in her book.

Similar Structure
First, the overall structure of the two books, the chapter headings and most of the subjects covered, are the same in both books. As David explained in his book, so much of the wisdom we have gained has come through many years of us living this together, suffering together, studying together, and counseling people together, so that our thoughts are almost identical. This similarity in structure and subjects should help husbands and wives who want to work through the books together to be on the same page, as it were, and yet also be able to identify important differences in the male and female experiences of stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression.

Substitute Story
Second, in Refresh my story is substituted for David’s story. In Reset David told of how burnout just about killed him—twice. Throughout Refresh I replace that with my own painful story of how I slipped into a deep hole of depression and anxiety and how God is graciously delivering me.

Feminization
Third, I feminized the manly parts. Although we initially thought that we could write a book for women with just a few tweaks of the man’s book, we soon realized that for all the significant similarities, there are multiple important differences in the female experience of burnout. That resulted in much more work than either of us expected, but we both agreed that it was important to make it as feminine as possible for maximum usefulness. The feminization also involved the addition of some sections that have no counterpart in Reset.

Surprising Experience
Although we were both a bit nervous about how to navigate a joint project such as this, as usual God surprised us and used the experience to draw us closer together and give us an ever-deeper appreciation for the beautiful complementarity of husband and wife in God’s plan for marriage. Near the end of writing it, we celebrated twenty-five years of marriage and found that writing Refresh had been a wonderful reminder of God’s goodness and mercy following us all the days of our lives. We hope and pray that you will benefit from the wisdom God has been pleased to teach us through the years and that what we have learned will refresh you, lead you into a grace-paced life in a world of overwhelming demands, and help you experience the healthy balance of grace motivation and grace moderation as exemplified by the apostle:

Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1, 2)


Using Psychology to Unmask the Abuser

“He’s abusing me.”

“I love her and wouldn’t think of harming her.”

This is a marital scenario that pastors and elders face from time to time. Where do we go from here? We have two biblical pillars that must control everything.

The Bible tells us that it is a sin to abuse anyone and to “pass by on the other side” when we hear a cry for help.

The Bible also tells us that it’s a sin to falsely accuse and to find someone guilty who is innocent.

But how do we establish the truth here, minister to these two professing believers, and fulfill our obligations to honor and please God?

We question each individual and ask for their side of the story. But we basically end up back with the first two sentences of this post. What now? Where do we get wisdom for obeying God in this scenario?

Obviously the Bible condemns abuse in all its forms, but it does not give us any detail about how to recognize the signs, what are the usual patterns of denial, what steps should be taken for a victim’s short-term and long-term safety, how to respond to the PTSD that sometimes results, and so on.

So what do we do?

Do the pastor and elder just try to guess the right things to do even though they may never have faced this situation before? They might consult other pastors and elders, but they will probably find most of them either haven’t faced this before, or else they’ve made an absolute mess of it when they did and don’t want to get involved again.

What’s next? We’re praying for wisdom and insight but the Bible and the Christian community do not seem to have the wisdom we need. But did God not promise to provide wisdom if we lacked it and asked for it (James 1:5)? Yes, he did. And he does. But sometimes he provides the needed wisdom for obedience to him from outside the Scriptures and from outside the Christian community. He gives wisdom generously to all. (e.g. here, and here).

There are men and women—psychologists, counselors, social workers, etc.—who have dedicated their whole lives to helping the victims of marital abuse. Some of them have handled many hundreds of different cases. Unlike pastors and elders who may get a case like this once a decade, it’s all they do, all day, every day. Most of them are not Christians and therefore cannot fix the heart of the abuser or fully comfort the heart of the victim, but their compassion, insight, and wisdom in these situations put most of us to shame.

They have studied hundreds of abusers and victims. They know how abusers operate. They know their strategies and tactics. They know their defenses, denials, and doublespeak. They know how they make their victims feel guilty. They know which buttons they press when they talk to pastors, elders, and other authorities. They know the multi-layered damage victims suffer (even when there has been no physical contact). They know when and how to intervene. They know how to extract victims from danger and when. They know how to defend and protect victims and their children. They know the PTSD that often follows and the steps to take to rebuild identity and confidence. They know the signs of false repentance in an abuser. In sum, they know how to separate truth from lies, and they know how to distinguish what helps from what harms.

Do Christians and churches not need that so-called “secular wisdom” (which is actually the gift of a generous God) if we are to obey God fully in this situation? This wisdom is more than filling in details. It is fundamental and foundational to any effective counseling in this situation. This wisdom is more than “helpful.” It is necessary. It is vital. It is imperative. It is heaven’s answer to the prayer of James 1:5. We should be thankful that God is continuing to  impart such gifts of wisdom to the human race for the good of his people. I know many victims of abuse are.

Do we accept it wholesale? Of course not. Evolutionary, feminist, and humanist theory can be found throughout this field of knowledge. But the Bible is 100% sufficient to screen and filter this knowledge so that we only let in what is in accordance with God’s truth. With the Bible always in our hands and in our hearts, we can work with psychologists for the good of victims.

There are many books and papers written by psychologists and others who have devoted their lives to serving the victims of domestic abuse. If you want the quickest sample of this presented at a popular level, watch this TED talk, Unmasking the Abuser, by social psychologist Dina McMillan. Her understanding of the deceitful and desperately wicked twists and turns of human motivation, personality, evasion, and manipulation, provide one of the best “commentaries” on Jeremiah 17:9 that I’ve come across. And, of course, there are also wise Christian psychologists, like Diane Langberg (a faculty member at Westminster Seminary), who have studied and counseled in this subject area for many years and that we would make our first resort.

To the person who still insists that this is merely helpful wisdom, but it’s not necessary, I would ask: “At what point does something helpful become a moral obligation to pursue and provide?” Or to put it another way, “How helpful does something have to be before it becomes necessary?” I’ll unpack that question further in a future article.

And if you want a conservative Christian defense of this approach to the sufficiency of Scripture, how it honors the Bible and God’s intent for it, and especially how to reconcile the spiritual antithesis with common grace, read Westminster Seminary professor Dennis Johnson’s excellent article, Spiritual Antithesis: Common Grace, and Practical Theology.