I sat alone in my apartment. A vibrating noise buzzed through my mind. It was like a drill burrowing into my head through skin and bone, and into the fabric of my soul. The hollowness inside me acted like a massive amplifier making my senses super-attuned to my surroundings. The tiny drip of condensation from inside the windows cut like a knife. From outside the chill night air carried upon it the voices of late night stragglers. Their jovial shouts and drunken hollers boomed in contrast to the high-pitch screeching of the bedroom walls that pressed in on me. I gulped down another mouthful of beer. Why was I singled out to carry the weight of the universe on my shoulders? What was I to do, how could I relieve the pain of this nothingness?
“Go into the bathroom,” my mind said. “You’ll find something there to help.”
I staggered through to the bathroom with one eye closed. Everything seemed to sway. With clumsy fingers, I fumbled amongst my toiletries until I retrieved what I needed. It fitted neatly on the inside of my palm.
“Next, get some toilet paper. You’ll need it.”
Listening obediently, I took a few handfuls of toilet paper. I had never done this before so who knew what was going to happen.
Before long I was back on the edge of my bed. I folded the toilet paper neatly and put it to one side. The item I had retrieved from the restroom seemed tiny and inadequate, but I knew what I had to do to make it useable. I gently pressed against its plastic frame and manipulated it here and there until a thin razor blade broke free from the Gillette. “The best a man can get,” I sure hope so.
The pain seared with the first cut. The blood welled up upon my white skin. Boy, that felt good. It was as if the pressure, the emptiness, and the blackness escaped from the wound. My skin prickled and I felt my face flush. A euphoric high surged through me. “Wow, I was healed! I was free! I had found peace.”
The red blood ran freely down my arm. I urgently placed the bloody razor to the side, took the white toilet paper, and blotted the wound. The darkness returned with each blot. I had no sooner freed myself, and the despair returned. “Damn.” What was I to do? The answer to my question seemed obvious. I cut again and again, but the pain in my mind did not go away.
What happened after
This was the first time I used a razor to self-harm. The first few times I used a knife, but skin is tougher than it looks, and I had to saw through it. The razor worked a lot better. Looking back, it is incredible how calculated the procedure was. It was not a case of, “Oh, I’m going to cut myself,” and then simply cut. Instead, I thought through everything I did. The crazy thing is that back then I did not know I had depression. It was not until later the following year after I tried to commit suicide that I went to see the doctor.
“You’re suffering from depression, ” the doctor said. “A chemical imbalance in your brain is causing it. Here, take these pills and stop drinking.”
He said a little more than that, but that was the gist of it. I did not listen to his advice. I took the pills but increased my alcohol intake. In response, the doctor increased my dosage. One good point from the medication was that I did not try to commit suicide again, but I did continue to self-harm. Overall, the medicine did not work. The pills were like putting a fresh coat of plaster over a crumbling wall or whitewashing rotten wood. The only thing that eased the mental anguish for a few seconds was the razor’s edge.
My depression cured
If you want to read the full story of how I was cured of depression you can read it here (My Salvation Story: How I Was Cured of Depression). But to cut a long story short, I met Jesus late one night in my kitchen in Peterhead, Scotland. Everything was different when I awoke the next morning. The depression left me and my entire mental attitude changed. I stopped taking the pills immediately and made an appointment with the doctor. I told him that I met Jesus and did not need the pills anymore.
It is one thing to be delivered and another thing to stay delivered
Although God cured me of depression there were times afterward when it tried to creep back upon me like a mist. Some mornings I awoke utterly despondent, hopeless, and in a pit of despair. It was never as bad as what it was before I met Jesus, but it was there and it was definitely trying to gain ground in my life. I realize now that I could have easily relapsed. However, it was from this experience that I learned that it is one thing to be delivered, but it is another to stay delivered.
I tried everything to beat these feelings and could not. I tried praying, fasting, getting busy and serving in the church, and doing acts of Christian service, but nothing worked. Then one day I read a simple sentence from the Bible that gave me the ammunition I needed to fight back against the emotional darkness that tried to consume me.
Put on a garment of praise
Isaiah 61 is a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah. It lists all the things he will do when he arrives. In Luke 4 Jesus applied it to himself, which shows that he is the one who fulfills the prophecy. Therefore, it is Jesus who fulfills the points on Isaiah’s list. One of the things on the list was that the Messiah would “bestow on [us]… a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (v3, NIV)
This verse told me two things.
- Depression has a spiritual source.
- Praise counters depression
1. Depression has a spiritual source
The idea that depression has a spiritual source is not out of the ordinary when we consider the deep spiritual language that those suffering from depression use to describe it. However, what tends to happen is that healthcare professionals diagnose depression through a biomedical model of healthcare. This model views humans as machines that operate within certain identifiable principles (Peters, 285). A series of symptoms will lead to a root-cause, which if fixed, will cure the patient. This reductionist approach is what I experienced when I went to the doctors. He looked at my symptoms, diagnosed me, and explained that a chemical imbalance in my brain caused my depression. He then gave me pills to fix the imbalance. The process involved him starting at the top, working his way down to what he thought was the root, and then implementing a solution.
This approach works so long as the root-cause is biological, but it is inadequate when it comes to spiritual maladies manifesting themselves in our physical bodies. The reason for this is that the biomedical model is exclusivist. It perceives the natural world as the only reality (Peters, 16) and it does not consider anything that reductionism cannot explain (Engel, 41). Therefore, it does not consider any type of spiritual dynamic because it does not think one exists. This is why the medicine the doctor gave me was largely ineffective and I was going to be on it the rest of my life. It tried to fix the chemical imbalance causing my depression, and it helped, but it could not cure me entirely because there was something else happening spiritually that was causing the chemical imbalance.
Despite the great benefits the biomedical model brings to our health and wellbeing, in many ways it is no longer adequate for the tasks it faces. This is why some scholars are challenging the biomedical model (Engel, 1989; Sumasy, 2002; et al). Essentially, what developing models of healthcare are trying to do is counter the exclusivist attitudes and incorporate a more holistic attitude to medicine.
2. Praise counters depression.
Depression is the destroyer of hope, praising God builds up hope.
It is vital we strengthen our hope. The psalmist explained how to do this by saying, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” (Psalm 42:5, ESV) In this psalm, the psalmist acknowledges that he is experiencing deep emotional turmoil. But rather than succumbing to it, he speaks to his soul and commands it to praise the Lord.
Our soul is the thing that animates us and makes us live. The ancient Hebrews believed that there was a very close connection between the soul and fleshly body, to the extent that they considered the fleshly body as the outward form of the soul (Ashbrook, 3). They even went as far to assume that the soul resided in the person’s blood (Niebuhr,13). This means that the attributes of the soul are visible through one’s cognitive, volitional, and emotive responses (Stump, 200). Therefore, it should not strike us as remarkable that our soul is something we can speak to and encourage.
I spoke to my soul
I experienced this first-hand when I began speaking to my soul like how the psalmist suggested. When the feelings of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness tried to come over me, I spoke to my soul. I told it to praise the Lord and forced myself to do so. It was the hardest thing in the world to do because hopelessness and despair so overpowered my emotions that all I wanted to do was submit and wallow in the mud. However, I persevered. There was no way I was going back to that apartment room breaking open razors.
Anyone who has ever heard me sing would agree that I am not a worship leader, but I did not let that stop me. I went alone into our spare room and began singing church songs. When my memory ran dry, or I got bored, I started offering the Lord praise and thanksgiving. I said things like, “God, I love you and praise you. I magnify your holy name.” During these times I sometimes broke off in prayer and thanked him for deliverance.
The riches of the Psalms
As I did these things the Lord began to show me the riches of the Psalms, which was the songbook of the Old Testament saints and the early church. I took a childlike view and came to the following conclusion:
Humans write praise and worship songs about God, possibly with the aid of the Holy Spirit. However, since the psalms are in the bible and God wrote the Bible, then Psalms are the praise and worship songs that God wrote about himself.
I read the psalms aloud with this new idea in mind.
Before beginning, I said something like, “Lord, I am reciting these psalms as praise and thanksgiving to you. Let their expression of praise, thanksgiving, and worship be an outlet for mine. May their expressions of prayer, supplication, and frustrations be an avenue for mine. I praise you through the words of the psalmist.” Then I began reading them aloud, psalm by psalm, page by page. It was very challenging, but I read the psalms until the feelings of hopelessness and despair steadily lifted. Over time, peace, joy, and a hope that the Lord was my strength replaced them. I did this over the course of weeks and months. Whenever I saw the darkness rising, I marched into the spare room with my Bible under my arm and praised the Lord until my throat was dry.
This post began with me alone in a room surrounded by soul-destroying darkness. It ended with me alone in a room surrounded by the healing presence of God. Depression drove me to a self-destructive lifestyle. I still bear the scars of my self-harm. But in light of God’s deliverance, I chose not to lie down. Instead, I fought the spirit of despair through praise. I have battled it, and I am now at the stage where I seldom experience such feelings. I praise God for his grace, and the same grace that was available to me is available to you. Praise wins every time if you are desperately committed.
Ashbrook, B. J. “The Functional Meaning of the Soul in Christian Tradition.” Journal of Pastoral Theology. XII.1. (1958): 1 – 16
Engel, G. “The Need for a New Medical Model: A Challenge for Biomedicine,” Holistic Medicine 4 (1989): 37 – 53
Niebuhr, R. The Nature & Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation. 2 Volumes. London, UK: Nisbet & Co. LTD, 1941.
Peters, T. Science, Theology & Ethics. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2003.
Stump, E. Aquinas. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2003.
Sulmasy, D. “A Biopsychological-Spiritual Model for the Care of Patients at the End of Life,” The Gerontologist 42 (2002): 24 – 33
*Thanks to Will and Charlotte Holliday for letting me use their picture for this post.