by Howard and Jeanne Tomlinson


PART II: STRENGTHENED BY FAITH

CHAPTER 13

The Pit of Despair

When depression has you in its grip and you feel like you are sinking into a deep hole, how do you escape?  Do you immediately make an appointment to see a psychiatrist or start taking Prozac?  There is a better way which can lift you up to even greater heights of joy.


Howie was on the road to recovery following brain surgery in February, 1993, when depression hit, sending him into a tailspin.  For a few months prior to surgery, his doctor put him on a steroid to reduce swelling on the brain.  When he was preparing to leave the hospital, he was given a schedule to taper off the steroid.  The doctor mistakenly tapered him off too quickly, and within a couple of weeks Howie was in the depths of clinical depression.
    For the next couple of months, he experienced more pain emotionally than he had suffered physically from the tumor and brain surgery.  Feeling hopeless and helpless, Howie could not sleep well and would often cry for no reason.  I couldn’t understand his feelings, for he was doing better physically and his prospects for recovery looked very good.  I didn’t realize until later that his depression was related to the steroid taper.
    Howie described his feelings this way: “I often felt like I was climbing.  Each time I got near the top of the mountain, I would slide back down again.”  He also felt like he was in a tunnel with a light at the end, but as he moved toward it, the light seemed to move farther away.
    In time, Howie started to feel better.  Several things helped to turn him around and restore him to his normal, happy self.  Music was excellent therapy.  He spent much time listening to Scripture praise tapes and we sang several songs of encouragement together, including some I had written.  As we worshiped God and meditated on His promises, Howie’s spirits lifted.
    Friends also provided much needed support.  When I was out running errands, Howie would call Tommy in Texas or Ken in California and pour out his heart to them.  Their prayers would lift him up.  The Bakers, friends from church, cheered him up when they threw a big party for us.
    Howie started learning to look at his depression from God’s perspective.  His brother Cliff had given him a book for Christmas that made quite an impression— Laugh Again by Charles Swindoll.  As he was reading, one scripture passage seemed to leap off the page: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).  Howie immediately memorized these verses and began to regain the hope he had lost.
    He also learned that joy and laughter work like a medicine: “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13).  In Laugh Again, Charles Swindoll said, “Laughter is one of the healthiest exercises we can enjoy.  It literally brings healing.”  We checked out some of Howie’s favorite old Marx Brothers videos and laughed our way through them.  Howie never tired of watching reruns of his favorite sitcom, “I Love Lucy.”  As he regained the sense of humor he had lost, his tears and despair began to subside.  “It [laughter] exercises our lungs and stimulates our circulation,” wrote Charles Swindoll.  “It takes our minds off our troubles and massages our emotions.  Laughter decreases tension.  When we laugh, a sort of temporary anesthesia is released within us that blocks the pain as our attention is diverted.”  I rejoiced to see Howie’s happy smile and hear his laughter again.

    Howie suffered a setback, however, when he felt a sharp pain in his back.  He called a doctor at Sloan Kettering who told him he may have a broken back.  This sent him into an emotional tailspin again.  We made an appointment for him to see Dr. Karas, an orthopedic surgeon who had treated Howie several years before.  The doctor took some X-rays and cheerfully informed him, “You don’t have any broken bones!”  When he heard the good news, his depression lifted.
    By the time Howie started radiation therapy in April, two months after surgery, he was over his depression.  He finally reached the top of the mountain he was climbing.  As he reflected back over the previous couple of months, he realized he had grown stronger emotionally and spiritually and was ready to face more trials.  He also learned to empathize with others experiencing depression.


Depression can strike at any time and for many reasons.  Sometimes it comes from physical problems, such as chemical imbalance.  It is often the result of emotional or spiritual stresses, such as anxiety, fear, exhaustion, bitterness, guilt, loneliness, or persecution.  Depression can even follow great victory, such as what Elijah experienced after defeating the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18,19).  No matter the cause, there is hope.  A doctor’s evaluation could help determine if the cause is physical.  When the cause is spiritual, confession of sins and spending time in prayer and God’s Word will bring results.  And the love and support of family and friends will dramatically help the one who is suffering emotionally.  Antidepressants are not always needed; some of the most effective forms of therapy are smiles, hugs, encouraging words and prayers.  Depression may be a short run, like Howie’s, or a long journey, but there is a way out and God can lead you there. Those who experience depression need to be reminded of God’s love and mercy.  William Cowper suffered from despair throughout his life, even suicidal depression.  In spite of his emotional weakness, God used him in powerful ways.  He wrote numerous hymns including “There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood” and was the mentor of John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace.”

For Those Who Hurt

You may be sinking into the black hole of despair, thinking you’ll never escape.  God’s Word says, “Do not lose heart” (II Corinthians 4:16).  Call out to the Lord and let Him lift you out of depression.  Get a physical checkup and lean on your family and friends for support.  And don’t forget to laugh!  Like Howie, you may come out of your depression stronger and more joyful than you were before.


 


 

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Chapter 12: Our Awesome God Table of Contents Chapter 14: Passing Through the Fire