One post could not even begin to cover what has been an unbelievably eventful twelve months. Some of these events have built character. Others have caused me to plumb the depths of despair. I haven't gone off the rails, or anything like that - I haven't got divorced, bought a Harley-Davidson, or joined the French Foreign Legion. I still love Jesus. I'm still in the ministry. My lovely wife Belinda and our amazing son James still love me (I hope!).
But the events of the last five years - and particularly the last 12 months - have finally caught up with me. A change of career, followed by four moves, three gruelling semesters at seminary, two deaths (one being my friend and mentor, Ross Olivier; the other being my father), one house sale, mother moving to a retirement village, mom-in-law developing dementia, being sent to an insolvent Circuit - all while still tying to find my feet in this crazy new vocation called ministry. The result has been a bout of what can only be termed as depression.
It hasn't been a debilitating type of depression that renders one non-functional. By God's grace I'm still managing to get out of bed. I do my ministry duties - preaching, visiting, LOTS of admin. I'm still involved with Scouts, even though my current station in Dalton means a 100km round trip to attend meetings. I've also (only by the grace of God) identified that there's a problem before getting anything close to the stage where Ross was - to see this great man of God being chopped down and ultimately taken from us by depression was a massive shock; the thought of going down the same slippery slope scared the living daylights out of me.
But what made me come to the conclusion that I may be depressed? Being the analytical person that I am, I did some research, and according to the website of the South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group, the following are some of the signs and symptoms that one could be experiencing depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex.
- Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness and self reproach.
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.
- Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain.
- Decreased energy, fatigue and feeling run down.
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs; may be associated but not a criteria for diagnosis.
- Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts.
- Restlessness, irritability, hostility.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions.
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
- Deterioration of social relationships.
One of the signs of depression is a loss of interest in things once enjoyed. Writing was a passion of mine, but I've been unable to bring myself to write anything (other than things I've had to do, such as sermon prep, assignments, and the like) for the past year. The same has gone for reading (I've always been a voracious reader). Having said that, the fact that I am writing this is perhaps a sign that I've turned the corner?
In the same way that one seeks medical attention when experiencing physical symptoms, I have sought the help of a professional in dealing with the issues that I've been facing. With that support, as well as the support of family, friends, and colleagues, I'm beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Through all of this, God has been so merciful. Looking at Scriptures, I was surprised (yet relieved) to find that there were a number of Bible "heroes" who went through similar depths of despair at times - David, Job, Isaiah, Paul, and even Jesus himself (to name but a few). It is the knowledge that Jesus in particular had such moments - the garden of Gethsemane, and his feeling of desolation on the cross come to mind - that give me the comfort that I am not alone in this.
Over the next few weeks I'll be exploring some of the things that put me in this state, using the medium of writing to help me process each event as a means of healing. It is my hope and prayer that by being open about this, I can somehow help others find healing as well. If that can happen, I'll be able to see God's purpose in all of this.
Irrespective, God remains faithful.