DEPRESSION: Feed it or Starve it?

Image result for emotional eatingThe old adage goes, “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” I don’t know if food has anything to do with colds or fevers, but it is such an important ingredient in diagnosing major depression that it’s classified as a symptom. My interest? Last month (November 2017) I gained 15 lbs., but more about that in a moment.

I started pastoring my first full-time church at 20 years of age. Yes, I was young, inexperienced, idealistic, unqualified; a babe in grown-up clothes. My weight was 165 lbs., two years later it was 212 headed toward 230. You see, I’m a stress eater and that first church needed a far more mature and experienced person than I.

There were several stressors. I was a full-time student trying to finish college. The church was a full-time charge with heavy expectations. It had a reputation of disgruntlement, but I was naïve and thought I would be different. I wasn’t. My idealism was shattered, a world-rocking stressor for me. The church more than doubled in two years. That’s a good kind of stressor, but it is stress none the less.

After a round with stomach ulcers and with my blood pressure rising, my doctor sat me down for a talk. She said that if I didn’t get control of my eating habits, my health could be negatively affected. I made eye contact with her and shot back a reply, “Food is the only thing I have in my life right now that doesn’t talk back.” And thus, I fixed my course for obesity over the next 31 years.

However, weight gain or loss alone is not enough to suggest depression. Although my weight gain was significant in those early years and eventually topped out at 280 lbs. three decades later, it lacked rapidity. To be considered as one of the nine symptoms of major depression, weight is limited in both time and amount.  It must be both rapid – within a single month – and significant – plus or minus five percent of your body weight – without conscious effort. During my six episodes of depression since 1999, weight was a factor twice. In the spring of 2014 I lost 20 lbs. in a single month – eight percent of my body weight, and last month I gained approximately eight percent.

Since late August, I have been in a mild clinical state of depression. In November, I dropped to a moderate state and I fed it like a growling grizzly. I raided the children’s left-over Halloween candy. Ate two bowls of ice-cream a day. Lunch consisted of cookies, candy, or any other sweets I could find. Thanksgiving was indulgent. My appetite was insatiable. I hated myself for doing it, but regardless of the every-morning-promises I made to myself; I couldn’t stop. It was a primeval scream for gratification; an urge, a drive, a hunger that had to be satisfied. For 2017 I vowed to lose 20 lbs. Before November I had lost 23. If I hadn’t already been depressed, that alone was enough.

Mood and food have long been related, but more research has gone into what moods we feed and what ones we starve. “Many people with depression lose both energy and interest. This can include a loss of interest in eating” or cooking, or lacking the energy to prepare meals, says Dr. Gary Kennedy, of Montefiore Medical Center in New York. (Major Depression Resource Center)

Sadness, worthlessness, guilt, and other negative emotions appear to be connected with eating. “Depression can also result in emotional eating, a common event in which the need to eat is not associated with physical hunger,” notes Debra J. Johnston, RD, of Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. Some may eat to avoid feeling or thinking. (ibid.) (Depression’s Effect on Your Appetite by Chris Iliades, MD)

Anger, frustration, and excessive and prolonged stress are also associated with eating. (Ibid.) Here, I must plead guilty. Generally, I can handle a single stream of stress, but multiple streams tend to bring me down rapidly. August, September, and October saw a convergence of stressors until it became an overwhelming torrent. An education problem, a family relationship issue, and six medical matters of which half pointed toward cancer was more than I could bear. Although, the medical issues were less problematic by November – after informative or negative results from tests and retests, a surgery, and a new medication – it was too little too late to make a difference. My stress had to be fed.

I just love the way the literature addresses this subject. Make wise nutritional choices, it says. I’ve reached two conclusions about the depression advice givers: First, I think their intended audience is people who have symptoms of depression but do not meet yet the clinical definition of a major depressive disorder and/or those who have met the very minimum of requirements. Please don’t misunderstand my words as discounting or belittling the seriousness of depression at any stage, but at this point rational thought and wise decisions are easier to come by.

My second conclusion: the writings are not for people with severe depression. I’m not whining or looking for a “poor Jay, he’s had it so rough.” Save your sympathy. I’m observing a deficiency in the literature that lacks the ring of truth or practicality for a woman who can’t get out of bed, regardless of her best effort. The man who every day exhausts the resources he has in a desperate attempt to stay alive. Stop asking people to make rational and wise decisions when the biggest choice of the day, the only important choice, is to live or die.

So, I gained 15 lbs. in November. I feel terrible and don’t like myself much right now. But, by the grace of God I will overcome.

By the way, I’ve lost six lbs. so far in December.

The LORD be with you.

 

 

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My Sometimes Visitor: Catalepsy

Related imageIt was a Sunday afternoon and the third day of my first psychiatric hospitalization. I woke up from a nap feeling unusual – the kind of unusual you get help for quickly. It was a heaviness that seemed to engulf my torso and limbs, a restraint without visible binders. I got up and made my way down the long hall toward the nurse’s station. My room was the last on the unit. It felt like a short walk up a steep hill. By the time I arrived I was laboring for each step. One of the attendants noticed my strain and asked what was wrong. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” was all I managed to fearfully say. At that point I went rigid and mute.

It was my first experience with catalepsy – a paralysis like state in which one’s posture remains in the same position – and mutism – an inability to speak. Both are among the 12 symptoms of catatonia – a state of being involuntarily immobile or having abnormal movement. In either case you are unable to respond to your environment. Your motor activity is markedly decreased or meaningless. “Catatonia is typically diagnosed in an inpatient setting and occurs in up to 35% of individuals with schizophrenia,” (DSM5) but it presents most often with a mood disorder. Mine occurred in the context of my severe depression.

When this occurred, I was completely aware of my surroundings and heard everything that was being said, I simply could not interact with or respond to my would-be helpers. They managed to put me in a wheelchair, take me back to my room, and sit me on the side of the bed. Not long after the on-duty psychiatrist came in with a neurologist in tow.

It was perfectly logical for him to do so. Before diagnosing a person with a mental illness, other options have to be ruled out. Catatonia can have neurological causes. He asked me to explain to her what was going on. I wanted to answer. I tried to answer. I formulated a response. The words were on the tip of my tongue. But, nothing came out. We sat there for a few minutes in a staring contest before he rose with a snotty remark, “Well, when you get ready to talk, come find us.” I got mad. I wanted to talk, tried to talk, but nothing came out. I later told him he was rude and needed to learn better bedside manners.

Catalepsy and the other symptoms of catatonia are easily missed. I suppose a psychiatrist or a counselor could work through an entire career without seeing or recognizing a case. With catatonia some people can move while others can’t. Some can be posed into gravity defying positions while others resist such posturing. Some can speak while others are mute. Some can be unresponsive while others are agitated.  Immobility may be severe, moderate, or mild.

When I was young, our family enjoyed putting puzzles together. It would be laid out on the dinning room table and you could place a piece or two as you passed by. There was a competition to see who would put in the last piece. I wanted to be the winner, so I would tilt the contest to my advantage. I hid a piece and waited while others searched before miraculously “finding” that last one that made the picture complete. The same could be said about the difficulty of diagnosing catatonia or its separate components. There’s always a hidden piece.

Perhaps it was wrong of me to expect the psychiatrist and neurologist to recognize it. But, this was a teaching hospital. The biggest and best hospital in the state, attached to the biggest and best university in the state. I depended on them to tell me what was wrong with me, but they missed it.

A couple of days later it happened again. It was about 2:00 AM and I was answering a call of nature. As I walked toward the restroom my legs quit working in mid-stride. There I was cemented to the floor, unable to move. My upper torso was moveable, my arms were moveable, and I quickly proved that my vocal cords were usable as I cried out, “Help!” Again, the night staff helped me first to the restroom and then on to bed.

A short time later another doctor came into the room. It was not to be a repeat session with a neurologist, but a visit with an orthopedist. (I told you it was hard to diagnose.) As he began to move my legs about, bending my knees, moving my ankles and toes, I said, “Doc, I don’t think the problem is in my legs. I think it is in my head.” And, once again, they missed it.

It wasn’t until I came home, dived into my DSM4 and my copy of Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry, 11th Edition, consulted reputable sources on the internet, like Mayo Clinic, and talked with other professionals that the light shone forth. Since then, I’ve never had another episode of mutism. However, there have been several recurrences of catalepsy.

It’s a problematic diagnosis. Treatment from hospital staff and other caregivers can range from the harsh to the cruel. I’ve been slapped, pushed, berated, misunderstood, and treated rudely. Others have had it far worse by being posed, humiliated, and other such degradations.

Until this past November (2017) it had been nearly five years since an instance of catalepsy. During the month I had two episodes that lasted up to 18 hours. It’s not as scary as it used to be. I now know what’s happening and am familiar with the routine. By God’s providential grace, none have lasted more than several hours and never more than a day. When it comes, I’ve learned to accept it as my mind’s way of coping with stress and depression when my otherwise conscious efforts have failed. I wouldn’t call it a friend. It’s more like an occasional acquaintance that shows up for coffee now and then.

Hakuna matata!

The LORD be with you.

Letters from Jail #5* Part 3 of 3

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The following are excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. Normally, I edit and arrange the material for readability, but this month I offer it to you in chronological order with little editing.

My purpose for these excerpts is to: first recognize the grace of God under very different circumstances, open a window into my thoughts and struggles that may relate to yours, and hope that you may be moved to empathize for the jailed and mentally ill.

June 15, 2013

I was greatly saddened today. Tears have come to my eyes several times. My mood is melancholy. I think it is the loneliness that stalks me. When I left for college in January of 1978 at 17, I never got homesick. I’ve always been independent and my attachments to people and places are not that strong. But, after about three months, I fell into my parents’ arms crying. They were playing, “Will the Circle be Unbroken” – the first time I had heard the song. I thought of my brothers and made my way to my parents. We prayed together and I cried.

The guys in the cell have suddenly taken an interest in my writing. They want to know how I portray them. Most are here for drug charges. Their lives revolve around getting drunk or high. Some appear to be genuinely nice people who are enslaved by their addiction. Jail is routine for them.

It’s Father’s Day. The chaplain had to leave so we couldn’t have church. I really look forward to going. It’s a visible witness to the cell. Many of them read their Bibles, read devotionals, pray over their meals, but they don’t pray or go to church. I wonder how many church goers don’t do the amount these men do? Of course, they cuss, relish telling about their crimes, and lust over every female that comes on the screen.

It’s Father’s Day. I miss my children and grandchildren. The two oldest had a decent father, the grandchildren had a decent grandfather, but A_____ missed out. Most of the time I was too sick to be much of a father. During the other times, there was always conflict. I tried harder to instill a spiritual foundation in him and took a strong interest in his spiritual development. That has paid off.

A_____’s actions in cutting me off and not making any effort to contact me disturbs me. He needs to respond in a Christian way. I still believe he will.

The Wounded Healer concluded oddly, I thought, but I liked the emphasis on one aspect. The experiences of the leader and the more s/he immerses himself in the painful condition of humanity, the more qualified she is to lead others to the Kingdom of God. This is one of my desert experiences. Perhaps someday, somehow, I will get to use it to lead another out of their desert experience.

Father’s Day can be difficult for some. Feelings of loneliness, sadness, and heaviness may accompany the day. As a pastor, I was always aware that the holidays were not always so bright for everyone.

I watched the NASCAR race today and the cell is getting ready to watch the NBA finals.

I find myself saying, “I used to be…” I used to be a foster care therapist. I used to be a mental health counselor. I used to be a substance abuse counselor. I used to be a minister. A long time ago I’m so glad I discovered who I really am – a person made in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. I do wonder what I’m going to “do,” though.

I’m doing well.

Sincerely,

Jay

May the LORD be with you.

*Because of the length of this letter, I have divided it into three posts. Monday, November 27, 2017, Wednesday November 29, 2017 and Friday December 1, 2017. Thank you for reading.

Letters from Jail #5 Part 2 of 3*

The following are excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. Normally, I edit and arrange the material for readability, but this month I offer it to you in chronological order with little editing.

My purpose for these excerpts is to: first recognize the grace of God under very different circumstances, open a window into my thoughts and struggles that may relate to yours, and hope that you may be moved to empathize for the jailed and mentally ill.

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June 14, 2013

It’s about 3:30 AM. Once again, I’m wide awake – actually I haven’t been to sleep. My thoughts are filled with prayers on the behalf of others and for my own concerns. It’s quiet except for an occasional turning and snoring.

Yesterday, I started reading a short book called, The Wounded Healer. I’d heard of it but never before read it. The author writes of compassion as being able to feel the joy and sorrow of others as if they were your own. He states that compassion is being able to recognize yourself in the actions of others – good or bad. I don’t suppose he meant we literally had to go to jail to feel empathy for the prisoner, but here I am. (lol) I like the quote, “Those who avoid the painful encounter with the unseen are doomed to live a supercilious, boring, and superficial life.” No one would accuse me of having a “boring” life. : )

In your last letter, you spoke of being a “simple” person. Yet, I find you deep in faith, profound in wisdom, and beautiful in character. Simplicity is awe inspiring when adorned with grace. You have a generous kindness and an utter selflessness about you. Your gift of seeing to the heart of people’s pain and nursing them with empathy is so engaging. Your ability to bring comfort to a hurting soul and ease an awkward moment is wonderful. You listen without judgement and correct without condemnation. Perhaps, you are without complexity, but it is the most beautiful and attractive simplicity I have ever observed.

My brother stopped by yesterday to take care of practical things. He is now my POA. Poor guy, I gave him a four-page to-do-list. He also said that my divorce attorney has received a proposal. I’m inclined to give her what she wants.

My children are still alienated from my side of the family. Thank you for praying for them. A_____ is preparing for the ministry and I don’t want him to have a black hole in his soul.

Pastor Ron H_____ came by today and I was able to ask him to intervene on my behalf regarding the work program. He appeared to understand and said he would do what he could. God’s will be done. Contentment till then.

How blessed I am. In the book I’m reading the author wrote, “No man can stay alive when nobody is waiting for him.” Again, “A man can keep his sanity…as long as there is at least one person who is waiting for him.” I have you, R_____, my brothers, R_____, and others. Thank God.

Sincerely,

Jay

May the LORD be with you.

*Because of the length of this letter, I have divided it into three posts. Monday November 27, 2017, Wednesday November 29, 2017 and Friday December 1, 2017. Thank you for reading.

Letters from Jail #5 Part 1 of 3

The following are excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. Normally, I edit and arrange the material for readability, but this month I offer it to you in chronological order with little editing.

My purpose for these excerpts is to: first recognize the grace of God under very different circumstances, open a window into my thoughts and struggles that may relate to yours, and hope that you may be moved to empathize for the jailed and mentally ill.

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June 13, 2013

I didn’t get back to the cell until late, therefore I didn’t write as much today.

Thank you for your prayers. I’ve learned that prayer is more than a session at morning and night, although that is important. Prayer is a relationship with the Heavenly Father all day long. There was a statement I read today that I liked, “Prayer is not a pious decoration of life, but the breath of human existence.” It lifts my spirit to know that others are praying for me.

Last night I talked to the chaplain about not getting to work. (For every day you work, you get a day off your sentence.) He said he would speak on my behalf. But, I’m content whatever the outcome. My brother told me it was the nature of my offense. (During a dissociative episode, I attacked two police officers.) He called the jail on my behalf, too. It’s in God’s hands.

Thank you for praying that this may be a time of healing and rest for me. It is peaceful except for the constant noise of the T.V., but rest comes easily. As for my healing – well? The battle between forgiveness and bitterness remains won as long as I don’t dwell on the offense or create alternative scenarios in my mind. The “old timers” used to talk about putting things on the altar and leaving them there. I find my hurts want to crawl off and I have to put them back on the altar. The more attentive I am to my sacrifice the quicker it is consumed by His holy flames.

Healing for some areas continues to elude me. I seek healing for the things that contribute to my depression. Sometimes I wonder if I should not embrace it. The Apostle Paul had his thorn that was at once his greatest weakness and his most glorious strength. I find depression is that for me. But, somehow there has to be a way to control the deeper and darker moments. (See II Corinthians 12:7-10.)

Healing of conscience is also an area in which I struggle. Often, I replay past sins and failures hoping for a different outcome. Then, when I realize that, in spite of my best efforts, it ends the same, I question my standing with God. However, I would rather be too conscientious than hardened to my deeds and my human condition.

Sincerely,

Jay

May the LORD be with you. 

*Because of the length of this letter, I have divided it into three posts. Monday November 27, 2017, Wednesday November 29, 2017 and Friday December 2, 2017. Thank you for reading.

Mother’s Holiday Table

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Mom was an amazing cook and the holidays were an opportunity for her skills to shine. As a child of the Great Depression she was efficient without being stingy, simple but not drab, and traditional while willing to try new dishes.

Her Thanksgiving and Christmas table always included succulent turkey and glazed ham. Fresh, never instant, mashed white Idaho potatoes and white gravy. But the real treat was the Indiana German egg noodles she made to perfection. In Indiana the absence of egg noodles on a holiday table is grounds for banishment. Thick, wide, yellow noodles boiled in the broth of a freshly cooked chicken and the addition of some Swanson’s chicken broth if needed.

After being away from Indiana for 12 years, I returned to interview for a pastoral position in Kokomo. The meal after our first visit with the church included several samplings of egg noodles. I looked at my wife and said, “Honey, I feel called.”

I asked Mom where her recipe for egg noodles came from. She told me it was an old family recipe that was passed from generation to generation and dates from the “old country.” For many years I accepted and repeated her story, which I’m sure was the one she was told many years before. But, there is a problem with that version of the tale.

My maternal grandmother was from a Scotch-Irish clan whose American roots were in Appalachia, specifically Huntington, West Virginia. Grandma’s father was a glass blower that came to Gas City, Indiana for work. That had to be sometime after my grandmother’s birth, but before 1910 when the natural gas field in Indiana went dry.

Grandpa’s side was native American either from the Cherokee or Choctaw tribes. Their roots in Indiana date back to the early 1820’s, only 20 years after Indiana was opened for settlement. They passed themselves off as white and avoided the removal of the eastern tribes to Oklahoma in 1838 and 1830 respectively.

Neither the Scotch-Irish nor Native Americans have a tradition of making egg noodles. Historically, that tradition came to Indiana after a large German migration settled there. Perhaps her father’s family picked up the recipe from their German neighbors. Whatever the origin, Mom’s egg noodles were the best.

Early Thanksgiving or Christmas morning she would get up to start the chicken to boiling and preparing the dough. After letting it sit for a time while she worked on the turkey and ham and other dishes for the table, she would begin the rolling process. Plenty of Pillsbury flour was spread across that antique oak round table we ate at in the kitchen. My earliest memories are of a wooden rolling pen, but she later traded it for a good size marble one that could’ve passed for a medieval weapon.

Image result for golden yellow german egg noodlesTearing off a workable amount from the giant ball of dough resting in a large bowl, she rolled it on one side than the other until it achieved the thickness and look she was after. She then cut the whole in quarters and to acceptable lengths and put them in a stack. Bringing her knife through the whole mound, she divided them into the width of a noodle. I always enjoyed watching her do this – slice, push aside with the blade, and slice again. There was a rhythm to it that almost looked like a choreographed noodle dance. This was done over and over again until the bowl of dough was empty. Again, she let them dry in the air of the kitchen.

It was during this time that I’d sneak an uncooked noodle or two until Mom chased me out of the kitchen. Oh, I know you’re not supposed to eat raw eggs, but that dough was almost as good as the finished product. Mom dropped her noodles gently through her fingers into the boiling broth. They were never put in a mess at a time, but almost separately one by one. The noodles were finished when they reached a golden yellow. Served over mashed potatoes, the way they are eaten in Indiana, each bite was savory and just what your taste buds expected from its memory of them during the last holiday they were served.

Mom’s egg noodles survive her. My nephew, Brian, is the new guardian of her recipe and the cook that carries on the tradition. Something’s different now. I can only conclude that it’s the one ingredient she sprinkled every meal with that none of us can replicate – her love.

Happy Thanksgiving

The LORD be with you.

The Flash – A Thought for Thanksgiving

It was a sweet ride. A 1981 fifth generation Pontiac Lemans, the last year for the old storied name that first appeared in 1962. It became a popular model with NASCAR and won the Daytona 500 and Pocono 500 in 1983.

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Mine was two-tone blue, wire wheels, and two too many doors – I was a family man after all. I bought it used in 1982 from a car dealer in North Vernon, Indiana who gave full-time ministers good deals. It cost me $4,500 at 18 percent interest for three years. It was the first loan I had taken out under my own name. The lack of credit and my age, 22, gave the bank an opportunity to make a handsome profit.

District conference had ended early in June 1985; therefore, I took advantage of the opportunity to spend the evening and morning with my parents. They conveniently lived on the way home. My wife, who was nearly eight months pregnant, and our 22-month-old daughter were with me.

After lunch at a restaurant in an industrial zoned park on the west side of Seymour, Indiana, we made our way home. On the east side edge of town, Interstate 75 intersected with the famous US 50 highway that stretches 3000 miles across rural America from Ocean City, Maryland to West Sacramento, California. It was there that it happened.

A couple traveling from Florida to Chicago to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary had stopped at the Marathon station for gas. Misjudging the speed of vehicles traveling on that heavily used road, the older gentleman attempted to dart across four lanes. He didn’t make it. I hit him doing nearly 50 mph, the speed limit for that area.

It was no contest really. The 600 to 800 pounds General Motors had siphoned off that model of Lemans and the Buick 231 V6 engine it traded for the previously standard 350 or 400 V8 was no match for that all-steel-bodied late 1970’s full size Cadillac. My Pontiac hit the proverbial immoveable object and crumbled up to the firewall. Although the force of the impact caused the Cady to do a 180 and broke the rear axle, they left Seymour the next day headed once again toward Chicago.

It’s amazing how fast your brain can compute information in a crisis. In an instant of time I saw two things: a big yellow vehicle fill up my windshield and my past and future flash before me. If you had asked me if such things happen, I’d have politely discounted the notion. But, sure enough, like a movie trailer, my life up to that time blared past my eyes and I also envisioned my pregnant wife and baby girl lying dead on the highway. As you might imagine, when everything came to a stop, I panicked.

Turning around, I grabbed my sleeping daughter out of her car seat to check her condition. She started crying, not because she was hurt, but because I woke her up from her nap so abruptly. She wasn’t even aware what had happened. My little princess was a victim of the old adage – If I’m in a panic, no one is sleeping. (That’s not really an old adage, I made it up.) Afterwards, I checked on my wife and quickly assessed that no one was injured, or so I thought. (Unknown to us at the time, my wife was injured and suffered the aftereffects for several weeks.)

Shoving open the now jammed door, I intended to look after the couple in the other car. At first you don’t realize how much force you exert braking nor how hard you struggle against the recoil. But, as soon as I put pressure on my right foot, no one had to tell me it was severely sprained. Being the “he-man” that I am, I hobbled on over to the Cadillac. Police and an ambulance arrived quickly and the process of collecting information and assessing damage to body and property began. I watched helplessly as a wrecker towed away my beautiful Lemans to a salvage yard.

After the initial panic, I functioned with calm and control. Then my mother walked through the doors of the restaurant where we had taken temporary refuge. I fell apart. The dark vision of my wife and daughter dead, my “only one payment left” car totaled, and the unknown future found me seeking solace and safety in my mother’s arms.

Life happens, they say. It did that day. I gave myself a moment to cry and be comforted before resuming my roles as a grown son, husband, father, and pastor. At the end of it all, I received enough in my settlement to pay cash for my next car, pay off the loan for our travel trailer, and put some money in the bank. My wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy about five weeks later. Normalcy reigned once again.

That baby girl I so rudely awakened grew up to give her father more joy than he deserves. She is the mother of my three darling grandchildren. The boy in utero has grown into a godly young man that loves his dad and would make any man proud to call “son.” Several years later another son was born, he serves God faithfully and with skill. I am a blessed man. “In (above) everything give thanks.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

I still miss my Pontiac.

The LORD be with you.

One Day’s Struggle Against the Dragon of Depression

July 15, 2017

Today is starting well. It is 5:30 and I’m ready to get up and start my day. But for the sakeImage result for dim light in darkness of Charity (my wife), I will read the news and check out the posts on Facebook until 8:00. Although my night was short, it was five hours of sound slumber without any PTSD dreams to disturb my sleep.

9:30 finds me in the shower getting reading for the day and anticipating brunch.

10:00. On the weekend, Charity almost always fixes a nice brunch on Saturdays. Today it’s pancakes and bacon. While I’m eating my breakfast a cloud of darkness descends and engulfs me in its blackness. I finish the meal with my head in my hands. My plans of putting baseboard down will have to wait.

Why am I suddenly sad? Every reserve of energy has evaporated like the morning mist does when introduced to the sun. My strength is failing as an abyss of sorrow overpowers me. Any will I had mustered for the task ahead, any determination and resolution, and any excitement and joy is being replaced with paralyzing fear and disabling weakness. Why is this happening? Is my tendency toward perfectionism causing me to question my ability? I have been undaunted about taking on projects that I previously had no experience doing. Why has my confidence left me now?

10:30 The night of restful sleep is consumed by my dragon of gloom until I am left chained to the desire for isolation and helpless against my eyelids forcing out the light.

2:00 Nearly four hours have passed. As I slump in my chair in various stages of sleep and wakefulness, my sleep is not deep enough to escape from Saturday’s normal house noises – our grandchildren playing, and Charity coming in to check on me and ask a question or two. Yet, my wakefulness is not enough to move beyond my four-legged dungeon. Only the call of nature makes the foreboding door open, but freedom is not within reach. A tether of sadness does not let me stray far.

2:30 Trying to chase away my dragon with numbing noise, I turn on the T.V. For a few moments as a story unfolds I climb upward, but with each commercial or the end of a story I fall off my ladder of escape. This repeats itself for the next eight hours.

4:00 Charity comes in again as she has done throughout the day. She comforts me with an engulfing hug, a tender and empathetic kiss, and a reassuring, “I love you.” Her kindness and supportive gestures are appreciated far beyond my ability to reciprocate. The bars of the dungeon are too strong and I remain trapped in the dragon’s lair.

Could it be a crisis of confidence? I wonder, looking for answers where there seems to be none. Has my fear of failure reduced me to inaction? Are my perfectionistic tendencies crippling my mind with a fog of mistakes? Bedtime releases me from the dungeon to walk two steps to my bed where the sense of gloom and sadness has me ensconced still.

10:00 As I prepare for the unknown night, the 25th day of my battle with the dragon comes to an end. It has won the day and gained ground. What will tomorrow bring – more defeat, a draw, or a little victory?

As I settle into the bed and pillow my head, I see a ray of light. It is the same Light that has always been there through nearly two decades of battle with the dragon.  It is sometimes so dull and faint the darkness threatens to shut Him out; sometimes bright, shining rays of hope into my despair.

Hebrews 6:18 reads, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast . . .” Hope is the best medicine for despair. If all of the things I treasure are suddenly gone and I still have a dose of hope, I can survive. I can thrive. Someone said, “There is nothing left but to bury a man when all hope is gone.” But, for the Light, however dim, I would be that man. Hope has kept me alive. It is when hope is fed that the shadow of death must give way.

A second thought entered my mind before I went to sleep. What can I learn from this depression episode? Here I confess my independence and the efforts to conquer my dragon by my own power. I need help – the help of God, my family, and my support network. When I humble myself and admit my weakness, that is when I grow in strength. May the lessons I learn be put to good use to help family, others, and myself.

11:00 Sleep joins my hope and willingness to learn, which together provides a peaceful slumber.  My last thought of the night is that tomorrow will be a better day.

May the LORD be with you.

WITHOUT DEPRESSION, I WOULD . . .

A person sent me a note last week that read in part, “I am so sorry you have to suffer from the illness of depression.” Immediately I responded with a “Don’t be sorry for me.”

The 19th century pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had a mega-church before that phrase was coined. By age 22 he hadImage result for charles haddon spurgeon crowds that surpassed the 10,000-seat capacity of the largest auditorium in London. Yet, he was plagued with disabling depression. However, he credited his depression with making him a better minister.  “The way to stronger faith usually lies along the rough pathway of sorrow,” he said.

“I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable.… Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library.”

At another time he wrote, “I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.”

Since I received that note, I have thought about what I would have lost without depression.

Without depression, I would not have the understanding or insight I possess today. The food of despair, the drink of hopelessness, the bitter cup of feeling forsaken by God, the acrimonious prayers to die, and the dish of suicidal ideations have plagued my soul. I can sit with people who lounge in the cellar of darkness and understand the depth of their agony. I have more authority than most to speak to them in their misery, because I sat where they sit.

Without depression, I would not have discovered my capacity for empathy and compassion. Because of the losses I have experienced I can sit at the table of sorrow with others and weep with those who weep. It brings a modicum of comfort and mollifies the feeling of aloneness when someone who has hazarded the treacherous waters before you enfolds you with arms of mercy.

Without depression, I would not be able to effectively advocate for those hidden and forgotten by society. I was homeless four times, penniless – without a cent to my name – for seven months, without transportation, unable to get housing or employment because of my criminal record, prevented from being near my fiance’s grandchildren, slandered, shunned, and denied a path to ministerial restoration without a hearing. Many doors were bolted against me because governments erected hundreds of barriers for the criminally convicted that prevent housing, employment, and stability. The floor attachment of a vacuum is being used to clean the fine furniture. As a result the beautiful upholstery is being sucked in along with the intended dust. The resulting damage far outweighs the harm the dust could ever have done. Federal, state, and local governments demand science based outcomes, but they are guilty of ignoring that same science when it comes to making laws and regulations. I have experienced the injustice and can now give voice to righteous causes.

Without depression, I would not know the need to fight against the stigma of mental illness. I become angry when I hear others define the life and character of an individual with a mental illness diagnosis, “He is schizophrenic” or “She is autistic.” In every other health discipline stigmatic vocabulary has been eliminated. “He is a dwarf,” thankfully has passed from formal usage. To say, “She is retarded,” is considered cruel. There would be a rousing chorus of fervent criticism against any hospital staff that referred to its patients as “the heart attack at the end of the hall,” or “the cancer in room 303.” The purveyors of kindness in our society have overlooked the labeling, prejudice, discrimination, and separation experienced by the mental health community. This needs to change.

Without depression, I would not have experienced the freedom that came inside a jail cell. Imprisonment was the only thing that stopped me cold on the path of personal destruction. A year of confinement gave my mind and body the rest it desperately needed after nearly forty years of abuse. Most importantly, it gave me an opportunity to renew my relationship with God.

Without depression, I would not be on the path to becoming the man I always thought God wanted me to be. Gone is the uncontrolled anger and yelling. In its place has come a capacity and ability to love others unconditionally, forgive, humble myself, and grow as a husband, father, and grandfather. What I had aspired to be all my life is becoming a reality and the boundaries of who I can become are being moved higher.

Without depression, I would not know the joy of being in right relationship with Jesus Christ. Beyond elevated emotions, beyond a rule book and a uniform, beyond correct dogma and doctrine, and beyond creeds and rituals; I have come to know that abiding place in Jesus where I as a branch receive nourishment from Him as the Vine, submission of myself and the desires and plans I may have to the Lordship of Christ, and a desire to know God in His revealed character and attributes, the splendor of His creation, and the grace of His redemptive work.

Spurgeon professed, “This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing

a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison (blessing).”

Do not be sorry for me. Without depression, I would not have the experience, knowledge, and wisdom I have today. Several years ago I quit praying for healing. My prayer now is to learn the lessons God is trying to teach me through each depressive episode.

May the LORD be with you.

 

Can We Still Call It a Sanctuary?

He burst through the side entrance from the parking lot, slammed opened the double doors into our worship center, and plopped down breathlessly on the front pew. It was a Wednesday night. The little wood framed, clapboard and brick sided, white church on Purdum St. in Kokomo, Indiana was abuzz with activity. Our children were in Kids Klub huddled around tables with their leaders. The teens gathered with the youth sponsor in their activity room. The remaining adults were assembled in the worship center for singing, sharing, Bible study, and prayer. Needless to say, the young man’s rude entrance gravely interrupted the serenity of our routine.

Trinity Wesleyan (2)
Trinity Wesleyan Church      Kokomo, Indiana

He appeared to be in his late teens, six feet in height, blonde hair, fair skin, slender on a slight frame. He was unknow to me and no one else gave any hint of recognition. Excitedly he uttered, “They’re after me! They’re going to kill me!” Normally, I am not quick on my feet. It takes me time to access, study, and evaluate before I respond. But, not on that night. “Son,” I immediately replied, “They don’t call this a sanctuary for nothing.”

Nearly 20 years later, I wonder if I could confidently respond with the same certainty.

Sunday afternoon November 5, 2017 we came home from church to be greeted by breaking news filling social media forums and local news outlets of a church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, 35 miles away. The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, lived in New Braunfels, Texas. My home. Twenty-six people are dead, 19 or 20 more are injured. As of this writing 11 remain hospitalized.

The perpetrator had attended the First Baptist Church on occasion with his estranged wife. It was her family’s home church. He was familiar with the setting and knew the congregation as he walked up and down the aisle shooting an estimated 450 times. The mother-in-law, who was his likely target, was not there, but the grandmother-in-law was. She did not survive.

Almost from the time that church edifices were built, they were known as “sanctuaries.” So much so that the word has become synonymous with houses of worship or a specific place within a building used for worship. During the Middle Ages, the church house also became a place of refuge for people fleeing persecution or prosecution. This practice dates back to the Old Testament, although with mixed results. Generally speaking, however, places of worship have been respected by civil authorities as places of refuge. Safety and sanctuary are identical twins, aren’t they? Dallas Drake, a criminologist from Minneapolis says, “It’s very safe to go to church on Sunday.” (Quoted from an article by Daniel Burke, CNN, Nov. 6, 2017.)

Is this critical assumption the reason we are so shocked and disturbed when a house of worship becomes a killing field? It runs counter to our understanding of “church.” Church buildings have always been targets for thieves, vandals, bombers, and burners. But, generally, it doesn’t happen when congregants are present.

When it does it is shocking and moving. Danielle Cadets notes, “In a bittersweet irony, the [September 15, 1963 16th St. Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama] catapulted the Civil Rights Movement to a new stage, and ultimately helped influence the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” (Black Voices, September 13, 2013, italics mine) Four young girls ages 11 to 14 were mutilated and killed by the blast. Freeman Alphonsa Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was a 12-year-old boy at the time of the bombing. At the funeral for three of the girls, he recalled seeing white people in his church for the first time. They were ministers from the city’s white churches. He said about them, “I saw men of God from different faiths in our church, and I looked into their faces, and I saw tears and devastation . . . white men of God who were as grief–stricken as the rest of us. . . .”

I have no documentation to support my next statement, but I wonder, if beside the gruesome death of four innocent children, an attack upon a church on a Sunday morning, the most important day in the life of a church, did not disquiet many people of faith. Children there to worship God were destroyed in a sanctuary by a hate filled bomb on the most celebrated day of the Christian week. How could the collective conscience of a “Christian” nation not be pricked?

It happened again in June 17, 2015 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina when a white racists gun downed several worshipers. The discussion about the legacy of government sanctioned Confederate symbols has been one of the results. Then South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley said, in a much more concise statement, the point I’m trying to make when she said, “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

I left my wife in charge for the remainder of the adult Bible study and prayer meeting and took the young man to my office. The police were called to his strong objection. When they arrived, he confessed that it was a drug deal gone bad. The people involved in that aborted transaction had no apparent respect for the law, and may not have had any respect for the young man’s life, but evidently, they respected our church sanctuary since they did not pursue him inside.

It is very sad that such respect no longer exists. Deadly attacks inside churches and on church owned property have escalated since 2012. As of August, 2017 has already passed the last two years for deadly violence in churches (Carl Chinn, Deadly Force Statistics). Our comfort with being safe in our “sanctuaries” is shattered. Today, our security in place is gone, but our security in God remains. Perhaps that is where it should have been all along.

Please pray for our neighbors in Sutherland Springs.

The LORD be with you.

Stages of Depression

Image result for five stairs

There are no recognized “stages of depression.” But as I reflect upon my life with depression, I think it falls into a predictable pattern. The following is my effort to categorize that pattern.

 

 

I. Pre-depression

There is no real agreement as to what causes depression. There are, however, three categories that most can agree upon.

A. Genetics

This is a predisposition to depression that results from a family history of the disease. It is much like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes that also run in families.

B. Biochemical

Postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, substance abuse, brain injuries, serious illnesses, and certain medications that can alter the chemistry of the brain fall under this heading.

C. Situational

This depends on happenings. Abuse, social isolation, conflict, death, loss, trauma, medical problems, and other such stressful life events are included.

Although sudden onset can occur with any number of the above; there are several where a “gestation” period is evident. During this state of incubation telltale signs appear.

My own story reveals numerous days of sadness and feelings of failure. Internal conflict and the quest for perfection. A sense of worthlessness. During college, missing classes and work became far too frequent. Days were lost to hypersomnia. Although I rarely missed more than two or three days at a time, it was frequent enough to portend things to come. This pattern repeated itself for 25 years before the onset of my first clinical episode.

II. Onset

The onset of depression begins with:

A. An escalation of symptoms

For me, the feelings of inadequateness and the weight of stress squeezed tightly. My tendency toward hypersomnia worsened. I isolated. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

B. Clinical depression

Still unaware of my condition, I visited my family doctor for cluster headaches. Then it was for chest tightening and a vague feeling of things not being right. Tests on my gallbladder, stomach, blood, etc. resulted in negative results. Everything appeared normal, but inside I screamed, “Abnormal!” The doctor gave me a diagnosis of last resort, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS was what I had, therefore IBS was what I fought. I got worse. Life was severely disrupted. Suicidal ideations came on strongly. I would never be able to function at full capacity again.

C. Medical Intervention

After a year, I was referred to a specialist who successfully treated the IBS. The real enemy, however, surfaced. I awakened to the fact that I was depressed. Although not trained in mental health at that time, it became crystal clear. I tried one pill after another through the years; the right combination eluded the doctor and me.

I failed to learn that my family doctor was not equipped to help me with my depression. I stayed with him/her for the next 13 years. Occasionally, I saw a psychiatrist, but I always returned to my family practitioner. It took five major episodes and 14 years before I started using a psychiatrist exclusively.

D. Attempts at self-healing

One counselor told me I was a slow learner. He was right. I thought depression was a weakness that could be overcome with strength. A spiritual issue needing prayer. An environmental problem that required a geographical relocation. A marital matter that counseling and reconciliation could cure. Exercise. Diet. Education. I fought to free myself from the morass that held me. Sometimes I got better; other times I got worse, but I never won.

E. Despair

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” became the cry of my heart. Suicide was a great temptation that my faith prevented. I prayed to die. The thread that held me to this world was thin as silk and frayed like a heavily used rope. Only by the grace of God am I alive today.

F. Surrender to Assistance

At last I surrendered. After five severe depressive episodes and four hospitalizations, I asked for help.

III. Seek professional mental health experts and programs

At last I found a psychiatrist who specialized in mental health, stayed current with new medications and changes in the field, and was willing to experiment until he found a formula that worked. Before, I wouldn’t stay with a counselor. This time I determined to find a professional mental health counselor who would listen well, challenge my “stinkin’ thinkin’,” and with whom I felt comfortable. I welcomed the peer support, too.

A. Participation in healing

Ready to be guided and become a full participant in my stability, I built a support team around me that included the above and some key individuals from my family and church. I’ve worked this plan for three years six months successfully.

B. Full or Partial remission

Fifty percent of people with depression will recover fully and never have another episode. That leaves the other 50% of us who will have a second, fourth, or sixth. Some will achieve full remission between episodes. Others of us learn to live with partial remission.

C. Recurrence

Estimates are that a person with a severe recurrent major depressive disorder can expect two to nine episodes during their lifetime. With each recurrence comes more awareness of the signs and symptoms. After 19 years, I know when I’m slipping and when to cry for help.

D. Resistance to permanent condition

This may not be your experience, but I became aware that I repeated most of the steps with each new episode. It was a failure on my part to realize and accept that depression was going to be a part of the remainder of my life. Four times I started with onset and went through each step ending at resistance. With my fifth episode I jumped directly to stage III.

IV. Acceptance

I am convinced that we that have recurring depression must come to a place of acceptance. The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches radical acceptance. The closing prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is, “God grant us the serenity to accept . . . .” Acceptance is not resignation. Rather, it is the peace that comes with the end of resistance and the knowledge and wisdom we gain from being a willing participant during the journey.

Gratefulness follows acceptance. No, I am not grateful “for” depression. I am, however, thankful for the things I have learned, the compassion I have gained, and the opportunities I have received to tell my story.

V. Giving to others

An edited 12th step reads, “Having had an awakening, we try to carry a message of hope to others and practice the life lessons we have learned.” That is my prayer.

The LORD be with you.

Letters from Jail # 4

The following are excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in county lock-up. I have edited and arranged the material for readability. Headings have been added to make it easier to transition from one thought to another.

Began: June 4, 2013

My Quest for Spiritual Renewal:      I finished the book, The Jesus I Never Knew, by Phillip Yancy today. In it was a quote from J. Moltman (from Germany) I thought was helpful. “God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with Him.”

Yancy wrote in another of his books that pain is a gift. Through pain we grow. Without it there would be no invention, no discovery, no adventure, no growth. If managed correctly, stress is actually healthy. But, I know what you mean. We want our needs satisfied and room enough to make a mistake now and then. We want our children to follow God, make good choices, and be physically sound. Keep on dreaming; that’s good, too.

I found a small book by John Wesley in the library. It’s on prayer. I’m also reading The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. The truth I grabbed onto is, there’s always someone worse off than you are. It is helping me to quit feeling sorry for myself and start the healing process.

My brother wrote me. He said he hoped this could be a time of healing. Perhaps. When I can rest without the intrusion of yesterday’s problems, I will know I am healed. I feel no bitterness, but I know when I talk about it there is still lingering pain. Maybe healing isn’t the absence of pain as much as it is the absence of gull. There are a lot of things I wish I could forget.

In another chapter of The Case for Faith, Strobel deals with faith and doubt co-existing. I’ve struggled with this. He says this is common among melancholy personalities. It goes on to say we must make a decision to believe. “The decision to follow the best light you have about God and not quit.” I choose God. I choose to believe. I choose faith.

 In Search of Meaning:     Today, I’m having a hard time believing in myself. My faith is weak. The storms are beating against my house. With such a severe storm, I know I will not go unharmed, but the foundation holds.

Sometimes I think I over analyze things and then end up doubting. Such is the case today. With some difficult news and uncomfortable reading, I find myself in a funk. I waver between faith and worry about the “what ifs.”

I struggle to accept that the man I was for 10 minutes has so dramatically changed the man I am. I must rehab the reputation, spirit and soul of the man I was for 10 minutes in order to save the reputation, spirit, and soul of the man I am. Does that make sense?

How many times have we heard, “I’m a bigger and better person for having endured it and persevered?” I know I’ve said it. I pray that this experience will teach me compassion toward the helpless and hopeless. To borrow from the 12 Steps: “Having experienced God at my point of need” I will emerge a changed person enabled to bring the message of Jesus to others with more compassion and insight. Others hearts may be healed because I have been broken.

Attempts to Make Amends:     The temptation to bitterness is strong. The desire to hurt is present. But I exercise my will to forgive and I refuse to nurse a grudge. Victory is within reach, but it is the finality of resignation, the death of revenge, the defeat of willfulness that wins.

Some people from one of the churches I pastored came by to see me today. They said they wanted me back as their pastor as soon as I got out of jail. Such nice people.

My brother sent a letter to A_____, as did I. May his heart be tender and responsive.

Thoughts about my Failed Marriage:     It’s 3:00 AM and I’m wide awake. I feel stronger today although I had a rough dream last night. It was one of those “if only” dreams that creates doubts and questions commitments. Dream analysis is not one of my things, but one interpretation of my dream could be the utter hopelessness of a lost cause. Why do we keep on fighting when the bell has rung?

I wanted a marriage. I worked for it, fought for it, prayed for it, but it was doomed. The foundation was flawed and could not be fixed without help. A person is just on a hike without followers. I wanted to grow old with one spouse in one marriage “till death us do part.” But, such was not to be.

Divorce will bring some sense of finality. However, I don’t want to delude myself into believing there will be no more personal struggle.

Legal Issues:     My official charges came today. Five charges of 2nd degree wanton endangerment. Two charges of 4th degree assault. One charge of resisting arrest and one charge of disorderly conduct. The first seven charges carry 360 days each, the next 180 days, and the last 90 days – all to be served concurrently. Oh, how could I/did I let myself get sucked in to a point of losing control? I was 11 years old the last time I got physical with anyone.

The Judge is requiring that I take anger management. I don’t need it; I need mood management. I know it’s much easier when you’re stable. Also, it’s much better when you can identify your mood.

Institutional Behavior:     The cell was loud today. The guys watch sci-fi movies, food shows, car shows, and the occasional soap-drama to spice things up. I’m not much interested except when the news comes on between 7:00 and 8:00 PM.

The food here is of poor standard, poor quality, poor quantity, and poorly prepared. We have elbow macaroni with mac and cheese, mac and spaghetti, mac and alfredo sauce, and mac and goulash. When I get out of here I don’t want to see elbow macaroni on my plate ever again.

I was coming out of the shower yesterday with nothing on but my boxers, and there stood a female guard. I didn’t even look twice. I just went about my business. Normally, I would have dived for cover, but then this isn’t normal.

Some of these guys have been in and out of jail so many times that their families have given up on them. Some don’t even have anyone to call. It’s sad.

When my depression sets in I feel helpless, worthless. You can’t cry openly in jail, but I cry silently inside.

May the LORD be with you,

Jay

*Known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral