Tag Archives: depression

Fighting Demons

Pittsburgh Steelers v. New England Patriots (2005) (CC BY-SA 3.0 Gen)

Pittsburgh Steelers v. New England Patriots at Heinz Field (2005), Author Bernard Gagnon (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

Fighting the demons of anxiety, depression, and PTSD is a little like playing football [1][2].  We make headway then lose ground.  But the fight never really ends, not the way a game of football does.  There is no score.

We win by surviving another day.

Across Decades

It can be enormously discouraging to wrestle with the scars of abuse, decade in and decade out.  Surely, we must after all this time have made progress.

But progress is not linear.  Despite the passage of time, and an extensive list of medications – not to mention therapy – familiar demons can resurface.

Factors Impacting Our Success

So, are anxiety, depression, and PTSD ever really “conquered”?  Can they, at least, be fought to a standstill?  The answer depends.

The factors include the length and severity of the trauma we sustained; our particular genetics; the quality and extent of our medical treatment; our psychological and spiritual resources; the emotional support we have available; and the other stressors to which we are subjected.

None of these can be quantified.  Most can and do vary over the course of a lifetime.

The Struggle

Why not just throw in the towel (to mix sports metaphors)?  After all, the struggle is exhausting.  The struggle, however, is life. Continue reading

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Blue on Blue, Part 2 – Despair

This is a highly personal post.  Like most abuse victims and many depression sufferers, I am well familiar with despair.  Having been grievously wounded, we cannot help but wonder whether God has turned His back on us, whether He exists at all.

There are Christian denominations which view despair as sinful.  Not all Church Fathers (influential early theologians) would, however, agree [1].  Neither do I, for that matter.  This post was written to demonstrate that the despair abuse victims experience is NOT sinful, even from that strict perspective.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (Ps. 130: 1-2).

Depression sufferers often face condemnation from their well-meaning Christian friends.  Such condemnation is misplaced.  Depression should not be confused with despair.   And for despair to be considered “sinful”, certain conditions must be met.

Depression v. Despair

Depression can arise despite our circumstances.  Despair stems from our circumstances.  Depression is the manifestation of a medical condition.  Despair is the spiritual conclusion we draw about an eternal reality.

Both will make us unhappy.  Only despair, however, can be seen as “sin” [2].

Despair as “Sin”

When we despair – as most of us use the term today – we view our suffering as pointless, and God as powerless (or uninterested) to intervene.  This is situational despair.

For our hopelessness to qualify as “sinful”, we must have a genuine understanding of God; must be above the age of reason; must be in sound mind; and — in the strictest sense — must despair not about our circumstances, but about our Salvation.

Abuse victims (and depression sufferers) simply do not satisfy these conditions.

Judas and Suicide

Judas Iscariot’s suicide is often put forward as the classic act of despair.  The apostles had daily close contact with Christ.  Judas had experienced firsthand Christ’s infinite holiness, infinite power, and infinite love.

All these Judas is said to have rejected by his self-destructive act [3][4].  Judas viewed his betrayal of Christ as so heinous it was beyond God’s capacity to forgive.  He despaired, in other words, of his Salvation.

Abuse Contrasted

By contrast, the child who is daily abused and gives up hope is not guilty of the sin of despair.  For one thing, the child may not yet have reached the age of reason.  S/he may not, therefore, be capable of forming the necessary intent.

For another thing, a child who is abused is likely to have little or no understanding of God’s true nature.   S/he has no reason to believe in a just and loving God, so cannot be penalized for the failure to trust Him.  At worst, the child rejects a flawed image of God based on tragic experience with a hostile and painful world.

As important, the abused child despairs of his/her situation (not his/her eternal Salvation).  Hell is here and now.  If anything, unfounded accusations – in reality, out and out lies – about the child’s responsibility for the abuse and overall lack of worth may make death appear inviting.

Depression and the Will

Finally, adult or child, our capacity to sin is reduced when our will is compromised as, for instance, by the brain chemistry associated with depression.

God is hardly likely to condemn us for the sins committed against us, or the scars stemming from them.  That, at least, is the opinion of this lawyer.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15: 13).

[1]  Augustine believed that despair was not a sin.  Thomas Aquinas argued the point, seeing despair as a variant of pride.  Aquinas, however, distinguished hopelessness about our Salvation from hopelessness about our situation.  He explained that a physician might despair of curing a patient without committing sin.  Aquinas conceded that God could forgive despair, by way of a miracle.

[2]  It should be emphasized that not all Christian denominations view despair as equally sinful.  Unlike Catholics, Presbyterians and Baptists reject outright the concept of “mortal” sin, i.e. sin so serious it has the potential to cost us our Salvation.

[3]  Suicide has frequently been described as the “unpardonable” sin (Matt. 12: 31-32).  This though is an error.  According to Scripture, it is speaking against the Holy Spirit which will not be forgiven.  Since the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove when Christ’s divinity was revealed (Matt. 3: 16-17), the consensus now seems to be that the unpardonable sin actually signifies rejection of Christ’s offer of Salvation.

[4]  Even those who never publicly acknowledge Christ as their Savior may accept Him in their hearts, during their final moments.  “But do not forget this one thing dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3: 8).

ANYONE WITH THOUGHTS OF VIOLENCE OR SELF-HARM SHOULD SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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Fairy Tales

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Author Jessie Willcox Smith, Source http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34339 (PD)

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Photographer Jessie Willcox Smith, Source http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34339 (PD)

“Once upon a time…”  When we were children those were magical words.  They called up a world of fairy godmothers, princes slaying dragons, and wishes come true.  A fairy tale promised excitement and adventure.  Best of all, we were guaranteed a happy ending.

Andrew Lang compiled hundreds of fairy tales into The Fairy Books of Many Colors.  I devoured these as a child, one color after another – The Red Fairy Book, The Yellow Fairy Book, etc. – as fast as I could lay hands on them.  I simply could not get my fill.  Yet I could not have said at the time what the fascination was for me.

Psychologists have long argued over the meaning and usefulness of fairy tales.  These universally loved stories can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

The explanation that comes closest to my own experience is that fairy tales allow children to confront and deal with their fears and concerns – whether of abandonment (Hansel and Gretel), death (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), rejection (Cinderella), etc. – in symbolic terms, so that those fears and concerns are reduced to manageable size.

Children get the satisfaction of slaying their own dragons…from a safe distance. Continue reading

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Jellyfish

Cyanea jellyfish, North Sea, Author Ole Kils olekils@web.de (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported, GNU Free Documentation License)

Jellyfish are equipped with stinging tentacles used to paralyze, capture, and kill their prey.  The largest known specimen, the lion’s mane or giant jelly, has tentacles which can reach 120 feet in length.  That is longer than a blue whale.

The sting of a jellyfish can be agony.  In humans, that sting can cause burning and blistering of the skin, difficulty breathing, changes in heart rate, chest pain, abdominal cramps, vomiting, muscle spasms, numbness, weakness, and collapse.

The tentacles can sting, even after a jellyfish has died.

The Tentacles of Abuse

Like jellyfish, abuse has long tentacles.  Rather than extending into deep water, those tentacles extend across the years.  But their sting can still be agony.  Like the tentacles of jellyfish, the tentacles of abuse can paralyze, capture, and in some cases kill.

Real Wounds

Whether we suffer with physical ailments and visible scars or with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, the wounds stemming from our abuse are severe and real.  We are not weak.  We are not malingering.

It is, in some ways, easier when our wounds can be seen by the naked eye.  Burns are recognizable as such.  By contrast, the wounds of many abuse victims cannot be bandaged or sutured.  Invisible, those wounds can yet be deadly.

Long-Term Damage

Because it was inflicted early in our lives, while we were most vulnerable, the damage done by abuse is long-lasting and multi-faceted.  Victims must endure it for decades, across the full range of life activities.  This can be exhausting.

Eventually, we may feel overwhelmed by anxiety or depression, as if we were drowning; may feel trapped by our past, despite our best efforts; may feel wrongly that ending our lives is the only way out. Continue reading

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Tears in Heaven

Street art by Nitzan Mintz, Jerusalem, Israel, Source https://www.flickr.com/photos/zeevveez/8765164478/, Author zeevveez https://www.flickr.com/people/29001414@N00 (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic)

I curled up on the couch a few nights ago, expecting to watch a good old-fashioned whodunit on television.

Unfortunately, I discovered too late that the corpse in the story belonged to a child molester. A woman sexually abused as a girl had killed him, in her effort to protect another child from abuse.

Suddenly the program was deadly serious — raising all too familiar issues of credibility, deception, violence, guilt, and justification.

The Lens of Abuse

Though this blog regularly deals with the topic of abuse, victims must strive not to view the world through that lens only.

There are countless good things — and good people — in the world. Victims deserve better than to be robbed of those, in addition to having been battered and violated.

A Happy Face

There is a deep and pervasive sadness associated with abuse.  Our childhoods were stolen from us, our lives shattered.  We cannot pretend our abuse never occurred; cannot just wish our depression or PTSD away, and put on a happy face.

The Apostle Paul encouraged believers this way:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Php. 4: 8).

So  we have every right to incorporate good people and good things into our lives. They are a reflection of God’s own love.

The problem is that we cannot do this by act of will alone. The victims of sexual abuse  cannot simply choose to “think less about sex” [1]. If our abuse was sexual, everything has become sexualized, whether we want it to be or not [2].

Tears in Heaven

“Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?”

Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton

How will heaven handle these issues?

Will we forget all the painful events in our lives, and the people who caused us that pain?  What if those events were formative, shaped our character and aspirations?  What if the very people who caused our pain were, also, our loved ones? Continue reading

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Falling Knives, Part 2

“Self-Injury Awareness Day – Open Your Eyes. Open Your Heart.” Photo by AndyCandy94 (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication).

And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5: 5) [1].

For many abuse victims, assaults on ourselves are more than an emotional echo of earlier trauma, more than metaphorical.

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI)

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury or NSSI (commonly known as “cutting”) is generally viewed as an attempt to deal with emotional pain [2]. Estimates suggest that as many as 14% of teens engage in cutting, at one time or another [3].  But adults are not immune.

In sexual molestation and rape, the violation involves the body. Therefore, the body becomes the “enemy”. Self-inflicted injury is one way this can manifest. But negative feelings ranging from loneliness, worthlessness, and shame to stress, rage, and racing thoughts may prompt the same behavior [4]. Continue reading

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Wrestling the Python

Reticulated python, world’s longest snake, Source https://www.flickr.com/photos/92252798@N07/13106489695/, Author Dick Culbert of Gibsons, BC, Canada https://www.flickr.com/people/92252798@N07 (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Photographer Richard Avedon in the 1980s took what became an iconic photo of the German actress and model, Nastassja Kinski, with a Burmese python.

Pythons are non-venomous, but lethal regardless. These powerful snakes initially use their teeth to grasp prey. Pythons then coil their long, muscular bodies around the victim and squeeze. This interferes with breathing, ultimately suffocating the prey. Once the victim’s heart has stopped beating, pythons will swallow the lifeless body beginning with the head. They will then digest the body, bones and all.

Depression is much the same. Those unfamiliar with the illness may be tempted to dismiss it as a “mere” mood disorder. But it can be deadly.

Depression can squeeze the joy from life, and the life from us. Once depression has gotten a hold on us, it can be difficult to dislodge. Thwarted, it can recur, despite our best efforts.

A life and death struggle follows, in which even the smallest tasks can seem overwhelming. Everything is colored a more somber hue. We give up on life, believing ourselves unworthy of love and acceptance. Ultimately, the darkness can consume us.

Our best defense against depression is psychiatric treatment, preferably early on in the illness. No one anti-depressant, however, fits all. And these drugs can have serious side effects.

Remaining in touch with friends and loved ones is vital.  We need human contact and emotional support, whether we believe we “deserve” them or not.

The list of those who have led meaningful lives despite depression is a long one. It includes Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, John Keats, Edgar Degas, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill, Isaac Asimov, Bob Dylan, and many more.

With help, we can wrestle the python successfully.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God” (Ps. 42: 11).

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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Unbiblical, Part 2 – Sin Nature v. Abuse-Related Guilt

Christians speak regularly about the “sin nature” of mankind, the inclination by human beings to do wrong, as illustrated by wars and crime.

The following verses on the topic are typical:

“…[T]he imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” (Gen. 8:21).

“ ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…’” (Jer. 17:9).

“ ‘Then I will…take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in My statutes…’ ” (Ezek. 11: 19-20).

“ ‘For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies’ ” (Matt. 15: 19).

If anyone has experienced that sin nature, abuse victims have. Victims, however, have been more sinned against than sinning.

Unfortunately, the continuous emphasis on sin is likely to sound like condemnation to victims, when what they need is love, encouragement, and hope.

Christians should remember that abuse leaves behind deep scars. Victims of abuse may struggle with gender identification, sexual addiction or dysfunction, self-neglect, anxiety, depression, dissociation and related amnesia, drug or alcohol addiction, cutting, anorexia, bulimia, binging, and other issues. The majority of prostitutes are thought to be runaways, with a history of abuse.

Dealing with major problems like these is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for the self-righteous. Merely living ordinary lives can take enormous effort and enormous courage by abuse victims. That victims, for the most part, accomplish this is amazing.

Victims should not be made a topic of gossip. Nor should they be subjected to snap judgments, whether about their morality or mental state.

Above all, victims should be reassured that they were not the guilty party in abuse; that, as children, they were wholly incapable of consent to whatever was done to them; and that God still loves them, despite all they have been through.

This series will continue next week with Humility v. Lack of Worth

 FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

 

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The Feeling of “Sinfulness”

As abuse victims, we can be tremendously hard on ourselves.  The slightest misstep, the smallest error may seem a catastrophic failure. More than that. An unpardonable sin disqualifying us from love (even, in a spiritual sense, from Salvation, itself).

The feeling of “sinfulness” — that vague sense of guilt with no real cause — is just one of the scars left by abuse. We relive the trauma of having been treated as worthless. This opens wide the door to depression.

The feeling of “sinfulness” rebounds from the abuser to us because there is no punishment this side of eternity sufficient to fully offset the harm done to us. The best we can do is strive to forgive and move on.

It bears repeating that abuse victims were innocent victims. But acknowledging this intellectually will not always translate into our accepting it emotionally. A childhood filled with negative experiences must be overcome.

Legalism

Though the feeling of our own “sinfulness” can at times be overwhelming, the conclusions drawn on the basis of that feeling may not be accurate. The situation is complicated by the fact abuse victims must re-learn as adults to trust their own feelings.

Unfortunately, some Christian sects feed into this by emphasizing Salvation through works, i.e. through our own unrelenting efforts, rather than through  faith in Christ alone. This can readily morph into legalism (a focus on the letter of the law, at expense of the spirit).

Legalism marries well with the perfectionism to which abuse victims are prone.

But being unworthy of Salvation is not the same as being worthless.  Christ died for our sins despite our unworthiness — victims and non-victims alike. That actually highlights our value in God’s eyes.

We were never worthless, except to those who abused us. Continue reading

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Healing from Abuse

Child abuse – whether physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect – is likely to have permanent consequences. The wounds of abuse are grievous, inflicted when we are most vulnerable.

The extent to which we heal varies from one victim to the next, as does the rate at which healing takes place. This makes perfect sense. Victims are violated at various ages, for varying lengths of time, in countless evil ways. They have unique internal resources, and varying degrees of external support (sometimes none).

All these are factors in recovery. We must not, therefore, gauge our progress by that of others.

The “Inner Child”

Experts often refer to the wounded “inner child”. This is not to suggest that victims develop multiple personalities, though some may. It is an abbreviated means of saying we remain sensitive to issues relating to abuse, and – at an emotional level, at least – retain a strong recollection of the trauma inflicted on us.

Misplaced “Coping” Strategies

Unable to defend themselves against abuse, some children adopt desperate strategies in the effort to cope with it. These childhood strategies may continue into adulthood, becoming a hindrance where they once served a legitimate purpose.

Dissociation is one such strategy. The child, in effect, imagines himself or herself elsewhere while the abuse is taking place. This is the “out of body” experience. Dissociation may later be triggered by events which recall (or mimic) the abuse. Though meant to be protective in nature, dissociation can produce serious gaps in a victim’s memory. Continue reading

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