God and the Blues
by Bonnie Doran
“It’s organic, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
My shoulders sagged as I absorbed my doctor’s statement. My problem was not burnout, PMS, or low thyroid; my problem was chronic depression.
I had suffered from mild depression for years. At times I denied the problem and fought it like a cornered rat. At other times, I cowered like a beaten dog, as if my roller coaster emotions were my fault. But now, the diagnosis was official. I couldn’t run from the truth.
Effects of Depression
To my embarrassment, this problem had affected my missionary work. Seventeen years earlier, I went overseas as a short-term missionary. After two years, I experienced a breakdown that left me incapable of handling my responsibilities. I returned home and sought counseling. A Christian psychologist revealed that I had a poor self-image, which improved as we worked together.
However, after six weeks, I moved out of the area. I discontinued counseling and still had the blues. My feelings persisted for six months.
Healing began again when I found a new church. My confidence grew as I became actively involved and received support. After a year, I was elected to a church office. Although I enjoyed my duties, stress caused my “down in the dumps” episodes to multiply. After two and a half years, I regretfully resigned, blaming it on burnout.
Looking for a Cause
Being single at the time, I thought my blues were partially due to boyfriends (or lack of them). But my moods didn’t improve after marriage, despite a caring and supportive relationship with my husband. I made excuses for my lack of energy and continual frustration at a new job. My turmoil led to unprofessional outbursts at work.
I started to think there was something wrong physically — PMS probably. My doctor listened to my complaints and recommended I take vitamin B-6 supplements and avoid salt.
The doctor suspected I had another problem, however. He did a full blood work-up and confirmed I had hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels), which can cause depression and fatigue. The condition is easily treated with the medication he prescribed.
I started to have more energy and feel more positive about life. Still, situations at work, traffic, and cooking failures irritated me. Low thyroid was part of the problem, but not all of it. My emotions seemed to control me, rather than the other way around. I resigned myself to depression as part of my living pattern. I reasoned that everyone has the blues; mine were just a bit deeper and more frequent.
Then my brother Jim was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died a year later. I was shattered. I thought my reaction was normal, but I was so distraught that my parents begged me not to fly home for the funeral.
I never regained my emotional equilibrium after Jim’s death. I continued my routine of job, home, and husband, but life seemed tasteless.
Nine months later, another outburst at work got my attention. I marched in to my doctor’s office, convinced I had a female hormone imbalance and ready to demand he do something. That’s when he pronounced that my problem was depression.
The doctor explained that my current emotional state, perhaps triggered by my brother’s death, was caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. He prescribed a drug on a trial basis to raise the level of serotonin, one of the chemicals that regulates moods. He hoped this would result in shallower and more normal “blues” and made it clear that the drug would not change my personality or “flatten” it.
“It won’t make you a board,” he quipped, “unless you were a board to begin with.”
As I listened to my doctor’s words, I fought an internal conflict. He was medicating me! Not only that, but as the doctor tried to reassure me about the drug’s effects, I realized he was prescribing Prozac, a drug linked by the media to murders and suicides.
Acknowledging I had depression and needed medication were the hardest admissions for me to make. Still, I was desperate to change. I started taking Prozac.
A week later, I served dinner to my husband and discovered the chicken was underdone. As I calmly took the pieces off our plates and put them back in the oven, my husband cocked his head. “A week ago, you would have thrown a tantrum over the chicken.”
The medication worked!
Over the next two weeks, my attitude brightened. I began to see my depression as an experience in the past. Enthusiasm for life grew. My doctor was pleased with the dramatic changes in his patient’s outlook.
That was five years ago. I still take Prozac; it’s possible I’ll need it for the rest of my life. I still get the “blues” from time to time, but the beast has lost its teeth.
So where was God in all this?
As I struggled overseas with depression, God assured me He was with me. He shared my pain and began healing my fractured spirit. His comforting presence gave me the ability to endure. From that point on, when life darkened around me, I clung to that assurance: If God didn’t abandon me then, he wasn’t going to leave me now.
God broke down my reluctance to seek counseling by providing a Christian psychologist I knew. Through his help, I dealt with a poor self-image that contributed to my moods.
God led me to a new church after I moved. The people there gave me friendship, support, and confidence enough to become a church officer.
God gave me a wonderful husband who continues to love and encourage me.
God led me to a knowledgeable and understanding doctor, who eliminated the underlying physical causes one by one.
God didn’t give up on me, even when I gave up on myself. I was embarrassed that my depression had affected my work as a missionary and as a church officer. I felt I had failed God and His people. Yet I never felt God’s condemnation – only His compassion.
God also didn’t give up on me when I refused to turn to Him for help. I had a misguided attitude that depression was something God couldn’t or wouldn’t fix, that it was my problem and I had to solve it myself. He gently worked with me, guiding me step by step until I could accept a medical solution.
Years ago, I memorized Isaiah 41:10: “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (NIV). This verse is no longer a series of memorized words; from personal experience, I now understand its meaning.
I don’t know why God allowed this chemical imbalance, any more than I know why a friend of mine suffers from multiple sclerosis. But I’m amazed God used this in my life to draw me closer to Him. Perhaps I would be less prone to rely on Him without a constant reminder that I can’t make it on my own.
Thomas Wilcocks’ advice about temptation also applies to depression: “Be not discouraged. Those surges may be, not to break thee, but to heave thee off thyself, onto the Rock of Christ.”*
*Inspiring Quotations: Contemporary and Classical, compiled by Albert M. Wells, Jr. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988, p. 199.