The holidays are upon us and, if you have ever suffered from depression or known someone who has, then you can attest truthfully to the fact that depression is much worse during this time of the year. Why?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a well known variation of depression. SAD seems to be triggered by a decrease in daily sunlight exposure and usually comes on during the fall or winter months and subsides in the spring.
Not only are the days growing shorter, the skies growing darker, and the temperature dropping but there are those pesky, worrisome upcoming holiday get togethers. For many, the prospect of spending a day confined in one space with family members can be akin to a walk through the Halloween haunted house!
But, there is something you can do. Be creative.
What, you ask? I don't have a creative bone in my body?
My daughter and I recently visited Hobby Lobby. Casey is an avid artist and she decided this year to make something for friends and family members for each holiday from Halloween to Christmas. She delighted in choosing a canvas to paint on, small flat figures to glue on the canvas, and a small wreath to adorn for Christmas. For each holiday, she is creating a small gift for friends and family.
Now, you may say “I’m not creative”. But, I challenge you to consider the act of creativity itself as an act of worship. Anyone can pick up a paint by number craft or glue felt turkeys to a background. It is not the actual quality of the art that matters. It is the act of thinking and acting creatively.
Studies have shown that when we use the part of our brain that is creative, we move out of the shadow of depression and into a bigger, brighter world.
I am reading a new book by singer/songwriter, novelist Andrew Peterson on the process of being creative. Here is what he had to say about the act of storytelling in his book, “Adorning the Dark”.
“Since we are made to glorify God, worship happens when someone is doing exactly what he or she was made to do . . . I hope it’s clear that I’m not talking about the quality (or lack thereof) of the song itself. That’s irrelevant. The point is, time is unfolding like a scroll, and we’re letters on the parchment, helping to make the words that tell the story. Each of us is a character, in both senses of the word. At times, characters become aware that they’re part of the story, and that brings the realization that, first, there is an author, and second, they are not him.”
So, look beyond your depression today and grasp the least thread of creativity that sings within your soul. It will lead to a tapestry, a Story unfolding around you that is part of the fabric of a reality created by God. And, once you find your place in that Story, create something; make something; build something; color something; add your piece to the Story that God is telling and in the process, you will find peace and joy that, for a moment, if not a lifetime, will lift you our of your depression.
I found it interesting in reading some of the older reviews of our depression books that one “reader”, and I say this guardedly, said of our first book, “Conquering Depression” that he wasn’t going to rely on a book “written by two men who known absolutely nothing about the subject of the book”.
I’d like to set the record straight. Mark Sutton, in his many years of pastoring, always had a robust and busy counseling ministry. In fact, Mark wrote a book on marriage, “Six Weeks to A Better Marriage” and for years, conducted successfully marriage seminars.
Now, I am not a psychologist. I am not a psychiatrist. I am not a counselor. I am a radiologist. My daily job is the interpretation of diagnostic imaging studies. One area of studies involves evaluating the brain with MRI, CAT scan, and PET/CT scans. Don’t worry about the initials. Just know that I am well trained in recognizing and understanding the underlying physiological and anatomical nuances of diseases of the brain.
That doesn’t necessarily make me an expert on depression. And, I don’t claim to be an expert on the treatment of depression. However, I AM an expert on suffering from depression! When I experienced my depressive episode in 1995, I finally agreed to attend counseling. Over the ensuing two years, I learned a LOT about my depression. I had been suffering from indolent episodes of depression all of my adult life and never admitted it.
During my recovery, I began to mine information on depression. Being a physician, that is, a Medical Doctor, I was able to understand the science behind the disease of depression. I was able to understand the diagnosis of depression. I was able to understand the treatments for depression. And, in that information I discovered that “Knowledge is Power”.
In writing our depression book, I clearly state that I am not a physician who treats or diagnoses depression. My portion of the book is designed to help YOU understand depression by taking these complex, medical concepts and making them understandable. That’s it! No magic formula! No big reveal of the next technological advance in treatment!
I want to share with our readers the plan that I developed to help me defeat my own depression. For, I discovered that depression does not just disappear like the bacteria from a throat infection cleared up by antibiotics. Rather, battling depression requires “A LIFETIME PLAN FOR CONQUERING DEPRESSION”. And, our book is more akin to a “boot camp” on understanding and beginning the battle against depression.
Mark and I clearly state in our book and in our seminars that the person suffering from depression must build a team to attack the disease. A medical doctor. A counselor or psychologist. A faith based community. A working knowledge of the intricacies of depression and its affect on YOU.
So, you see, Mark and I both know exactly what we are talking about. We are fellow sufferers with YOU in OUR battle against depression. Our book will point readers in the right direction to get lasting help in conquering depression by understanding the disease, developing a battle plan, and building a team to help defeat depression.
The list of patients lay before me on my desk. Fifteen procedures for me to perform promised to fill up my entire day. Some of these procedures were minor and might take only ten to fifteen minutes. Others might take hours. As a radiologist, my job is to utilize my imaging technology to assist in performing diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for the ordering physician on their patients.
For instance, the first name was a man with a history of cancer who now had a “spot” on his ribs that might be recurrent cancer. My job would be to take him to my CAT scanner, locate the “spot” on his rib and put a needle in it, take a sample and send it to pathology. The pathologist would then evaluate the tissue to see what was causing the “spot”. This is my job as a radiologist. Not only do I interpret all types of imaging tests for the ordering physician, I help complete the diagnosis by obtaining tissue.
But, here is the problem. The patient knew his doctor very well. But, he had no idea who I was or what I did. Such is the lonely obscurity of the radiologist! Now, I had to walk into our holding room and meet a perfect stranger and tell him I was sticking a needle into his rib. How would you feel if a perfect stranger showed up to stick a needle in your chest? Probably scared, apprehensive, frustrated!
That’s what I thought! So, let me explain my approach to these situations.
First, I have to get to know the patient’s imaging procedures. How did we determine he had a “spot”? What “modality” did see it on? Could I even find this “spot” on CAT scan if we only found it on, let’s say, an MRI? Let me tell you without hesitation that NONE of this information is conveyed to me by the ordering physician. All I have is a written, or usually computer generated, order that simply says “Biopsy right side rib lesion.” Many times, the patient has had his prior imaging at another institution, perhaps even in another city! I have to make sure that we have those images for me to review or I have no idea which rib to stick! What we have here is a failure to communicate! Now, I’m the one who is frustrated!
Second, once I have gathered the necessary information, I make my way to the holding room where our nurse is preparing the patient for their procedure. As I am walking down the hallway, I am praying for “my” patient by name. I am praying for the technologists and nurses who will assist me. I am praying for the patient’s friends or family members who may be with him. I am praying, last, for myself that God will give me the knowledge and the strength and the ability to do what must be done without harming the patient. As I stand just outside the door to the holding room I remind myself of one very important fact,
“Right now, right this minute and when this patient is on my examination table, they are the MOST important person in the universe!”
Every time I go through this I am faced with what many would assume is an almost impossible situation. You see, most of the time, the patient hasn’t been told anything! They have no idea exactly what “test” they are having. They have no idea a needle is involved! And, very often, they have no idea their physician is concerned they may have cancer!
On this particular day, I faced my patient and realized very quickly all of these facts were true. He had no idea who I was. He had no idea we were performing a needle biopsy. And, he had no idea his doctor suspected his colon cancer had returned! I, a total stranger, had to tell him this bad news.
But, because I rely on the Lord as my strength and as my portion, these opportunities ALWAYS transform into an encouraging, ministering event. I tell them what I just wrote above. I don’t care about their religion or lack of it. They need to know where my strength comes from and it amazes me each time how comforting such an admission can be.
Because I ALWAYS put myself in my patient’s place. How could I want to be treated? What would I want to know? How would I want to be treated?
Why is this important? In our newest depression book, “Hope Again: A Lifetime Plan for Conquering Depression” I often emphasize the importance of communication with your physician and counselor. Don’t let the fact they are a professional keep you from asking questions, demanding answers, expecting to be treated with empathy. As physicians, we often get swamped by government and bureaucratic busy work and we forget our FIRST responsibility is to our PATIENT!
I’ve learned this the hard way because I have been a patient myself and I know what it is like to have that biopsy or that surgery or that “invasive” procedure. So, understand this very important fact:
When you are with your health care professional, you and you alone are the most important person in the universe while under their care.
We take this seriously and if you feel that we don’t, never hesitate to convey your discomfort, your fear, your frustration, or your reservations. We are ready to help you and to do our best to deliver the care you need.
You see, when God stood in the midst of His beautiful garden at the beginning of humanity he made a decision that would ripple down through the ages. He did not make mankind as just a slightly higher step of animal on the evolutionary scale. No, God made mankind in His image! He gave mankind a very special status and a very special ability to relate to mankind’s Creator, God! You are special. And, every health care professional has taken a solemn oath to take care of you because you are special!
So, for this moment in time, when you are suffering from depression, pause and realize that our book is for you – and for this season you are the most important person in the universe!
What happens when God is silent? Have you ever felt like God is ignoring your prayers and your cries for help? In the past three years Mark and I both have been sidelined from our pursuit of helping you with your battle in depression. For me, a combination of health problems and the necessity of devoting almost all of my free time to my medical practice have pushed me into a corner.
Sometimes, I wondered if God would hear my prayers during this time of trial and difficulty. But, here is the good news for me. Throughout this period of time, what few episodes of depression I suffered were transitory. I routinely recognize the triggers for my depression. I recognize when depression begins to pull its dark curtain across my life. I kick into high gear with my plan and my tools, my LifeFilters, and those episodes are shorter than ever before. I also have a friend in Mark and when we both feel the clutches of depression, we call on each other.
God is not ignoring you in your difficulty. He is there, and you can turn to Him for help. As I have said many times in our seminar, if we give God our brokenness, he will transform it into victory. It is not always in the manner we desire. But, it is recognizable as God’s work; work only God can do; work for which only God can take credit. And, that is as it should be.
I have watched my friend and brother in Christ, Mark Sutton, battle a creeping death for the past three years and it was not easy. Often, I wondered if God was listening ,but I was never convinced God wasn’t there. And, when God took Mark through his lung transplant and the difficult months afterwards, I marveled at God’s faithfulness.
Now, I am free of my practice responsibilities. I have weathered two cancer scares. And, Mark shared with me a few months ago he has “come out of the fog”. We are ready to help you again with our book and our seminars.
It’s time to claim Hope Again!