In the last post I began a conversation about dealing with ever changing emotions. If you haven’t read that post, read it now before going on. In this post, I want to finish my list of how to deal with ever changing emotions.
3 -- Make a contract with a loved one or a friend. I rely on my wife to recognize when I have fallen into a severe emotional downturn. She reminds me things will get better and I need to wait before making major decisions. And then, she just loves me!
Sometimes, it is hard to love someone when they rebuff every attempt at consolation. I know I feel guilty when I sometimes snap at my wife or loudly share the negative things going on in my life. A truly loving person will be able to look beyond that and understand what you and I are not comprehending: We are currently in a storm at the center of a swirling tornado of emotions and like ALL tornados, the storm will eventually stop. Remember this when you find yourself at the other end of that equation as the person who needs to console and love someone else experience these negative emotions. In fact, looking outside one’s needs is a powerful tool for overcoming depression.
4 – Review the past. I kept a journal every day during my first year of counseling. Every time I find myself falling into an emotional “funk” I pull out the journal and read a few days’ entries. It is amazing to realize that as bad as things are NOW, they were so much worse in the past. And, I made it through then. If I can get through a worse situation, I am reminded I can get through this current situation.
When I went through my horrible depression, I had no idea that one day my “failure” would be used by God to help others! God took my failure and turned it around to do good. In the midst of my depression I need to remember that!
5 – God will ALWAYS give you MORE than you can handle. Now, this may seem counterintuitive to every time you’ve heard just the opposite. But, hang with me. Many people ask me why God allows bad things to happen in life. Truth is, most of those “things” come about because of our decisions. The only way we can grow and mature is to overcome the adversity in our lives.
I had one of THOSE days recently.
It started out just fine. I woke up early and checked my fasting blood glucose. It was 94! Totally normal! I stepped on the scales. I had lost 35 pounds in the past five months! I was well on my way to defeating my diabetes through diet and exercise! I drank my morning protein drink and then climbed onto my stationary bike for my daily 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.
I went to work that morning with a very positive attitude. Things looked great! I was having a wonderful day. Until!
I’m sure you can fill in the blank. I could tell you one of any number of a dozen things happened. For instance, I might have gotten a subpoena demanding I appear in court to testify in a malpractice trial the next day! Or, I might have gotten the news that a dear friend of mine had passed away! Or, I might have learned that my daughter had another seizure and fell, hitting her head and sustaining a basilar skull fracture! Or, I might have talked to a relative or friend who asked me to review an imaging study only to realize they had cancer and even though I was not their doctor, I would be the one to tell them!
I can assure you each and every one of these events has happened to me in the past. And, there were more. Here’s my point. Every good day can start out rosy and fantastic. But, all it takes is one downturn to sour our emotional state.
You see, our emotions change constantly. This is natural. This is inevitable. It is the cyclical nature of our human existence that not all moments of life are great and uplifting. Bad things are going to happen. And, when bad things happen, we MUST NOT act on these temporary emotions! They are temporary. They can be overcome. With the proper plan and action, depression can be defeated. Mark and I wrote an entire book about this based on our own personal experience.
What I would like to share with our readers today is the plan I have made to deal with these situations.
1 -- Always wait at least 72 hours before acting on those emotions. Time and time again, things will and do get better. Depression comes and goes just as our emotions can go up and down. The important lesson to learn is to make it a standard action to ALWAYS hesitate and wait before acting negatively to those downward tugging emotions.
Don’t send that text! Don’t answer that email! And, don’t, for a second thing all is lost forever and consider ending your life. Give it time! Be patient! Be still and listen for the still, small voice of God.
2 -- Make you a sign reminding you to wait before acting on your current emotional state. Heres your sign!
I put sticky notes on my bathroom mirror. I even created these little things called LifeFilters. My original purpose was to have a card I would carry every day in my pocket and when things got bad, instead of throwing a pity party or giving in to fatal emotions, I would, instead take out the card and read both sides. On one side was an affirming thought based on the Bible verse on the other side of the card. As Mark has said over and over again, our emotions change, but the Word of God does not!
I’ll finish my list tomorrow. For now, stop and consider if you are using a daily dose of God’s Word to offset your negative emotions.
I recently gave a presentation about an interesting development in the field of anthropology. It is called “human exceptionalism”. Now, this may seem to be something that is way above your head and a very academic slant on things given that we are talking about depression. But, this new field of thinking has profound implications for the human condition. Why is this?
Science tells us we are nothing more than glorified animals; the highest animal on the evolutionary scale. In this thinking, we are just “meat sacks” and our minds are nothing more than “chemical” machines.
The other night, I was watching a show where a host is talking to children and she was interviewing a ten-year-old child who was already a senior in college! When she asked him “What is love?”, he began to describe the biochemical reactions occurring in the brain that create a physical sensation of love.
I was stunned. Who would allow a ten-year-old child to think that love is nothing more than a spike in brain chemicals? But, the field of human exceptionalism, a field that is NOT a religious affiliated discipline, maintains that humans are unique, exceptional, and MORE than just our biochemical spikes and lows.
In fact, one startling discovery is the phenomenon of “brain synchronization”. Now, this sounds something akin to Mr. Spock’s Vulcan mind meld on the show Star Trek or perhaps a form of telepathy. But what neuroscientists have discovered is that when two people have face to face conversations, after about five minutes, their brain waves (as measured by electroencephalograms) become IDENTICAL! Something very strange is going on here! Something that is beyond the understanding of science.
What could it be? Could it be there is something more to our existence than just chemistry? Is it possible that we are more than just the products of our DNA? If that is so, then we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that love is far more than just a flow of neurotransmitters! Love is something that transcends the empty space between two people. Love must be something special and unique.
So, what is love? There is an ancient Greek word for love. In fact, there are four!
STORGE is liking someone through the fondness of familiarity such as family members or people who relate in familiar ways that have otherwise found themselves bonded by chance.
PHILIA is the love between friends as close as siblings in strength and duration. The friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common values, interests or activities. It is known as “brotherly love”.
EROS is romantic or even sexual love.
AGAPE refers to love, "the highest form of love, charity" and "the love of God for man and of man for God" and embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance. It goes beyond just the emotions to the extent of seeking the best for others. It is considered to be the love originating from God for humankind. It refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God.
Nowhere in these definitions do we see the surge of chemicals (with the possible exception of eros). Agape love is a transcendent form of love; it is of spiritual origin and comes from God and God alone. Maybe it is this kind of spiritual connection we are seeing in “brain synchronization”. Who knows? But there is no doubt that there is a connection between human beings the defies the simple explanation of evolutionary processes.
What does this mean to you? It means that there is a God who has extended to you and to me a form of love that is beyond our comprehension and, in many ways, beyond our limited capabilities. But, in that love we can find our meaning, our purpose, our destiny. In agape love from God alone, we can bask in the joy that we are eternally and completely loved even when we think we don’t deserve it.
And maybe, just maybe, there is a little flicker of awareness in the minds of scientists that our minds have the mysterious capability of not only synchronizing with other humans, but possibly even touching the mind of God!
“There is no such thing as objective truth.”
“Oh, there isn’t?”
“So, if I understand, what you’re telling me is that no one can make a truth claim that is actually true?”
“Therefore, your statement is false that there are no objective truths. Correct?”
“You’re putting words in my mouth!”
“Ain’t it the truth!”
Okay, so that was a silly but illustrative exchange about truth. We now live in a “post-truth” world. In our culture, it isn’t that “truths” don’t exist it is just that “truth” is now a matter of opinion. And, opinions can change.
Let’s say for just a moment that you have come to my office at the hospital and have asked me to review the findings of your MRI of your brain. It’s what I do. As a radiologist, I interpret close to 200 studies every day of all types from plain X-rays to complex MRIs. You want to know what your study shows? Have a seat. Imagine the following exchange:
“Doctor, what did my MRI show?” You ask.
The doctor smiles at you and pulls up a set of gray images on a computer screen on his desk. He studies the images and then nods.
“Well, do you want good news or bad news?” He asks.
“Good news, of course.” You say.
“Your scan is completely normal.” He smiles again.
“But, what about the pain in my head?” You ask, a bit warily.
“Well, it will get worse if I give you the bad news.”
“What is the bad news?” You ask.
“I could say you have a brain tumor. That would make you very sad, wouldn’t it?” The doctor frowns.
“Yes, it would.”
“Then, in that case, I will tell you whatever truth you want to hear.”
Now, a simple question I put to you. Do you want to know the truth? I would say under these circumstances your answer would be yes. After all, we have medical tests to find out what is happening to us. We want to know the truth. But, if there is no objective truth, then how could we EVER rely on the results of any test? How could we relay on science, history, law, and human relationships?
In theory, it would be nice if we could create our own version of truth whenever it would be to our advantage. Wouldn’t that be nice? Unless we are at the other end of that falsehood. Accused of a crime we didn’t commit, for instance. The victim of false accusations! The courts are filled with lawsuits because of this and the legal relies on us telling “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Our entire universe reeks with objective truth. The very fabric of our reality is based on intangible facts we can only learn about but can never change. Logic. Math. Laws of physics. These are unchangeable and we don’t want them to change! Imagine if gravity was at our every beck and call? On the one hand, it might seem a good idea but what happens when you throw on your brakes to avoid a collision and the lack of gravity and friction lets you glide effortlessly into a fatal car wreck?
As attractive as it may seem to have a malleable and controlled truth, such a thing is not consistent with the universe we live in and the reality of our very existence. Truth is truly inconvenient. It is TRANSCENDENT, meaning beyond our control and it should be. It is based on REALITY, and this is known as the correspondence theory. Truth is TESTABLE and should always pass the objective inquiries we throw at it. Without objective truth we have no UNIVERSAL STANDARD for human morality and behavior. And finally, objective truth give us HUMAN VALUE as individuals. Don’t believe me? As Americans we owe our freedom and liberty to an idea reflected in the first American document:
We hold these TRUTHS be self evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We must hold to objective truth if we want our culture and our society to continue. The disconnect between a desire for a “post truth” culture and the overriding knowledge that objective truth exists is one of the leading causes of depression and suicide in our culture. Particularly among our young adults and teenagers. Mark and I talk about this in our book and provide abundant documentation for this claim.
So, pause for a moment and consider the objective quality of truth. We need it. We want it. Embrace it!
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!