I wrote the following piece called Delusions of Reprieve in late 2008 in a mental hospital in Subiaco, Western Australia. The place served as a revolving door for me from 2007 through to 2013, sometimes seeing me admitted for months at a time. At this stage the only diagnosis of my condition was major depressive disorder with chronic insomnia. Ironically, I wrote this piece sitting up in bed on my laptop at 4 am.
DELUSIONS OF REPRIEVE
Delusions of Reprieve: The man condemned to death, immediately before his execution, gets momentary relief through the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute.
Over the past 4 months I have not wanted to do any of the things I usually get excited about. Music does not sound the same; the melodies no longer speak to my soul, the harmonies have lost their glory. I have had zero motivation to get in the gym and throw the weights around, and with this sedentary behaviour has come an absolute lack of discipline in nutritional practices, a routine diametrically opposed to my usual self-imposed rigidity.
For almost a decade I have been receiving treatment for depression. That whole time period I was on a very tenuous emotional platform, labouring under what are almost certainly genetic mental health issues. I am likely predisposed from both sides of the family toward depressive episodes or what could otherwise be called mental breakdowns. My dad prefers the phrase “fell over” which I have become quite partial to.
There were periods throughout those years where I thought the drug treatment was for the most part doing its job, and required little to no effort on my part, psychologically, to augment the treatment with some counseling. Instead, the modus operandi for me would be to drift through the working week on autopilot with eyes only for the weekend, on which I would invariably become intoxicated with alcohol and bask in the sense of confidence it temporarily restored. Then I had to deal with not only the alcohol-induced insomnia (a very real and studied phenomena), as well as the concurrent regression in mood.
Despite genuine and concerted efforts by family and friends to rally around me, I always felt that mine would be a burden I would have to bare, for the most part, alone. Some family have, however, either due to ignorance or indifference, made the process of my self-restoration more difficult than it needed to be.
In 2007, I flew to Melbourne to be editor of a bodybuilding magazine. After the three-month probationary period, they were happy with my work and wanted to keep me on. This coincided with a depressive episode in which I was probably in the deepest pit I have ever had to crawl myself out of.
When my mother was in Melbourne looking after me following what was probably my most crippling depressive down-swing ever, my sister, wanting to have mum back in Perth with her made the comment to mum, “If you were on holiday, then that would be fine, but this is just stupid.” She then said something about her always coming to my rescue.
Each day I found myself tossing a metaphorical coin to see whether I would remain living on this earth or just call it quits. My sister almost saw to it that I was playing with loaded dice. Hearing comments like that when coming from an enemy, let alone flesh and blood, is disheartening at best, devastating at worst.
I don’t expect everyone to be full bottle on the biological mechanics of depression, but I guess I expect those that lack knowledge, and care about me, to seek it out, rather than making their own value judgments that are usually suffering from misinformation of one form or another. The other option is to keep quietly supportive.
I get the distinct impression that my step-father is convinced that I’m just not thinking enough about positive things, about the blessings we all have in life. I’m not focusing my thoughts on positives and living as a perpetual optimist, and if I were to do that, I could beat this disease.
To some extent, this is actually scriptural, as the Apostle Paul beseeches us to meditate on positive things. Philippians 4:8,9 instructs us in the following way:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. (Philippians 4:8,9 KJVER)
However, the power of positivism and other such philosophies are rife in New Age thinking as well as many fringe church groups. And I admit, it has its place in discussions about mental health. But until you show me someone who healed their arthritis or their diabetes by simply focusing on pure thoughts, I think the burden of proof remains in your corner. I will not bow down and worship these false gods of positive thinking. Now…”The Secret” on the other hand, has some credence. Where do I sign up? Where’s my wallet?! 1
In some ways my step-dad has been very supportive. Mum re-married when I was 10 years old. He then set about putting a roof over our heads, paying for schooling, playing basketball with me, and after I eventually gave up my job as editor of the magazine in Melbourne and flew back to Perth, he opened up his home to me indefinitely. It is just one of the countless ways he has looked after me. He even drove my car over to Melbourne and back to Perth for me (3500 km one way) and I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for that.
But being around him when I’m depressed is draining because I am constantly aware that he thinks I’m either faking, being self-indulgent or not trying hard enough.
His view is fairly simplistic and it looks like this:
There is a lot of good in the world and, he’ll concede, also a lot of bad. Everyone has a choice, and we are all equally enabled to incline ourselves to one side or the other, with respect to our thoughts. If we focus on the good then our mood will be good.
The flaws in this theory are manifold. The first is that filtering out any bad circumstances or tragedies is not taking a realistic, objective view of the world.
Really bad stuff happens to good people on a daily basis, and we must never turn to those poor souls who have just experienced a loss and tell them to simply focus on what they still have.
The second problem with it is that thoughts don’t equal moods. There are these annoying things called neurotransmitters that get in the way during the middle of that process. I would hazard a guess that if doctors wired up a chronically depressed person to test various levels of brain chemicals, and one was to show him beautiful pictures and play him soothing music while monitoring the activity of these chemicals in the brain, the ones responsible for his general sense of well-being and mood control would still be in the crapper.
The stoic attitude of my parents’ era would tell someone to just work harder to make their thoughts right, or to just live with it, because everybody faces challenges. That’s just it though. Viewed through the distorted lens that is depression, the everyday challenges of life become insurmountable hurdles. I would value his input if it came from a concerned party offering comfort, but instead it is empty rhetoric presented behind a theological veil. The most overused cliché in the world, bar none, is “God works in mysterious ways.”
For one, it is not biblical. It is not found in scripture anywhere. I don’t need to hear that. I’m quite aware that God is able to orchestrate events that don’t line up with the way I would have done things. I get it. Another of my memory verses is Romans 8:28 which reminds us that ‘all things work together for the good of those who love God.’ He has done this countless times in my life. Every time I come out of hospital my walk with God is closer than it has ever been, simply because He is the only one I can rely on, when my family and friends let me down. And sanctification (becoming more like God) is a Christian’s ultimate goal in life.
I should include a caveat there that I have some of the best support networks one could ever ask for. But the fact is, they are all human and they have all let me down. My mum has probably only let me down twice in my whole life, so she is some sort of anomaly who is only just short of taking her place in the Godhead. Ha!
But I digress back to my step-dad. Again I come back to choice. He says that I either make a choice to lie in bed all day or I make a choice to get up and go to work. Just like he every day decides to get up early and exercise and eat healthy. Life means choice. Well, that would be the case if everyone started on an even and fair playing ground. Being a notoriously poor sleeper, there is often no place I’d rather not be than lying in bed staring at the ceiling, wishing someone would clobber me in the head to knock me unconscious. But I would take my sleeping pills during the day because the small amount of sleep I was able to get was the only respite I had from the darkness all around me. Suffering from chronic treatment-resistant insomnia was not a choice, and neither is the depression or Generalised Anxiety Disorder that I suffer from.
– Eamer (2008)
To give even more of a context, when I was in the mental health hospital on this particular occasion I spent a whole week lying in bed in the fetal position, with my hoody over my head, not getting up to shave or even brush my teeth. Good thing I didn’t have a girlfriend because making out would have really tested the relationship.
Mum and I would always pray for supernatural healing, but that just doesn’t seem to be the way God works in most cases. I could be wrong (I admit I was wrong once…because I thought I was wrong but I was actually right). However, the main way God seems to heal people is through secondary means. I have full faith that He can and does heal people immediately in a miraculous event; but in real-world experience this just doesn’t seem to pan out, at least, not in the Western world.
So when I pray for healing for others the first thing I request is that the mighty right hand of God would touch the ailment and remove anything impeding their health. After all, Jesus is the greatest physician. Secondly, I pray that the person would seek medical advice, that the doctors would have wisdom in how to treat the illness and that God would work through medication (which he ultimately created because He created all things initially) to bring complete restoration to their bodies.
It’s akin to when we pray the Lord’s Prayer and we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We don’t look to the sky and expect manna to fall down and knock us on the head (although God did that to the Israelites). No, we work, get money and go and exchange it for food.2 Same thing with medication. We pray, “Please, Father, heal me of my affliction,” and God sends just the right doctors into our path at just the right time to help sustain us in our suffering.
Case in point, when I was curled up in bed for weeks and wouldn’t so much as walk to the bathroom (unless nature called), I was going to commit suicide. I had it all planned out. I was going to do it at my dad’s house to punish him for abandoning our family when I was two years old. But what happened? God intervened through my wonderful psychiatrist and he put me on a new mood stabilizer. Once it kicked in, the depressive cloud lifted, and I was able to kick the snot out of that pesky black dog! Can I get an Amen??!!
– Ryan Eamer
PS: Forgiving family members who have let me down has played a big part in allowing me to find freedom in Christ. Sometimes the bitterness and pain rears its ugly head, but I just choose to forgive again. Why do I forgive? Because I was first forgiven by God, for failures much worse than my family committed against me.
Ryan’s personal salvation testimony here.
- Rhonda Byrne’s best-selling New Age self-help book “The Secret.” The book promises to make dreams come true through positive thinking. Well it has for Byrne, who has made a pile of money by selling others her deceptions. “The Secret” claims to be based on science but the premise behind the book has been disproved. According to Byrne, the secret is based on a New Age idea called the “Law of Attraction.” It states that similar things attract each other, so positive thoughts bring positive things and negative thoughts bring negative things. Therefore if we simply think about things we want, we will get them. See http://www.livescience.com/5303-pseudoscience-secret.html
- God uses different agents and causes to achieve the same ends; He supplies our needs.