Diagnosis: Uncertain

Are there some conditions where you’d be better off just not knowing? Illnesses or disorders which, when identified can be a help – but also a hindrance.  Not simply in the way that other people view them, but the way you view yourself?

I’m thinking for example, of depression.  I can’t speak for anyone else who struggles, but in my own life I’ve  wondered if having an official label has done me more harm than good.

Here’s some of the pros:

1. it has helped me to recognise that my feelings can’t be trusted.

2. it reminds me that I’m a whole package and things like sleeping/eating/exercise/stress have an impact.

3. (biggest pro) at times when I’ve felt like I literally couldn’t go on, I was able to get pharmacological help so I didn’t do anything stupid . At times like this, I don’t care whether there’s a stigma attached to antidepressants – if it’s a choice between taking a pill or and giving up, then I’ll take the pill. (See yesterday’s post)

4. it gives other people a framework to understand my behaviour – like a short hand, (this is also a con, but more on that later).

5. it gets me out of doing some things that feel overwhelming (another potential con)

6. I don’t feel like I’m so alone and it gives me an instant point of contact with others for mutual support. Plus the wisdom of years of other people’s experience.

7. It helps me understand myself and feel understood

8. It’s a buttress against the self-hatred that is a feature of the illness

9. Sheer relief that It has got a name

10. Confessing weakness and powerlessness is a powerful gospel aid! It can help you open up to others and the Lord

Here’s some of the negatives:

1. The tablets have side-effects: e.g; tiredness, low sex drive, feeling a bit fuzzy, growing a second head (ok not that one) etc

2. your label can become an excuse – even for things that aren’t affected by your condition. Sometimes it means I don’t apologise or repent eg; for biting Glen’s head off when he looks at me the wrong way. Feeling bad isn’t wrong, but using it to justify tantrums and general nastiness is.

3. seeing yourself as the victim of a malign force you can do nothing about. Yes you often need help, a lot of help. And it’s hard. But you gotta fight it too.

4. it gives other people an excuse to judge or sideline you.

5. depression and medication becomes the norm.

6. It allows me to medicalise issues that aren’t always biological.

7. It can encourage me to feel like a victim and demand that others become my carers.

8. While there’s relief at putting a name to it, that label might be the wrong one

9. It raises your expectations for a solution that might not be there

10. It can give you a false sense of control. Instead of praying about it or turning to God, you can look only to the meds or a programme.

At the end of the day, the gospel speaks into all areas of my life. But my greatest need is for rescue from sin, not depression or anything else. In the same way, I have to remind myself that my identity as a beloved and redeemed child of God is bigger than any label.

2 thoughts on “Diagnosis: Uncertain

  1. I agree but I think the struggle is also about how much we ‘own’ it. I can’t believe that suffering from depression is something God ordained for me, like having curly hair or being terrible at singing but excellent at baking. So at what point do you fight it as something not of yourself and to be overcome and at what point do you accept it as a part of yourself that needs attention? I really struggle with this. Some of this struggle is healthy in a good way am
    Nd to do with being the girl God intended, but if I am honest lots of it is also to do with pride. I want to be confident and successful. Difficult balance to strike I think…

  2. Yes that’s such a big question isn’t it – to what extent we accept depression as a part of ourselves and to what extent we fight it? Perhaps it ties in to whether we see it as a disease or a disorder or a learned behaviour or something else. Or maybe this too is a red herring and the issue isn’t what depression is, but what God does with it.

    We can be born with a tendency towards melancholia – and that’s ok, unless we use it as an excuse to sin or fatalism – ‘I’m just like this and there’s nothing I can do about it and that gives me the right to behave however I like’.

    The gospel doesn’t mean we won’t feel depressed, but it does determine how we react to those feelings. Through the Spirit there is hope and power to change. But I reckon God works by redeeming who we are, not by replacing us with sunbeam cut-outs. What’s needed is the old Emma or Jojo transformed – not completely different people – even though we can feel that’s impossible. Self-pity for example, can become an empathy that’s only possible because of experiencing sadness.

    The self-hatred and apathy that is part of depression means it’s difficult to see ourselves clearly. Perhaps that’s why community is also so important – other people can not only help, but remind us that we’re not on our own and challenge or support us according to what we need.

    Brokenness is at the heart of my identity as a Christian. Given the option, I’d have picked comfort – but I’d have done it alone.

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