Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The grim stealer

Someone told me this story once. You might call it a modern parable or didactic joke. There's a telling lesson, though. It goes like this: Satan owed this human a favour. So he offered them their choice from his range of tools. They could pick out one they wanted and keep it. The person looked over all the evil tools that the Devil owned. They were all the various means that the demon had and used to torment people, or try to destroy them. After a while, the human saw two outstandingly ugly looking ones, really cruel things. When the human asked for one of those two, the demon promptly went back on its word (as to be expected from Satan). "No!" he said, "you can take any other you choose, but not those. They're my cruellest."
"Why?" the human asked. "What are they?"
The demon replied,"One of them is despair and the other is depression!"
A grim tale, with a point to make. Suffering is made even worse when you lose hope. Short of completely giving up, one of the cruellest forms of suffering is depression.
What is worse, it gets under estimated. That's why it is described as such a pet weapon of the devil! People suffering from depression are sometimes just get told to 'get over it' and if it's real clinical depression, the sufferer can't simply shrug it off, just as they couldn't shrug off asthma or diabetes. There is an actual biochemical cause. That's why medication can actually work (fortunately). Trust me on that: I've had depression!
I know, there is such a thing as self-pity or laziness, whereby a person just drops their bundle and won't help themselves. But that's not necessarily the same thing.
There's a cruel irony here. Depression is a modern epidemic. The sales of medication for it are huge, I've been told. Yet it is much rarer in what we call the developing world, or third world. I've read that suicide is almost unknown in some places which are called 'backward', or at least not highly modernised. In those places the population still suffer from diseases largely eliminated in the West. They live without the technology and convenience that Westerners take for granted. Just as obesity is rare in places where people struggle to get enough to eat, depression is much less common in places where people have to keep busy just getting through each day.
The harsh view of that is to critisize people for being spoilt and weak. But that could be seriously untrue and unfair. The more advanced and regulated a society becomes, the more it both hems people in and puts pressure on them.
Consider this: it can be good for a human to have to work for things instead of just taking them for granted. You learn to appreciate something if you understand what is needed to obtain it, by such ways as growing your own vegetables or building your own shed or house. The trouble is, that's not always possible. Depending where or how you live, there may not be the chance. You may not have ground available. Building laws may stop you erecting a structure. So your society can coddle you with convenience and protective rules, and actually stifle part of the spirit. Then the added effect is, people are told they've got it too easy.
That has it's analogy in physical health. We all want kids to have clean living conditions and good nutrition. Yet if children grown up in such a sanitized environment their immune system never gets challenged, or worked to make it 'fit', and that leaves them more prone to things like asthma. Just as we need some exercise and fatigue to get fit and strong, we need some exposure to dirt and disease so that the body learns to fight them off. That's a cruel irony, it really is! Try to make things good, and find that it's backfired! But that's an analogy. Returning to the point, the cruel irony of depression is worse when people are materially secure.
There could be another dimension here, too. When the world around us has been made so good in the material way, it is expected that we will be perfectly happy and achieve great things. So then we have the issue with people feeling that they are critizised, and that they don't measure up. No matter what they do or how they try, they get told that they should be better because 'You have it so much easier than we did' - that being the sort of thing some older people say to younger ones. But having it easier is a double edged sword. It's good for people to be given some responsibility, and some challenges to face. But then there are times when that too gets denied people. In the past children had to help with the running of a home, or farm, because water had to be got from a well; washing done by hand; food prepared from scratch, such as peeling potatoes or shelling peas; and you had to walk to school. The adults needed help from the younger ones - and for that reason children or youth felt useful, because they were obviously doing something important. But now with technology, urban living and all of that there are fewer ways for school age kids to make themselves useful. So there is less chance to make yourself useful, while more is expected of you. Cruel irony!
The problem doesn't end there.
When you become adult, the world is a seriously demanding and sometimes cruel place. People feel judged, compared with others, and more is expected of them because now that we don't have to struggle just to survive, there is time to find fault with others. It can be cruel when a girl feels bad about herself because she does not look like the models in magazines - as if she should! But that's what happens when society has time to set up idealized images, instead of just being glad they're alive. Boys can suffer because they don't have a macho or athletic look about them. Having a brain -or more importantly, a good heart - is not as vital as looking good.
So society chews up peoples' self image, and makes some of them feel inadequate. Added to that, even when we're more likely to live longer because health care is better, there are uncertainties like unemployment, loss of income and loss of your home, and all that.
That could be the trap. The world is supposed to be better, but it can still be hard and ungiving to some people. For all I know, the state of the environment could be a cause of depression. It's well understood after all that various forms of pollution, or bad diet, damage the health. A lot is still not known about mental health. It might be found in the future that environmental factors can cause depression. Or social factors, which we don't yet recognize as being damaging, could be a problem. It's already well known that some people growing up suffer badly because they don't get respect or appreciation from those around them. That is where depression can start. I won't call depression 'the black dog' because dogs can be loveable animals and don't deserve to be insulted by such a comparison. I'll call depression the leech, or the 'grim stealer' - it can drain us and steal part of our life.
This foul disease might be to our age what smog was to an earlier one - a by-product of the way we live. I can't say. There's a lot of study involved. I'm quite sure that the problem is partly a spiritual one. Satan is real, and looking for a chance to savage God's created beings, especially humans. And Christians incur the demon's anger most of all. For that reason, Christians may suffer attack and be hurt by it. And the cruel complication is this: when genuine sufferers are told they are weak or ungrateful, that makes the thing worse. It's like punching someone on a bruised spot.
I can't speak for everybody else, so I'll just get on my own case. There were times when I needed to keep things in proportion and not let them get me down so much. I didn't always appreciate it when I was well off, and needed to be told: look on the bright side, count your blessings, whatever way you want to put it. Sometimes that was right, too. But there was a time when that condition got me! And it's no help someone getting on your case telling you to 'snap out of it.' I needed medication! I've found out - you can struggle and fight, try to counsel yourself out of it, and it's still there. And it's not just weakness. Some people who go down have shown they can achieve a lot. They can put up with a lot. But only so much. You could not call Samson weak when someone deliberately attacked him through his vulnerable spot. He was only human, after all. We all have weaknesses.You can't fairly call someone weak because they get cut down by things beyond their control.
So that's my take on it. I'll gladly hear if anyone wants to comment. I'm well aware that I don't know everything. Any thoughts?


Farrah said...

I can understand that some people have chemical imbalances causing depression that needs to be treated by meds.

On the other hand, I think that our society is over-drugged. There is a pill to cure just about anything and everything, and lots of times it really isn't necessary. Sometimes depression can be helped by good nutrition and exercise. Many people today spend so much time indoors, in front of a computer or TV, or working, and that isn't how God made us to be. This indoor lifestyle is less common in poor countries, which may help explain why depression isn't a problem in them.

Plus, if you live in a society where almost everyone you know is as poor as you are and there is little opportunity to advance ahead of others, then there is definitely less pressure. Here we have the ability to really make something of ourselves and it can be depressing to compare ourselves to others. I try not to do that. I try to keep my eyes on Jesus and ask Him to guide me. I try to measure success in my life by how well I follow my Lord. If I do His will, then I am successful.

Plus, we are to be content with what we have, and we show love for others by not "needing" or "trying" to get ahead of them. We should rejoice when good things happen to others. It's the Christian way, though it is very counter-cultural.

When my neighbor gets a new car, I should be excited and happy for them. I should not be jealous and sad that mine isn't new. Am I happy for them? Yes! And...a little jealous, too. Oops! This is an area I need work. When I catch myself with the wrong attitude, I pray and ask for forgiveness and help.

~*~toni~*~ said...

I agree! I do think society is over-medicated, but that doesn't mean it isn't needed at times. I used to laugh when people took meds until I started having anxiety issues. I now take a medication that really helps me feel better! I feel bad that I ever laughed at others! It's not for us to judge or decide what helps others.

By the way, thanks for your comment on my blog and your invite to visit you on yours! I think it's good that you're writing! You really write well!!

Nielson News said...

I wanted to thank you for your comment when I first created my blog. Thank you for welcoming me to blogging. Thank you for your suggestion of your book “Outcasts of Skagary”. I have only read the little info about it on your website. I am very interested. I’m always on the look out for a new good book. Thank you! Would you like me to let you know what I think of your book after reading it? I will also suggest your book to my family and friends who like the same genre. I am happy to read that you are able to write full time, to share your stories with others. I wish you luck in your venture. I am excited to read “Outcasts of Skagary”! Again, thank you and have a wonderful day!

~Gina Nielson

Nielson News said...

I know I had posted a comment earlier, but that was before I read your post. All I can say is, amazing. I had just recently come out a little bit of a depression myself. Looking back, it started last summer and it came out of no where. It wasn't until this February, that I decided to ask for some medication. There were a few family members who didn't understand what it was like going through the depression. I never thought in my life that I would have to experience it's gloomy effects. Those family members just told me to get out more, do things that I like to do, yet they didn't understand that I had no desire, whatsoever, to do any of those things. It was about two weeks after taking the medication that I started feeling like myself again.

I do believe what you say about depression being a tool of the devil. I believe he exists and he is doing his best to take us down.

I really appreciate what you wrote in this post. I am tempted to share it with those family members who didn't quite understand what it was like going through that dark time. I thank you.

~Gina Nielson

Cindy B said...

Thanks for the visit to my blog! It's great to know that I'm attracting a few readers of my own.

I really appreciate this blog entry. I have two teenage daughters who both struggle with depression, and I have had my issues with it in the past. Both girls are on medication now and in therapy. No, it's not a perfect fix, but we've been at this for 10 years now, no kidding, and I have to do what's best for them, no matter what other people think. And let's face it, medication is not an easy answer either. You often trade one set of troubles for another set and it can take years to find the right drug and the right dose.

But therapy is so important too. It may not fix the problem, but if it gives you some tools to cope, that is absolutely worth having. Especially for teenagers, who are still learning so much about relationships and about themselves.

Thanks for post.

Mira said...

Wow, very powerful post, Andrew. I agree with you completely.

Thank you for that post, it's given me a little insight in which to help my friend even furthur.