Depression and Cognitive Dissonance

(Note: I am not a doctor. I cannot cure depression. I can only tell you what has helped me. If this makes sense, good, but please, please get help if you are having thoughts of suicide.)

I’m coming off of a period of intense depression that lasted for a good two days, so severe I wanted to die. Later this week I got a bit of a revelation on it–something ‘clicked’, in other words, something that might help you or your loved ones in the fight against depression.

But first, the music: Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys, the extended version off The SMiLE Sessions…because it makes me smile, and maybe it will do the same to you.

Cognitive dissonance is defined as:

the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. [1]

The human mind is not capable of believing two very different things at once. I cannot believe I am both good and bad, saint and sinner, at the same time (the teaching of most Christian churches). I cannot believe that I am sick and healed at the same time (Charismatic nonsense). And I cannot believe that God is supposed to have me somewhere else while God is making it impossible for me to be anywhere else but here.

In my life, my mind has ‘broken’ more times than I can count, based on life circumstances.

For instance, I believed I was called as a missionary to Japan. Yet my parents weren’t interested in sending their son to Japan. A crack appeared in my brain.

I later believed that if I studied Japanese, that God would send me to Japan. The money never came (in fact, things got worse). Family members were against the idea. Again and again I beat my head against the wall–I was learning Japanese, yet the doors remained shut. More cracks appeared in my psyche.

I went to Alabama for a conference featuring a very charismatic minister who introduced me to the grace message–how I am already sanctified, free from sin, and that I am already righteous and complete in Christ. I am a new creation. Between Matt Ford and the teachings of John Crowder and Benjamin Dunn, my mind began to renew. Things got better…and worse.

I believed that since Alabama was a wonderful place–at least Gadsden, Alabama, is–that we were supposed to move there. This fell apart. I wasn’t going anywhere. Larger cracks appeared in my psyche.

I went to Indiana, despite family objections, to a wonderful community of saints in Fort Wayne. I thought that this had to be the place where we had to live-the presence of God was so concentrated, so tangible there, and the genuine love everyone had for each other was something I hadn’t experienced in my life. I thought we were supposed to move there. I was wrong. The cracks widened.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was headed for a nervous breakdown. I was convinced by satan, or whatever lies were in my head, to run away, first to that community in Indiana (I didn’t make it–I developed symptoms of a heart attack and got held up in Indianapolis). My family graciously rescued me. Stress drove me to run away the next week, this time to a remote national park in God-knows-where, something-Carolina. I parked my car when I ran out of gas and went on a ‘faith walk’ where, influenced by demons or whatever crap was in my head, that I was going to leave and go off-grid. Hours went by in the freezing cold and I couldn’t stand it. My family once against rescued me, and put me in a mental hospital. While in that very prison-like facility, I first received treatment with mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety medication.

Once I got out of the mental hospital, things did improve a little–the anti-anxiety drugs made life much easier at work, where anxiety had been a constant hindrance to my performance. Yet I still wanted to go back to Indiana. Some of the cracks remained, and no healing came. I had friends all over the United States and the world, via Facebook and social media, but it seemed like I would never see them face-to-face again.

I’m not 100% certain–and to be honest, I am still, off and on, angry at God about this–I’m not certain that I ever will meet those friends again. Finding real-life friends has been close to impossible. I have been stuck in Atlanta, Georgia, unable to go anywhere for years, and at times that pisses me off beyond belief.

Edit: I apologize to the people I unfriended on Facebook–at one point I unfriended everyone except family, because I thought I was being influenced badly. I needed that time to heal from my nervous breakdown. I’m sorry that I unfriended you, and I pray you’ll forgive me.

Back on topic: I began to recover from my broken mind. Yet depression would rear its ugly head, most often during bouts of intense cognitive dissonance. Japan got leveled by a tsunami, I thought it would be good to learn Japanese and go to help, but nothing happened with that and my mind broke again. I told my employer that I couldn’t stand life and more, and left work to go kill myself. I realized I couldn’t, so I called my pastor at the time and he talked me down.

This past few months my mind has broken over and over again, as I lost my job and had to take another with an extremely painful pay cut, leaving us unable to pay bills and do much more than survive. I don’t know, day-by-day, how we’re going to make it. Food is on the table, but credit card companies call every hour on the hour, debts mount, and we can’t pay. My mind has been breaking over and over again.

Paradox: I am a good person, this shouldn’t happen, but it is happening.

Paradox 2: My family needs provision and God is good, but he is doing a hella bad job of providing.

Paradox 3: I need a new job, I should have one, but I like my job, but I can’t afford to stay at my job, but God hasn’t opened any doors. You get the idea.

These paradoxes have been breaking my mind, forcing me to the point where, once again, I was at a place where I wanted to end it all. I couldn’t, though. The first day my prayer was, ‘Lord, I want to live.’

The second day was, ‘Lord, I don’t want to live, but I need to live, for the sake of my family.’

I made it through those two rough days and got this revelation: that the worst of my mental breaks, the worst of my bouts of depression, are caused by cognitive dissonance: believing things are supposed to be one way and comparing them with reality, which says the opposite. I can’t believe things are supposed to be good and bad at the same time, yet they are, so how do I deal with that? Something has to give, and I thank God I’m on medicine that helps take the edge off, and that I don’t own a gun.

There have been lies in my head, probably still are plenty of those–that God is not love, that this will not work out, that things will not get better. Part of this is cognitive dissonance, part of it is hopelessness–the two play a tag-team in your brain, and you’re always the loser.

How do you overcome cognitive dissonance? Hell if I know. What has helped is meditating on the word of God–just three concepts. One: my oneness with Him. Two: there is only one power, and that is God. All other names that can be named are under him. Three: divine provision. I need revelation in all of these.

Another thing that has helped is joining a community on Facebook where I can just be myself–where I can express the darkest problems of my soul without being judged and tossed away like yesterday’s garbage. That has been a tremendous help.

Family has been a help. My wife is a ‘prayer warrior’, and even though she may not understand how I feel, she knows when I am hurting, and is always faithful to pray for me.

Cognitive dissonance really sucks. The good thing is, that your brain can slowly become more flexible. You can learn to deal with life when God seemingly answers ‘no’–I need more money, it doesn’t come. I want more friends, I can’t make any. And so it goes.

Things do get better. Through God’s help, you can learn to put things on a mental shelf labeled, ‘things I do not understand’. You can learn that though situations don’t agree, God still loves you. And you can experience the manifest presence of God as a comfort, even when lies are beating in your brain like a sledgehammer and you just want to die.

It’s happened to me. And maybe it’s happening to you. But I promise you, God can get you through, and God will get you through. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” He’s not done with you yet, and he won’t give up on you. Ever.

Edit: Cognitive dissonance is not the only problem associated with depression. The other is hopelessness, which I will write on in the future as I get a little more revelation on it. 

I bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May you see yourself as He sees. Amen.

 

Controlling Anxiety Through Meditation

Note that the post title is meditation, not medication. This post is about Christian meditation and how it’s slowly helping me overcome the breakthrough anxiety that my medication can’t quite reach–those thousand little worried or panicked feelings throughout the day.

But first, the music: the first song off the excellent soundtrack to the game Monument Valley–a peaceful album that just happens to be excellent for times of meditation.

I’ve never spoken about meditation before, but I imagine from articles that I’ve read that, when this practice is mentioned, there typically follows a fear of ‘New Age’ philosophy. I hope the readers of this blog would know me better than that, and have the intelligence to Google ‘Christian meditation’ before panicking. This fear has been addressed hundreds of times before, so I won’t go into that here; rather, I hope to be practical here and explain what exactly I am doing and how it is helping me.

How does meditation work? I’m not sure, but I have heard that it’s really good for one’s mental health, and I have found that to be true. In times of meditation you quiet your mind to focus on a single thought–perhaps a single verse of Scripture, perhaps a concept. The quietness apparently helps, or at least it seems to help me.

More after the break. Continue reading “Controlling Anxiety Through Meditation”

Mental Health: Do The Basics First

If you’re drowning, please get help.

It is my hope that in communicating with you on this blog, that I’m not giving the impression that I’ve ‘arrived’ and I’m completely healthy now. I struggle every day, one way or another, and probably will for a while. It’s been years since my mental breakdown, but with God’s help, I am getting better every day.

But first, the music: You’re Still God by Godfrey Birtill, off the album Very God (Amazon, iTunes, artist store)–just a hopeful song I heard this morning that might help you out.

When it comes to mental health, here is what you need:

  1. Get a good doctor. Good doctors will listen to you and patiently help you through the medication and counseling process. If you don’t have a good psychiatrist and you live in the Atlanta area, email me (stephentshores at gmail dot com) and I can give you a referral.

  2. Take your medicine, and keep taking it. You’re probably going to go through a few different medications to stabilize your moods. During that time, it’s important to keep your doctor apprised of how you’re doing.

  3. Take your medicine, no matter what the ‘faith preacher’ says. God isn’t displeased with you because you’re having to rely on medication. You might have to be on some sort of medication the rest of your life. God is still happy with you and loves you no matter what. Faith is not going off your medication–that’s stupidity and lack of wisdom.

Sometimes faith is just simple trust in God, asking him to work through the doctors to get your medication right. And think positively–maybe you will be completely healed! I had severe, debilitating depression that went away after a revival at my church. It eventually came back, but it was much, much less and basically went away with a small adjustment in medication.

  1. Take care of your physical health. A good walk or run might be just what you need to help kick depression, or at least take the edge off. Take a look at Sad Runner for some good stories of how one man is kicking his depression through exercise.

Keep track of how you feel when you eat certain foods or drink certain drinks. If they make you feel depressed or anxious, stop eating/drinking them or moderate yourself. If I drink too much caffeine, I get anxious, too much chocolate and I get depressed. If I moderate those, I’m fine. Food that makes you sleepy should be avoided if you get depressed when you’re sleepy, as I sometimes do.

  1. Remember that you’re not alone. Ask around and you’ll find that probably dozens of people you know are on some sort of medication for anxiety or depression. These are difficult times, and there are many, many people who need help, but there is still a stigma associated with mental health that makes people hesitate to tell anyone that they need help, or are currently getting help.

  2. Take your medication. If it makes you feel bad, talk to your doctor until he or she gets it right. If your doctor won’t listen, find another doctor. But keep taking your medication.

I pray for you according to Paul in Ephesians 1, emphasis mine:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…

I pray that God renews your hope, and also that you’ll ask for and receive wisdom, according to James 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

(‘Without reproach’ means that God’s not going to make fun of you for asking for wisdom–that’s what the Holy Spirit is there for, to be your Counselor and Guide.)

Have hope, use wisdom, and be blessed, friends.

Coming Home, Part 2: Practically Practicing His Presence

(This is part 2 of a series I’m doing on The Practice of The Presence of God. See part 1 here.)

It’s only been a few days since I picked up The Practice of The Presence of God once more and started implementing it. I can already report some practical results.

But first, the music: Everywhere I Go by Tim Timmons, off the album Awake Our Souls. I discovered Tim’s positive worship music this week and have been enjoying that as well.

Continue reading “Coming Home, Part 2: Practically Practicing His Presence”

Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’

Last week I was feeling rather dry and depressed inside. I couldn’t find anything to listen to on my evening commute–none of the many audiobooks I have seemed to fit the bill, and none of the music I have on my phone seemed to satisfy.

(By the way, today’s song is Who is Jesus? by the BRILLIANCE, off their newest (and quite amazing) album All Is Not Lost.)

Then I remembered a friend of mine had a new podcast which I had loaded on my phone and forgotten about, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt. It definitely didn’t hurt, and in fact, it helped quite a bit. Continue reading “Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’”

I Wanted To Be Jewish (Overcoming Obsessions, Part 1)

This morning a couple of songs from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ were in my head. I reflected on Twitter that I hadn’t watched the movie since my ‘I wanted to be Jewish’ kick about a decade ago.

One of the worst flaws of my personality is the tendency towards obsession. Through the years I’ve been, by the grace of God, able to tame that tendency somewhat. I’ll walk you through some of the faulty logic here, and perhaps this will help you if you recognize this tendency in yourself. Or perhaps you’re a Christian who is obsessed with ‘Jewish roots’ and need a kick in the pants.

More after the break. Continue reading “I Wanted To Be Jewish (Overcoming Obsessions, Part 1)”

The Pain of Becoming

Today’s music is actually a whole album, Anjunabeats Volume 12. by Above & Beyond. Because it’s a trance album where all the songs flow into each other, it doesn’t make sense to just link to one track. Here’s an Amazon purchase link.

51JQHobFsaLI’ve been reading several books lately of a self-help, philosophical nature, and while they have been both informative and entertaining, I won’t link to them because they’re also painful to read, at least for me.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with Christian meditation, working on focusing my mind and thoughts, rather than living life with my brain wandering everywhere. It’s helped lift me out of the funk I’ve been in lately, which is good, and a lot of times I will get insights from the Holy Spirit as to why things are the way they are in my very complicated head, or a better sense about life.

One of the things I realized today is why reading some of these self-help books is so painful is that perhaps they’re not intended for me. Maybe they’re painful to read because they don’t fit a certain pattern that God established for my life. He says he is making us like Christ, but ‘Christ in me’ looks different than ‘Christ in you’, as expressed through our unique personalities and emotional makeup.

One problem is that I’m unsettled in my identity and I don’t feel successful in life, so I latch on to someone who seems self-assured and is successful, then I wonder why their approach to life doesn’t seem to work for me. There’s probably a reason for that: I’m not that person, and I suspect that for me, self-assurance and success is going to look very different.

I don’t know what I’m becoming; I’m still in that ugly stage where it feels like, at times, I don’t know which way is up. Maybe, just maybe, that confusion is OK. As I learn to focus through meditation, that extra step that helps me keep centered in the Spirit, I believe things are getting better, slowly. But I have to let go of the idea that I am going to look like other people, that my success is going to be the same as theirs. Sure, I can grab some helpful pointers here and there, but God isn’t making me into that person. He’s recreating me according to my original intended design, reducing the complicated to the simple, turning pain into peace.