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Home > 2013 > January Web Exclusives > Befriending the Darkness

I can't remember much of the conversation in that consulting room. Just two words lodged in my mind: manic depression.

Until I began to respond to a sense of call to Christian ministry my life had been directionless and mostly "gray," but it was not until I was a theological student that depression began to take a hold. I had a driving job, delivering photographic equipment to retailers. I would be driving from one delivery to another weeping. I was scared. I didn't know why I was crying. I wasn't consciously unhappy about anything (I had just gotten engaged to the woman who would become my wife). I wasn't consciously worried about anything. I was just weeping uncontrollably.

After seeing a number of general physicians, I was prescribed anti-depressants and referred to a psychiatrist. Once a month, I saw the psychiatrist to ensure that my moods were stabilizing. I am one of the fortunate people for whom lithium works. Lithium is not a "cure" but an effective means of limiting the extremes of mood swing. When the lithium "kicked in" and my mood stabilized, life became manageable. Imagine the horror of my physician when, after barely two years of continuous stability, I announced that I wanted to stop taking the tablets. They made me feel truncated.


A while ago, Stephen Fry presented a series of television programs on the subject of manic depression. One of his interviewees described being on lithium as being "letter-boxed." When some films shot in wide-screen format are shown on television, the top and the bottom of the television screen are blanked-out. That is precisely what it feels like to be on lithium: the extremes of mania and despair have gone, but so has a third of your personality. You feel temperamentally castrated.

All but one of those interviewed did not wish to be other than they were. I'm sure this is incomprehensible to those peering in from the outside: who would want the despair of depression; who would want the embarrassment of mania?

While I would do anything to be rid of the numbing desolation of despair, but I note in puzzlement that, while I can write rhymes at any time, I can only write poetry of any approximation to quality when I am depressed. And without the mania, I never feel enthusiastic or completely engaged. For all the pain of it, I would rather be as I am than live with the unremitting grayness that was life on lithium. As is true in so many aspects of life, that for which I am most grateful is inextricably bound up with that which I most regret and loathe. I would welcome healing if I could lose the despair without losing the insight and sensitivity, if I could lose the mania without losing the enthusiasm and passion.

But since I'm not convinced that these things can be so easily distinguished, I'm not sure I want to be "healed." I would rather, with the apostle Paul, cling on to the promise that God's grace is sufficient in my weakness, and even that God is glorified in and through my weakness rather than by its removal. The one who is risen remains the one who was crucified. The glorified Jesus still bears the wounds of his crucifixion.

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Related Topics:DiscouragementEnduranceSoulWeakness
Posted: January 21, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 7 comments

Naomi O

January 28, 2013  4:27am

Your story made me to read the book of Job, when he was lamenting. But one thing i know is that God is present in all these pains and depressions.

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January 23, 2013  12:14pm

This was such a great, transparent, and candid article. I am sharing it with many friends who, like me, can relate. Our pastor is doing a series called Enjoying God. Here is the link http://www.efcc.org/resources/sermons/. Even the worship has helped to lift me out of some terribly overwhelming darkness. His sermon last week spoke right to those of us who suffer from these swings. Also, I read a book called "The Mood Cure" by Julia Ross, which has helped me to self diagnose my issues and use homeopathic remedies which do not inhibit my own emotional states. The remedies really help me just be able to control them better. I notice the effects of the remedies immediately and really can tell when I forget to take them. Thank you again for your candor.

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January 23, 2013  6:02am

'our suffering and distress is not the final word.' Thank You, God.

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Melody Harrison Hanson

January 22, 2013  2:44pm

Thank you. As a fellow sufferer, I thank you for this reflection and for the hope I find there. Even tho, "the darkness is a lingering presence on the margins of my mind, never wholly absent, always threatening. Is this darkness truly unending? Will it endure forever?" It's been ten years for me, off and on, but going off medication helped me to cry again.

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January 22, 2013  2:02pm

And yet, there are other medications besides lithium, probably many new ones since the author first was diagnosed. I have struggled with depression for many years, and have partial relief with medication. Without medication, I would be overwhelmed with unbearable pain. It isn't always a choice between medication and fullness of life - sometimes medication just gives a stronger base that allows a person back into life. It can be like insulin to a diabetic - supplying something that the body lacks.

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