The 2018 World Cup concluded recently, and my darling wife Bernice reminded me that it has been 20 years since my struggle with clinical depression. The 1998 world cup was on. Ricky Martin was celebrating the Cup of Life. I normally enjoy watching a good game of football, but I didn’t enjoy any of the 1998 World Cup matches. Most of the day I was lying on the sofa, with no strength or will to do anything. The TV screen would be showing football matches, but I was unable to enjoy watching any of them. One of the symptoms of depression is anhedonia.
People who experience anhedonia have lost interest in activities they used to enjoy and have a decreased ability to feel pleasure. It’s a core symptom of major depressive disorder, but it can also be a symptom of other mental health disorders.
I was a single parent then and, though we had house help, I was the one doing the marketing and doing whatever parenting I could, which was nowhere near enough. I was in constant emotional pain and though my psychiatrist told me I would get over the worst of my depression in six months, when you are depressed, six months is a lifetime because you live your life day by day, moment by moment, and you don’t really know when the pain will end.
Looking back, I don’t know how I survived that black period of my life. I am grateful for my psychiatrist who saw me once a week in that acute phase of my depression. In my despair, I would phone him a few times in between visits and he would always take my calls, even though he was probably attending to other patients. He did prescribe an antidepressant which went some way in helping me to stabilise my brain chemistry, but what was most helpful was the “talk therapy”; the healing conversations I had with this caring person.
I also had a counsellor who was based in Singapore, the late Anthony Yeo. Once in a while, we would chat on the phone. When I was stronger, I would come down to Singapore to see him and he always made time for me. And I thank God that by that time I had learnt to use the computer as so much of my “talk therapy” with Anthony was via email.
Then there were the many who prayed, the many who helped out with practical stuff like ferrying the boys to various appointments, and the small group of friends who didn’t ask you to “snap out of it” or to “trust God more and you will be healed”, but who just journeyed with you.
My psychiatrist was right. I did get over the worst of my depression in about six months, but it took me about two years to get back to anything near my usual strength levels, and then a longer journey to healthy joy and confidence. Even now, I see depression out of sight just beyond my peripheral vision and, whenever it threatens to reappear, I get help.
But it has been 20 years. God heals, but he takes His time and He does it His way. I am in a good place now though some wounds and scars remain and some of them will only be fully healed in the life to come. As Frodo discovered in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, some wounds cannot be healed this side of life.
“Are you in pain, Frodo?” said Gandalf quietly as he rode by Frodo’s side.
“Well, yes I am,” said Frodo. “It is my shoulder. The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today.”
“Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,” said Gandalf.
“I fear it may be so with mine,” said Frodo.
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Some wounds can only be healed beyond the Western Seas in Valinor, Tolkien’s version of paradise.
“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
We await the return of Jesus to usher in the new heavens and the new earth, where there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain. (Revelation 21:4)
But we still need to live our lives as best we can until it is our turn to board that ship. So, though I don’t often think of it now, I am glad for the reminder that it has been 20 years since my clinical depression; two decades that the Lord has carried me and has repaid me much of what the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:25), as my good friend Joo Chong told me He would during a hot afternoon in Sitiawan, at the funeral of Hee Ling my first wife.
So, thank you Lord for your mercy. Thank you for allowing me to drink from your cup of life. Thank you for the opportunity to now point others towards that cup.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 NIV)