My name is Sze, pronounced like the American “Z”. Thank you for joining me as I explore the interplay between my relationship with God and my experience of depression on this blog. This is not an easy project for me and I do not undertake it lightheartedly. I am in essence pouring my heart out to the world. However, after much internal deliberation, I have concluded that keeping a blog during my time of recovery would be personally beneficial. It would enable me to assess and reflect upon my own situation while concurrently encouraging regular productivity and creative accomplishment. Both of these should help towards understanding my depression and developing resilience to it. While I am not sure how consistent I will be with updating this blog, I hope to set aside an hour or two each day for processing and writing down my thoughts.
I have decided to share my blog with you in the hope that others will also benefit from it. Mental health issues are common: one in four people in the UK experience mental health problems. However, significant social stigma and taboo remain surrounding the topic, delaying or even preventing diagnosis and treatment. I personally suffered alone and in silence for over two years, experiencing progressively worse symptoms, because I felt afraid and ashamed to tell others about it. Evidently, I no longer hold such an outlook, but the process of getting to this point has not been smooth. It has involved many tears, many hesitant conversations, many moments of doubt, but absolutely no regret. Speaking out was both the most difficult and the most worthwhile decision I have made with regard to my depression. Only in accepting and admitting the nature of the problem can one begin on the road to recovery.
name it, normalise it, socialise it
George Monbiot, columnist for ‘The Guardian’
on his cancer diagnosis
The key to breaking the chains of social stigma and taboo is to speak out. As more and more people discuss a problem in the public sphere, it becomes increasingly easier to bring it up in regular conversation. It must be named and normalised to the extent reflected in the statistics. Only then can the facts become more widely understood, followed by general shifts in perception from fear or indifference to compassion. People who experience such problems then feel more able to seek help and advice from others. Regardless of your opinion on my reflections herein, I hope this blog will encourage you to do likewise: to speak out about issues that are close to your heart and to support those around you to do the same. That is my primary reason for publishing my blog online. Conversely, it is never my intention to harm or hurt others. Depression, and mental health more generally, are to some extent conceptual issues for discussion, but as I know very clearly myself, they are also very painful lived experiences for individual people. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to express personal compassion and understanding over the impersonal worldwide web. I will take this opportunity to apologise in advance for any ill-informed assumptions or generalisations I might make. This project is an opportunity for corporate learning, and I hope that we will all have the grace and humility to share this space with each other.
and whatever you do, in word or deed
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus
giving thanks to God the Father through him
Colossians 3:17, ESV
The rationale for specifically discussing my depression in the context of my Christian beliefs is two-fold. Firstly, my faith plays a central role in my day to day life. It affects my worldview, my attitudes, my relationships, my priorities. It does so because I believe in a God who governs everything, and not merely a ‘god of the gaps’. However, a contender subtly wormed its way into this all-encompassing faith. Like physical cancer, it propagated exponentially, sucking the life out of its environment, until it eventually established a central position in my life. It too affects my worldview, my attitudes, my relationships, my priorities. This is the battle dynamic that I hope to investigate. Even though I know by definition which army is stronger, for the creator God is infinitely greater than any created ailment, it often does not feel that way. In our culture which so highly values expressive individualism, can God’s truths reign over my own emotions? Should they? How should they? These are questions that are important to me as a Christian experiencing depression. Hopefully, they will be interesting for you to explore with me. Secondly, on a similar train of thought, I think there is uncertainty specific to some aspects of the interface between Christian faith and mental health problems. These doubts may be held by people both within the Christian community and without. How can a loving God allow human suffering? Does the Bible not promise everlasting joy for believers? Is depression caused by sin? Is it a sin in itself? What about the role of supernatural forces in mental health problems? The line is understandably fuzzier between the spiritual and the emotional than the physical. Snap judgments can result from a lack of prior pondering. Even as society begins to be more open about mental health, the church needs to foster a safe environment for such discussions and develop the suitable expertise to support those in need.
These two reasons informed my decision to name my blog as such. At first glance, my titular phrase reads like a paradox. How can one simultaneously experience joy and sorrow? Even so, I chose “my joy in sorrow’s tears” because it succinctly encapsulates the presence of Jesus in the midst of my depression. The truth is this: He is “my joy in sorrow’s tears”, as such “my joy” is not a feeling but a person. My prospects may be in jeopardy. My motivation may wallow at an all-time low. My mental state may never fully recover. Yet Jesus is the same: yesterday, today and forevermore. His love is unchanging and His promises are eternally secure. He is my rock in the storm, whether I am standing confidently atop or clinging desperately beneath. He is my Prince of peace, regardless of how I might be feeling. And He is my hope of a glorious renewal to come. He walked along the same path of suffering as I now tread and emerged victorious in the face of death. Now, my journey through the valley of the shadow of death continues, but I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That end might be in this life or the next: either way, it is such a comfort to know that my future is safe in God’s hand.
my joy in sorrow’s tears
my strength to cast out fears
no other name but Jesus, Jesus
my hope in darkest night
my broken soul’s delight
no other name but Jesus, Jesus
Lyrics from ‘No Other Name‘
© 2010 Trevor Hodge, used with permission
The phrase “my joy in sorrow’s tears” is taken from the chorus of ‘No Other Name’, a Christian worship song by Emu Music. A few of their members serve at my church, St Ebbe’s Oxford: over the past few years, I have been immensely blessed by their work. In many ways, I look up to them as my role model when writing my own song lyrics. Their songs are always rich with eloquently expressed Biblical truths and this song is no exception. Apart from Jesus, no other person or thing has been able to deliver me from my darkness. I know this from my personal experience and the Bible professes this to be true. You can have a listen to it below: