Friday, July 6, 2018

Book Review: Coping With Depression (1995, 2004) by Siang-Yang Tan & John Ortberg

Coping With Depression (1995, 2004) by Siang-Yang Tan & John Ortberg

To depress something is "to move it from a higher level to a lower level." Ask depressed people how they're feeling and there's a good chance they will respond, "Low." When you're depressed, you find yourself struggling for energy. Your food seems to lose its flavor, tasks, and relationships that used to energize you now feel so draining as not to be worth the effort, and you feel as if you can hardly drag yourself through the day. Tasks as simple as choosing a menu at a restaurant or writing an email (or assignment) feel as though they would require superhuman effort. Watching TV/movie/anime or scrolling mindlessly on social media is as far as your ambition goes – if it goes as far as getting out of bed.

You tell yourself to snap out of it. You remind yourself to be strong. You resolve to pray more, read the Bible more, think positive, etc. You go to sleep, hoping that tomorrow will be better… but nothing changes. You resolve that tomorrow you will be back to your old self… but nothing happens. Pray… but the heaven silent. Depression has a spiral quality to it as if it were feeding on itself. You feel guilty about the fact you're depressed. You think you're alone. As Christian, you might think that depression is an indication of a lack of faith, and you argue that if you simply had as much faith as a ‘normal' Christian you wouldn't be depressed. Instead of motivating and empowering change, this only worsens your conditions. Do you feel any of these?

Depressed mood
Decreased interest in life
Decreased appetite
Suicidal tendencies
Decreased ability to concentrate
Decreased energy
Insomnia or hypersomnia
Decreased sense of self-worth or well-being

So, how to cope with depression? "Although it can be hard to capture in a sentence," writes Tan and Ortberg, "depression can generally be effectively diagnosed." In this book, they shed light on the topic of depression and the causes of it. The mix of spiritual sensitivity, scientific research and practical methods in this book much helps for those who struggle with depression and those who would seek to understand and help them (like me). I read so many time that both authors say pointedly, "You are not alone" – and it's true.

In the Bible, Prophet Elijah once asked for his life to be taken away; Prophet Jonah was deeply depressed and despaired after God didn't destroy Nineveh as he had prophesied; Prophet Jeremiah lamented the day he had been born; Job wishes that he had never been born; even Lord Jesus sweats blood in the garden of Gethsemane. Politicians like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and John Quincy Adams were battling depression. Christian leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Charles Spurgeon suffered from depression too. "One of the great mysteries of depression is that it seems to be no respecter of persons," they write. "People who appear to have everything to live for – career advancement, personal attractiveness, and financial security – are as likely candidates as those on the lowest rungs of the ladder of success."

After explaining what is depression, types of depression, and causes of depression, the authors introduce the ABCs methods of coping with depression (notice, it is how to "cope" not "cure"): A stands for "activating events or antecedents – the situations that happen to you"; and C stands for "the consequences, in terms of both feelings and behaviours." Generally, people feel as if C (consequence) is caused by A (event), that the way they feel is caused by what happened to them. However, in between A and C is B – "your beliefs about what it is that has happened to you. In this case, the Bs consist of your automatic thoughts… So it's not the As that cause the Cs after all. The As trigger specific Bs, or beliefs, which in turn lead to the Cs." In summary – let me try – ABCs, the human three major dimensions consist of A stands for effect (feelings), B for behavior (actions), and C for cognition (thinking). When you are depressed, you feel depressed (that's A), you behave in depressed ways (B; for instance, you stay in bed or watching YouTube most of the day), and you think in negative ways (C). Most people think depression as only being about feelings, but "it also equally about the way you behave and the way you think – no part of life is untouched." So, "it is important to deal with all three dimensions" [Note: The authors also warned that not all depression caused by physical, biological and emotional factors, there are also spiritual factors such as personal sin, demonization, and God-sent trails. So, it is important to identify the root cause(s) and seek help].

This book content eight (8) chapters:

Chapter #1 A Snapshot of Depression: The "Common Cold" of Emotional Life
Chapter #2 Understanding Depression
Chapter #3 Coping with Depression: Know Your ABCs
Chapter #4 Affect: How Are You Feeling?
Chapter #5 Behaviour: What Are You Doing?
Chapter #6 Cognition: How Are You Thinking?
Chapter #7 Beyond Self-Help: Using Other Resources
Chapter #8 A Case Study

There are a lot of juicy quotes from this book. I wanted to write at least a page summary for each chapter, but if I do, it will not be a review – it's going to be an essay! Suffice it to say that this book really helped me to understand depression better (watching an interview on depression by Indian actress entitled Deepika Padukone's Story was very helpful too. Besides, there are lots of TED talks on this issue too. Check it out). If you're suffering from depression, don't afraid to seek help. You're not alone. "Depressed people tend to isolate themselves, and so deprive themselves of caring precisely when they have the greatest need for it," said both authors. For this reason, you must seek help and be involved with others. Take the initiative. Fight the urged to keep it quiet. Ask and tell those close to you, near you. When you are depressed, you don't feel like doing anything, but when you don't do anything, it makes you feel more depressed. So, do something (good, positive) about it. You're not alone. Don't feel ashamed about it. I like how Tan and Ortberg end this book: "Above all, remember that God is with you and that the deepest depression cannot put you beyond the reach of his love." Yes!

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