Persons who suffer from depression often engage in addictive patterns such as "retail therapy" to find comfort in the midst of their pain. "Retail therapy", like many other patterns, fail to provide release from the throes of depression. Here's a possible workable approach for many who suffer - "Service Therapy."
At the outset I want to say that this is not an article demeaning those who suffer in the throes of depression nor is it a flippant answer to the problem. Rather, the intent of this article is to breathe life back into bleeding, broken hearts, souls and minds that find it difficult to embrace a meaning of existence that is holistic and filled with meaning that brings about joy rather than pain.
There has been so much written about depression over the years by thousands of sources and this article is not designed to disagree with that which has been written but, rather, to offer a new approach to finding a light at the end of the dark tunnel of hopelessness and helplessness that permeates most depression experiences.
We all know that depression can be caused by a variety of reasons, whether internal body chemistry or mental and/or emotional traumas of life that have resulted in some form of loss. The reality is that depression occurs and can be either “normal” or “clinical” in nature. “Normal” simply signifies that some form of loss has happened and depression will be one of the stages in which a person will find himself/herself enveloped for a time as the grieving process unfolds. Over the course of time the person will move past the depression to a form of acceptance that permits him/her to move forward with a meaningful life. “Clinical” implies that the depression has gone beyond the normal process and has gained a persistent and consistent level of mental, emotional and even physical control over the life of the depressed person, resulting in a prevailing sense of helplessness and hopelessness that permeates the very fiber of the person’s existence. This control becomes so strong that there is no longer a sense of direction and/or purpose or meaning for living. In some cases the “clinical” form of depression may be chemical in origin and be ongoing for indefinite periods of time; some have been determined to be irreversible.
Though treatment for the two differentiations of depression is quite different, I believe there is a common thread for “normal” and many “clinical” cases of depression – these persons have lost their sense of value which is tied to their ability to see themselves as persons with a personal destiny that can make a difference in the lives of others. My contention is that only as we find our God-given meaning and purpose for our lives can we overcome the characteristics of depression that deny us the very joy of living that divinely belongs to each of us.
The primary problem with depression is that it creates an inward focus that is selfish by nature. This is not to be judgmental in its context but informative and educational for we need to see what the root of the illness is. We all become naturally selfish when life “dumps” on us and depression is created when we naturally focus in upon our personal pain and heartache. We feel as though perhaps life has been unfair to us, that someone has not cared for us when we most needed them, that our losses are such that we will never rise above the pain inflicted and/or that our meaning to life has been ripped, intentionally or unintentionally, from us. We find it hard to focus on the future, find it difficult to define ourselves and our circumstances, and wonder how we will adjust to the gut-wrenching demand for change in light of our situation. Answers do not seem to be forthcoming, whether sought from God, others or even from within our own inner core. The “bottom line” is our inward focus that develops and gradually becomes a form of bondage that keeps us in the clutches of our pain.
In some cases, “retail therapy” becomes a means of addressing the selfishness that evolves from the pain. If we can just purchase something “meaningful” for ourselves it will lessen the internal anguish we experience. When we examine the continuing increase in the diagnosis of depression in our nation companioned with the marked increase in personal spending, there seems that there may be a correlation. This is especially noticed when we realize that more and more purchases are actually impulse buying without any rational consideration behind many swipes of the credit card. In my counseling experiences with persons with very little cash who present depression, they will spend every last bit of change they have to purchase “comfort” items – often food snacks or trinkets – seeking an immediate comfort for their pain. But it’s not just the economically poor who engage is the development of this addictive pattern but those of means as well. It compares to the person whose self-worth has plummeted deeply into the pit and learns to find addictive patterns such as shopping that will mask the pain. But, in reality, these addictive patterns will only serve to create more problems in the long term. “Retail therapy” is not an answer but a false comfort that only opens the doors for deeper depression as guilt over the lack of control of the addictive patterns rears its head.
What does the Word of God say about this? In the Biblical narrative, we find a number of great persons of faith who became discouraged and could be classified as depressed. Jonah, Job, King David, Jeremiah and Elijah to name a few all appear to have experienced varying bouts of depression and became inward focused in spite of their close walks with God. The “good news” for us is that we can know that all of us will, at one time or another, experience the reality of depression. To experience depression does not make us less than we were intended by God to be as we can see by the lives lived by those listed above. Nor does it mean that we have somehow failed God because we become depressed. For a moment, even Jesus, on the night in which He was betrayed, showed an inward focus in which He asked God to “take this cup” of agony from Him. What these narratives do show us is one important clue as to how we might find release from the bondage of depression and regain the joy and peace the world cannot give nor can it ever take away.
To begin the process of liberation, we need to know that, before we were ever born, God prepared a plan unique to each of us (Psalm 139:13-16; Ephesians 2:8-10). Just as He made each of us unique in our DNA, He also made us unique in our spiritual giftedness, personality, and personal purpose (or passion or destiny). No one else has been or will ever be identical to us. God created us precisely as He desired to perform tasks for Him that no one else can or will ever do. This is an expression of our incredible worth to Him and shows that He wants to fulfill our lives through completion of these tasks. Through this we will be affirmed by knowing that what we’re doing for Him makes a difference in the lives of others and that it truly matters. This is what every person really wants to know – that what we did make a difference and it mattered. This is the most important piece of information every person desires to know. When we are directly involved in ministry – in meeting the needs of others – it restores life to us and the grasp of depression is broken and we have the answer as to why we exist.
These tasks that God calls us to do are aimed at ministering to the concerns of others (I Corinthians 3:4-9, 16-17; 12; Ephesians 4:11-16). It is only as we seek to help others find their way can we actually find our own. And, each person has been given a uniquely prescribed path to accomplish this. God desires that each person discover his/her highest spiritual potential and He has given us the privilege of partnering with Him to facilitate this great task. And, as we participate with Him, we find we are blessed as we see that what we do matters and makes a difference.
The truth is that the greatest and simplest cure for much depression is to give ourselves away in ministry to others. These ministries are the very tasks to which God has called us and, as we engage in our personal purpose and give to others, we are blessed because we know we are making a difference. And, when we know we’re making a difference, our value, meaning and purpose is restored. The result is the decline of the hold depression has upon us and victory in life is gained once more.
©2008 Mel Menker
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.