Friday, November 21, 2008

Walking Through the Darkness

Dr. George Beukema is a friend and comrade in ministry who supervised my Doctorate of Ministry dissertation. He and his wife, Lila, have been in urban ministry for many years. Dr. Beukema provides supportive counseling and psychotherapy services to Breakthrough's interim housing guests as well as to men, women and couples on Chicago’s north side. If you need someone to walk through the darkness with you right now, you should definitely give him a call. He wrote the article below about depression, which, of course, is a condition that often rears its ugly head this time of the year.

For the thing which
I greatly feared is come upon me,
and that which I was afraid of
Is come unto me.
I was not in safety, neither
had I rest, neither was I quiet;
yet trouble came.

--Job

Depression is hard to grab hold of. In “Darkness Visible,” renowned author William Styron chronicles his life-long struggle with depression. In the introduction Styron states, “Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self…as to verge close to being beyond description.” Styron, like so many other men and women throughout the ages, suffered deeply with this mysterious yet ever present malady. There was Abraham Lincoln and his “melancholy” which troubled him throughout his life. There was Winston Churchill and his “Black Dog”—an interesting metaphor, perhaps chosen for the way depression seems to forever be on your heels. And we needn’t look to the past for examples of people who suffer from depression. They surround us. Simply Google “famous people with depression” and you will find more names than you might imagine such as Hugh Laurie, Heath Ledger, Terry Bradshaw, Harrison Ford, Ashley Judd, Amy Tan, Drew Carrey, Jim Carey to name just a few.

In my practice I work with men and women—young and old—who suffer from depression. Its faces are many. For example, men, a bit more than women, are likely to experience depression in ways more behavioral than emotional. Men tend to “do” depression more than feel it. Some common ways of “doing depression” are expressing anger in sudden or intense ways; brooding incessantly; spending significant amounts of time and energy engaged in particular tasks like work, sports, or hobbies; engaging in behaviors that are reckless or dangerous; feeling driven (addiction-like) to certain behaviors which provide some sort of temporary relief or calm. Other symptoms of depression common to men and women alike are eating too little or too much, sleeping too little or too much, having difficulty feeling pleasure, or being consumed with negative thoughts. And sometimes depression is experienced simply as a pervasive sadness.

We’ve come a long way since the days of Lincoln’s melancholy and Churchill’s “black dog” in understanding depression. We know the location in the brain where it seems to reside; we know that in some circumstances medication can be very helpful. And we’ve learned that talk therapy provides significant relief for many. This last part shouldn’t come as a surprise to those of us who know the healing power that comes “where two or more are gathered.” It is this power that led me into the field of psychotherapy and it is this power that leads many to the church. I believe it is also this power of which the Psalmist speaks when he says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for you are with me.” It’s a good thing to have someone walk with you in the darkness.

Dr. George Beukema can be reached at 773.350.2953 or gdbeukema@ameritech.net.

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