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Why Am I Depressed?

On May 3, 2012, I was in a near-fatal car accident and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury as a result. God miraculously saved my life that day, and also went on to orchestrate a recovery only He is capable of.

My journey to recovery began at the Rehab Institute of Chicago, where I was discharged after a month and continued to have regular and frequent follow-up appointments with my doctors. One thing I remember about these appointments is being asked a number of times about having symptoms of depression or anxiety:

Was I feeling down?
Was I starting to isolate myself from others?
Was I feeling hopeless?

I now understand why they were so persistent in their questioning. Statistics show that one year after a brain injury, more than 50 percent of survivors are affected by these conditions. After seven years, that number jumps to more than 66 percent, compared to the general population where the rate is less than 10 percent.

But at the time, I was naive and believed these statistics wouldn’t apply to me. I had never dealt with any mental health issues. And why would I start now? I had so many things to be happy about and thankful for. I had just survived a near-fatal car accident and my recovery was going better than any of my doctors expected. I had great friends and a wonderful family. I was back to working as a family doctor, a job I knew and loved. And most importantly, I was a Christian, and Christians aren’t supposed to be depressed or anxious, right?

But none of these things seemed to matter. I had a hard time accepting my new life and the new me. I felt like I had become a completely different person. After the brain injury, some of my strengths became my weaknesses, and some of my weaknesses were now my strengths.

I had become very rigid in my daily routines and wanted to stick to the plans I had made for each day or week. I had an extremely hard time multitasking and tended to just focus on one thing at a time. My memory had suddenly become poor, and this was something I had once been proud of. It was something I had depended on to make it to my career as a doctor. Unlike anything remotely related to my “previous” life, I had somehow become a reader, a writer, and a deep thinker. I wasn’t sure how to act or how I was supposed to function as the person I had suddenly become. I wasn’t even sure I liked who I had turned into!

All of this confusion and questioning resulted in the arrival of a battle with depression and anxiety. I became more withdrawn. I felt down about all the new struggles I had developed from my brain injury. I was having a hard time finding joy in this “new” life. I finally admitted I was having these thoughts and knew I needed to seek help.

Now, I had been treating these conditions for years as a family doctor, but after experiencing them myself, I became shamefully aware of how poorly I understood them. I had always struggled with understanding and explaining to patients why they should use the medications I prescribed or the counseling I suggested. But now, even though no two persons’ experience with mental disease is the same, I was getting a glimpse of how some of my patients felt.

My treatment for the past four years has included both medication and psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT). The combination of the two has helped me accept the things I really had no control over and given me the motivation to work on the things I do. In addition to these, regular exercise, the proper amount of sleep, and a healthy diet have also been important in improving my mental health.

Following my brain injury, mental illness has become a part of my story. And it is something I have chosen to openly accept and courageously fight. Besides what I mentioned above, another vital part of my acceptance came from reading the Bible and understanding it in ways I never had before.

I have learned that the Bible is filled with people suffering from all sorts of issues. Though I grew up in church, I wasn’t aware of this. The churches I went to just didn’t talk about it much, or maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention. So, because of my ignorance, I was under the impression that the people who wrote or who were written about in the Bible didn’t deal with any of these kind of issues. And if I was living a proper life and the way God wanted, I shouldn’t either. I have learned this is simply not true.

For example, the authors of Psalms and Lamentations both write about the struggles they faced. These godly men openly confess their feelings of despair and anxious thoughts. David, for example, cries out to God, “My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak” (Psalm 31:10). This is an honest cry of someone suffering emotionally.

But after telling God about his despair and anxiety, David then makes the choice of the other writers of the Bible—to stop carrying the burdens himself, and chose to let God carry them through whatever he was struggling with. Just a few verses later, David says, “But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands. . .”(Psalm 31:14) David realizes that he cannot carry his burden on his own, and chooses instead to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and leave his struggles at the foot of the cross. And that is what I am learning to do as well.

Illness of all kinds, both physical and mental, was not part of God’s original plan. But because of our sin, it came into our lives. Thankfully, we have a God who loves us so much He came to rescue us from this mess. God sent Jesus, who lived a spotless life and died for our sins so that one day we can live forever in a perfect world free of all disease. This is one of God’s promises, and it’s in this promise that I place my hope and my trust (Revelation 12:4).

But until that glorious day, there will be trials. There will be sickness. It is during these difficult times I find my hope, strength, and courage in another one of God’s promises. The promise that in my weakness, He will be the strength that carries me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

What I’ve Gained From Memory Loss

The very poor memory of the fish, Dory, in the Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo, may make her character cute and loveable to most. On my bad days, however, she is my celebrity doppelganger.

About five years ago, I was a buckled passenger in a near fatal car accident. I’ve been blessed with a remarkable recovery, but my lasting injuries include a scar across my forehead, along with my somewhat rotten short-term memory. It’s been really difficult going from being a type-A, organized, over-achiever, to suddenly becoming forgetful and very easily confused!

Even though I can pat myself on the back for the number of compensatory strategies I‘ve learned to employ, I’ve had many instances of grieving the recently acquired need for such strategies. But, in my more mature moments, I can admit how my difficulty with short-term memory has taught me some valuable lessons.

 

1. Forgive as though as you have memory loss

For most of you, the forgetting part after forgiving someone is just not a possibility. Try as you might, you can’t always will yourself to completely forget something.

Do you still have a grudge against your friend for that incident two years ago? Do you often experience frustration with a family member over his or her choice in priorities? Pray that God would grant you the miracle of forgiveness and seek to replace any ungracious thoughts with uplifting ones.

 

2. Live in the Moment

Aiming to “live in the moment” may just sound like a catch phrase, but particularly in the early days of my recovery, my memory loss made it a necessity to do so. During that time, it was really challenging to identify what day of the week it was, the year, even my own age. I was 24 years old at that time, but, in different situations, confidently stated I was anywhere between 14 and 30.

Although I’m a planner by nature, I was experiencing an alternate reality, one that was devoid of time. So, a positive outcome of my memory loss was learning to appreciate the present. There is a time to plan and prepare for the future, but amid the busyness of normal life, try to stop for a minute. Instead of always thinking ahead, acknowledge who and what is currently surrounding you.

 

3. Be Grateful for Every Little Thing

Add to your awareness of the present, gratitude for each moment. In 1 Thess. 5:18, we’re instructed to “give thanks in all circumstances”, so I challenge you to give this a shot. Take a minute from your day to pause and really soak in what you are grateful for in that exact moment.

What are you gathering through your five senses that could otherwise slip by unnoticed? Try writing down at least one thing every day that you appreciate, without any repeats, forming a journal of gratitude that can be looked at and prayed over whenever. I am not advocating a perspective in which you discount life’s difficulties, rather, simply acknowledge the blessings. For example, I grieved not being able to run, but in its absence, I recognized more of the incredible skills that I used every day (like sight and hearing).

A significant loss I’ve experienced is my ability to play cello due to the weakness in my left arm and hand. Now, nearly five years later, I can acknowledge this life-changing loss, but I am also able to articulate gratitude for ever having had those musical abilities. If you need to ask God for a right and grateful perspective, know that you’re not alone! And, if you’re not at the point of being grateful for an outcome, you can still honor God by telling Him that you trust His sovereignty, despite the painful consequences of being on this side of heaven.

You can include in a daily journal of gratitude any of the mental and physical skills you may take for granted. Only when I couldn’t do many of the physical activities I loved (like run, rock climb, swim . . . ) did I realize how much I valued them. Likewise, suddenly experiencing difficulty with short-term memory opened my eyes to the importance of that ability in everyday life. If memory loss has taught me anything, it’s to not wait till I lose something before I start to value it.

 

As you take proactive steps toward fully appreciating the blessings in each moment, you may become increasingly aware that life is fickle, here today and gone tomorrow. Do not allow the brevity of life rob you of enjoying the present. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but relax! Know that through Jesus, our eternal home is secure and the best is yet to come!

When Pride Lingers After An Accident

There’s nothing innately wrong with being proud of something or someone. Pride can be a good thing. But we have to be careful with it because it can become very dangerous when it’s misplaced.

Well, I had been living dangerously and I didn’t even know it. I was placing pride in myself above anything else. On May 3, 2012, my self-pride took a big “hit,” and I mean that literally.

I was driving home after running a few errands in town when another driver ran a flashing red light, hitting my truck and pushing it into a concrete utility pole. My head then went through the driver’s side window and struck the pole, causing a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Though my life was spared, as a result of my TBI, I did “lose” much of what had made me me. So you would think my problem with self-pride would have been lost as well. It would be a thing of the past, taken care of once and for all. But it wasn’t. My self-pride may have been curbed somewhat but it never left completely. It would exit for awhile but never stay gone. It was always finding its way back. It wasn’t that long ago when my pride issue was starting to make one of its ugly returns. And the scary thing is I didn’t even know it was happening

During my most recent bout, I was focused on getting as many people as possible to hear the miraculous story God has written and is still writing for my life. I was spending a lot of my time and energy “promoting” myself on social media and other platforms. I was telling others about who I was, my story, my upcoming book, my speaking, and so on. I was becoming over-focused on myself.

As all of this self-absorption was taking place, I heard a very timely sermon where my pastor was teaching from the book of Ecclesiastes. That day, he focused on one particular verse: “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?” (Ecclesiastes 7:16)

I believe this warning also applies to self-pride and self-absorption, etc—the very attributes I was displaying.

I knew God was speaking directly to me. It wasn’t something I should take lightly, because it had the ability to destroy me. I was very grateful to be made aware of this, but now what? How was I supposed to combat overrighteousness and, thus, avoid being “destroyed”?

As I was sitting there pondering this question, our pastor led us to the New Testament and the book of Matthew. “But seek first his kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

 Now that was a very familiar verse to me. I had heard it many times before. But, as our pastor pointed out to us that day, there is a word tucked away within it that we tend to gloss over and overlook. But that single word was the answer to the question I was just asking myself. This one word, when taken to heart, gives us the ability to avoid being destroyed by our overrighteousness. This very powerful word is: His.

You see, our righteousness isn’t ours. It’s His. It belongs to Jesus. Every little bit of it. We haven’t anything to do with it. The only reason we can be called righteous is because of what Jesus has done for us. So anytime I start thinking too highly of myself or believing that I am in any way responsible for my righteousness, I need to remember the One who truly is.

Moving forward from here, I know I will need to promote my story, my upcoming book, my speaking, etc. I understand this is necessary if I want to people to hear the story God has written and is still writing in my life.  But when doing so, I have to remember that none of what I am claiming ownership over is actually mine. Not one bit of it. Because just like my righteousness, it all belongs to Jesus.

An Accident Nearly Took My Life But Grace Saved Me

Written By Xueying, Malaysia, originally in Traditional Chinese

On 20 August 2011, eight days after my 26th birthday, I was nearly killed in a car accident.

That Saturday morning, I was driving around the outskirts of my hometown, Ipoh, Malaysia, with a colleague. Suddenly, another car coming from the opposite direction veered into our lane and collided with us head-on, wrecking our car.

The driver, an elderly man, suffered minor injuries and was discharged shortly. My colleague and I, on the other hand, were critically injured. Both of us had to undergo surgery immediately. Tragically, my colleague passed away that very night. I remained unconscious, with multiple tubes inserted into my neck and wrist. A metal implant was also inserted into my right arm.

When my parents heard about the accident, they rushed to the hospital. When they saw the state I was in, they broke down. Every day after that, they would go to the temple to pray for my recovery. During that time, my relatives, friends and colleagues also visited me.

A week after the accident, I was transferred from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to the general ward as there was insufficient space in the ICU. Two months later, I was discharged; I was still unconscious.

For the first two months, I remained in a coma and was fed through a feeding tube. Pastors and church members streamed in to visit me. They held my hands and prayed fervently for me.

By the grace of God, I regained consciousness two months later. That, however, was just the beginning of a long and challenging journey. Due to injuries to my brain, my cognitive ability was severely impaired. Although friends and relatives tried to talk to me, I was unable to respond.

I had regressed to infant behavior. I had to re-learn simple things, like drinking water. My father removed my feeding tube and my mother tried to feed me with a milk bottle, coaxing me like a baby and saying repeatedly, “Come, swallow, swallow . . .” Apparently, it took me a minute just to swallow one mouthful.

Because the nerves on my left brain were so severely damaged, my mobility was restricted. I was lying on my back all the time, and it took me a lot of effort just to sit up.

Several months later, I started to walk again, supported by a pair of crutches. I will never forget the tremendous difficulty this took—I had to take a break every one or two steps, since it was too tiring to move my body. Each day, I could manage only a few hundred steps.

It was utterly exhausting. Back then, I didn’t know that I could rely on God, until a church friend passed me a Bible one day. She said to me, “Xueying, try reading the Bible when you are able to read. You can find answers to all your life questions and doubts in the Bible—true answers.”

As a child, I used to attend Sunday school; I loved singing worship songs. In university, I also attended church. However, although I knew who Jesus was, I never bothered to develop a personal relationship with Him. The only times I prayed were before exams or before the exams results were announced.

But the accident made me wonder about God’s purposes. I needed to know why I had to go through so much suffering in my life and why my loved ones had to suffer along with me. As such, while learning how to walk, I started to read the Bible.

I remember the first time I read the Bible vividly. I was casually flipping through the Bible and stumbled on this verse: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Instantly, my heart was lifted. This teaching by Jesus reinvigorated me and filled me with hope—God loves me and I am His new creation! From then on, I would tell myself whenever I felt like giving up, “Don’t cry, don’t be discouraged. God will lead the way, just follow Him in faith.”

In the five and a half years following my accident, I barely touched any form of technology—this despite the fact that I was working as an electrical engineer before my accident. Instead, I would read the Bible voraciously every day, spending time to reflect on how to follow God’s word.

During my recovery, I had five major falls—each caused unbearable pain. The fifth time, I lost my balance in my own bedroom and landed heavily. The scab on my left wrist scraped against the wall and blood started to flow profusely. The pain was excruciating and I sat on the floor because I was unable to get up from the floor on my own. I closed my eyes tightly and cried out to God, “Please help me Father, I’m in a lot of pain!”

At that moment, a song that I had learned more than 21 years ago came to my mind: “Although I’m weak, God is strong”. This immediately strengthened and comforted me. I reached out to grab some tissue to wipe the blood off my wrist, and told myself not to be afraid and to wait for my parents to come and help me. Ten minutes later, my father walked past my room and saw me sitting on the floor. “Why are you sitting on the floor, does your head hurt?” he asked. I could see the look of pain on his face when his eyes landed on the blood-soaked tissue on the floor beside me.

As he helped me up, I assured him by telling him my head did not hurt—it was just my left wrist that hurt. I added, “Wow papa, you can lift me up so quickly! You’re so strong!”

As I look back on this accident, I thank God for using it to change me inside out. He has saved me from being the pessimist I used to be, and rescued me from my dark thoughts. Now, I follow Him in the light and give thanks for everything I have in life. I’ve since learned that though there will always be difficulties in this life, with God I can overcome them all.

To a person who has gone through a near death experience, I have come to see that being able to live each day is nothing short of a miracle. And having experienced God’s saving grace, I see how it is the gospel that gives us the hope of living.

Coming from a village in Malaysia where most villagers are not Christians, I am especially aware that it is the grace of God that has enabled me to get to know Him. Therefore, I am making it a priority in my life to learn more about Him and tell others about God so that many people can get to know Him as their Lord and Savior. God’s word from Galatians 6:9 reminds me to spread the gospel zealously. My parents for instance, are not Christians, but have been opened to learning more about God. It warms my heart when I see how interested they are to hear the Bible stories.

A year ago on Christmas Eve, I testified about God’s goodness in church in the presence of my parents. I shared about God’s saving grace in my life and how He changed me. I compared my experience to the process of the metamorphosis of a pupa that faces difficulty when it breaks out of the cocoon. When it does, however, it emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

More recently, I have managed to ditch the crutches and make it up to the second floor of my church to attend service on my own feet. Praise be to God!

It is my prayer that I will continue to be found faithful sharing the gospel of Jesus, so that His word can light the way for others, just as it has for me.

“We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”—Hebrews 3:14