Healed From Depression
by William Yau
The Psalmist tells me that I am a one-of-a-kind, custom-made individual:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13–14).
Yet I have often asked God why He made me the way I am, since throughout my adult life, I have suffered with episodes of depression that come and go cyclically, every 5–7 years.
As a pharmacist with considerable medical knowledge, I understand that many factors influence my physical and mental well-being. There are the endogenous (inside) factors, like genes, and the exogenous (outside) factors, like stress from the environment. People who have never been depressed often ask what depression feels like and what the symptoms are. Though symptoms are not easy to describe and vary with each person, I have categorized my own experiences this way:
Thoughts: I feel sad and unhappy/blue, hopeless, inadequate, guilty, unworthy. As a result, I experience low self-esteem, criticize and blame myself, and have difficulty making decisions.
Activities and Personal Relationships: I feel apathetic—suppression of my otherwise passion and emotion toward family and friends and, worst of all, toward God. As a result, I shy away from talking to those close to me, losing motivation for things I once enjoyed, and experiencing no pleasure or satisfaction in life.
Physical: I feel tired, have a low energy level, can’t sleep, and worry needlessly. As a result, I have a decreased appetite, and lose weight.
Suicidal Urges: I feel that life is meaningless. As a result, negative thoughts fill my mind all the time, and I begin considering how to end my life. I also begin making a plan to do it.
When I am depressed, I experience all these symptoms. Yet, God’s grace has always been sufficient. His Spirit prompts me to reflect on the joys of living. God has blessed me with good intellect, I am a successful pharmacist and co-owner of a pharmacy business, my wife is loving and supportive, and we are blessed with three wonderful adult children. Even in my deepest despair, I know there is always hope.
“Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).
A Look Inside an Episode
It began abruptly on September 15, 2017. I was working as usual at my store when suddenly I felt as if I wanted to cry—and I seldom cry. Then I felt that something was missing in my brain. The symptoms were clear. I was going into depression. That night, sleep did not come.
Only last year I had recovered from a relapse of depression, and since then I had taken every precaution to ward off another episode. I had cut back and was working only one day each week. I was exercising. So why was I relapsing into depression so quickly? Was I just getting older? I called out to God, asked Him why this was happening to me, and why me? I knew He knew, because He knows the number of the hairs on my head!
Naturally the next step was to see my psychiatrist. So, the rounds of trials of different anti-depressants began. Tried one, didn’t work. Tried another, didn’t work either. Tried different combos, hoping to get some synergistic (i.e. 1+1 > 2) clinical effects. Every time a different anti-depressants is used, it usually takes four weeks before one can observe whether it works. Frustration is hardly the best word to describe how my wife, Amy, my family, and I felt—but it is close.
My doctor, a consulting psychiatrist at a hospital, was perplexed, too, and offered to try two more combos. First choice was to take the same anti-depressant plus a drug that is used for manic-depressive/bi-polar patients. As a pharmacist, I naturally checked out the side effects profile of this drug. The therapeutic dose is close to the toxic dose—specifically, toxicity to the kidneys. The second option was to add a brain stimulant on top of the anti-depressant I was already taking. I politely declined both as I didn’t want my kidneys to be damaged, nor did I want any extra stimulant to my brain since I take a sleeping pill to help me sleep. So, from the pharmaceutical modality perspective, my chance to get help was basically zero.
At that time, I came to believe that I might have dysthymia, a type of “low grade” depression that could stay with me for the rest of my life. I was 62, middle-aged, and at my wit’s end. So, I prostrated myself before God and told Him that I didn’t know what the next step was that I should be taking—if there was one at all.
How God Healed Me
The way God healed me was really outside my “box.” As a pharmacist, my default thinking is always “What other chemical(s) can I try?” (In the past, it was drugs that lifted me out from the pit of depression every single time.) So, to describe how God healed me, I chose to use a "cocktail" (pharmaceutical slang) of different healing modalities. The cocktail contained seven ingredients/different modalities other than drugs that God used to heal me, step by step, in His time.
1. Prayer: I put this first and foremost. I concluded—and my psychiatrist does not refute—that it is a miracle that I am totally healed. I have not taken any drugs other than the anti-depressant that I had been taking—for more than a year now. Thank God that many believers consistently and persistently prayed for me. One church I had not known before devoted ½ to ¾ of their prayer time to pray for me and continued this on a weekly basis for approximately half a year! Our Lord certainly listens to the prayers of His people.
2. His Word: Don’t underestimate the power of His Word. Different Bible verses sustained me and kept me from killing myself (“...a live dog is better off than a dead lion”). And His Word supported and encouraged me: “He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31: 6b); “Cast all your anxieties on him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). The precious Word of our Lord and the promises in the Bible are VERY powerful indeed to speak truth to our minds and hearts. That can really help us to have a solid base for authentic positive thinking.
3. Full support from my family: my wife Amy, my family, my siblings, believers in Christ, and friends. A brother in Christ whom I didn’t know well at the time came to visit me three days in a row during the seven days I stayed in the psychiatric ward when I was ill with a depression relapse in 2016. He later called me, invited me to lunch, and walked with me through the dark valley of my life. I also received much support from my family in Hong Kong, who on our visit back there, encouraged me by bringing me to places which held fond memories of my youth.
4. CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy): I had about a dozen sessions with a clinical psychologist and benefited from this modality most when I broke the news and told my parents that I was again struggling with depression. I did not want them to know (they are in their nineties) as I knew they would take the news hard, and they would be fearful for my life. However, I was able to fly to Hong Kong and tell them face to face. They accepted my condition and gave me their full support—a great relief, as a heavy burden was lifted from my heart.
5. Lots of LUX (a unit of illumination): It is scientifically proven that sunshine helps to give people who have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a lift when their mental state is down. Light affects the way we see the world. Too much can cause sleep disruption and too little can affect our mood.
6. TCM(Traditional Chinese Medicine): Through the lead of a sister in my local church, I was treated by an experienced Chinese herbalist who has more than 40 years of experience practicing TCM. He is a brother in Christ and really has a heart to help his patients. Though the potion of Chinese herbs was bitter, I did take them for approximately half a year. It detoxed my internal system, particularly my gut. There is proof that there’s a gut-brain axis that can have a direct link to depression.
7. Acupuncture: Again, God linked me with an acupuncturist, a sister in Christ, who also has a heart to help her patients. Through her skill and care, my depression was lifted after just three sessions. This modality was like the last kick that God used to heal my depression.
Praise the Lord, indeed! To God be the glory, great things He has done! I am back to my old self. My apathy is gone, my interests are back, and the cognitive acumen in my brain has been restored. The timing of my healing was just a few days before Christmas 2018. (What a bonus!) As a result, I was able to thoroughly enjoy Christmas with my son’s family at a ski resort in Vancouver.
My heart’s desire is that by sharing openly about my “secret” of living with depression, others in the same condition may be encouraged. There should never be any stigma associated with mental illness, and clinical depression is an illness. (An illness is a sickness from which one can recover, like cold/flu, whereas a disease is a sickness that is considered permanent.) We can claim—as did the apostle Paul regarding his eye disease—that God’s “grace is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).