The Long Road Back

08.27.10 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[22]

Bio2CecilApril 12...that was the last time I posted a blog on our website.  Over four months ago.  People have emailed me and asked, "Where's your blog?"; "Why haven't you been blogging?"  The fact is, I tried several times but nothing came out...nothing worth posting anyway.

Starting in late March/early April I began to go through a period of clinical depression that was pretty deep and a very disconcerting experience.  I've never been depressed in my life; I've always had an outgoing personality, I enjoy interaction with people and I like to be engaged in the things of life.  But something was definitely wrong and I was almost completely unprepared to deal with it.

I say 'almost completely' because my doctor had told me last year after I suffered the heart attack that many men who have a sudden death experience go through a period of depression anywhere from a couple of months up to a year after the incident.  I say sudden death because I didn't have a 'near death' experience, where you see a white light or the pearly gates open in front of you; this was death.  I was flatlined and they brought me back with the paddles, so it was the real thing. I understood what my doctor was saying but since I seemed fine for months after the heart attack I wasn't really thinking about it.

In March I began to feel kind of bummed out; a lack of interest in things, not a lot of energy.  I chalked it up to a long, dark, cold winter; spring couldn't come soon enough.  But over the next few weeks I noticed myself disengaging from people more and more; conversations were short and labored; I'm a voracious reader yet I barely picked up a book or magazine.  Work seemed hard because i felt like I was doing everything at a distance, like I was there but not fully there.  My appetite waned and I began to lose weight (not entirely a bad thing, right?)

By mid-April, about the time of my last blogpost, I knew something was wrong and saw my doctor.  She was not surprised, based on what she'd seen in patients before, and suggested an antidepressant.  I began taking one but it seriously disrupted my sleep pattern and I went for weeks on 3-4 hours of sleep a night, then feeling like a zombie throughout the day.  Things seemed to be getting worse, not better.  If you've ever experienced depression you can probably relate to what I'm describing.  Days seemed interminable; I had no energy, I slept more than usual at odd times because I wasn't sleeping at night.  Connie was very concerned but at the same time felt powerless to do anything tangible to help and, in reality, there was nothing she could do other than pray and be supportive, which she was. 

People began to distance themselves from me because they weren't sure how I was or how interactive I wanted to be.  I found myself in an insulated little world where very little mattered and there was no joy.  I thought, so this is depression.

There's a lot of focus on depression these days.  Seems like every 4th ad on television is for an antidepressant.  Studies show that one out of every ten Americans has a prescription for an antidepressant.  In today's culture, people demand pills to cure conditions that are not diseases and to get through ordinary life problems.  If a drug (like Paxil) provides a side effect to change something in patients (like shyness) then that something becomes a disorder to be treated (social anxiety).  The discovery of the remedy creates the disease.  And there's debate on everything from the science of depression (do the meds really work?) to the metaphysics of it (is depression really a disease?) No wonder we're depressed!

After a few weeks I switched to a different antidepressant which didn't affect my sleep pattern as much as the first one had.  I struggled through work and our home life, not feeling much of anything.  April became May became June.  I saw my doctor a couple more times and a psychiatrist.  I talked with our pastor and people at church.  But my mistake was I misunderstood how the process of recovery would happen.  The doctors told me I'd start to see a change in a few weeks.  I didn't.  When weeks turned to months my apathy turned to frustration.  Then something happened.

I began to notice some changes in my behavior - small changes like going to a family event and feeling ok around people; laughing at a joke in staff meeting; not feeling so tired all the time.  By July I began to realize my mistake - that the process was a gradual one, not an 'all of a sudden I feel better' one.  That realization alone made a difference and helped me feel better about the process.  When you know you're making forward motion, even if it's slow and incremental, it's very reassuring, especially after you've been slugging through a long dark tunnel for months. 

What about the spiritual side of the process?  God was always there.  I never got mad at him or questioned why.  Partly because my doctor had explained the probable reason for the depression but also because it didn't matter why.  It wasn't as though knowing why I was depressed would help me get out of it.  It's not as simple as a cause and effect process.  But the Lord was faithful and when I prayed every day I know he heard me; I know he was allowing me to go through the depression to learn things...patience, the value of suffering, the ability to relate to others who are having similar experiences, an empathy with those who hurt.  Life hurts us all; what matters is how we respond to it.  Going through the last few months has taught me so much that I may not have learned otherwise.  I'm a different person for having gone through the process and I'm grateful that the Lord provided me the opportunity to grow, even though it was painful for me and those around me.  People often say that we don't understand the mind of God; surely we don't.  But we can always trust that he is there and, ultimately, he has our best interest at heart.

So it's August 27.  I'm still taking the antidepressant but I'm feeling 95% back to my 'old self'.  My interest in life is back; Connie is grateful I'm doing well; work is going great; my relationships with people, especially the wonderful friends I work with at  FLN who held me up in prayer over the last few months, are back to normal.  My sense of humor is back and I've caught up on my reading.  Life isn't just good; it's better.

As Charlie Brown once said, "In the book of life, the answers aren't in the back."  So true.  The questions and answers are woven throughout the fabric of our lives and we learn as we go.  Above all I've learned that God is faithful and that whatever circumstance we find ourselves in is not a place too far for his loving arms to reach out and embrace us.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 08.28.10 Denise Arnold commented

My mother, sister and husband all suffer from depression. My sister has described it as being in a dark hole. You have helped me to understand them better. Thank you and Thank God that you are recovering.

on 08.30.10 Kathy Rowe commented

I think I suffer from SAD - Seasonal Depression during the winter months because of lack of sunlight. Have been thinking of buying a sunlamp and was wondering if anybody has ever used a sunlamp and does it work?

I am not a doctor, but I do not believe in antidepressants. I believe in more natural ways to cure depression such as exercise and acupuncture. I go to an acupuncture once a month and take an herbal pill each day.

on 08.30.10 Judy Rose commented

HI Cecil..

Thank you for sharing truthfully with your listener friends.. I am so sorry to hear you were in such a dark place for a long time.. So glad you are better. Judy

on 08.31.10 Nancy Lattimer commented

Hi Cecil,
thank you for your honesty. Our love and prayers are with you and your wife. I was on anti-dep for two years in the late 1990's and I thank God that He has given us doctor's, etc. to help when needed for heart meds, insulin, and other meds that are needed during that time. after two years with the drs. help i was able to be weened off the meds. i have a wonderful friend who has /and still battles depression and now her daughter (wife and young mom of 2)is struggling. i have seen/heard and read Chonda Pierce's book. then me, my friend and 4 other friends saw/heard Chonda Pierce and i think it was good for everyone. thank you for letting God use you to help others. our love and prayers will continue to be with you and your family (and the other families at FLN). know that God has allowed you to go thru this for reasons you may never know. -- Nancy

on 09.01.10 Randy Negley commented

My dear friend and fellow southern gospel fan, I'm glad you mentioned in your blog about God being faithful. As I have shared with you in the past, I too had some valleys to go through but you also know that I communicate everything with a southern gospel song lyric that always is based upon God's word and HIS promises.
My favorite one that comes to mind many times and has helped me in numerous occasions is the lyrics from the song by Greater Vision, "You were Faithful Yesterday".
I share them here to serve as a daily reminder to all of us of God's love and care for his children.

"You brought me through my lowest valley
You brought me cross the desert dry
You were my friend when I was lonely
You whispered peace and made me smile
As I survey the joy and sorrow
I find your love remains the same
So I will trust you for tomorrow
‘Cause You were faithful yesterday"

on 09.01.10 Julia Mastroberti commented

Cecil, I also was moved by your honest words. What has ministered to me over the many years I have listened to FLN is the honest, vulnerable and extremely real truth of life and its hills and valleys. Personally, I have a beloved family member who has struggled with depression for years and I feel so helpless to help her, but your experience has given me hope that in time my loved one will gradually feel better and become stronger. The understanding and sharing your experience has strengthened my heart today as it reminds me again that God is never far away and meets us right where we need it. Continued blessings on your life and health, your family and your ministry.

on 09.01.10 Brenda commented

Thank you for sharing your story. My husband suffers from severe depression and unfortunately doesn't have a doctor who works with him. It has been a horrible struggle for at least nine years. I ache because at this point, I am not being supportive like your wife. I've tried. Oh how I've tried! Seeing your loved one struggle and knowing there is nothing that you can do--they have to want to help themselves as well as recognize that there is a problem--is a living hell. He has isolated himself from everyone--including our son. At this point, I too, have given up hope for our future. I wish I could get him to read your story and see that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel if he just looks for it! That little tiny glimmer...You have made it easier for those of us standing on the outside to "see". Thank you for sharing your story! I pray that your courage can be an example for others!

on 09.02.10 Bill Kamberg commented

Thanks, Cecil. Both you and Connie are on my daily prayer list and will continue to be. All the best from your friends in Des Moines. Give Connie my best regards also.

Bill K

on 09.02.10 Robert commented

You've had quite a year but what you have gone through just proves God's faithfulness and love. I had a period of depression after a divorce in the 90s and it was bad. But I learned that where there is Christ there is hope like you said. Thank you for being so transparent. I'm sure this will be a big help to many. God bless your work at FLN. I appreciate the network very much.

on 09.04.10 Kate commented

Thank you. My husband went through a similar situation such as yours although it was Parkinson's Disease that helped bring on the depression. He is back to his old self now but it took much time. Thank you for your insights...the Christian Community needs to hear this.

on 09.07.10 Jodi commented

I went through something similar. Although I am not sure it was depression, it sure did fell like it! It wasn't nearly as long as what you have experienced. Praise God for bringing you out! My experience was absolutely no joy. I was getting up every morning, praying reading the Bible, going to church, yet I was being bombarded with negativity. I could not, no matter what I was doing or how much I prayed, get out of this! I prayed and asked God to show me what it was that was keeping me from experiencing His presence and joy....where did it go? He told me I was harboring unforgiveness and I needed to apologize to someone. I waited, I knew I had heard him, yet I could not do it! Finally after a few months I was so frustrated with these negative thoughts that I gave in and called the people that I knew God was showing me. I needed to let go of this forgiveness and I needed to apologize for may actions. I have felt God restore me. Amazing. I know that this is a story to be shared. Some people hold on to unforgiveness for years and are held captive. The person that offened you has probably moved on. I needed to forgive to be set free! I know this is a little off the depression track, but I think it goes hand in hand with what some people may be experiencing.
Cecil, my prayer for you is that you will eventually get off depression meds and find that God will restore you completely!! God bless your wife for sticking by you! There aren't many marriages that can weather the storms of life! Thank you for your testimony. May God bless you beyond your wildest dreams and expectations!

on 09.07.10 Debra commented

God bless husband became depressed after two jobs in a row of having a boss who would not allow him to do his job (he is a good worker and always did what he was told, yet when he would stand up for what is right, they found ways to fire him). His doctor says he is bipolar, which we never recognized until the depression. He is now on so much meds, I fear he will never be able to function without them. During the last three years his depression has had a brighter side, he came to the realization that he needs to lean on God and he finally was saved. He now plays guitar for his church--I see him continue to struggle with his faith, though, and I pray that he stays strong. Pray that he can eventually be weaned of the meds and be both spritually and mentally healed completely.

on 09.07.10 Carlie commented've had an incredible year. I'm so glad God has allowed you to experience all this, not because of the bad stuff you went through but because it has drawn you closer to Him.

My mom went through a period of depression a couple of years ago and she's doing a lot better now but I know how hard it was for her. The Lord used medication, prayer, her friends and family to help her through that time. She said that it showed how much God cared about her to grow in her faith in the stuggle.

I like listening to you on the air. I'm really glad God's not done with you yet :) God bless.

on 09.07.10 Mary commented

I cannot wait to hear how God uses this. Already so many people have written to thank you for your honesty & the hope you can give them. God is awesome in the way he works in our lives. God bless you & your wife & use this gift freely as the Lord would have you. Peace be with you, brother!!

on 09.07.10 Steve Peterson commented

Brother, thanks for your blog. I wondered where you'd disappeared to but now I understand totally. I'll be praying for you and I know the Lord will use this experience to make an impact on the lives of others. God bless you brother.

on 09.08.10 Jude commented

I, too, experienced the "cross of depression" & received the same blessings as Christ did; the Heavenly Father was w/me through it all, as He is with you!
My personal advise is keep taking the meds., even when you start to feel better, when you do, that means the meds are working. I tried to go off them too soon & ended going backwards. And one Never wants to go back to that dark place.
God Bless!

on 09.08.10 Cathy commented

I go thru a lot of doubts and depression but I beleive mine is inherited...but I love the Lord so much but I do have a question. He commands to read HIS word everyday and I have problems doing that cause I am so tired from work and no energy when I come home. I am on some meds...but I just don't know..

on 09.08.10 Cathy commented

I go thru a lot of doubts and depression but I beleive mine is inherited...but I love the Lord so much but I do have a question. He commands to read HIS word everyday and I have problems doing that cause I am so tired from work and no energy when I come home. I am on some meds...but I just don't know..

on 09.09.10 Debra Ackley~ commented

Your life will forever be changed after this experience Cecil~ Coming back from the other side of the abyss makes us more whole as humans~
Our reactions to others similar problem becomes gentler, and we quit thinking:
"They could get over it if they WANTED too".
We quit saying:

I spent my winter through JUNE the same way as you~ with many of the same experiences~ this was not my first time BUT it was the WORSE time..
I blamed quiting smoking~ but with counsel with Gary at FLN~ I became aware that EVEN if I had NOT quit smoking that my life experiences had set me up for a fall~ God was my constant companion as I clung to His promises and past times that He brought me out of danger at the hands of others.

Most people do not know that depression is a SYMPTOM of a physical PROBLEM~ just like diabetes shock that causes odd behaviors~ the lack of proper chemistry with in the body IS the cause~ NOT an unsound or weak mind~

THANK YOU for sharing this~ in sharing ,it helps to take away the stigma and gives others comfort that they too will be brought through..
We have an awesome God that leads us into His service by allowing us growing experiences~
YOU are being used as a blessing to others friend~


on 09.09.10 Deb A. again (c: commented

For Kathy Rowe ~ and others with S.A.D or depresed family.
Here are a a few factors that will HELP with S.A.D. during the winter~

In the 70's we started being told told to save energy ..turn off lights..
We are also buying the energy saving light bulbs which give low and odd colored light. We are seeing more depression due to these things. Our energy savings is costing us MORE than turning the lights back on because multitudes of people end up seeing our doctors.
Lack of light lowers our production of the "happy chemicals" and increase our melatonin production, which makes us sleepy and duller during the day.
These changes start the chemical imballance which causes depression symptoms.
Another winter problem is lack of vitamin D~ IN northern states with the lack of sun we have this deficiency. It also brings down our production of the needed chemicals . A daily vitamin does not have enough to supply our real need, but adding a "D" supplement to it helps. As doesa spending at least 15 minutes in the sun each day it comes out in the fall and winter.
I was put on 50,000 IU once a week for 6 weeks to bring mine back up to par.
Thirdly, START a regular routine of exercise ~get into the routine in order to prepare and to produce the "HAPPY CHEMICALS" production.
In starting before winter, we are preparing before that sad S.A.D.. season gets here.

With Love, Debbie~

on 09.09.10 Rod commented

This has really made an impression on me. Thank you for sharing what has been, I'm sure, a very difficult period of life. Your blogs make me think and your sense of humor makes me laugh.
My wife went through a period of depression several years ago. She made the journey that you did and I did everything I could to help her but a lot of the time it felt like it wasn't enough. But the Lord showed us both how to walk through it one day at a time and she's been doing well for awhile now.
We appreciate your ministry at FLN. Thank you and God bless.

on 09.14.10 CarolAnn commented

Cecil, I have been going through depression for over 10 years. My doctor has changed my medicines a couple of times because they stopped having the desired affects. I still struggle, even while on meds, BUT God is faithful and not failed me once. I have heard about your blog for a few weeks when I am listening to FLN but usually I am driving down the road to go somewhere and then forget to look it up when I get back to my computer.
I was sitting here tonight and it came to me that I should read about what you've been through. I am grateful that God has NEVER left me comfortless through the years. It is not always easy, but I have a wonderful husband who is very supportive and understands there are just times I don't want to be around people.
I am glad you pointed out that it is a chemical imbalance and I would also like to point out, it is hereditary and can run in families. There are many "schools" of thought about why but I know that being a Christian and relying on Jesus has been the greatest comfort to me.
Thank you for sharing and don't give up! God Bless you and all you do.