Honest reflections about marriage and mission work when dealing with the anxiety and depression

  • Charlie Clayton

A flawed protection

I have a nut allergy.

I discovered this around the age of 4 at a friend's birthday party whilst eating some peanuts. Thankfully at the time the reaction was mild, but there have been times over the years after ingesting various types of nuts that the reaction has been more serious.

Thankfully it has never been bad enough for my body to go into full anaphylactic shock and I hope it never will.

I find anaphylactic shock quite an interesting process. In order to stop a poison entering the system, the body enacts various defence strategies which put the body under tremendous strain. One of the more well-known being the swelling and closing of the throat in order to keep the poison out. Of course in doing this, the body cuts off oxygen to the body and brain and unless dealt with quickly, can result in permanent injury or even death.

The protective mechanism designed to prevent damage, can actually be the cause of it.

And if the body has got to the point where the reaction is so severe, an Epipen is needed, to slow the body's overreaction. This buys some time ahead of other help arriving to resolve the incident.

To me, this experience feels similar to how I have encountered depression and anxiety.

I see anxiety or depression as defence or avoidance mechanisms, that kick in when internal fears over external dangers flare up. Anxiety is felt when uncertain whether or not a danger can be dealt with, and depression kicks in when certain it can't be (whatever the perceived danger may be).

In the same way that the body reacts to an allergy, so anxiety and depression kick in to protect us from danger. The body and mind go into defensive mode and cause various necessary but unhealthy coping mechanisms in order to neutralise the threat. The short term need and reaction to the threat outweighs the long term damage to body and mind. The threat is here and now, not later, and needs responding to. Later can wait.

As defensive mechanisms, anxiety and depression can appear for certain periods of life where there may be tremendous stress or trauma, and then disappear. They can also become long term companions if, like me, they relate to long term hurts and fears that had never been dealt with.

The sad reality of course, is that when anxiety and depression are experienced, the body is strained, the mind is overwhelmed and, if prolonged periods occur, we can incur long lasting damage.

For me, this has included physical breakdown, relationship damage, nervous system related illnesses, unhealthy eating and drinking habits, avoidance of following convictions, memory loss, distancing from key relationships, having to withdraw from responsibilities and various other stress related activities. But, of course, no matter what occurred, the need for short term defensive measures always overrode any long term thinking.

I have experienced them as long term associates due to incorrect messages that I believed deeply in my soul, ones that made me fearful, ones that had skewed my view of everyone in my life. There were strong relational fears and hurts, there were messages I have internalised which had skewed my understanding of God, there were others still which made me feel insignificant and hopeless.

And although I had people helping me talk these things through over many years, the stress and strain on my body and mind had become so much that a proverbial Epipen (anti -depressants) was needed in order to calm my defensive mechanisms enough in order for other help to arrive.

For now depression has gone, and anxiety lurks tentatively (if I require it!), but for the first time in many years, my mind and body are no longer fighting an invisible threat and I am able to make clear and desire linked choices for the future.

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