“I remember the first time I recognized my depression. I was in the middle of my first semester in college, feeling like I did not want to be there, and I remember writing in my health class the words, ‘I feel like I am going into depression.’” …John Allen.
John Allen knows very well the isolating sting of depression. He was diagnosed with chronic depression in 1977 and many in his family suffered and continue to suffer from variations of the mental illness. But John Allen also knows the sweet pleasure of deliverance, deliverance not so much from the illness because he must continue to receive lifelong treatment for it, but deliverance from depression’s deep-rooted control over his thoughts and actions. Through an eight-week-long process of writing and reflecting which Bro. John believes was directed by God, he found deliverance from an illness that had plagued him all his adult life.
Bro. John recalls a fairly normal childhood of summer vacations at Ocean City, making the swim team in high school, growing up the third of seven boys. But his childhood, he said, was permeated by the constant control of his father causing Bro. John to feel like he could not speak or make any decisions without his father’s permission. For many years he continued to feel angry towards his father because of this control.
Bro. John later came to understand that his father suffered from chronic depression that went untreated. But not just his father, his father’s father and all his father’s brothers had varying degrees of the mental illness.
“I remember Christmases with the Allens were always a bit interesting,” John said jokingly. “Later I understood why.”
Depression is a type of mental illness that is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it affects people with varying degrees of severity. In its mildest form, a person may suffer from “the blues” or some feelings of sadness triggered by an event or situation. In its more severe form, the type passed on in John’s family, it is a lifelong condition that requires medication and therapy, and its effects can completely immobilize the sufferer.
Trigger of John’s 20-year battle with depression
Bro. John’s father’s fight with depression came to a tragic end in March 1977 when he, at the age of 58 committed suicide; but that event triggered the beginning of John’s fight with the illness, not only because of the suicide, John realized later, but because of the unresolved anger he felt towards his father.
John admits that moments after he learned his father died, he felt a sense of relief that he was no longer under his father’s control, but in the days and months that followed he became increasingly obsessed, spending up to 18 hours a day, thinking about how and why his father took his life. Then seven months after his father’s death, John at the age of 27 was hospitalized and diagnosed with chronic depression.
The next 20 years that followed would see John hospitalized three more times with severe depression. He had some good days but on his worse days he stayed in bed and did not want to see anyone. Like his father, he avoided social situations and never spoke more than a few minutes to anyone. For several years he lived on medical disability, “suppressing my depression,” he writes in the journal “with medication and therapy.” During his high periods he married and had two daughters.
“But dad was still the monkey on my back and I couldn’t figure out how to get him off,” said John. “I asked my doctor when would all this (depression) go away, and he said when I dealt with my emotional problems, the depression would begin to subside.”
God helps him break free
Through the ups and downs of depression, God’s hand remained on John’s life. John had been raised a Catholic, so he always acknowledged the presence of God. He personally accepted Jesus as the Son of God at 22 after attending a series of religious meetings held by a non-denominational group. He wrote in his journal about feeling the spirit of God present at various moments throughout his life. Many dreams filled his mind over the years and some he recognized as direct messages from God. But it was not until November of 1996 that John says he began to “see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Beginning one day in that November and every day for eight consecutive weeks, John said the Holy Spirit woke him at 4:00 a.m. and caused him to reflect in writing on events from his childhood. “The Holy Spirit also convicted me to read the Bible daily,” Bro. John said.
“I didn’t know where all this (writing) was going, but I was determined that wherever these footprints lead, I was going to follow them to the end,” Bro. John said. “By the end of the third day, (my wife) knew I was on a mission, and by the end of the eight weeks, she and my mom could see a transformation.”
“After the eight weeks, I felt like I had such clear vision. I felt like I was hanging on to a rocket, with no fear and I was about to take off. I went up still hanging on as John, but when I landed firmly on my two feet again, I was a different person. The psychological duct tape had been ripped off my mouth.”
Through the period of reflection and writing, Bro. John said he was finally able to deal with the root causes of his depression and begin to break free of its control. Finally he understood that he was angry with his father for not allowing him to make his own decisions. The suicide just kept him trapped in this angry state unable to ever really tell his father how he felt. To break completely free, John had to forgive his father and let go of the anger.
“The moment I forgave him, John said,” It was like I could see again, in colors. I felt like I had changed like the Bible says, ‘in the twinkling of an eye.’”
A few months after John’s breakthrough, he found a flyer on his door inviting him to a Revelation Seminar to be held by the Liberty Seventh-day Adventist Church. After attending the seminar and then his first Sabbath service, he wrote the following in his journal: “I feel that the Holy Spirit has lead me to this church for spiritual growth. I attended their Sabbath services for the first time. It feels (like) I am on a twenty-four hour honeymoon with God."
Bro. John has been a member of Liberty for ten years and praises God for helping him remain free of depression.
“God told me that He had a plan for my life,” Bro. John said. “I just had to trust Him.”