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On the surface, Kean Loong writes that he was not a likely candidate for depression being happily married with two boys and a believer in Jesus. Photo courtesy of Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash.

As I crossed the road that was winding into the hospital, I didn’t check for traffic. I no longer cared about anything at that point. I couldn’t feel anything except for the huge weight in my heart. I just wanted it all to end.

On the surface, I am not a likely candidate for depression. I am happily married and have two boys who bring a lot of laughter to the household. I have attended the same church for more than 10 years, and I believe in salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. I had also recently started a new job that was challenging, meaningful and fun.

Yet, just when I finally started to find new meaning in what I did from 9 to 5, I found myself plagued with intense suicidal thoughts.

It also became difficult to control my emotions: I either lashed out and raged whenever I felt despondent and hopeless, or felt that my tears were choked up in a ball behind my throat and could not come out.

Inexplicably lost

There had been no obvious trigger to cause the change. Although the doctors would eventually diagnose me with dysthymia, nothing could really explain why I sank so fast into this major episode of depression.

Gently, with words of love, walk with them back into the light.

With the help of my doctor and the support of my supervisors, I took a break to try to heal. But even the beauty of parks and nature or the peace of a cat cafe were not enough to help me feel better. I continued to try to reach God to seek His help and healing.

I prayed until I reached the darkest place within myself and had no strength to go any further. In the midst of the darkest darkness, even my hope in prayer was extinguished. I could not think straight anymore.

Caught in that downward spiral, I almost started to implement my final plan.

Suicide at that point was not simply an escape from the pain, I sincerely felt that it would be better for everyone if I disappeared from this world.

God guided my steps 

But God’s grace intervened, prompting me to make one last call to the Mental Health Helpline of a public hospital in Singapore. Someone picked up on the other end, and talked me into taking a bus to the hospital emergency room. On the way, I sent a message to my Bible study group. My wife had to take care of the children and could not go with me.

God guided my steps. As I shambled and plodded across that road into the emergency room, too despondent to care, too tired to cry, He was with me.

“As she grappled with the knowledge that I had almost ended my life, she prayed and left the worst of the situation to God. Meanwhile, she attended to the tasks that were within her control, such as taking care of the boys, making sure the house was kept in good condition, and working on her home baking,” Kean Loong writes of his wife, Phay Shing (left). Photo courtesy of Mak Kean Loong.

He had two of my Bible study group members rush down to join me until I was admitted to the hospital for my own safety. He had me transferred to a ward more conducive to my recovery after one night in an acute ward with patients suffering from various forms of mental illnesses.

I do not know when or where the journey will end.

He brought many to visit me in my time of need, and I felt peace and comfort for the first time in a very long time. Many tears were shed. Many words were spoken, written, both to God and from God, through my pastor, through my Bible study mates, through my wife, in my notebook, in a heartfelt letter to my wife.

It’s been a year and a half since I admitted myself into the Institute of Mental Health and I still struggle with recovery.

I do not know when or where the journey will end. I cannot work because even the slightest stress causes me to lose control of my emotions and overreact. I can spend a full day not wanting to talk, because I just cannot even summon the energy to use more than monosyllables.

Learning to trust

But where is God in my life?

When the depression first hit, I kept asking God for healing if He was willing. As it became evident that He wasn’t, it did hit me hard as I felt that I wasn’t being heard. But as I prayed in the safety of the hospital, I remember hearing His clear voice letting me know that He was with me.

“Depression is painful beyond imagination. The tears, the pain, the breathing difficulties, the curling up in a ball to fend off the arrows of the mind, none of these things are enjoyable,” writes Mak. Yet it’s through that experience that he’s had the privilege to witness as he helped others in similar pain. Comic courtesy of Mak Kean Loong.

He has never answered my question on how long recovery will take, except through hints from my therapist and my wife that it will take longer than I keep thinking it will. He has also not seen fit to let me know His ultimate purpose for my suffering.

I remember hearing His clear voice letting me know that He was with me.

Yet I no longer ask God to heal me as often as I used to. I recognise that through this journey with depression, I am developing patience and learning to entrust things that are not within my control into His hands.

The beginning of learning to trust happened during the second night of my hospital stay.

As the fog started to lift for the first time, I worried about how my kids would react, how my work would turn out, and whether I was going to lose my job. But God prompted me to let Him take care of those things, for I had a journey ahead of me to undertake. I cried a little then, moved by His kindness.

I thank God that by His grace, even though the fog still descends from time to time (though, thankfully, never to that intensity that led me towards disaster), I have still been able to trust Him to handle those worries.

“Are you really saved?”

Sufferers of depression are often told to be thankful, as though having gratitude and a “change of perspective” will suddenly snap us out of being depressed. It doesn’t. But it is not to say that a posture of gratitude has no role in my life.

As I give thanks for the many things God has provided, I am reminded that He has not abandoned me in my suffering for a minute.

The painful path that I must take is still before me but I am conscious now that He is there every step of the way. God the Father, Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit will see me – and my family – through.

In the midst of the pain, Mak found the ability to express himself through words. The digital tablet he had bought for work became his platform to push out comics about depression. Comic courtesy of Mak Kean Loong

Even Christians can suffer from mental illness. This did not mean that they were weaker than others just because they were affected by such an affliction. And it certainly should not call their salvation into question.

Along the way, I have met Christians who try to suggest practical options that they insist will help with my depression, like aromatherapy or eating certain foods or wearing certain clothes. Medically these “solutions” are unproven, and only lift the spirits for short moments without doing much to heal depression in the long run.

When it comes to guiding a sufferer out of the maze of pain, nothing can top the grace of God.

I have also met Christians who seem to think that I lack certain elements of faith, such as thankfulness or a belief that God will heal me. Others have even questioned whether I was really saved if I have mental illness.

Comfort, however, is never wrong. There is always a place for words of care, support, encouragement, reminders of God’s love and of what the sufferer means to his loved ones. Gently, with words of love, walk with them back into the light.

Caregivers do not need to assume the responsibility of bringing healing to a sufferer; even therapists say that they are only guides to recovery. Ultimately, recovery is still up to the individual sufferer, learning new methods of thought processes, keeping up with their God-granted medications, and so on.

And when it comes to guiding a sufferer out of the maze of pain, nothing can top the grace of God.

Staying alive

Who can grasp His infinite wisdom? Who can fathom the depths of His love?

Even though I know I am loved, the belittling nature of this condition makes it easy to feel that I am not worthy of His love.

With His help and His care, I now know that even standing still is alright.

Yet He always holds out a ray of hope, or a word of love, through the people around me and the situations He places me in. This helps me give thanks constantly and recognise that the Lord has a plan for me.

I know that I just need to keep fighting, even on days that depression knocks me so low that I am all but crawling. With His help and His care, I now know that even standing still is alright. The comfort I derive from this knowledge is immense.

Even if I cannot forgive myself, God has done so.

One day I might beat the beast. I do not know what job I will do in the future. But I am not worrying about it. I will just try to keep walking in trust into the deep unknown.

God wants me to stay alive.

Suicide among the young: When hope – in God – is the way out

This extract was first published in Mental Health & the Gospel Community, by Graceworks and has been republished with permission. 

About the author

Mak Kean Loong

Ever since depression took away his ability to work, Mak has been in recovery with the help of medication and therapy. Hoping to reduce stigma against mental health conditions, he blogs about his condition at https://depressioninsg.com and draws a comic about depression and Depressed Dave at https://depdavecomics.com. He also shares about his condition at school visits to IMH, and at various human libraries across Singapore.

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