Depression and my Arnold Schwarzenegger moment

by Richard H H Johnston

I experienced depression for the first time over 20 years ago. I got fired from a job I loved for no good reason (I suppose I got in the way of other people’s ambition and asked too many awkward questions). I remember looking across the room at someone I expected to exercise a measured approach with kindness. “ That’s it” he said. “ “You’re terminated”. It’s what I now describe as my Arnold Schwarzenegger moment. From a board room meeting I had to walk along the corridor, clear my desk and hand back the keys for the office I had set up from scratch.  I was escorted off the premises and walked out into the cold, fresh air.  For me it was a devastating trauma that sent shock waves through my whole world. I also experienced death threats over that period.

One of my best friends was instrumental in the process of getting me fired.  He never spoke to me about what happened.  Never provided any explanation to me as a friend.  Never contacted me to ask how I was.  It was as if I didn't exist.

I went into hiding for several months. I was so low that I went back and forth from bed to couch for months, rarely venturing out to the shops. Daytime turned into night-time and I slept at least 12-16 hours every day for weeks.  I could hardly drag myself out of bed.  The weight of grief was so heavy that I felt crushed. A few Christian friends and family members supported me over that period. But I hardly read my Bible or prayed at all. I didn’t know what to pray or say to God. The best prayer I had was “Oh God please help! I don’t understand!”

The Desert Fathers and Christian Contemplatives speak of the Dark Night of the Soul.  It felt like all of the spiritual lights had been turned off, the door to God seemed locked shut and maybe the key had been thrown away.  It was out of that very dark place that I gradually began to experience healing and restoration.  I'm so thankful for what God has done in my life but I still have bad days. Days when the dark clouds roll in and everything seems shrouded in a deep dank fog.  But the darkness has taught me something strange and unexpected -

I will give you the treasures of darkness and the riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by name (Isaiah 45:3)

In my weakness and brokenness I know that God is the strength of my heart. He has shown me treasures out of darkness and abundant grace, mercy and tenderness for each new day.  He has written a new story into my life and I have experienced beauty for ashes and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Whatever your mental health may be today, know that God is merciful and compassionate towards you even when circumstances are truly awful. He has not forgotten you. Your name is written on the palm of his hand. You are his treasured possession. And he hasn’t finished with you yet.  In his heart and mind he can see you RIGHT NOW healed, restored and transformed.  He has always had such a vision of you.  But he begins the process with grace, mercy, love and patience.  He begins by picking up the broken pieces and treasuring all that you are. 

Keep trusting him. Let him hold you. Let him love you.  That is enough for now.

Richard H H Johnston

Director, Christian Mindfulness & Christian Contemplation

© Richard H H Johnston

Both the Christian Mindfulness and Christian Contemplation resources offer crafted meditations designed to help you encounter God and grow in relationship with Him.  See here for more details.