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Author Ben Courson on Building Hope in the Face of Depression

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Fact: Every 40 seconds, somewhere in the world, someone will kill themselves.

Fact: There are 123 suicides each day in the United States.

Fact: Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the world for people aged 15-24.

These crippling statistics are the opening paragraphs of author Ben Courson’s latest book, Flirting with Darkness.  Troubling data for sure as the temptation of deep depression continues to flood the thoughts of so many, especially during these days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Courson believes we are not called to live with depression but to defeat it instead.  He contends that doing so will lead to a life of renewed hope and better days.

I recently spoke with the always enthusiastic Courson to discuss why depression doesn’t have to be a way of life, what God has to say about it, and practical ways to build hope in your darkest hour.

Anxiety and depression have certainly ramped up since the emergence of COVID-19 over the last five or six months. So, your book Flirting with Darkness is coming at a very critical moment in our culture.  What was the inspiration or genesis for writing the book?

For me, it wasn't just about the fact that it's a cultural pandemic, that depression is causing ruin and really having a run of the place in our generation. It's my personal story. A man with an argument will always be at the mercy of a man with experience. I got diagnosed with complex posttraumatic stress disorder after the deaths of my brother and my sister, going through romantic heartbreak after an eight year relationship ended, and having severe panic attacks. So, for me, when I found the cure to depression, I had to write a book about it. Suicide is a killer. In 2017, it was the second leading cause of death. Once every 40 seconds someone's dying of suicide. So, of course I'm going to shout this thing from the rooftops.

The main message of your book seems to be depression doesn’t have to be a way of life.  Would I be accurate in saying that?  If so, why is this so?

We have this paint by the numbers, reductionist mentality sometimes where we just say, this is my psychological equipment. I'm depressed because of my biology. I do know that scientifically, biology plays a component in depression. That is true. Research is showing that that plays a part in it. But there's this beautiful, beautiful passage in Ezekiel 18:2 where it says, “Do you not say my teeth are set on edge because my fathers ate sour grapes.” And that's what the people were saying at the time. It was actually a proverb that simply meant, I'm the way I am because of my parents. I am the way I am because of my fathers. And what Ezekiel was teaching was you can forge a new path. You can blaze a new trail. That's one of the things I'm trying to say. It's super hipster for people to say, ‘Oh, I'm just learning to live with depression. That's just part of my psychological equipment.’ And what I'm saying is we need to rage and rebel against that mindset. Depression is not something we're supposed to live with. Depression is something we're supposed to defeat. The psalmist (Psalm 43:5) didn’t say, ‘Why are you passed out oh my soul? Nice work!’ He said, ‘Why are you cast down on my soul? Put your hope in God.’ That's what he said to himself. For me, I want to wage a fierce warfare against despair and build hope in the face of depression.

What do most people get wrong about depression and anxiety?

Two things. Number one, that it's a sin or a weakness. And number two, that it can't be changed. Neuroplasticity is a scientific method through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans that shows us that out of the 30,000 to 50,000 thoughts we have every day, we can change our brain and change the way our cranial package, psychological constitution, and three pound gray matter is constructed. So, through rote and repetition, we can drive the groups in our brain in a new neuropathway so that our synapses and brain chemistry is rewired. This is called neuroplasticity.

Out of the 35,000 choices we make every day, we need to fight for what we don't feel. We need to choose to count it all joy. Hope is a journey. Joy is a choice and we need to determine to be happy warriors and joyful soldiers. People think that you're stuck with depression, but I would say, number one, your brain can change. Number two, people would say, ‘Oh, depression is a weakness or a sin.’ I want to dismantle that mistake as well.

If you look at Elijah, when he was under a Juniper tree in a cave, after having outrun Jezebel’s chariot, he wanted God to kill him. Job said he wished he was a stillborn. Jonah said that he wanted God to kill him because a worm ate the gourd, the plant that he was getting shade under during the Assyrian hot day. If you read the Psalms, 50 percent of them are laments. David was bipolar. One minute he's like, get me out of this pit. And the next minute, he’s praising the Lord on the loud cymbals and the clashing brass.

You just alluded to some people from the Old Testament. That makes me think about what does God have to say about depression? How can people find encouragement and guidance through reading the Bible?

Nine-hundred times, the Bible speaks of your heart as center of who you are. So, the heart is something the Bible is constantly talking about. So, you think, ‘Oh God, doesn't care about what's going on in your heart. He just cares about what you do.’ No. God deeply cares about your emotional health. In the year 1000 BC, the psalmist invented the phrase for a broken heart. We're so used to throwing that phrase around like, ‘Oh my heart's broken.’ But the first time that phrase was ever used in ancient literature was in the Bible. So, the Bible in the book of Psalms invented the phrase, a broken heart. And what does it say? The Lord is near to the broken hearted.

Again, it says in Psalm 34:18, ‘He heals the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.’ What I like to tell people is that our Lord is the God of hope. Jesus said, ‘If you've seen me, you've seen the father.’ And what was His hope mission? He laid it out in Luke 4:18. He said, ‘I've come to heal the brokenhearted.’ Isn't that amazing? That was one of the cheap, principle purposes and fundamental foundational existential reasons why Jesus came to this earth. The spirit of the Lord has anointed me to heal the broken hearted. So, no matter how shattered your heart might feel, no matter how depressed you might be, the Bible teaches the solution is found in the God of hope, who is near to those who have a broken heart.

Some people lean only on medication to treat depression and anxiety while others rely only on prayer and counseling to get them through.  You are an advocate for both. Why is that?

A hundred percent. This is just my view, but I think the Bible propagates both. Remember when Paul the apostle transferred his healing power through his aprons and anchor to heal people? Guess who wrote that story? Luke wrote the book of Acts. What did Luke do for a living? He was a doctor. So, Paul brought a doctor with him on his healing missions. So, you both have the homeopathy to the East, the pharmacology of the West. You have both miraculous healing but also doctoral medicine that marked Paul's life. The same is true in Jesus's life. There's this story where He heals a guy with his spit. That sounds very weird to us Westerners. Why in the ancient near East First Century would Jesus heal a guy using spit?

Back then, they believed that spit was medicine. You can actually read the Roman historian, Tacitus talking about the emperor Vespasian healing a sick person with spit. And as crazy as that might sound, what's the first thing you do if you get a paper cut or burn your finger on the stove?  You put it in your mouth. You put spit on it. So, when Jesus did the miraculous healing, He also used the medicine of His day.

I think every individual has their own story of what works for them. So, I'm not saying never use medicine. I'm not saying always use medicine. I'm saying we need to prayerfully go where God is directing our hearts and listen to what He's speaking to our spirits. There is no shame in needing professional help. There is no shame at all.

What’s the first step for someone who is battling depression and anxiety but hasn’t had the courage to tell anyone?  Are there any tips you could share on how to find a safe person to confide in?

Number one, I would look for really trusted friends or family members. In other words, your nearest kith and kin. If you talk to one person and they don't get it, do not give up. If you go to one counselor therapist and they aren't a good fit, do not give up. It might take several tries, but you have to be willing. You have to determine that you will claw your way out of this pit. I don't care if I have to eat as clean as (NFL quarterback) Tom Brady, release opioid receptors in my brain through activating endorphins via exercise, natural chemicals God put in your body. I don't care if I have to go on multiple prayer walks a day. I don't care if I have to confide in friend after friend, I will do whatever it takes to claw my way out of the pit.

The first thing you need to recognize is this is a battle. You were not born on a cruise ship. You were born on a battleship. This is not a playground. This is a battleground. We need to think in warrior terms with a soldier's mentality. You've got to fight this thing. This is not just like, ‘Oh man, this is an Achilles heel that's bugging me. Or this is just something that's an irritant.’ No, you need to focus in the morning on making all the right decisions to crawl your way out of this pit.

As an author, after people have read Flirting with Darkness, what would you like readers to get out of the experience?  What is your greatest hope for the book?

The book is laid out in three parts and this shows the threefold gradation and progression I want people to make when it comes to getting out of depression. The first section is called “Flirting with Darkness.” By this I mean there are people who are constantly tempted by suicide ideation or even just anxiety. The Bible says anxiety in the heart causes depression. You're starting off flirting with the darkness. And I tell my story because I want you to sort of empathize with me so I can show sympathy to you. This is just like Jesus, our great high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. I think people are impressed by our accomplishments, but they connect with our weaknesses. The first part of the book, I want you to know you're in good company.

There are great people who struggle with depression and as an author, I want to let you know I've been there too. We're in this together. The second section is called “Defeating Depression”. That's where I arm you with 11 practical weapons you can go back to time and time again to defeat the dark world of depression. The third section is called “Dancing in the Light”. It’s just a real uplift. It's like pep in your step. And I want you to leave dancing in defiance of the dark. So, the whole point of this book is to help people build hope in the face of depression.

Watch a Trailer for Flirting with Disaster, by Ben Courson:

To Purchase Flirting with Disaster, by Ben Courson.

 

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