Down Not Out – Chris Cipollone

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Chris Cipollone

Depression, anxiety, and the difference Jesus makes

What if happiness was not the ultimate goal of life? What if maturity in Christ was the ultimate goal of life?

“Anywhere between one in five people in Australia will be struggling with depression and anxiety in any given year…..and one in four over the course of their lifetime.”

“I was in a worse place than what I had thought and that part of it was a shock.”

Depression and anxiety are afflictions this man knows first-hand about.

‘I found this crisis happening in my own life’

Chris Cipollone was someone with a loving wife and two children, a trained journalist who worked as a school-teacher.

Then, after years of study, he was on the brink of fulfilling his dream of working in fulltime Christian ministry, when…

I just found this crisis happening in my own life and essentially asking myself the question, ‘If I was a pastor in this situation what would I be saying to someone else?

But it all suddenly imploded into depression and anxiety and the first Chris new about it was when he found himself unconscious and on the floor of a psychiatric hospital.

At the time Chris was just six weeks away from graduating with a master’s degree from a Bible college.

Four years later – the book

Chris began to write down his thoughts for his own healing.

There was never any thought of a book in the works but just concepts I was wrestling with and trying to think how my faith could process this.

“Four years later we have this book in front of us,” Chris noted.

But how to handle this type of crisis, or better still, to avoid it?

It’s a crisis that confronts growing numbers of Australians – Australians just like Chris who don’t realise the seriousness of the situation before it implodes.

“I was in a worse place than what I had thought and that part of it was a shock.”

‘I didn’t expect to find myself there’

“But I’d known for some time that depression was an issue,” Chris confessed saying he was first diagnosed with it six years earlier.

Anxiety and depression? The statistics scream out the reality of the mental illness, if we can call it that.

This is where the book picks up with me…at a psychiatric hospital, I didn’t expect to find myself there.

“We know it’s out there. We know it’s common.”

“Anywhere between one in five people in Australia will be struggling with depression and anxiety in any given year and one in four over the course of their lifetime.”

Going through it by yourself, alone?

Chris said you only need to run the numbers at any given church to know who are struggling with it, and as far as Chris is concerned there’s a way they can be helped.

“Those people in a safe way, need to find somebody in their life with whom they can share this journey,”was Chris’ advice.

It’s hard anyway let alone when you’re going through it by yourself and alone.

Chris has spoken with many people in this predicament; those at his own church and those where he’s spoken publicly.

“They’ve thanked me and now feel they can talk to me or others about it.”

“I’ve found one of the great privileges is that often these are beautiful people, sensitive souls, caring personalities, empathetic.”

Crazy people or beautiful people?

“Our preconception of what somebody who struggles with this mind looks like, for me this has been blown out of the water.”

These are not crazy people. These are beautiful people who are struggling within themselves to function….

“….And to think and to feel with complete accuracy all of the time,” Chris explained.

But is self-diagnosis enough? Or should professional help be sought immediately?

“What if life is just hard at the moment. How do I know if that’s depression or me just struggling with a situation?” This was Chris’ rhetorical question.

“I always look for change. Have my thoughts and patterns changed? Am I more reluctant to do things in life?”

The struggle in the darkness

“Also what are the people close to me saying? If I’m married is my spouse observing things. If I’m not married are my friends saying certain things or noticing certain things?”

For me personally, how I know I’m struggling is when the darkness is a generalised problem.

What was Chris trying to convey by this statement? The macro reality is situations can be hard and on top of that we live in a fallen world.

“We know that as Christians things will happen,” Chris acknowledged before bringing it back to himself.

“But does a difficult situation then translate in my own thought patterns to ‘the world is just hard’?”

“It goes from a specific situation to a global problem. Or as a psychologist might say, ‘It begins to catastrophise.’”

Despair, hopelessness

“This is the challenge that forms the way you see life itself.”

“And that for me is one of the helpful litmus tests to go; ‘Is this situation hard or has the world all of a sudden become hard’?”

Another word for hard is despair. In the olden days we would call it melancholy.

“You can lose your job and that’s hard, but does that translate into a general despair of your life.”

“Another paradigm would be hopelessness. Have I lost hope that there will ever be any brightness again?”

“That’s when it changes from a difficult situation to one where you have to ask yourself, ‘Might there be depression here, despair and hopelessness’?”

It affects all of your life

Another title much used and written about is the Black Dog. Another term used to describe depression.

Gloom alongside darkness are words Chris associated with this Black Dog label for depression.

It affects all of your life. Your mind is playing tricks. You are genuinely at the bottom of your heart in that moment, and don’t believe that light is possible again.

“It’s hope that is lacking when you’re depressed. It’s not just the pain of today. It’s the pain of not believing that any day going forward is going to be any better,” was another way Chris described the condition.

On top of all that came another despairing thought. Chris was visiting Disneyworld when the thought of suicide manifested in his tormented mind.

Suicide at the ‘Happiest Place On Earth’

“That was a very scary but also insightful experience where I did have my first suicidal thought.”

Why Disneyworld? It was no coincidence. “In hindsight I had being pursuing happiness as the only goal in life.”

When I got to Disneyworld with the tagline ‘The Happiest Place On Earth’ and I found myself unhappy, it was just utter despair.

“The question in my head was, ‘If I can’t be happy here, where can I be’?”

“Coming back to suicide I firmly believe there is always help and there is always hope and this is coming from somebody who’d lost the belief that there was hope,” Chris stated turning it back on himself.

Good things, ultimate things, idolatry

“There is hope and I’m a living example of it,” Chris highlighted before reflecting on his past mindset that had led to his poor state of mental health.

“I grew up in the ‘You can do anything’ generation. I had high hopes for my life but fell into depression because I was overly optimistic, not pessimistic.”

We so easily make these good things ultimate things, to use a paradigm from Timothy Keller when he talks about idolatry.

“Happiness is a blessing from God. I come home every afternoon from work and my kids run to the door. They’re at that age where they’re so excited to see me.”

“We’re allowed to be happy and God will bless us with times of happiness.”

“But if that is the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ of life, that’s when we lose perspective.”

Happiness all the time? impossible!

“Happiness cannot be sustained and as Christians this shouldn’t come as a surprise.”

We believe in a broken world and short of the New Creation, happiness all of the time is just by its very nature impossible.

Chris believes said we need to build ourselves up with an alternative framework of what we are making ultimate in our lives. He said what we ought to be building upon is God.

“The beautiful thing about God’s love and God’s grace and God’s kindness is that they are unshakeable truths.”

“God’s love is the constant in life and for those of us struggling with depression and anxiety, so much else is so vulnerable and so shaky that you need this solid ground.”

“So, if you try to find your solid ground on happiness or career, family, or whatever you want to make it, it’s ultimately going to let you down at one point or another.”

Maturity in Christ, the ultimate goal in life

Colossians chapter one has been a very important text for Chris.

“Paul says, ‘All things are from Christ and all things are for Christ.”

“The way a psychologist explained that to me and the question he asked me as I recounted the Disneyworld story was this:

What if happiness was not the ultimate goal of life? What if maturity in Christ was the ultimate goal of life?

Chris said the beauty of that becoming your paradigm is that nothing is wasted.

“Good times are purposeful. Bad times are purposeful. Because they’re all contributing to the greater reality of joy, maturity and faith in Christ.”

If you would like to listen to the full audio interview click play below

Footnote

Chris Cipollone tells his story in a new book titled ‘Down Not Out, Depression Anxiety, and the Difference Jesus Makes’.

Chris is a pastor, speaker, teacher and author living in Sydney and he’s also the founder of Biblical Counsellors Australia.

“Through my own experience of depression and anxiety, it became clear to me that my faith needed to influence how I processed the pain that came with mental illness. It was in the depth of despair that the light of the good news of Jesus sustained me. God is gracious, and it is my privilege to be able to share all that he has taught me with others.

My book, Down Not Out: Depression, Anxiety and the Difference Jesus Makes’ explores how an identity in Christ impacts our thoughts, feelings and attitudes towards mental health. Links for purchase are available on this site.

I am also available for speaking engagements.” Feel free to browse this website for more information. http://www.chriscipollone.com/

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