“I”m depressed?” I think to myself riding down the road, radio up, singing like the world is my stage surrounded by cars that arranged their day just to be in my presence.
“No way.” I think to myself as the sun’s warmth soaks into my shoulders and the chilly air brushes my face.
“I can’t hear you, I’ve never heard you, I won’t ever hear you, and I don’t want to hear you.” I hear in my head as the question I asked is answered.
“I don’t matter, I never mattered, and I don’t need to be here anymore.” I retort as the music turns into agonized noise, the sun bakes persistently, and the wind screams in my face.
It happens that fast. Life is good. Everything is right in my life. The smallest, most insignificant thing creeps out of some corner in my life and the lights go out. The fuse is blown and I can’t find my way to the fresh air.
I’ve started thinking about people like leaves on a tree. Leaves flourish on all sides, limbs radiating from the trunk, life flowing into each of them. As the prevailing east wind approaches, as is its steady habit, the leaves on the north and south side get a little sideways, the east leaves press securely and confidently into the trunk, completely ambivalent to the breeze. Those west leaves, though, cling for dear fragile life to the limb as the gale pulls them from the trunk, away from the circle of life.
What’s wrong with those western leaves? Good question! You’ve gotta know, those west leaves are depressed. The same substance as all the other leaves but because of their context, they are more susceptible to blowing away.
This is how I’ve been thinking about depression. I don’t live constantly under a dark cloud of hopelessness. I live on that side of the line, but the cloud is often far from me. I know there are others who live even further across the line than I do, and that cloud is often much nearer to them. When the wind blows, those of us normal, healthy people with a disposition towards depression get more quickly covered with the clouds.
What I find problematic with the diagnosis known as “Depression” is that the term fits the minutes and moments but not necessarily the major movements of life. When I am low, I am depressed. When I am low, I am very much in a hole of sorts, a depression in the surface of life, a pebble in the divot on the green. Those are depressive moments, those are times when I am fully covered by what the word means, says, and feels… I am depressed. All of the other times though, when I am living my normal melancholic life, I may feel more sad than the “normal” person, but I am not in the hole. I can laugh, connect with friends, enjoy life, and rest in the warm embrace of love… and I’m still diagnosed as depressed. In these moments, the word doesn’t fit.
When I’m down, it helps me understand that there is a legitimate process at work in my head, that I need to work in one direction to climb from the hole, instead of working in so many directions taking guesses at why I feel the way I feel. The label creates a target and gives me the ability to set up some lifelines before falling in, and some rigging to help me get out.
When I’m up, every time I take a pill, I am reminded that I am depressed, and that is when the label becomes an ill-fitting collar, has me on a leash, and invites me into a hole of hopelessness. Then there is Shakespeare, looking me in the eye, saying something about a rose that, by any other name, would smell so sweet. This thing in my head, this diagnosis, by any other name, would still be so depressing.
depression, despair, loneliness, understanding
I read my Bible often, almost every day.
I am almost completely unproductive at work, almost every day.
I love being around my family and friends.
I stay at work for hours, even when I don’t have to.
I bring joy to our relationships.
I cause incredible moments of pain and silence.
I trust that Jesus makes all things new.
I believe that my life will never be better.
I help others to live in the light of life.
I would gladly walk quietly off into a never-ending night.
Jesus wants me to control my thoughts.
Without drugs my thoughts veer into terribly destructive valleys.
The grace of Jesus is sufficient for all my needs.
I need medication to sufficiently give grace to my family like they need.
That’s where I’m stuck.
Right after getting the news that I needed to be medicated in order to function like a healthy, contributing member of society, I began reading everything I could to help me grasp my situation. While the range of responses drifted along a scale, I noticed two camps beginning to form.
You are a delinquent Christian! Surrender, Submit, Stop Sinning, and the Lord will heal you!!
The old legalist in me felt this and readily agreed. Depression is a thing of the mind. Right thinking will produce right living. Likewise, wrong living produces wrong thinking. If I return to the Lord, surrender to Him, repent, and take refuge in His grace and glory, He will heal me.
Some of that is true. That full last sentence is true and most of that paragraph rings true. But I’m afraid it is woefully out of context. I am starting to wonder, and maybe realize, that God’s healing of me may have nothing to do with moments of depression. His healing may very well mean that I live for the rest of my life with a propensity to drift into a deep sadness. God’s interaction with my mental health is not primarily dependent on my submission to Him.
Oh my sweet friend, Jesus loves you (Kum Ba Yah)! In your weakness He is strong!! Embrace your depression, take all the drugs, go to all the therapies, and display your depression before the world.
The Jesus hippy in me feels like he found a sun dried wool blanket as he wraps himself up snug and sits by a spruce fire in the foggy morning. I love this! This makes it pretty clear that there really isn’t anything wrong with me. The sovereignty of God is on display in me. This broken man is exactly who God wants the world to see. I’ll take the drugs, I’ll do the work to control my behavior, and I’ll embrace the fact that I am who I am and I’ll never be anything other than who I am now.
The problem with this one is that, at some point, I will no longer be who I am now. That brings me a smidge of hope. I don’t want to be who I am right now forever, though I really don’t want to be any different than I am right now.
To be a little more clear, I know that I must live a life of submission to Jesus. I know that living a life of rebellion and hedonism will bring a load of pain and cold into my world. I also know that God is not ashamed of me (or any of you for that matter) in my broken state, weakness, and sickness.
The hard thing for me to wrestle with is this…
What does it mean to be healthy?
Does it mean to be happy, mostly, and be sad sometimes?
Does it mean that being melancholic and sad are symptoms of something wrong?
What if, as I am now, is as healthy as I will ever be, and as healthy as Jesus wants me to be? What if the redemptive work, the work for which Jesus is absolutely sufficient, is not a work for my happiness, but is instead a work for His glory. What if I’m supposed to trust that He will give me a family who will love me deeply in all of this, regardless of how hard it is for them sometimes? What if I’m supposed to trust that He will give me a job that provides for my shelter, food, and some fun things despite my almost crippling avolition.
To be sure, I don’t have many answers. This I believe:
God is real.
I am a Christian.
I am loved.
I am depressed.
I am ashamed.
I don’t think I really want to know the Holy Spirit.
At least, not at this point in my immature life.
I heard a guy talking today about people who spent time praying and asking for the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself to them. It was really neat listening to this man talks about these other people’s experiences. Nothing flashy, nothing wild. The crux was that each of these dudes spent time asking for a deeper understanding or experience with the Holy Spirit, they each got what they asked for, though none of the details of their experiences were shared. The take away for this man was that every one of those people lived radically different lives afterward.
After the conversation, I thought, “I want to do that. I want to do what these men have done and have a radically different life.”
Then I thought about the stories I have heard. Jacob had a great experience with the Holy Spirit and walked with a limp forever afterward. Paul had a major experience with the Holy Spirit and it left him blind for several days. John had an experience with the Holy Spirit and it left him sick to his stomach.
I think I’ve grown so comfortable in my life that I don’t give much thought to the Holy Spirit. I live in a reasonable, tangible, real world. As I wander through this concept, I wonder if my comfortable life has separated me from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
And that is where the first line of this comes from. If truly knowing, understanding deeply, connecting with the Holy Spirit results in shaking of life, a shuddering of reality, a limp, blindness, a bitter stomach, anything other than what I have now or what I want later, I don’t know If I am yet ready to know the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if I’m really ready to sacrifice the good that I have in order to move into the greatness of what God has determined for me.
I want to have an experience like these other men. I want to live a life that is radically different. But at the same time, I want to live the same life I am living now.
I guess the real question is what do I consider to be the ideal life. Is it the same that I have now? Is it radically different? To loosely quote Jim Elliot Am I willing to give what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose?
And more to the point…
Do I really want to know the Holy Spirit?
Christianity, Holy Spirit, maturity, sacrifice, Spiritual Maturity
I love flying. I’m not a pilot, but I’ve flown a handful of times and absolutely love it. I’ve been fortunate enough to see inside that world a time or two, and I have picked up some of the mantras along the way. This is one of them.
Priority of tasks while flying: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.
What good is knowing where we are going, and communicating with other pilots, air traffic control, or passengers, if the aircraft has lost the ability to stay aloft and is plummeting to the earth? Gotta keep the plane in the air first and foremost… Aviate!
Before spending time and energy communicating, we need to know where we are going. There is only so much fuel onboard and we only have so much time to get on course, or to find a safe place to land, both of which require us to… Navigate!
Airplane is stable in flight and we are on a safe course? Awesome! Lets talk… Communicate!
Part of me wants to apologize for the silence, part of me wants to tell you that we just weathered a tremendous storm and so my focus was on priorities 1 and 2. Sometimes just 1.
Most of me wants to detach even further, drift into the mountains with my family, and never speak of these years again.
Truth is, I know, even if I never speak of these years again, I will feel them forever.
It has been a very rough couple years. By a “couple” I mean, all the way back from April 2014, that fateful day when we departed the paradise we called Washington State and the family we developed there. Over the last 4 years we have been through almost 2 years deployed, a death in the family, Lyme disease, a cardiac emergency, a cancer diagnosis, a severely damaged house, sustained loss of rental income, foreclosure, a move overseas, and 1 hospitalized child in a Japanese hospital. The job I am currently doing is rough… we’ll leave it there.
The rest of this year is looking every bit as difficult!
Things got heavy enough on me that I would come home from work and sit in my van in front of my house for 45 minutes sometimes. I felt a crushing cold detachment. I knew that inside my house was warmth, comfort, solace. I knew that my kids were a huge source of that warmth! Their innocence and their love for me is palpable. I knew that, as soon as I walked inside, I would suck the very life out of room, the very blood from the marrow. I couldn’t do that, so I would sit in the van trying to get it together. A couple times I would see window blinds shake and a minute later kids bursting forth from the house and running to the van.
I would paste on a peaceful face and I would smile at them while dying on the inside. It never failed though, true love drives out fear! Those kids love me so much!! I’d go inside with them and would immediately drown in their stories from the day, questions about everything under the sun, and invitations to play.
Who knew that their innocence would save me? And man alive do I need saving!! Every. Single. Day!
In the midst of these difficult times, I came to see that bringing the poison home, I would infect my family. Love seems to be stronger than that. Innocent love seems to work the other way. I come with my broken heart, my head full of trouble, dripping the poison of the day, and walk into a realm of love, and I am healed, I come out clean, and the love is not diminished a single bit.
So that’s where we’ve been. While the rest of this year is looking difficult, I am doing MUCH better and the family is doing awesome. I am so glad I get to be a part of this family.
It got tricky… but we were able to Aviate and Navigate… now we’ll communicate!
Thanks for reading and, to those who sent messages, thanks for encouraging me to keep my head up and to get back to writing.