The Hope within Depression   7 comments

I have little time before work and only 9 usable fingers, having chunked off the flat of my thumb in my belt sander–a story for another day–so this will be quick and rough, but I have thoughts I want to put down.  I watched an old episode of Joan of Arcadia recently and remembered why I liked it–the constant reminder that God does not play by our rules and often leaves us in the dark, even (or rather especially) about our own lives.  That is, I hate the experience, but I am grateful for the camaraderie of someone who also feels slapped in the face by life… every day… and cannot find a way to duck the swing.

I have been struggling more deeply with depression for the last few months (which is the reason for my absence here–depression reduces life to survival and little more).  It feels awful, so much like an actual physical trauma that I find myself catching my breath with the pain, and more recently grasping my head in my hands as I double over.  So I dig through my piles of options for some way to reduce the misery, but while I’m looking, my feelings change.  How do you address something which is  unpredictable, indiscernible, uncontrollable.  I don’t mean I don’t have any influence over my feelings, but it is like driving with a knee around mountain curves… in the fog.  So my feelings are constantly in the ditch–it is all I can manage to keep from going over the embankment.

Some days I wake up feeling okay… as long as I just lie there in a drowsy stupor.  That makes me think that naps might be a way to avoid my misery… which is true, but not helpful since I can’t live the rest of my life in a coma.  It just delays the returning blackness, it doesn’t lighten it.  So basically any strategy for avoiding life and its attendant feelings–loving on my dogs, watching TV, reading Facebook–is only a distraction from feeling anything deep or meaningful, it doesn’t resolve or heal or soften those bad feelings that come flooding back the moment I come out of the circus show.

For my religiously minded friends with the easy and certain solution–yes, I keep trying prayer and Bible reading as I am able, I keep looking for a church that doesn’t make me feel even worse afterwards.  These have not brought any fundamental relief or changed my experience of life.  And for my friends who have found some relief in medicine–I’ve tried several iterations, no luck so far.

Honestly it is not my staggering emotions that are the fundamental soul problem so much as the lack of control and confusion.  If I believed that my depression were God-ordained and inescapable, it would relieve me of desperately seeking solutions (which puts a great deal of pressure on myself, and temptation to self-blame).  I could settle for learning how to manage the life I am given.  But since I have small influences on my emotions, it keeps me actively engaged.  Were I to conclude that I had no real control and that my emotional experience of life was wholly in the hands of God, I could accept my lack of control, but that would exacerbate my confusion, not only over why this was God’s choice for me, but how I am to respond to it.

Regarding the first, the very values God promotes are undermined by my depression, not simply because of the inherent self-focus needed and the sapping of all motivation, but because of its intense draining of energy: I don’t have the normal resources from which to draw to be generous-minded, hard-working, other-oriented.  Patience looks more like resignation, hope seems more like stubbornness.  Wisdom seems to be stymied–if I have too little insight for my own life, what do I have to give to others?  And to find any joy present in this mess would require a complete re-definition.

Regarding the second, my response to intractable emotions, it is hard enough to find a rhythm for the dance of life when one’s emotions are consistent, even consistently miserable.  A strategy, plan, step-by-step approach can be developed when the playing field is stable, but when it constantly changes, it throws off all efforts to establish patterns, learn dynamics, and create a workable approach.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

That was yesterday.  I ran out of time before I could post.  But the gears started to spin as I wrote.  To suppose that patience as resignation or hope as stubbornness is somehow a poorer, weaker form of the real virtue is to undermine the very breadth and variegated beauty of each virtue, to stereotype, slot, and truncate the vast panoply of experience and expression of each facet of goodness.  We have often tried to distill attributes into some pure or regnant form, a person that most exemplifies some particular value, say of courage or discipline.  So the essence of real love is seen as mother love, as though there is only one kind of love and everyone should emulate it.  But what if there are many unique and invaluable forms of love that are missed by this reduction, that look different from mother love but have their own irreplaceable value: what of the simplicity and humility of a child’s love, the equality and intentionality of a friend’s love, the intensity and intertwining of a spouse’s love… and so even those of us under the heavy weight of depression have a unique offering of love, one of deep understanding and empathy and acceptance.  Perhaps depression does not inherently limit, sap, or dull our virtues, but instead refines, strengthens, sharpens them with a special coloring.  Our virtues have their own beauty and power, unique role and expression, a glory all their own.

 

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Posted December 21, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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7 responses to “The Hope within Depression

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  1. Coffee? I miss the talks. Although I can be quite disagreeable, I really enjoy the honesty of our talks. I love your sincerity and your honest acceptance of me even when I’m a bit buttholeous. I also sense the love of God on you. You are a rare brother. You feel alone because you are on a path that the majority can’t walk. God has entrusted you to meet Him in the wilderness because He wants your undivided attention and He knows he can trust you to not get lost there. I know the wilderness. I can appreciate your struggle. I have not, However experienced the level of depression you have faced. I would love to get coffee when ever you want. 661-8447

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  2. While not wanting to compare (not being the all-knowing God), I wonder if the depressive’s “patience as resignation” and “hope as stubbornness” might be as much greater than an optimist’s light-hearted, easy look-on-the-bright-side-and-dont-worry-be-happy patience/hope as the widow’s mite in comparison with the rich man’s apparently generous offering. The choice to choose to believe in the valley of death is infinitely more difficult (and, I believe, more God-glorifying – thinking of the cosmic battleground surrounding Job – he “scored” for God’s side when he was in the dumps) as compared to the choice for the optimist to flash a bright smile and choose to surrender to the natural tendency to hope…

    • Peter, I think it is true that we often confuse personality traits with character, the first coming from a tendency built into our psychic makeup and not really indicative of virtue (though they are assets that can be used for good… or for self-serving). We tend to confuse optimism with hope, risk-inclination with courage, and self-effacement with humility. They certainly look quite similar, but are fundamentally different, and it is a disservice to us all to confuse personality with character. I would also agree that real virtue varies in degrees (though given many hidden variables, it is tricky at best to try to measure those one against another, shown wisely in the hesitance of your words). A third aspect I was especially focusing on is not relative to degree of virtue, but “flavor” of virtue–that any given virtue has many very different (and complementary) expressions. I think those who struggle with depression have unique and valuable expressions of virtues (not necessarily better, but different), which I hope to explore in a future post if I am able.

  3. Thanks Kent for this post and you guys for your comments. Kent, your words in your last set of comments is something I have thought about a lot over the years and noticed in myself and others. I often feel elated or “encouraged” when someone compliments me on displaying humility or compassion, yet, it has often felt like it is more just my personality and temperment they are complimenting, instead of what often seems like a lack of courage or me just being gentle on someone else so they will hopefully return the favor. I see how easy it is to take “credit” for something that God has put in us and it can prevent me from really developing the inner strength of character that is needed. Thanks for your encouragements in the midst of a difficult holiday season for many.

    • Brett, in this marvelous creative riot of personalities, God has created a garden of pleasure for us all, and along with many others, I like you, who you are. Who you are is a good thing, so take delight in the one God has made you as something distinct from your virtues and character. I think maturity is not learning to stifle or override our personality, but to learn to channel it to good ends. I think the main problem of “taking credit” (even for our virtues) is that it creates comparative value and relational disconnect (elevating oneself). But taking delight in one’s own beauty as a gift is a simple act of gratitude.

  4. Thanks for your encouragement Kent and for being willing to share your journey in this crazy life, as well as, being a voice of honesty and truth. You have continually blessed me throughout this year. Merry Christmas to you and Kimberly.

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