Understanding Depression   4 comments

I awoke yesterday feeling depressed, before I had done or thought anything.  It was the misery into which I opened my eyes and over which I had no control, as tangible as the rumpled sheets under my body.  I still meditated on my morning verse and wrote down my thoughts about God’s deep grace, but unlike the several days before, it was academic and cold.  The ideas were true, I knew they were true, but they did not warm my heart.  Life continued to feel like a heavy burden that I longed to cast off.  A tasty breakfast was no better than cold oatmeal.  Simple tasks, like paying bills, felt insurmountable, so I put them off for another day.

This morning I awoke with a sense of contentment.  The sun was shining and fresh snow coated the trees on which a cardinal perched.  It is my day off, so I lay back on the reclining loveseat drowsing–naps always feel good… if I could just figure out a way to make it through life comatose, I believe I could be happy.  Just now I read over my Scripture reflections of yesterday, and they uplifted my heart.

Let me say here very plainly that the sun and snow did not change my feelings.  Rather, my feelings were in a better place and so I could appreciate the beauty of the day.  If I had awakened with the same misery as yesterday, the snow would have looked like so much shoveling and scraping to do.  And though I feel better right now, I know that depression is just under the surface ready to push up through the thin crust covering it.

If you do not know depression first hand, let me dispel a common and damaging presumption: “happiness is a choice.”  A depressive cannot “count your many blessings” into a better place.  Negative thinking is not the source of our misery, so positive thinking cannot resolve our misery.  Positive thoughts may cure grumpiness or self pity or minor losses, but it cannot fix depression any more than a screw driver can fix a tree through the roof of your house, and to suggest that it can feels heartless to the one suffering.

Please listen to this next sentence very carefully and thoughtfully, because it is the key to understanding us.  Depression does not come from negative thinking; negative thinking (and feeling) comes from depression.  Depression springs from genetics or biology or PTSD or some other deep source, and putting it on a diet of positive thoughts will not cure it anymore than dumping a gallon of clorox in a river daily will un-pollute it.  In fact, it can make things much worse, since it suggests (even unconsciously) that the one who is depressed is somehow at fault for it or has the power by sheer will to overcome it.

For the most part, I do not know what makes some days (or hours) better than others.  I cannot predict it or control it since I don’t have direct access to my subconscious mind.  I know the general sources from which it originally springs in my genetics and childhood, and I work deliberately to remedy those root causes, but it is a very long journey and likely will not be resolved this side of the grave.  Like a missing arm, it is a condition which affects everything, and I must find a way to live optimally within those limits.  The patience and understanding and empathy of friends goes a long way in helping me cope.

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Posted March 12, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

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4 responses to “Understanding Depression

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  1. I hope to write more later but for now,thank you as always for your frank and open sharing. Know that at least two people in Iowa love you and try as best as we can to send both of you strength and energy.

  2. Thank Kent. Love the part about ‘drowsing naps’ and ‘making it through life comatose’…I very much relate. One of the reasons I like Oregon is the amount of cloudy, rainy days, makes for good reading and sleeping, two of my favorite things to do. I am daily trying to continue on the trek, as Nouwen speaks of, ‘from loneliness to solitude’. Walking through this journey with yourself and others is a big part of that for me, so thank you.

    • Brett, my heart goes out to you. I know how hard life can be. You remind me of the harsh loneliness I suffered before marriage. Life did not feel worse then than now though. I don’t know how depression plays out, but it almost seems that it just latches onto different aspects of life’s difficulties and dumps all its weight into those different baskets so that the negative is equally heavy, but tuned to different sources of misery. I thought since loneliness felt so bad, that getting a real soul-mate would make me feel much better. I feel much less lonely now, but the overall negative feelings have not improved, they just seem to find different sources on which to root themselves. I hope you find encouragement today.

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