Archive for the ‘depression’ Tag

The Dark Side of My Brain   Leave a comment

I’ve had a week off from school now and the whirl has subsided.  When school is in session, my life feels like it has direction and meaning, however short-term and contrived.  In some ways getting another degree feels ridiculously arbitrary as a goal, like digging a hole in the ground and knocking a ball into it with a stick, becoming really good at stick-swinging, better than anyone else (though a hole-in-one actually benefits no one).  Of course I hope I can be of benefit to others through counseling, and I hope it can keep us financially in the black even though I will be starting a new career at 60.  At least counseling pays better and is more physically sustainable into old age than pitching 50 pound bags of mulch into people’s trucks at Home Depot.

When I’m no longer pressed by arbitrary class deadlines, the expansiveness that opens up blows emptiness into my soul.  Why am I here?  What meaning does my life have?  How can I make a difference in a world that has sloughed me off like Teflon?  Even wearing an orange apron and pointing at the wasp spray is a distraction from the hollowed out feeling of having no purpose but to somehow survive until death relieves me of that obligation.

Each day at work is measured in hours passing–to somehow fill the time until my first break, then slog 2 hours till lunch, then manage to stay busy enough till the afternoon break, which puts me close enough to the end of my shift to give faint hope of escape.  That game of monotony is still better than sitting at home trying to make sense of the life I was handed like a bag full of small parts that come with no explanation or instructions.

It helps a little to talk about it, so thanks for listening.

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Posted April 28, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Underground Turbulence   2 comments

I have posted very little about my internal journey for some months because I was too stressed, anxiety having blanketed my depression.  This summer I was dragging myself along,step by shaky step under this heavy weight when school attacked me like a bear.  I ran for my life, but as I got away from the bear, the weight returned.  Where did all that extra energy come from and where did it disappear to again?  Why can’t I manufacture an adrenaline rush, live hopped-up all the time sans anxiety… pretend there is a bear I am fleeing, but a friendly bear that doesn’t make me anxious… oh, I see why that doesn’t work.  I guess fear is not a good antidote to depression, though I appreciated the diversion.

It rains here all winter long, so seasonal affective disorder (weather related depression) is a common aspect of living in this area, but it has little impact on me simply because my depression is deeper than that.  One must have pleasure in the sun for its absence to be missed.  It may be a contributing factor, but not a major one.  A much bigger factor is my lack of close friendships.  In an email reply, I told a friend he was the last close friend I had.  That was 13 years ago.  A recent study determined that lack of social connection was the number one variable in predicting early death.  But it is hard to find meaningful connections in our fragmented, mobile society, especially for men apparently.

So my heart goes out to those of you who are lonely, struggling, shuffling cautiously through a dark and foreboding world.  Know that you are not alone and that I for one am deeply sympathetic to your plight.  For some of you, getting out of bed in the morning is a greater step of courage and faith than others need to skydive or perform on stage.  May you feel God’s loving and caring heart today.

 

Posted January 25, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal

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You Can’t See Your Own Nose Without a Mirror   Leave a comment

Isn’t it odd how we are often the last ones to realize the obvious about ourselves?  You may have spotted a theme that has been bubbling up through my posts recently, but I didn’t notice it until a few days ago: anger.   It is one of my defense mechanisms, so reflexive and short-lived that I often don’t notice it or I pass it off as a normal response.  In fact, it was a major piece of armor for my whole family, our shield against a sudden sense of danger, so quickly deployed that it even parried our sense of vulnerability.  Like so many family traits, it was carefully disguised–no shouting, name-calling, or slamming doors, but an intense burning that everyone felt without being able to name.  When I stumbled on Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger, it turned on the lights for me, so much so that I bought every sibling a copy for Christmas.

Many years ago I realized that an unexpected burst of anger is a telltale sign that I feel under attack, not from the incident itself, which is just a release valve, but from the pressure of turmoil building inside my heart, a festering wound that needs attention.  I don’t need a scolding, but a warm compress of grace–I need to locate the wound and apply self-compassion.

I have known for some months that my emotions were foundering, but it was a gradual, insidious tide that crept up past the gunwales without any alarms sounding.  Who doesn’t get mad at selfish drivers?  Who doesn’t get pissed at overbearing customers or lazy co-workers?  It seemed normal… except that it wasn’t.

The slowly building tension came from a big drop in income, a stressful job, and even an unsafe home (our cars have been rifled more than once, and I caught a burglar trying to get into our house).   The major soul cost has been a loss of even a minimal support structure–my low-wage job works me till 11 p.m. and on weekends, blocking me from making social connections here.  And when the scales are already heavily offset, even small weights added seem unbearable.  It becomes hard to do simple daily tasks, not to speak of the huge effort to overcome our current set of circumstances.

None of that is going to change soon.  It needs to change for life to be sustainable, but in the meantime I need to lean into self-support, be conscious of my pain in specific ways and direct compassion to myself as I would to any dear, suffering friend whom I love.

 

Posted July 13, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

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Death Has Many Faces   11 comments

Dad died a year ago last Friday.  His passing was not an emotional jolt for me since I had spent a decade grieving the loss of our relationship.  My father could not follow me on my journey of genuine self-discovery over the last twenty years.  He tried as best he could to understand me, but always on his own terms, trying to fit me into his mental constructs with slight alterations–a more melancholy and ardent version of himself perhaps.  He instinctively knew, I think, that really opening himself to see things from my perspective would require a complete re-orientation of his own perspective and that was too radical for his carefully organized worldview.

His is a common human problem.  The first year of marriage was a huge struggle for me for the same reason–that my worldview made sense and Kimberly’s did not.  I tried listening to her and incorporating aspects of her perspective–trying to be more gentle and supportive, less critical and angry, tweek my worldview with cosmetic changes without moving any load-bearing walls.  I kept listening to her explain her struggle in our relationship, and I kept trying to adapt my behavior and avoid or use certain words while hiding certain attitudes.  I was basically saying to myself, “My worldview needs no adjustments, but out of love I will accommodate her weaknesses.”  It didn’t work.

Relational accommodation, making room for someone else’s differences, is much more loving than rejecting them as somehow “wrong,”  but it is a truncated love. When I continue to see others from my own perspective rather than trying to see with their eyes and understand them from within their experience, I cannot understand them in any deep way.  The relationship cannot be fundamentally supportive or transformational, but only touches the surface.  Our interdependence “being members of one another” is so much more than sharing our spiritual gifts.  Our interdependence goes to the core of who we are.  We need the corrective of the other’s point of view.

Most of us are willing to tweak our life map, add a street or railroad that is missing.  “Oh, I didn’t know that,” we say.  It is the natural process of learning.  As long as no one fiddles with the major features of our map, we won’t feel too defensive when they suggest changes because we basically have the “right” orientation.  But if the differences in our maps are profound–mine shows a grid of city streets where yours shows winding country roads–then we have no easy solution.  My initial reaction, emotionally and intellectually, is to reject your map, to assume you are wrong, confused, or misguided. When my father first heard I was struggling with depression, he was concerned and sent me a book that stated in the introduction, “Depression comes from a lack of faith.”  Thankfully, he did not stick with that perspective.

The next step in a positive direction is for me to stop rejecting your map as defective and simply assert that our views are incompatible and so we cannot understand one another.  The third step (with a smidgen of humility) is to see how I might learn from you, fit some features of the your map into mine, add a river here or a corner store there… but a river going through the center of a city, polluted and obstructing traffic, is very different from a river that is bordered by meadows.  When I squeeze this element into my map, the whole essence of it is changed.  I have distorted your view to fit my own, and though I may speak of a river, we see it so differently that we still cannot understand one another.  How you experience that river is completely shaped by your overall map, and until I can see that, I am blind to who you are.  “Okay,” I say to myself, “He likes pollution and traffic jams.  To each his own.”  Dad came this far with me on my journey, acknowledging that it was possible to be full of the Spirit and still suffer depression, though he could not conceive how that fit into his own theological framework, he at least allowed for it, a kind of exception to the rule.

But he was never able to get past this stage with me.  I spent years trying to explain to him my own experience and how I was coming to realize that his map of life did not work for me, but he always saw my experience as an aberration from the norm.  He was convinced that his theology and spirituality and values were spot-on and needed only slight tweaking to accommodate people like myself, maybe add a mission hospital to his map for that small segment of broken people like myself.  He instinctively knew that to open his worldview to my experience–using it to challenge his worldview instead of adding it as an addendum–would mean a complete revision of his thinking, a worldview that he had spent a lifetime perfecting and promoting through his preaching, teaching, and writing.  And thousands of testimonials proved that his worldview worked… at least for those who found it beneficial.

So I spent the last years of his life slowly accepting the painful reality that my own father would never know me, that our relationship would never get past the superficial.  In many ways it was like my mom’s slow decline into Alzheimer’s when she eventually did not know who I was or even that I was in the room.  Trapped inside her own mind, she could not relate to us.  That long grieving process seems to me more gentle on those left behind than a sudden death of an intimate.  Truly here “we see in a glass, darkly.”  We let them go with the joyful expectation that when we embrace them again all the obstacles to our relationships will be gone, and we will “know even as we are known.”

 

Postlude: Kimberly tells me no one will understand what I have said without an example.  So let me very briefly point out one serious difference in our maps.  Dad, being a choleric, grounded spiritual growth in behavioral choices and made God responsible for his subconscious mind–if he was not aware of it, he was not responsible for it.  As a result, he tended to see emotions as secondary to our spiritual lives.  This might work for people who are less self-reflective, but it is a scheme that is largely unworkable for us melancholics who are in touch with a great part of the tides of our hearts.  If dad had been able to fully accept this discrepancy, he would have had to rework his whole paradigm of spiritual growth, either suggesting different processes for different people or working out a new approach that fully incorporated the processes of those different from him.  This is a very tall order for anyone, especially in the latter part of our lives, so I do not mean to fault him for it.  He quite possibly did the best he could with what he had–and we cannot ask for more.  I only share this as an encouragement for us all to work at broadening our viewpoints.

Posted June 7, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

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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.

Posted March 12, 2017 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Long March   8 comments

When we face life honestly, bravely, and resolutely, it slices us with a thousand little deaths: truths we are loathe to admit, securities that have blocked our growth, long-fostered hopes that end with a sudden blowout or gradual leak against every effort to re-inflate them.  As Kimberly and I prepare to move to Asheville, NC, we are “downsizing,” a smooth word corporations use to put a positive spin on frantically casting everything overboard to save a sinking ship–more like foundering than streamlining.

I had no trouble giving away excess clothes and unused dishes, but when I sold my weight set, it went out the door with my dreams of a buff body still draped over it.  To my wife it was a dust-collecting eye-sore, but when I sold that bench, I gave up on a promise and hope.  It was my final concession that this frumpy body is the one I will take to the grave.  I finally admitted honestly that it was a wasted dream, sitting idle for so many years because my real values lay elsewhere.  And that’s okay… it’s even good.  I want to live out my true values and not be distracted by false ones.  But the good road often forks away from the desirable one.  Being good and being happy are often incommensurable.

Stripping away possessions can be a stripping off of dreams and securities, groundings and trajectories, plans and expectations.  This morning as I drove my pickup filled with ministry books to donate to a local college, one phrase pounded through my head: “I hate my life!”  Those particular books sat in boxes in my basement for ten years, waiting, full of hope for a revived ministry of preaching or teaching or leading, some role to play in bringing God’s goodness into the world.  They hung heavy with past joys long gone: the delight in studying and sharing truth with others, the deep satisfaction of experiencing spiritual usefulness by sharing gifts to benefit others.

I have pursued the truth as relentlessly as I can, and it has brought me so much more insight and freedom, self-knowledge and character.  I know now that much of what I did before was streaked through with blindspots and immaturity and ungodliness.  I had a deeply flawed understanding of God.  I am in a far better place personally and spiritually because of all the breaking, but I had hoped to come to the other side of the struggle, to rediscover joy and peace and fulfillment at a new, fuller, more meaningful level.  But I am only tired, deeply tired, and crushed and broken-hearted.  I feel as though I am on a death-march, lifting one foot after the other in my hopeless, stubborn faith.

If this rings true for your own experience, may you be encouraged that you are not alone.  Let us call out to one another in the dark.

Posted April 4, 2016 by janathangrace in Personal, Uncategorized

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Finding Peace within Pain   4 comments

“Be gentle and kind to yourself” I blogged two weeks ago.  “Take full measure of your pain and with compassion find a way to give the help your weary, struggling heart needs.”  Great advice, and as it turns out, useless.  I was suffering acutely, but didn’t know why.  How could I relieve a pain that I could not locate?  Loneliness may be remedied with a friend, loss may be resolved with healthy grieving, but the phantom pain of depression is often untraceable to any source.  I was completely stuck.

For a long time now I have been struggling to find relief from my pain… or at the very least find the best way to cope with it.  Should I follow a plan or be spontaneous, should I read or write, should I sleep in or get up early–what would be best for my soul?  I kept taking my emotional temperature, trying to figure out what helped or didn’t help, but the solution was a will-o’-the-wisp, dancing just outside my insight and control.

“And then somehow it came to me,” I journaled the next morning.  “What my heart needed was not support to find and apply a solution (friends, good job, insight, etc.), but just support as an end in itself. What my heart needed was simply that gentleness and kindness, for me to have an attitude of constant gentleness and kindness in how I saw myself, thought of myself, felt about myself. I needed self-compassion for my own pain and struggle and fear and confusion and sense of worthlessness—not to find a solution, but to just be on my own side through it all.”

I am a fixer from way back.  When I see others in pain, I want to help, give them suggestions, offer them a way to find relief.  This often backfires, unintentionally causing more hurt.  Kimberly wants me to listen with compassion, understanding, and empathy rather than solutions, but I’m a very slow learner.  I keep defaulting back to problem-solving even though I’ve discovered through her how greatly I also need to just be heard and not fixed.

If the best a friend can offer is not to stop my pain, but to hold my hand through it, then why have I never thought to practice this with my own heart, to be my own best friend?  What if I walked through each day with a tenderness towards myself, an empathy for my struggle, an awareness and responsiveness to the fluctuations of daily events and how they impact my heart?

I feel as though a new way of being has started to open up in my mind. I’m just learning the initial steps, but it seems to hold real promise for the next leg of my spiritual journey.  It does not mean my misery will lighten, but that I will be sensitive and caring about my ongoing pain.

Posted January 19, 2016 by janathangrace in Personal

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