Archive for the ‘depression’ Tag

Strange Feelings   8 comments

Last night as I prepped for bed, I said to myself, “This has been a good day.”  In the last twenty years I must have felt that at times, but I can’t recall any… partly because they have been rare, partly because a depressed mind easily forgets the ups.  “Why was it good?” Kimberly asked.  Nothing exceptional.  I enjoyed my walk with the dogs… and some other incidental positives I couldn’t remember.  Incidentals don’t usually change the feel of a day for me.

The things that encourage others don’t sink deep enough to change the life experience of the depressed.  We see a beautiful waterfall, earn a compliment at work, or find a love note in our lunch, but like a cold sip on a blistering day, it tantalizes without refreshing.  It is the surface waves that leave the depths unmoved.   For all of us, emotional responses are spontaneous, unchosen.  We can tweak the flow of our feelings–calm a fear or encourage gratitude to some extent–but our influence on them is limited.

It’s the unwanted emotions I’d really like to avoid, but I can’t.  We melancholics are highly sensitive to our deeper selves, so we can’t work or play or friend away our feelings.  And even if I could snub them, I wouldn’t.  I need to hear what they have to say.  Emotions are dispatches from our psyche, so killing the messenger simply cuts that line of communication to a huge, vital source of personal insight.  In fact, it is to this core place alone that real healing must come.  Good feelings are yard sticks, not hammers: you use them to measure your soul, not to fix your soul.  Like your spouse, feelings are better listened to than controlled, understood than manipulated.  Insisting on positive feelings can be a form of self abuse.

The mundane events of Saturday felt good to me, and that’s a hopeful sign.  It suggests that a much deeper good is awakening in some part of my soul.

Posted October 20, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Don’t Bump Me, I’ve Barely Got My Balance!   5 comments

I’ve been missing lately from my blog because I’ve been mysteriously content of late, and I’m doing all I can to step gingerly and avoid jostling anything that might splash unwanted bits on my day, a very closely managed contentment!  It is like having a badly burned part of my body–my most recent bout with serious depression–that is painless as long as I don’t move, and stings a warning if I take any chances… enforced relaxation… sort of like prison… like hiding in the bushes from a stalking bear and bating my breath to avoid detection… very much like that since I don’t know when and from where a new round of aggressive depression might pounce.

A harsh word, a guilty memory, a snub, a glimpse of an unfinished project and depression gets in a quick slap.  I feel it, and I will myself to breathe deeply, relax, let it go.  At other times it is the slow, almost undetectable drips of growing emotional dis-ease, when I go two days without exercising, for instance, or I avoid dealing with a niggling problem.  I can always feel it brushing past in the dark, know that I have a very thin emotional barrier protecting me.  Perhaps the clearest evidence is that even though I don’t currently feel bad, I have very little energy to take steps to enhance my life, and pushing myself past my energy level is sure to tip over my precarious detente with depression.

Certain things seem to keep me steady–walking daily for two hours, going to work each evening, talking through stuff with Kimberly, loving on my dogs–and my hope is that over time a steady pace will yield more stability. There are hopeful signs.  I am finding some comfort in books as I have not in years, and I catch myself whistling or singing snatches of verse.  But all those gradual gains could be swallowed up overnight, without warning, and without explanation.  So for today, let me just breathe steady, walk slowly, and hope for the best.

Posted September 29, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Subtle Power of the Subconscience   2 comments

This morning a cool breeze was blowing through the windows and the sun was bright and inviting.  I decided I’d like to walk the dogs on my favorite country road.  Kimberly asked if I wanted to use the new dog harness she bought for Mazie, and I declined, but while getting the leashes, I felt a sudden shadow settle over my soul from somewhere vague and indistinct.  As I loaded the dogs into the car, I tried to sort out the feeling.  Something about the new harness was upsetting me.  We recently got a second dog Mitts, and last week we bought him a harness that would inhibit his tugging on the leash.  They have clever designs that force a dog into a turn when they pull, and I told Kimberly that I could add the feature to Mazie’s harness so we would not need to buy her another one.  Two days ago Kimberly mentioned that I needed to do it soon because she was not able to control Mazie on walks, then yesterday she phoned to tell me that she had bought Mazie a new harness.  I kept quiet, but I was exasperated.

Neither of us spends much money (we don’t have much to spend), but I am more austere than she is, so minor conflicts like this come up on occasion, especially when I feel I can solve the problem for free.  Of course, that means she has to wait, especially if my emotions are dragging their feet.  She is pretty patient, but eventually she asks me to either finish the project or agree to spend the money.  This time there was little waiting, no discussion, and a unilateral decision. Naturally, she had every right since by agreement only large purchases require joint decisions. In fact, if we hadn’t discussed it at all, I would have been only slightly and briefly irritated because the bottom line was loss of money, not loss of self worth as it now felt.

As a child, I was highly sensitive, believing that others did not care about my feelings and latching onto anything that might be construed as evidence.  As kids do, I blamed myself, sure that I was unloved because I did not deserve to be loved.  I assumed my own inadequacy until it shaped my heart into a subconscious outlook, easily flaring up into depression as it bypasses any conscious thought process.  I don’t stop to make a rational conclusion: “He was impatient with me because I’m too slow… I shouldn’t be this slow… it proves that I am a failure as a human being.”   I  just feel bad without knowing why.  Sometimes even my emotions take time to settle in–my initial reaction may be a self-defensive anger covering over the sense of shame that gradually seeps in unrecognized to color my days.

As I walked, I started pulling loose the tangled threads of subconscious assumptions that triggered this current sense of worthlessness.  Simply identifying the source released a good deal of its hidden power to subvert my heart.  The next step was to validate my own worth independently of how Kimberly thought of me or treated me.  My value cannot rest on another person, even on one so vital.  My worth is anchored in the infinite and unconditional love with which God values me.  Then having found some level of security, I took another look at what Kimberly’s behavior meant… and decided that objectively it had nothing to do with her opinion of me.  She may have been acting from a sense of urgency or expedience or need for resolution.  Buying a dog harness was not a telltale sign that she didn’t care about me.  It was a sign that she wanted a dog harness.



For My Depressive Friends   Leave a comment

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality” –Andrew Solomon

If you are like me, you feel encouraged by hearing the stories of others who struggle with depression.  Loneliness, the sense that others cannot relate or understand or empathize, is both a fuel for and a flame from depression.  So hearing others share their own journey is a balm to my weary soul.  Here is such a talk by Andrew Solomon.

Kimberly and I know one another’s stories and experiences so well that it often seems there is nothing else to share, like we are trapped inside our own little bubble… it is safe, but offers little chance for fresh input to spark change.  It seems that every time we crack the door to let in a little good, a tide of anti-grace is waiting to push its way in.  The world is so full of direct and indirect condemnation, which is especially hard for sensitive souls to filter out.   Perhaps you can relate.

Posted April 19, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Somebody May Need This Today   2 comments

For 18 years now I have been struggling with depression.  It gets worse or better suddenly and without reason for unpredictable periods of time.  My latest downturn came in winter.  I’ve tried so many different strategies to lift my spirits, pushing myself into things I’d rather avoid, but the fixes never hold.  The last few days have been crushing.  For two nights running, I bunkered down in my office instead of sitting at the reference desk, coming out only when someone needed my help.

Yesterday Berly emailed me a link to a TED Talk video about community, and I watched it this afternoon.  It was very touching, especially the story of a crippled elephant cared for by her herd.  Like that elephant I am broken, but in ways no one can see.  My depression is far more debilitating to my life than a wheelchair would be.  But that 15 minutes shared by a South African storyteller sang some relief into my tortured day.  It made me think that maybe I can make a small difference for one person by sharing life on this blog, perhaps a spark of connection, a sense that you are not alone in your struggle.  I don’t need to be clever or poetic or memorable.  Just being myself, sharing my little scraps of hope and discovery, struggle and pain, may lift someone’s flagging soul, even for an hour.

May we somehow, across the distances, touch one another with compassion and understanding and find a little relief in our shared stories.

Posted April 17, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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A Flickering Candle In A Darkening World   11 comments

I was washing dishes in the kitchen yesterday and thinking.  My mind follows me everywhere and won’t shut up.  Suddenly I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach as I reflected on a political article I had been reading.  The current state of civic engagement in America is deeply disturbing to me, but what drives the stake into my heart is the entrenched position of my own people, the church… at least that part of the church I have always called home spiritually.  It feels to me like our world is careening around hairpin turns in the dark and the headlights just died.  This is not going to end well.  And leaning against the sink with dripping hands I realized another huge source of my depression.

I have known for many years that my personal sense of failure drove me into a deep depression.  I gave it everything I had and just couldn’t make it work: the overwhelming poverty of India mocked my attempts to help.  It is a great blow to realize your life is meaningless in the greater scheme of things, that your world, even your small corner of the world, will go on as it always has with or without you.  Still, though I wasn’t making a difference, someone was making a difference.  I had lost all hope for my own personal relevance, but I knew that the good side would win.

Then I slowly realized my pointless life was not in contrast to the overall progress of the world, but was a microcosm of it.  All the good in the world–the huge, sacrificial efforts of selfless people–did not and could not ever reverse the direction of this tragic human story.  Suffering is alleviated and evil stopped in small back eddies of history, but the world as a whole flows on in its destructive ways.

At some point in my own journey I finally understood that the positive, upbeat message on which I was raised was a false narrative that we told each other to keep us fighting a losing battle.  Against all the evolutionary optimism of my culture, the world would never be a better place, and there was nothing any of us could do to change that.  One war would succeed another, today’s tyrant would rise on the ashes of yesterday’s, a new disease would always spring up to laugh in the face of all our medical advances.  We were doomed to play violins on the deck of our sinking Titanic.  I was not just a failure in my own small sphere, but my story was one line in a great tragedy. My impotence was a small, dark reminder of the miserable whole.  I was not simply hopeless about myself, I was hopeless about the entire world.

I’m not suggesting we should stop playing our violins.  If we are all going down, perhaps we can bring some small comfort to face the disaster.  But if we hope that our stringed ensemble will keep the ship from sinking, we set ourselves up for repeated disappointment, and despair at last.  We will either strum more and more violently trying to drive back the rising waves or we will pretend the ship is fine and turn a deaf ear to the cries around us.  In a crazy way I found hope in hopelessness yesterday.  Sweeping away false hope clears a space for realistic hope.

It is not useless to adopt one mangy mutt from a city full of strays, give one store clerk a smile in her long, harsh day, clarify a point for one person on a website crowded with dissenters.  It is no small thing to bring laughter to a child’s cancer ward, to give a sandwich to a man three days hungry, to hold the hand of a mother whose son was killed in Iraq.  Perhaps I cannot cure Alzheimer’s, but I can listen lovingly to the same story repeated for the fourth time.

We have violins, let us play them.

Posted April 9, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Feeling Black   2 comments

This morning I came back from washing the breakfast dishes and crumpled onto the floor, burying my face in the sofa cushions.  Kimberly simply said, “Why don’t you take a nap.”  So I did, curling up next to her, and it helped.  Moved me up the scale from minus bad to “it doesn’t hurt as long as I don’t move.”

Sadness comes in shades so different they seem like contrasting emotions.  There is a sadness, like today’s, which is desolate and drains the heart of life and knots up the words.  It feels bottomless and endless and inescapable.  It isolates, so that even fellow mourners bring no more companionship or connection than fellow prisoners in solitary confinement.

In contrast is the sadness which fills the heart and cascades down the cheeks.  It creates bonds of camaraderie and sympathy and understanding.  It makes me feel more connected and in tune with my soul, harmony in the minor scale.  It feels pregnant with meaning, pain that carries purpose and life, a deepening of my being that opens me up to others.  A healthy, hearty grieving.

In the first sadness, the music of melancholy scalds me and the sympathetic presence of others suffocates.  In the second, shared melancholy gives me the comfort of allies, of support and hope, even with strangers like Leonard Cohen.  Were I a drinker, the first would be a half-empty bottle in a darkened room, the second, a circle of folding chairs at an AA meeting.

The first blocks all means of resolution; nothing I do matters.  It stops without warning and starts up again without reason.  The second sadness has potential movement, a sense that time and effort will eventually lead to greater peace and maturity.  It makes me a better and more whole person.  But the first melancholy unmans me.  Why?

~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~          ~           ~

I read this to Kimberly so we could toss it around looking for answers–what makes the difference?  At least the relational element seemed to come into focus–if there is some disconnect in the empathy of others, then their presence is painful instead of comforting.  If they are unsafe or just seem to me to be unsafe, the empathetic connection shorts out.  Perhaps they don’t understand or care or don’t have time or can’t be trusted or have too much of their own baggage or too little energy to give.  Unfortunately, even a compassionate presence seems to give little relief to a sadness which is indecipherable.

I share my life this way, dark as it is, not because I have answers, but to offer some identification of feeling to those who struggle as I do.

Posted March 24, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Hope Is Brutal   2 comments

I’m on furlough over spring break and it’s been difficult.  A fixed schedule helps my depression–simple requirements at set times take much less energy to commence.  That easy on-ramp is a big plus for me because my psychological crud poisons initiative, so whatever keeps my wheels turning, even slowly, keeps me alive.  When my schedule is wide open, just making decisions increases my load.  How much energy do I have?  How much energy will it take?  What is priority? How will Kimberly feel?  How long can I put it off before it breaks or blocks up the works or breeds flies?  Procrastination is a serious survival strategy.

I could rouse myself to do something invigorating if I were sure of a pick-me-up, but more often than not I put in the work and get nothing out of it but tired.  When I use up the little energy I have and find myself no better off, I feel hopeless and helpless and powerless.  And the more I try and fail, the more lost I feel, till I give up in despair.

But against my resistance, a little hope sneaks back in, maybe because I can’t live without it or maybe because it never fully leaves in spite of our countless beatings.  It grimaces and drags me back into the ring to get pummeled again by life.  Apparently I have a masochistic addiction to hope, like battered person syndrome.  Emotional resilience against my better judgment.  Is it a blessing or curse?

Posted March 13, 2014 by janathangrace in Life

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Valentine’s Day for Depressives   5 comments

On Valentine’s Day while Kimberly was at the doctor’s, I stomped my heart out on our front lawn to surprise her.

snow valentine's

It was spontaneous, with little forethought, because I love my wife and want to express it, but when I am bowed down with depression, my energy is used up on today’s survival, not tomorrow’s plans.   This is how depression often plays out in a committed relationship–with what little energy we have, we give, and we appreciate the gift, however small.  It may look meager and haphazard, and to be honest, sometimes it feels that way, but in a cold world with thin blankets what we need most is a close friend.

The substructure of our relationship is good, very good, but the frills are often missing.  Far from being a problem, this is a sign of our marriage’s strength.  Many couples count on the frills to smooth over their stresses.  To mollify an angry outburst, he brings home a bouquet or she whips up a banquet instead of sorting through their feelings with empathy and honesty.  They’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.  They begin with “Let me be honest,” and it goes downhill from there.  So they opt for the smooth-over.  But when frills become the primary language of love, flubbing it can threaten the relationship.

Depression strips Kimberly and me of many of these emotional bonuses, so we cannot use them as a substitute for the honest, hard work of sorting out our differing views, feelings, and thoughts.  Of necessity we learn to make room for one another’s weaknesses and limitations, trust one another’s hearts, accept one another’s efforts.  Without frills to fall back on, our relationship becomes deeply grounded, and our small offerings of love become far more meaningful.

The first thing Kimberly saw each morning as she left for work last week was the heart I stamped out in the snow.  And for her it was not just a romantic gesture, but a symbol for what beats behind the image, a heart she knows intimately and feels safe in because she courageously shares her true self and is embraced for who she is.  Hallmark and Whitman’s can never compete with that.

Posted February 25, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Some Kinds of Depression Are Better Than Others   6 comments

My latest bout of bruising depression that stomped in two weeks ago seems to be slipping away.  I don’t know why it came, I don’t know why it is pulling out.  For two or three days I have had a precarious emotional detente.  I can see the shadowy figures outside casing the place, but they haven’t broken in again. Their brooding distance doesn’t make for peace… or even recovery, but it gives relief.  I think if I keep steady, the marauders will draw back.  Those with experience know that depression includes more than awful feelings.  Even when the black lifts, the gray fog continues to deaden and debilitate, but I’d rather be under a cloud than under assault.fog

Posted February 10, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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