Archive for the ‘depression’ Tag

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.

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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.


Posted December 21, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Inescapable Shadow   Leave a comment

Living with depression changes one’s whole experience of life, making every engagement with the world a hard struggle as though one is tasked with fixing the pedestal fan after the lights are turned off.  But supposedly, although difficult, one would expect that with daily practice one might get slowly better at fixing fans in the dark, figure out work-arounds, develop new skills, develop new expectations of how long a given task will take.  This never happens with depression.  Each day is just as hard as the day before, just as stressful and dark and hopeless of any real change.  There is no new normal to which to adjust, so perhaps a better analogy would be someone who has severe arthritis and each twist of the screw-driver shocks the hand with pain, and yet the task cannot be laid aside, there is no hope for pain relief, and it does not seem to be directed at some greater good, as it would if, for instance, all the energy were directed at escaping a sinking ship or creating heaters for the indigent in freezing climates.  It is simply a way to make money so as to stay alive to experience more pain the next day–the reward for faithfulness and perseverance is continuing suffering.  It is as though someone lost in the middle of the ocean has been treading water for days, swallowing and choking on water, face burned by the sun and throat burned by dehydration, and with no hope of rescue.  I send out my sympathy for those of you struggling one more day in this dark place.

Posted November 8, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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I Have No Answers   3 comments

For weeks I have been trying to fight off the soul-sucking depression that envelopes me.  When I can work through the darkness–uncover the reasons and respond with healthy steps–my depression turns into an instrument of growth, but for now my insight is deaf and blind, and so, blocked from any resolution, I try to distract myself with work or entertainment, naps or walks or cuddling with my pooches, just to keep the misery at bay.  That fixes nothing, simply postpones the falling night, but at least it makes life manageable for a while longer.  Still somewhere underneath, the darkness gathers strength pushing more often and irresistibly passed my efforts to block it.  The muddled mutterings of discouragement and hopelessness become louder, more insistent, and having nothing to counter the assault, I find each day a little more of my emotional footing crumbling.

Posted October 5, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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Strange Feelings   7 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!   2 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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