Archive for the ‘depression’ Tag

Meaningless Melancholy   7 comments

Some days I just ache.  I can feel my mouth pulled into the lines of a half-grimace, like someone trying to cover up an irrepressible agony.  The very question of hope versus hopelessness grows distant as the present pain blocks out any future.  There is just this moment… which stretches on hour after hour.  I can distract myself, but it seems so futile–like playing peek-a-boo with a feverish baby.  At least if I had some huge loss, say of a loved-one, I would have clarity about the reason for my pain, a direction to focus my feelings, and hope that over time some healing would come.  It would make sense.  And others would understand.  What is there even to share or cry over if the misery is nameless?

Posted February 4, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Ambushed   Leave a comment

Sadness and pain have been oozing from my heart for a week or more.  I don’t know its source, so I can’t seek a cure. Even taking a walk, which usually does me good, has not staunched the ache.   Yesterday I shuffled into the kitchen, and it struck me in the gut like a knife… one moment I am thinking about lunch, and the next I am cringing.  Something I saw out of the corner of my soul, perhaps the flash of some failure past that stings my feelings but does not register conscious thoughts for me to confront and fight. When the edges of the cut are raw, the slightest touch can shock the nerves.  It will eventually lift, but for now I stagger along, looking for any little cubbyhole to tuck my soul into for a brief respite.hiding

Posted February 1, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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I went walking with Mazie today thinking it might relieve my depression as it sometimes does.  After all, it was sunny and not too cold.  For the two hour walk all I could think and feel was, “I just want to curl up in a ball and die.”  Some days are like that.

Posted January 28, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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Happy Tears   9 comments

name tag“What do you do?” is the lead-off question when you’re introduced: first your name, then job title, because in this society our work defines us, and our productivity determines our worth.  I spent most of my life desperately chasing success to prove my value, and my failure drove me into despair.  So for more than a decade I have been reorienting myself, trying to settle into a worth independent of accomplishment.  It has been painful and frightening and crushingly hard, but God gave me no choice, thwarting my every attempt at meaningful work.  And I think I have finally come to the point that I’m okay with that.  He can impact this world through me or not as He thinks best.ConanTheLibrarian

Over the last dozen years my ambitions have dropped from saving the world as a missionary to saving a city as a pastor to saving an organization as a social worker to….  putting library books in call number order.  Still I was trying to eke out some sense of personal usefulness from my job.  When I was furloughed every Christmas and summer break, my depression deepened  because I didn’t even have that thumb tack on which to hang my value as a human being–my existence was pointless.  Like a drowning man clutching at flotsam, I would gasp in relief when work started back.

Yesterday my forced holiday ended, but for the first time in four years I was not flailing for some scrap of self respect from a dead-end job.  I am grateful for work, I enjoy my colleagues, and I prefer a set schedule, but I no longer feel worthless when I’m jobless.  I seem to have finally crossed a watershed in emotional freedom from this lifelong compulsion to find purpose in work.  This is huge for me.  This has been my most fundamental personal issue, and I’m sure it still has plenty of kick left, but its emotional grip has been loosened.  The arc of this healing has been so gradual that I didn’t even realize it was a benchmark until I wrote this paragraph, and as I read it back to my wife just now, I got all choked up.

happy-tears-about-3

Posted January 18, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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I Wonder   4 comments

I wonder what it’s like to be normal, to feel the weight of life’s stresses and hardships balanced out by its joys and pleasures.  I wonder what it’s like not to fight against deep misery every day. not feel crushed by the brokenness of the world.  I expect that when the bumps in the road seem small, the catch phrase verses and bumper sticker encouragements have enough lift to clear your axle.  For the average guy, commonsense advice for tackling problems probably works.

My Facebook friends cheer one another on with links to meditations and quotes that inspire them, and I hear one more rousing verse of Kumbaya as their bus pulls away from the stop where I am left standing.  Unfortunately, I can’t even force myself to see my world from this positive perspective.  I cannot “choose” to be happy.  I’ve tried.  I would have to live in denial of my actual emotional experiences, and I seem constitutionally incapable of that.  I can choose to follow God, to trust Him as best I can, and I do, each day in the face of emotional riptides, but it has led to only tidbits and crumbs of peace and joy.

What is it like to feel life is good, expectations and hopes are often satisfied, and goals motivate rather than burden?  What is it like to have all that extra energy, to have room for creativity and exploration and a wide range of possibilities?  I wonder how it changes a person’s perspective, spirituality, approach to the day’s happenings, understanding of others.   Do those folks use that big supply of emotional resources to understand and face into their fears?  At the expense of their own comfort, do they embrace those who are different and disagree.  Do they strip back their layers of self-protection and dig deep into who they really are?  I wonder.

Posted September 16, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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So Life Goes On… Unfortunately   16 comments

At the time of my last post, I was finishing up my work for the school year at Lynchburg College library.  I get furloughed during the summer months, which punches holes in our finances.  Even when I am working, I don’t make quite enough to cover our basic expenses, so our savings are slowly dwindling.  I applied for numerous summer jobs, but no one was interested.  Three years ago I started a lawn service to try to cover the summer deficit, but I discovered that putting out flyers got me very few customers.  Though I really enjoy yard work, I hate–really hate–sales, and in order to get customers I have to sell myself (the most loathsome form of  marketing to me).

Being depressed gives me no energy for that kind of entrepreneur activity… or for most other things that are needed in this world to sustain life.  I enjoy my library work, and it gives me a distraction from depression.  Now I wake up every morning miserable, and though it doesn’t improve my feelings, I have fallen into the habit of doing house projects to distract myself.  Hey, if there’s nothing I can do to make myself feel better, I may as well get stuff done.

But for the last few days, it all seems so pointless.  Why should I pull the weeds or repair the rocker or wheelbarrow when neither the work nor the results give me pleasure?  My active depression actually pushed me to work on projects just to help me get through the day, but for the last three mornings, I have not woken unhappy.  So I still have very little energy, but now even less incentive… not that it matters.  Nothing really matters.  When life is reduced to simply finding the least painful way to survive each day, what is the point?

Posted June 4, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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A Thin Ribbon of Grace   6 comments

Delayed by confusion, Anne at last flung herself from her seat just as the ski lift lurched into its ascent.  The five foot drop stunned her, and so a kindly hand helped her into a small lodge to recover.  Unfortunately, the kerosene stove inside increased her nausea.  But as she lay there, a whiff of fresh, pine-scented air brushed her face.  It trickled in through the cracked windows just enough to keep her from smothering under the acrid fumes.  She called it “a thin ribbon of grace.”

Berly and I read this Lamott story weeks ago, but Sunday stumbled across her retelling it in a Youtube interview, and this time the phrase popped.  When I am lost and broken and sick to my soul, I want God to fling open the windows of grace, but what I get is barely enough to keep me coherent, like a drowning man who is chucked under his chin just enough to keep his nose above this moment’s wave and then dropped again… like a malnourished child fed a few crumbs above a starvation diet.  Survival grace.  For those of us wishing for life to end, this frayed ribbon of grace seems less like love and more like torture.  Why is God so tightfisted with His goodness as though He’s worried He’ll run short or we’ll fritter it away?  What present consolation can we suck from the ending “happily ever after” if life’s story is “miserable until death.”

But Anne’s phrase whispered across my thoughts, enticing.  Is it enough, this thin ribbon?  I want a bank full of grace to draw on for my needs, but I am only given enough for this moment… sometimes barely enough.  It’s true that I haven’t drowned yet, but every time the finger holding up my chin drops away, I’m sure the next wave will take me under.  After all, I’ve been left spluttering for air many times.  It’s a fact that I haven’t starved, but this is my last bowl of soup, and the cupboards are bare.  Living hand-to-mouth is so precarious, so uncertain, so constricting, whether the shortage is literally financial and physical or the deficit lies deeper still, a hole in the heart.

In the desert the Israelites were completely dependent on God, and in spite of dining on a daily miracle, hunger was always just one day off, for forty years running.  A thousand winters later, not much has changed for the children of God as they prove in their principal prayer: “give us this day our daily bread.”  What is this addiction God has for pocket change allowances?  Surely He doesn’t make us suffer needlessly.  If He is truly a loving God, he must think this arrangement is a real windfall for us.

But as Berly points out, many of God’s children are jobless and friendless, homeless and hungry; some die agonizing deaths.  We are not promised health or happiness or even sanity.  Exactly what does it mean to claim that His grace is sufficient if it is not even sufficient to keep us breathing?  From somewhere the thought drifted into my mind–His grace is sufficient for our hearts, the one thing that matters above all to us.  In spite of life’s miserable suffering, we cannot deny that our hearts have not only survived, but grown.  We are blossoming into the ones God created us to be.  We have faced into our fears and discovered new strength, challenged shame and found love.  We opened our hearts, and truth came in with insight, wisdom, and freedom.

But we are still tormented by depression.  Something seems very wrong with our chosen path when we end up here.  If we follow God as best we know how, should we not find peace, joy, rest, and fulfillment?  Isn’t that what grace looks like?  We want a life plan that works, that makes us feel good, accomplished, confident, whole, and if that’s the goal, our plan is clearly broken.  But we tried other popular strategies, and they gutted our souls.  Perhaps we’ve been measuring grace by the wrong scale.  If our personal growth is the better gauge, then God has been truly lavish towards us, and if it comes to us through pain, we will welcome it gratefully.  He sends a thin ribbon of consolation to keep our hearts from breaking, but his grace is not limited to this meager thread.  His grace towards us has proven to be a river, not a ribbon, even if we cannot feel it or understand it.

Posted May 1, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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Cancer of the Soul   Leave a comment

For 5 months now my long-term depression has been worse than usual.  The last two weeks have been especially black.  Sometimes it hurts so much I find it hard to breathe.  There are moments of being okay on the surface… when I snuggle with Kimberly or cuddle with our dog Mazie, but it is like gasping for air before getting sucked under again.  At other times I can distract myself just enough to keep the wolves at bay… I’m not getting bitten, but I still hear the howls, so it is far from a place of peace or renewing energy.  I’m not suicidal–life is miserable, not intolerable–but for years now I have wished for my life to end.  I feel crippled, lost, broken.

My heart goes out to those of you who struggle as I do.  May you find some touch of peace from God today.

Photo illustration by Mindy Ricketts

Posted April 9, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Does Happiness Still Run On This Line?   4 comments

STILL STANDING... SORT OF

HOLDING IT TOGETHER

Yesterday I was so sick at heart I felt nauseous.  Life does not make sense to me right now.  My last few blogs show I am oscillating between anger,  faith, sarcasm,  acceptance, doubt, misery, hope… the only constant is depression, which drains my energy and darkens my outlook.  What used to restore my spirit no longer works.  “Happiness is a choice,” they say.  Balderdash.  You can decide your actions, and to some extent you can direct your thoughts, but you cannot pick your feelings like a vending machine treat.  Some folks find cheer in thankfulness or service or friendship, while others find comfort in meditation or nature.  You can keep an eye out for happiness, but it may not show up at any of these stops.  I don’t control it’s schedule.  I can only wait for it.

For some years now I have found consolation in discovering and working to heal my soul’s wounds, but I cannot get at the root of my current turmoil.  That process simply doesn’t work for me now.  Kimberly and I have also solved our conflicts by talking through our issues, but since we can’t make sense of what we are going through now, that approach doesn’t work.  When my emotional energy is dragging, I don’t have enough flex in my shock-absorbers to cushion the bumps, so I’m easily disheartened or hurt or agitated, and Kimberly feels it more sharply because she’s also deflated.  The proverb “as iron sharpens iron” has been profoundly true of us through the years, but during this season it seems often to be “as iron notches iron.”  We need to find a new way of supporting ourselves and one another.  I know we will find a way, we always do, but in the meantime it is painful and discouraging.

Posted February 7, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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Walking Blind   8 comments

partsI have been soul-sick for several months now.  But today I feel okay.  Both the pain and the relief are inexplicable.  I accept mystery… as long as it stays theoretical.  But I find practical mysteries at best annoying: where are my glasses, which street do I take, why is the car making that noise?  When not knowing is costing me money or making me late or (more profoundly) hurting my relationships or my heart, I become agitated.  For me, ignorance is not bliss, it is often agony.  My method for coping with a scary, unpredictable world is to figure it out, experiment till I get it working, find new configurations for the parts lying on the floor.  As long as I have untried options, I can keep hope alive.

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

TRY THIS IN THE DARK

But I seem to have run out of options.  I don’t know why I am depressed and I can do nothing to change it.  It is a mystery of the worst kind.  Mystery is just a highfalutin word for confusion, and being lost and blind does not make me happy, especially when I bash my shins every other step.  Kimberly is struggling in the same way, and it has driven us to our new year’s resolution or annual theme of life: be okay with not being okay.  It is our stumbling way of embracing faith.  It doesn’t light our path or clear away the rubble, but it is our way of handing back the situation to God: “We’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t work, so we’ll try to adjust ourselves to whatever might come.”

I commented to Kimberly in our prayer time two nights ago that I’m stuck with God.  If I thought I could find more peace with the devil, I’d look up his address, but I know leaving God would make me even more miserable.  I can make no sense of what God does, but I trust who He is, and for now that has to be enough.

Posted January 24, 2013 by janathangrace in Personal

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