One of the lovely things I’ve learned about depression over the last 26 years, is that it’s always temporary (for me, anyway. I don’t write about other people’s experiences). The problem, however, is that when you’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t FEEL temporary at all. That must be what leads people to suicide. Which I totally understand. Seriously, right in the middle of it I can’t help but wonder if I’m capable of feeling this way for the rest of my life- years and years of it seem…more than daunting. Terrifying, even. The idea of feeling so incredibly low, in that existential pain, for years and years is the most…(something pretty awful). Mainly because on top of just feeling bad physically, it’s layered with the feelings that you’re worthless and the whole world would be better off without you. (no, I’m not suicidal…mainly because I know it’s temporary and I’ll feel much better soon) (stop worrying)
Now, I know that isn’t true. I have work left to do here or else I wouldn’t be here. Knowing that intellectually is what allows me to plow through it. Remembering that it *IS* temporary, and that God’s right there with me even when my renegade feelings demand otherwise, well, that’s what keeps me grounded. However, in order to keep the steam pressure of my psyche from building up and popping rivets where they don’t need to pop, I have to allow myself to *be* depressed for a while, until it passes on it’s own rather like a bad headache.
A long time ago, I had a very wise and wonderful pastor, Thomas Lane Butts. Dr. Butts held my hand, both literally and figuratively, after I’d received the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and was deeply depressed. I had been suppressing the emotions of it all (having a husband and 3 young children, I didn’t think it was appropriate to *be* depressed and was determined not to show it). He told me that I was like a boiling teapot, and holding everything in like I was would be as if I’d stuffed a cork in the spout, and all that steam pressure was building up. Eventually it would come out somehow, and inappropriately. I would start popping rivets and people would get hurt. He helped me learn how to deal with my emotions appropriately, how to allow myself to be depressed without letting it consume me and everyone around. He helped me personify the depression, and as such, I could talk to it, tell it how it was wrong for making me feel worthless. I learned to write about it, use the writing to make sense of it, congeal it into a form that can be managed, instead of letting it be a grey swirling mass of smoke. Have you ever tried to capture smoke, form it into something? He taught me that depression itself isn’t ungodly, but it’s how we deal with it that determines that. After all, Christ had times where He was depressed-Isaiah 53:3 prophecies that when he says ” “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Our culture today tells us we must be happy. It shoves in our face all these images of happy people, of things to buy to make us happy, pills to take if we aren’t happy. There are drugs, both legal and illegal, that fool our brains into thinking we’re happy, or at least not sad. I’m guilty of that, sometimes. A stiff martini can wrap the sad in a temporary blanket and at least muffle it’s noise for a bit. When I realize what’s happening, I stop with the martinis and switch to a big glass of water and an early bedtime. The truth is, constant happiness isn’t possible. Some folks aren’t meant to be happy. God never promises that we will be happy, in fact, He pretty much promises that life will be difficult, the world won’t like us, and holiness is more important than happiness. In John 16:33, Jesus says “”I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we are reminded “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (1:6), and it’s going to take a while.
By reminding myself that everything going on- both inside my head and outside in the world- is work meant to make me grow, and every single time…I mean that…Every. Single. Time….I go through a depression, I learn a little more about myself, and about what God’s doing.(ok wait I can’t figure out that sentence but I think you understand what I mean…I mean I don’t know if the sentence is over or not…) Each depression brings me a little bit close to understanding what a hot mess I really am, and how I really REALLY need God right there next to me, making sure the rivets are solid and the cork is on the counter and not in the spout. Each one reminds me that I am not really in control of what’s going on around me, nor do I really need to be. Every time I try to control it, it all turns into smoke and mocks my attempts. Darn people- so unpredictable and why can’t they just do life the way *I* want them to?! Probably because…y’know…I’m not God (Thank You, God, for that!)
You know what else? Writing all this down is probably the best medicine ever. God gave me words for a reason, and putting all this down in words makes it solid and manageable, even if the managing consists of understanding it isn’t manageable. (does that make sense?) Writing somehow congeals the smoke a little, puts the thoughts in order, and makes me feel more in control of myself. For someone who’s pretty much a control freak, that’s really important.