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The Trap of Depression

I need to start with a disclaimer. My struggle with depression and the things that have helped me may not help anyone else. And there may be things that would have helped me more. I also believe that we are born with different chemical balances and that stages of life like puberty, pregnancy, and change of life can cause balances to get more out of whack for some people.(How’s that for medical terminology.)
Also, when the chips are down, I do believe deeply that I am loved, just as I am, by the only One who actually makes much difference at my stage of life and that means I know I am not alone when down in the pit of despair.

Depression is the emotional equivalent of an abscessed tooth. Self-hatred is a judgement and judgment is like cement that sets emotion into stone.The one thing about emotions is they are normally changeable, but self-hatred for being depressed locks us into the depression.

Those of us who have high, possibly unrealistic, expectations of ourselves and of life are vulnerable not only to depression, but particularly to a sense of failure and inadequacy that triggers self-hatred.

Depression is painful. And pain of any kind both saps our energy and centers us in on ourselves. (Remember the abscessed tooth.)

My first step for getting out of the mire of depression is to accept it. That doesn’t mean wallowing or giving up hope. It means accepting the reality of it, like we would an excruciating toothache, and cutting ourselves some slack by prioritizing and minimizing our obligations to the world. When we first experience the darkness of despair, we may need to stop our everyday world and get off for a time, but as we learn coping skills
we can lower our expectations and at least continue functioning in areas of our strengths. Eventually, if we get smart enough, we quit trying to give 120 % in our up times, so in the down times we can just slow down the pace a little and cope.

I’m convinced some of the problem is cultural, patriarchal, in fact. In the old hunter/warrior society emotions were considered weakness. We have to shut out empathy to kill a deer or a person. When we have to do these things to keep our family, village or tribe alive, we learn to compartmentalize our feelings. I’ve noticed that generally men handle women’s anger much better than our tears. I’ve known husbands that told their wives to stay in the bathroom to cry. I knew a seasoned Army Staff Sergeant, a veteran of two wars, who asked to be transferred from a safe cushy posting to a dangerous no frills one, because all his officers were women and they cried at Staff meetings. I could understand his reaction, but couldn’t help but wonder if all the officers in the various armies sat around crying would it cut down on wars?

I’m personally convinced that tears are a healthy release for tension and possibly one of the reasons women outlive men.

However, life goes on even when our every movement is like wading through quick sand and having to make even the smallest decision sets off panic. If we had an actual abscessed tooth, we would cut ourselves some slack and so would the world. But at this point in our culture, unless we are hospitalized, we and the world expect us to continue just as we usually do.

Some of us seem to be born with personalities that see possibilities, usually ideal scenarios, not necessarily based on life’s realities. We are not always easily identifiable, we may take on disguises such as Goth attire or metal appendages and flaunt the dark side to hide our fragile dreams of being heroes and our inner fear that there are no heroes.

Sometimes, we hide behind sarcasm or cynicism.

But, the truth is almost all humans are ordinary. We aren’t qualified to be extraordinary or called to save the world.

We are called to give a cup of water to the thirsty, a smile of welcome to the outcast, a hug to the discouraged, a piece of art to call attention to the beauty of the world, or a poem to remind us of others’ suffering, a song to soften hearts, laughter to lighten heavy hearts, even the gift of our honesty about our own failures to share our freedom to be a fallible human with others.

The list goes on and on and doesn’t require heroic measure or extraordinary talent.

I seem to have been born one of those with big dreams, high hopes, and many ideas. Unfortunately, I am lousy at detail and loathe the boredom of repetition, so my dreams and ideas remain just that, dreams and ideas. I’ve always hurt for others, worried about the whole world, and still sometimes have to work through the paralysis of depression when I can’t fix life for those I love who are in pain. It has taken me a long time to admit that it was hubris to think I could save the world or anyone in it. And that struggling with that delusion kept me from doing what I actually can do.

I used to not go to funerals because I couldn’t think of anything miraculously healing to say and feeling others’ sadness sent me into depression. Then, when my own father died, I realized that each person there represented someone that cared enough to come and that it truly helped me to know that his life mattered to others. They didn’t need to say anything.

My son, Tommy, when he was about three, taught me that you don’t have to say anything to help people feel loved. He would be doing his little boy thing and would suddenly stop and come over smiling to pat my hand or shoulder and then just go right back to what he was doing.
I called them “Tommy pats” and eventually when I saw a rainbow or caught all the green lights when running late, I called those, “God’s Tommy pats.” And even now, Julian and I will often stop and give each other a smile and a “Tommy pat.”

Once, when I was overwhelmed by fear of the lifelong consequences of a bad decision by one of my children, I poured out my heartbreak to my friend Paige. She simply wept with me. It’s hard to describe how much that helped me. Someone cared enough to feel my pain with me. I wasn’t alone inside it.

So, what I finally know now, is that when I am depressed because I am not extraordinary or heroic and even perhaps have lost it and made life darker for someone else, I can humbly do the ordinary. And if we all do these little things, no one will go thirsty, or be alone in their sorrow, or feel unloved. And we all, even the depressed, will experience the reality of the Psalm that says, “But then comes the morning, yesterdays sorrows behind.”

The Big Four of Mental Healing: An Inner Journey, Counseling, Medicine and Grace

My degree is in psychology, with some graduate courses in learning disabilities and training in administering, interpreting and leading workshops on the Meyer’s-Briggs Type Indicator. But I have never done any counseling, so what I have to say needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
I have had counseling at some crises times in my life. Some of it was not helpful at all, but some actually helped enough to bring about major change. To me, Psychology often seems now aimed at putting a label on people and experimenting with pills until either some pill works more than it hurts, or they get over whatever it was on their own!
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been helped by pills, but I’ve been helped as much or more by reading, working at developing inner awareness, and getting feedback from a counselor. There was a face book post about pills not curing anything, but helping us keep it together enough to work through our inner conflict. That resonates with me. Though I do recognize that in the case of some serious mental illnesses, pills are a critical part of keeping personal demons at bay. Although chemical imbalances may play a part in our problems, along the way we have usually learned responses to life that no longer work for us. Sometimes it takes changing our chemistry, our mental attitudes and our habitual behaviors.
One of the problems I, and many others, have is that our first response to the outer world is emotional. We operate on a feeling level. We are capable of using logic and reason, but that is not our first response. (And sometimes, not our second or third or……)

All too often we identify with our feelings. We are sad or happy, PERIOD.
From our viewpoint there is no end in sight. This makes any feeling seem overwhelming.
Whether it’s despair or pure joy, if you feel/think it’s going to last forever, that’s delusional thinking and it’s going to seriously handicap you in dealing with reality.
We have to learn to tell ourselves,” This is just a feeling and feelings change.” That is the nature of feelings, when we don’t get stuck there by delusional thinking. Our emotions and our reason need to hold hands, look each other in the eye, and talk!
Henri Nouwen speaks to this, “Don’t identify with your feeling. It is not the whole of you. Instead pastor it gently.”
And that takes grace.

Healing: Mind, Body, and Soul

I don’t think any of us are intentionally evil, but we are all blind. When Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” he meant all of us. When Paul said, “We see through the glass darkly,” he meant all of us, including himself.
Without grace there is no way we can get beyond our limited perceptions. We are molded and even warped by our historical era, culture, climate, nationality, race, class, religion, education, genes, ancestors, parents, peers, personalities, bodies, health, and life experiences. We are all crippled and incomplete spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Only by dying to these limits, to our earthbound selves, can we become free to see, and then to love, as Jesus did. Since many of these influences are rooted in our unconscious, it takes times facing our demons in the desert to even begin to know ourselves and times spent in prayer on the mountain with God to be set free mentally and reborn spiritually and healed physically. There is a huge difference between praying, “God, if it is your will, heal me.” And saying, “God, heal me according to your will.” God wants us healed. Though mental, spiritual, and physical healing are connected, I have been with both the young and the old when they were at peace dying physically, because they had been healed spiritually and I have seen people healed spiritually by being healed physically. With God all things are possible. He is the same, but we are all different. There are no limiting rules, just the goal of bringing each of us home to live immersed in His Love forever.
The scriptures show Jesus approaching healing differently for different people. “Do you want to be healed?” “Your sins are forgiven.” “Stand up and walk.” “Go show yourself to the religious authorities.” “Your faith has healed you.” “Some things take prayer and fasting.” The question isn’t whether God wants us healed. The question is where does the process need to begin.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one word. Jesus struggling with his fears in the garden, feeling totally abandoned by his family and friends, his anguish so great that he sweat drops of blood, and finally being able to say, “Your will, not mine,” is what set Him free to rise again.
We are born again by recognizing and admitting we need to be set free, by putting ourselves in God’s hands, and then continuing to allow His Spirit to burn the chaff within us in life-long on going passiondeathandresurrections.
These things seem to me to be true: (I’ll get back to you later, when God tells me different.) 1.We all fall short: rich and poor, male and female, educated and uneducated, presidents and drug addicts, young and old, religious and non-religious, Republicans and Democrats. 2.Becoming is more important than achieving. 3. We can’t change anyone else. And the best way to help others isn’t by pretending to be a super person, but by sharing our struggle and our need for grace to become our best selves. (And that even our best selves may not be something to brag about!) 4. It takes a ton of grace and varying amounts of blood, sweat, and tears for each of us to grow closer to being the person we were created to be. (Some of us tend to make it harder for ourselves.)