May 24, 2017 – On Darkness and Depression

I have started and deleted this post several times, for a couple of primary reasons, but mainly because the personal examples are still difficult for me to open up about. Of course, most of the times I started this column I was already in a bit of a mood, so the tone was darker than it should be. Also, I have been told I write too long of a post. So, fair warning, I will try to keep it short and sweet, but no promises. Also, I will try to keep it light while also enlightening, and finally, I will try to be as open as I can.

I restarted this post a couple of days ago as I caught myself descending into an irrational melancholy in an attempt to stop the descent and as an exercise in journaling, which has been a way of coping that I have used for a number of years now. I decided to go ahead and post, however, after reflecting on the fact that our goal as bloggers was to provide insight about our experiences, bad and good, to pass along what we have learned. 

A few years ago, I went through a very depressive episode in my life. It was not the first, it has not been the last, but it was the defining one. By that I mean, it was the episode that opened my eyes to the reality of depression and forced me to learn ways to cope and manage it. During that time, I felt like there was no hope, no purpose, and no meaning to life.  I felt like God had abandoned me, that my faith was nothing more than the baseless hoping of a desperate man.  I remember everything being influenced by my moods.  The spiral would start with the feelings of self-loathing and the pressure to be better than I was. As I would look at myself, I would begin to feel more and more worthless and more and more like a hypocrite.  On the outside things appeared to be fine, but inside I became more and more disgusted with who I was as a person.  I felt like a failure at everything I touched.  I sought momentary relief in self-destructive behaviors, like eating, spending way too much money, rarely, but occasionally drinking, and binge watching mindless entertainment to take my mind off the reality (or rather, perceived reality) around me. 

These self-destructive behaviors would then lead to greater depression and feelings of disgust and hypocrisy, thus deepening the spiral. At the same time, I was diving into scripture and Christian literature by everyone from C.S. Lewis to St. Thomas Aquinas to attempt to understand why I was being abandoned and, frankly, to throw God’s words back into His face, but since I couldn’t even tell if He was there, I just felt like I was yelling at the ceiling. I talked to counselors and, of course, received well-intentioned, but relatively useless advice, like “just feel better” or worse, “what do you have to be depressed about?”  At the lowest point, I questioned whether or not life was worth living.  

I know we aren’t supposed to say that, because it is a scary question to ask, and we certainly don’t want to think that anyone we know or care about would ever consider asking it, but the truth is the truth.  I never took any steps toward self-harm, but I did think about the question, the ramifications, and came to the fundamental truth that my life had value.  Maybe not to me personally, at that time, but certainly to my friends and family, and, as I climbed back out of the hole I was in, to God. And that was when I decided I needed to fight back.  I sought out good counseling, I learned all I could about identifying and managing triggering events, making plans for both hypomanic and depressive times so that I wasn’t caught unprepared, and so on.

I’d like to tell you that it got better quickly, but the truth is, I had to get up every day and make the decision to fight back for almost 18 months before I really felt like I was out of the episode.  There were days I failed miserably at fighting back, but with each new dawn, I got a chance to start again. 

There are just a couple of things I want and hope you get from this brief story.  First, depression is not something to take lightly.  If you find yourself sinking into a consistent melancholy, find someone to talk to that you can trust, and start addressing it sooner rather than later.  Second, what you feel, what you think and what is true are going to be at odds with each other.  Hold on firmly to the truth, because your feelings will lie to you and your mind can rationalize about anything.  Make a list of the things you know to be absolutely true, people that care about you, things that are valuable about you, etc., and remind yourself that those things are true whether you feel like they are or not. As a corollary, make sure you seek out spiritual truth as well.  That is a bedrock that can withstand the harshest of critics and skepticism.  Finally, and this is just another truth to hold on to, don’t buy into the lie that you have no value and that you are all alone.  You have much greater value than you know or can believe.  You are not alone and you are a valuable part of our lives by just being part of our lives.

I promise tomorrow will be lighter and I hope you all have a great Memorial Day weekend!

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