Category Archives: Mental

Once the world seemed new

Once the world seemed new
full of promise
beckoning
smiling.

I was knighted, sent
to derring-do
fearlessly
without fail.

But I found that I failed
and hurt
and feared
and did not heal.

The fault must be in me
I thought
I felt
I feared.

I redoubled the beknighted deeds
to prove them wrong
or prove them right
I could not tell.

But hurt without heal cannot last
I fell
crushed
seemingly for good.

Long I wandered shadowy lands
no faith
no hope
but not bereft of love.

For love descended
and stayed
and hurt
and healed.

Shattered, yet reknit
slowly
ascending
to light.

I brought with me a part
of that shadow
undesired
yet inseparable.

Now the world seems old
full of promise
beckoning
yet sadder and wiser than before.

Mental illness is not like a cold (mostly)

After a very long time, I have recently come to a painful realization: For a long time, I thought of my mental illness like a cold. Like a temporary inconvenience, something to be shrugged off.

When I have a cold, I usually feel better after a day or two, and I am tempted to jump back into action. That’s when the relapse happens — when I am feeling strong and proud, like I have vanquished my foe. Fortunately, despite my occasional bouts of foolishness, my body is healthy enough to still be able to fight off a cold.

I made the mistake of taking this mindset into my fight with depression. When I began to feel better, I figured I was healed! I don’t need this dumb diet, this lame meditation! I’m ready to post something controversial on Facebook! I’m ready to keep up with the latest news! Ready to confront someone on the Internet who is wrong! I can power through this stress!

It took me years to recognize that anxiety is not the same as worry. Christians aren’t supposed to have anxiety, after all, so I must not be trusting God enough. This just added guilt to the burden I was carrying. When people tell you to “shake it off,” or “snap out of it,” it just adds to the feeling of failure.

When symptoms are external, other people usually step in. They say: You’re sick — go home and take care of yourself! When symptoms are inside your head, however, it’s far more difficult for a friend, community, or even a spouse to “be there” for you. It’s hard to know what to say. It takes knowledge and wisdom, it takes transparency and vulnerability. A relationship or community like this is rare.

So I kept trying to power through my depression, never realizing that this regular exposure to fight-or-flight hormones was doing massive damage to my mind and brain. If untreated, the flu can turn into pneumonia and then into sepsis. This has killed very healthy people — and one of my heroes, Jim Henson.

Finally I have some to the point where I am able to form better habits and be open with enough people with my struggles. It’s humbling and painful. It still carries a stigma. Often I simply have to put up a front whenever I’m around people that really don’t understand. This is exhausting, and carries the danger of falling back into the old “I-can-do-this-alone” mentality.

There is no silver bullet solution to all this, just hard work. Medication can help, but it’s not a panacea.

If you are struggling with mental illness, find a community who understands. Humble yourself enough to do what you need to stay healthy and trust others with your struggle.

If you know someone with mental illness, learn about it. Be part of a community who understands and supports.

Forgetting

I watched Click (the Adam Sandler movie) a few years ago and it immediately struck me as a powerful picture  of depression. I’m going from memory, so I may have a few things wrong. SEMI-ACCURATE SPOILERS AHEAD!

The basic story line is that Michael (Adam’s character) wishes for a way to skip through the boring bits of life and get on to the next exciting thing. This being a fantasy, he encounters a magic salesman who provides him with a remote control that he can use to fast-forward real life whenever he likes. What he doesn’t expect is that he would lose control of it and suddenly end up 20 years in the future at his daughter’s wedding. Stunned, he tries to reconnect with his family and finds that they are all estranged from him.

He finds the salesman who sold him the remote and demands an explanation. The magical salesman explains that during the fast-forward process, you are sort of running on “automatic.” He shows Michael how to “flashback” to the last time he spoke to his daughter. Michael watches as she visits him at work; she clearly wants to speak with him about something important.  His “automatic” self just mutters and keeps working. She leaves, crying.

“Talk to her!” Michael tells his auto-self.

“I don’t remember any of this!” he tells the magical salesman, who just shakes his head and says, “Of course you don’t.”

Sometime around 2009, I was on the road to recovery, and I started feeling normal again. I was happy (or happier) and ready to get on with life. My wife was pleased that I was better, but had been suffering as much — or more — as I, and wanted to talk about what had happened.

But every time she brought up a time where I had responded roughly or had said something hurtful — I simply did not remember it. It was difficult to get closure, and it took some time for us to work through the pain and rebuild the trust that had been lost.

One thing I will never forget: How she stood by me.

10% Happier

Last week I started reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris. It’s a good read, and I find myself identifying with his thought process and journey. I also have no interest in becoming a Buddhist (though he doesn’t either, at least at this point in the book). It’s giving me hope that a “normal person” can quiet the voices and find peace. I also am finding it frustrating that I have never heard such practical advice in mainstream Christian churches. It’s always, “Just pray and read your Bible more.”

Peace in the shower

During the “long dark” of my severe depression, one of the only ways I could find a measure of peace was to sit (literally sit) in the shower. I would let the water pour straight down on my head and plug my ears. It sounded like rain on a wooden roof. I would sit like this for 10+ minutes until the panic and fear subsided enough to face the day.