Depression: Let Us Not Fight the Battle Alone

Like many, I have spent considerable time over the last few weeks pondering the loss of the great Robin Williams. It seems that nothing in the news, not even the happiest or saddest story, is immune to nastiness and negativity. So, naturally, people—most of whom have never lived in the black-hole of despair and crippling anguish that is chronic depression—came out talking about how selfish suicide is and proposed various bogus theories regarding how to “cure” people like Mr. Williams of these terrible thoughts. If only he’d had more faith! If only he were stronger! If only he had a better support system! If only he’d turned his frown upside-down! Hogwash, all of it.

Those of us who have lived with depression, including myself, realize that it is never that simple. I am a big proponent of optimism, gratitude, and focusing on the good in life, but I am also a person who has battled anxiety and depression for about seventeen years. I know what it is to fall into that darkness and feel there is no escape, to see all the good around, to feel the love and support of family and friends, and still not want to live one more day. I went through that in my teens, college years, and again about 6-10 months into my marriage. When I was 14, a mysterious illness ravaged my body and left me bedridden for months. At 15, I was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematous and my life has never been the same.

Battling this crippling illness and the emotional war it wages has been the greatest physical struggle of my life. It is unending, disheartening, and unbelievably painful. To be “disabled” at such a young age can break a person. I can admit now that it very truly broke me many times. Because of this physical battle, I suffered for years with paralyzing anxiety and depression that would wax and wane—sometimes a storm wrecking my life and other times a quiet breeze whistling in my ear telling me over and over again that it was not going to be okay.

Since finding my “calling” and having children, I have been spared the plunge into that pit of despair. At 32, I like to think I have conquered depression; that the daily happy presence and love of my husband and children is enough insulate me from going to that place of misery ever again. I hope that the cold, dark thoughts and mindset that come with depression will drown in the light of my faith, my eagerness to follow Jesus, and my studies in theology. I assume that, if only I catch it early enough—as I did recently when I began feeling the mean reds attack—I will, at least temporarily, immunize myself from falling into that Dante’s Inferno-like state from whence no good can come. The truth is, however, that depression is a very complex beast with causes that range from physical, chemical make-up, to the change in seasons, to situational issues and everything in between. And over none of that do I, or anyone, have complete control. I hope I do not fall down that rabbit-hole again, but I cannot be sure that it is conquerable or that I am completely immune to it.

So what? Where does that leave us? Is it hopeless? Should we, all of us who battle these demons, just throw up our hands in exasperated despondence and let them swallow us whole? If all the therapy, medication, faith, money, and support in the world can’t save a man like Robin Williams (also diagnosed with a serious, chronic illness), what hope is there for the rest of us? For me, the hope lies in this simple fact: I did not always feel like that. So far, I have always, eventually come out of it. And so, I try to fight back early and hard, using coping mechanisms I have learned leaning on my support systems as I am able, and trying to hold onto whatever sliver or shred of hope remains. Will that always work? I cannot know. I cannot be sure, but I have to keep trying. I have to keep fighting. And I have to keep looking out for others I know are waging similar wars within.

I will leave you with this thought and encourage you to look out for others who might be fighting this type of battle alone:

 

Perfection and Humility: Thoughts on the Middle East Conflict

Some drawings from my sons this morning. Perfect in their imperfection.

Some drawings from my sons this morning. Perfect in their imperfection.

 

If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.

RICHARD ROHR

It seems all the world is a mess with warring ideas, tribes, philosophies, theologies, and nations. There are those that cast aspersions on others with whom they differ, and others who cast much more literal weapons. I try to watch and read about world events from a variety of sources so that I get a well-rounded view because bias comes from all sides. Living in Germany for two years forced me into this habit, and it is one I have returned to since. As I prepared delicious vegan sandwiches for my husband and me this evening, an interview on CNN stopped me in my tracks. The three stories most heavily covered by that news channel lately are the Israel/Palestinian conflict, the Ebola outbreak, and the plane crash in Ukraine. This interview happened to be about Israel/Palestine. What gave me pause was a discussion of how different generations differ in their perspective on and approach to this conflict. The “older” generations seem to fall in line with a very Israel-centered view. The anchors interviewed three or four undergraduate students (my memory fails me on the precise number) to get the millennial perspective. The students reflected neither a pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinian view, in the main. Instead, they discussed a third perspective I have been reflecting on lately. A way of a lasting peace for the people of both Israel and Palestine that may not occur in a win-lose scenario. The students seemed to believe that, on their own, neither group of people are inherently evil or even wrong. For what it is worth, I do not believe that anyone is born evil, but that it is human, worldly influence that sways a soul to gravitate toward evil ideas or actions. The point that the students made was very similar to writings from Brian McLaren on this subject. The U.S. designated Hammas as a terrorist organization, and absent evidence to the contrary, I am inclined to agree, but it is very hard to see what is happening in Gaza and feel like this is the best or only way to handle it.

I do not want to wade into a political or theological argument over who has more “right” to that land or who is acting more or less justly in this recent war. I certainly think the people on both sides deserve to live in peace and that Israel has a right to defend itself from incoming threats, but my heart breaks for these sweet, innocent children and their families who have no safe haven to which they can flee. I do not know if one news network or another is covering things fairly or without bias (though I do resonate with this article–it cannot be easy to be objective while writing about dead children). I will not say that sympathy for the Palestinian people makes you less Christian or less American, but I will say it makes you human. It is an impossible situation and I don’t think any of us who have lived our lives in the West truly understand the conflict and all its roots. As my first seminary professor famously proclaimed, “You can only see from where you stand.”

The above quote from Richard Rohr made me think of this conflict. So many of us freely admit that we are imperfect, but somehow, when it comes to deeply held convictions, we are unwilling to open our minds to the possibility that we may have in the past, or that we might now, be off track–if even slightly. The “Nobody’s perfect,” cliché is only honest in the instances where we believe, accept, and humble ourselves to the certain fact of our imperfection. And if we believe that no one is perfect, we must make room for at least the possibility that our preferred translations and interpretations of our sacred books and those we follow (who are not God) may, in fact, not be the only perspective or the final word on any given subject. I am not advocating some post-modern relativist notion. I firmly believe there is an ultimate truth out there, I just don’t know that I am brazen enough to profess that at 32 (or whatever age you are) I (or you) have found it. The truth lies with the Creator of the heavens “above” and the universe we inhabit. We are not that Supreme Being. I choose to do my best to follow Jesus Christ, but I am not Jesus and therefore, I do not have all the answers. I am at times too presumptuous and feel I have more answers than another. At my best moments, I am humble enough to realize that I don’t and accept that is okay.

For me, I suppose it all comes down to Jesus’ own words in passages like Mark 12:29-31 (NRSV), in which he replied to a scribe’s query regarding which commandment is “first of all:”

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

More and more frequently these days, my heart and mind goes back to these commandments, and I look for the perspective of love. I do not have to take sides or proclaim that one is right and one is wrong. If I follow these commands and strive to follow Jesus, knowing I will fail more than I will succeed, I feel like I cannot go too wrong. I just wish more of the world could look to these commands first, rather than continuing down the path of destruction, discord, and death. With so many current generations digging in and mired in sight only from where they currently stand, maybe our hope lies with future generations. Jesus did say, after all, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.