I just put the linked post up at my website, lightsinthedarkness.net. Please go check it out!
I finally took the plunge yesterday and started a new blog dedicated entirely to perspectives on depression and other mental disorders from a Christian perspective. Hopefully, this will allow me to use this space for other subjects, such as parenting or editorializing or just messing around. Check out the new blog at http://depressionlighthouse.wordpress.com/. Thanks!
About two weeks ago, one of my daughters and my two sons began mentioning this idea of theirs to open a restaurant. Now, given the fact that this particular daughter is 9 years old and her brothers only 7 and 4, I was naturally curious as to how this plan would proceed. Apparently, this was to be a roadside restaurant, sort of in a lemonade-stand design: People would drive by, see the sign, and then, hopefully, stop and order something.
Just to give you a mental picture of the “town” we live in, it’s called Coldwater. Doesn’t exactly imply a thriving metropolis, does it? Also, considering we actually live approximately a mile off the nearest main highway, the likelihood of much traffic in our neck of the woods is fairly slim. The enthusiasm was so high between the three of them, though, I decided my best course of response to whatever they told me they were going to do would be to smile and nod affirmatively, as long as it didn’t have anything to do with power tools, the killing of animals, or a start-up cash loan.
Of course, the 4-year-old lost attention fairly quickly once the other two actually began to actually hammer bits of wood together for signs, but the other two stuck with it. Soon, I came home to discover, sitting in the yard, a couple of kids’ lawn chairs, a wooden pallet, some assorted cinder blocks, and painted wooden signs advertising the new establishment. Granted, they still hadn’t solved the dilemma of not having any actual food for their restaurant, but problems of this nature are relatively minor to aspiring elementary school-aged entrepreneurs.
No one actually stopped at the new roadside attraction the first day, but I was told there were some curious looks and plenty of smiles from those who drove by. They were proud of their work, and I was proud of them for putting the time in, even if I knew there wasn’t much way they could succeed. That night, as the sun was setting and my daughter and I were heading inside, I noticed one of the signs had a strange word written on it – skare – so I asked her what it meant.
“Oh, okay. Um…”
“Did I get a word wrong?”
“Um, yeah. That’s not how you spell square.”
“How do you spell it?”
“Well, what did I spell?”
“I guess you would pronounce that scare.”
And then, my daughter laughed, said, “Oh, well,” and went on inside our house.
I just stood there, dumbfounded. Even at 9 years old, I would have been absolutely mortified if someone had pointed out one of my mistakes like that. I would have been completely distraught at the fact that people had driven by all day looking at it. And I would have worked until the daylight was gone trying to fix what I had done wrong.
And my daughter just said, “Oh, well…“, and didn’t give it another thought.
Now, this particular incident has caused me to reach two very distinct and different possible conclusions: Either I have taught my daughter that it is okay to make a mistake and that she needn’t beat herself up if she gets something wrong or I have not taught my daughter to strive for perfection and she does not care enough about doing a good job. The former of these, I can live with; the latter … eh, not so much. In fact, that would be something I would want to rectify immediately.
Therein lies the rub, though, so to speak. I have struggled with perfectionism for as long as I can remember, and I certainly don’t want my children to grow up afraid to try different things because they might get something wrong. On the other hand, by virtue of them being my children, I have a burning compulsion for them to be the best possible human beings they can be. So I don’t want them to settle for “Oh, well…“, but I also don’t want them belittling themselves constantly and killing their self esteem.
I suppose there is the possibility here that God is trying to teach me through my daughter to learn how to move on from mistakes and not worry so much. I also suppose the possibility exists that this is a wake-up call to me to teach and preach a better work ethic to my children. The actual answer probably lies somewhere in between, and, unfortunately, finding it will be a largely imperfect process.
I have had three rather significant occurrences shape my life over the past couple of years. The first was my decision to enter counseling for my depression, accompanied by the decision to give antidepressants another try. The second was learning my baby daughter was going to have to undergo open heart surgery before her first birthday and then walking through that process. And the third was turning 40 earlier this month.
I’ve never been a person who could just shrug things off. I might have said, “Eh, it’s not bothering me,” but I can tell you that nine times out of ten whatever it was definitely was bothering me. A lot. Relationships. Striking out in a baseball game. Having to get my car worked on. Workplace disagreements. Being too shy to talk to people. Seeing a C on my report card. Hitting a ball long playing tennis. Prayers that I didn’t think were answered…
Actually, it might just be easier to say everything bothered me.
These days, I am certainly not immune to caring too much about trivial matters. For example, a horrible night on the lanes at the local bowling alley this past October nearly ruined my wife and I’s night out for a friend’s 40th birthday party. I do seem to be mellowing out considerably, though, almost to the point of wondering if I’m getting a little too relaxed about things. I’m moving on from regrets, conflicts, and hesitations quicker than I did before, and I keep asking myself, “Is this a good thing?”.
Here’s what those three circumstances I described in the first paragraph did for me. Depression counseling helped me learn to prioritize situations and stop worrying so much, and the medication (presumably, at least) seems to leveling out my highs and lows. Turning 40 made me face up to the fact that time is not something to be wasted, and dwelling on things for too long slows you down and stunts your growth. And, well, once you’ve seen a drainage tube stuck up in your infant daughter’s chest, life’s annoyances don’t seem all that terrible anymore.
This is where the slippery slope lies, however. How does one stop caring enough to relax and live a balanced life without going over the edge of total ambivalence about everything? I went the medication route years ago without counseling to accompany it, and I nearly lost my focus altogether. Right now, I’m enjoying the peace of being able to just let things go, but I catch myself wondering if maybe I should care just a little bit more about some things. I think that’s a positive thought, though, because if I didn’t care at all, I wouldn’t be caring that maybe I didn’t care enough … right?
Sometimes I want to go all Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive, where I’m staring down the loaded gun of a situation but I’m so focused on what I’m doing I can throw up my hands and say, “I don’t care.”. As awesome as that would be, though, everyone knows Deputy Samuel Gerard really did care about what Dr. Richard Kimble might or might not have done. It’s a fine line to walk between caring and not caring. I just wish I could look that cool doing it.
I was a tumor … or so I’ve been told.
A chance meeting with one of my neighbors today revealed this to me. He knew my dad when I was born, and that’s what my dad had told him when my mom was taken to the hospital the night of my birth. See, my parents didn’t know I was coming, and not in the sense that I was born ahead of my due date.
They didn’t even know my mom was pregnant.
There were circumstances that made this not so difficult to believe at the time, but the fact remains I went through the entire pregnancy without anyone checking on how I was actually doing in there. In my lighter-hearted moments, I joke that this explains why I’m so screwed up in the head now, but the truth is I’m amazed by the whole story. Granted, probably not as amazed as my parents 40 years ago, as my neighbor told me he received a call from my dad that night that began with the words, “You’re not going to believe this…”.
I called the meeting today a chance one, but the more I think about it I’m not so sure. I’ve known that story for a long time (Well, not the tumor part. That was new.), and I’ve learned to embrace it in times of struggle. I’ve had so many days of feeling lost or inadequate or just plain embarrassed to be here that I’ve thought on more than one occasion that I had to be some sort of mistake. If that were true, though, how do I account for the miraculous way I wound up here in the first place?
So in my frustration today, I decided to go for a walk. A little ways up the road, I ran into a neighbor, and he told me I was a tumor. And I was glad he did.
For a while there, I wasn’t sure I was going to be around for this.
There wasn’t anything wrong with me … at least, not physically, anyway. No chronic diseases, no recurring health scares, no rotating list of prescriptions. I wasn’t courting some kind of death wish, either. No repelling off mountain sides, no canoeing down turbulent waters, no bungee jumping from bridges. And even though I had battled depression for the better part of my life, I wasn’t plotting my untimely demise. Things never reached that level, thank God.
I just had this feeling, though, that maybe I wasn’t going to make it to 40. I have no rational explanation for this. I know in the past few years I have put tremendous pressure on myself to achieve certain things before I reached that dreaded age. I basically kept a running checklist in my mind, and not many items were being crossed off as time went on. I felt more and more like a failure. So, instead of saying I wasn’t sure I would make it to 40, maybe it would be more accurate to say I didn’t want to make it there.
Today, however, I am 40 years old, and an amazing thing has happened: Life has continued to go on. Not only am I still here, I’m pretty happy to be so. My list is still in shambles, and there are days when I feel totally aimless and desperate for direction. That cutoff date I had established in my mind, though, doesn’t mean a thing today. Much to my surprise, I’m feeling fairly optimistic, even though this past week has left my scratching my head as to what the future may hold.
So what changed? Well, lots of things. I took a look around and realized there are many people who don’t “make it” in their younger years, and a large majority of them don’t care if they’re the old codgers on the block. I noticed I’m still in (relatively) good shape and good health. I got some help for the depression that had dogged me for so long, and I began to think about things differently. I finally began to see the truth in the Bible telling me that “all things work together for good,” even the things I don’t understand.
At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, I want to share one more very important thing I’ve realized: I have been blessed with some really great friends over the course of these last 40 years. Some of you I see a lot, some of you not so often. Some of you I haven’t seen anywhere other than social media for over 20 years. Whatever the case may be, every one of you who have been a part of my life are still very special to me. I love you all, and even in written form, it takes a lot for me to express that in words.
Here’s to 40, then. I’m glad I’m here for this, and I’m glad you’re here, too. Hopefully, we’ll all be around for 40 more.
Want to see me really lose my cool? Tell me to do something and then give me neither the materials necessary to complete the task nor the instructions for how to do it correctly. Whenever this happens, not just anger, but an entire wave of emotions sweep over me – embarrassment, confusion, shame, fear, inadequacy, resentment, anxiety. You know, basically all the emotions of a 6-year-old who’s just been asked to take out the garbage for the first time.
Put me in a situation where I know what to do and am able to execute and succeed, though, and I’m one of the happiest people you’ll ever see. It’s like finding yourself in need of performing some type of repair and suddenly realizing you have a toolbox with exactly the right tool for the job at your disposal.
I am a “how-to” kind of person. No, I don’t mean I enjoy watching countless hours of This Old House (That would be my wife.) or tooling around in a shop behind my house. I need to know the process of how things work. For example, let’s say someone told me to paint my living room (I’ve painted before, but I couldn’t think of another example.). I wouldn’t just go out and buy some paint and go to town. I’d want someone to either show or tell me the right way to do it and then emulate their example as closely as I could. I’d want to access what I know and apply it.
For years and years, I had no idea what to do with the feelings of depression and anxiousness that seemed to hover over me. I wanted to fix them, but I didn’t know how. I had a lot of well-meaning folks along the way offer me sound (and not-so-sound) advice, but I could never figure out the process, you know? “Think more positively.” Okay, but how do I do that? What steps do I go through? What tools do I need to complete the job?
I’ve mentioned counseling and cognitive therapy here before, and I’m entering into a season where I’m not going to be relying on that so much anymore. Being kicked out of the nest, so to speak. I’ve spent a great amount of time discussing and dissecting how exactly to get my brain to jump from one track to the other, and a funny thing happened along the way: I found out some of the things we talked about actually worked. There actually was a process I could follow … and that’s what I have to do now.
And so begins another chapter in this blog and in this life, where I try to sort all this out. I’m a little nervous and afraid, and I may even wind up in another therapy session or two one of these days. For now, though, I’ve got some tools in the toolbox … and I’m ready to go to work.