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!
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.
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.
Before I get too far into this, let me just say I believe the eventual abolition of slavery in the United States was the greatest of all the outcomes spiraling out of the Civil War. As someone born and raised in the South, I will be the first to admit my part of the country held onto something that was clearly wrong for far too long (Although there were slave owners in the North, too. I think people forget that sometimes…). The efforts of the Union are to be commended for what they accomplished.
All that being said, the older I get, the more I tend to think that was only one factor that splintered the nation for a time. Without attempting to go into a full historical breakdown (which I’d probably get wrong anyway), I believe the Civil War had as much to do with the southern states feeling disrespected by those in the north as it did with slavery and abolition. The issue of states’ rights was a huge deal in the South leading up to the war, and still today many of the battles between what the federal government wants and what the states feel they should control are centered in the southern portion of the U.S.
I guess maybe I feel this way because I notice my feathers getting ruffled whenever I perceive someone not from the South (and I’m including the western part of the country in that statement, too) portraying the people where I live as somehow beneath the people where they live. Consider this gem I discovered from a discussion posted in Yahoo Answers back in 2008 about why the South is so conservative: “So many southerners are extremely conservative, which doesn’t have much do with Christianity as much as deep-rooted racism and a wish for things to return how to how it was in the ‘good old days’ (who they were good for, I have yet to learn).”
Far too often, the South is portrayed as racist, uneducated, bigoted, unwilling to change, stuck in “the good old days” that actually weren’t very good for anyone. In my opinion, that line of thinking is extremely evident whenever I see a list of the supposedly “most depressed states” in the U.S. Almost without fail, a majority of the states on the list will be located in the South. I live in Kentucky, and my state is always in the top ten on every list. One I saw recently had us at number 2, to which I jokingly commented, “Crap, can’t we finish first in anything? Life sucks.”
Inevitably, the reasons for states winding up on these lists come down to the same things. High unemployment, lack of quality jobs, poor education systems, inadequate health insurance, etc., etc. One list mentioned Oklahoma because it was (and I am not making this up) “highly prone to severe weather.” Not saying the threat of a tornado wouldn’t dampen my spirits, but really?
Of course, the other conspicuous thing about these lists is the virtual absence of any northern states. New York? Vermont? Massachusetts? Apparently, these are the places to be, since I don’t ever see them mentioned. Could it be because the jobs are so much better or because the education is superior or because healthcare is not as much of a problem? Maybe. But is it really because there are fewer depressed people in the North than in the South?
Unfortunately, I am almost certain there are no numbers out there that will give me an answer to that question. I’m just going to hazard a guess, though, and say no. As anyone who has ever dealt with any kind of depression can attest, there are any number of factors which can set it off. It’s not just finances or station in life. There’s divorce. There’s loss of purpose. There’s alcohol and/or drug addiction. There’s seemingly reaching your goals and then finding they don’t fulfill you as much as you thought they would. Are these factors exclusive to the South?
All these years later, and the North and the South still don’t seem to understand each other. Depression isn’t about your quality of life or how much money you make or how bright the lights in your city are. It’s about your inability to find hope or happiness in the everyday things in life, and how that inability gradually sucks you into the abyss. Can an Appalachian coal miner in a one-room shack be happy scratching out a living for his family? Maybe if his children bring him joy. If he loves his wife. If he feels blessed to have a roof over his head and food on his table. Maybe…
Don’t worry, southerners. This is not something we need to go to war over. The real enemy here isn’t the North. Hopefully, though, they can wake up and realize the same.
When I was in the first grade, I really wanted to finish all my work in class before everyone else did. I have no idea why I felt this urge or impulse, but it eventually led to my stuffing papers into my desk. Lots of papers. I kept getting notes on the top of my papers I did actually hand in saying “See me” in red ink. After attempting to ignore these notes for a while, I was forced to meet with the teacher, who wanted to know where all my work was. I was absolutely scared to death that I had ruined my life forever. After a meeting between my parents and the teacher, though, I was allowed to make up all the work, and I went on to pass the first grade with flying colors.
I don’t think very many people know that story. If you want to get right down to it, there are probably many, many stories people don’t know about me. Some of them are actually on the shameful or embarrassing side like that one, but several of them are actually fairly nice and even flattering to me. I’ve accomplished things and developed talents many people don’t even know about. Of course, I’ve also fallen horribly on my face more times than I can count, too. I’d like to think I’m a little more interesting than I let on.
If you’ve read this blog before and thought of me as an open person, I’m afraid I have you fooled. Right now, I’m crouched over my keyboard, head close to the monitor of my laptop, attempting to shield what I’m writing from any prying eyes that happen to pass by. My wife is usually surprised by what I have to say any time I have to speak somewhere, because I never share what might come out of my mouth. Most everything you read here is a first draft because I never let anyone read what I’ve written before I post it.
I could go on and on. I can’t stand to have someone stand over my shoulder and watch me do something. I have a drawer full of song lyrics I’ve written that no one’s ever seen. I’m pretty decent at sports, but I hardly ever just join in a game if one happens to break out. I like riding my bicycle, but I prefer to do it alone. And these are just the things that wouldn’t make me blush to tell you. I’m not as squeaky-clean a guy as most people would think.
So, if I’m so secretive, why bring all this up? Well, because it’s just hit me recently how long this has been going on, and it’s bugging me because I don’t exactly know why I’m like this. I have a million-and-one theories, of course. I lack integrity. I have no self-confidence. I’m afraid of what other people think. My depression makes it worse. And, of course, my personal favorite, I’m just freakin’ crazy.
I have no great moral or revelation to share here, other than stating that I’ve realized I have a problem with this. I guess I thought maybe getting it off my chest might help. I also thought maybe someone else might read this and be able to offer me some insight. What causes someone to be this way? What are some ways to alleviate this behavior? Has anyone else ever dealt with this? And if you’re worried about sharing your answer, don’t be concerned. I won’t tell anyone about it anyway. 🙂
I used to really like Jon Acuff. I stumbled across his Stuff Christians Like blog a few years ago during a season of my life when I was feeling pretty lost spiritually, and Acuff struck me as something of a kindred spirit. He was a Christian like me, but he was still able to step back and realize the ridiculousness in a lot of the things we do. In short, he seemed like a fairly regular dude.
Then things began to change. Acuff wrote a book with the same name as the blog, and his posts began to shrink in length. It became difficult to separate Stuff Christians Like the blog from Stuff Christians Like the book advertisement. Even worse, Acuff began to write more and more about “haters,” which I eventually realized were people who didn’t see things the way he did. All of that paled in comparison, though, to the changes that came once Acuff got a job with Dave Ramsey’s organization. He suddenly went from a relatable everyman to some kind of motivational guru, writing books about fulfilling your dreams and converting his blog to follow suit.
I pretty much stopped following Acuff altogether, so I nearly managed to miss the news that he had somewhat abruptly resigned from his dream job with Ramsey in late September. Of course, the supreme irony of the situation is that Acuff had written a book (still advertised on Ramsey’s website) titled Quitter, which is all about pursuing your dream job. No one seems to really know why Acuff did this, and the only response issued from Ramsey’s camp was one of surprise. The Stuff Christians Like blog seems to have disappeared for the moment, although Acuff continues to tweet like a madman about, well, basically nothing of much substance and has a new blog at acuff.me.
It’s a difficult tightrope to walk when you set out to help others by setting yourself up as an authority on something. Whatever his reasons for quitting may have been, Acuff couldn’t have been ignorant of (and I hate to repeat the word) the irony of his actions. The guy who was telling everyone else how to get their dream job just quit his. This is like catching Richard Simmons loading up plates and chowing down at the local Ryan’s Steakhouse. The reality doesn’t seem to match the ideology. It was a reality Acuff set up, though.
I’ve written a few posts on here about depression, and I received a lot of response from those. So much so that I considered just turning this into “the depression blog,” where that’s all that was discussed. I didn’t want to just go online and complain, though, so I found myself trying to drop in little encouraging tidbits here and there. People seemed to like it. Forget the blog; I was beginning to feel like “the depression guy,” someone who could become something of an inspirational voice for others.
And then my plan sort of went sideways. I had a couple of weeks where I didn’t feel particularly inspiring. Some of the bright and happy nuggets I had thrown out earlier didn’t seem to be working quite as well, to the point where I wondered if I had actually meant some of them. Maybe becoming “the depression guy” wasn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe being plain old, ordinary me would be a better idea.
The book of James in the Bible wisely advises, “Not many of you should become teachers … for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” I don’t know what happened with Jon Acuff, but my suspicion is that maybe his dream job turned out to not be his dream job. Since he had already built his persona on achieving the dream, though, his backing out became nearly as awkward as his entry in. It has become my realization that setting yourself up as “the anything guy” bears a huge burden, because you’ve got to be that guy all the time. You’re not allowed to have doubts, bad days, or changes of heart; you have to be perfect.
So, in effect, I’m quitting on the dream of becoming the next great voice for those suffering from depression. Most days, I don’t know any more than you do. I may have a helpful bit of advice to toss out every now and then, but by and large I’m just going to be me. I am not perfect, but everyone with a mega-successful blog or talk show isn’t either. We’re all going to quit on something someday. Question is, will we have left ourselves enough room to do it?