“He not busy being born, is busy dying.” Bob Dylan ~ from It’s All Right Ma (I’m only bleeding)
My moment-to-moment life as a dysthymic pretty much resembles a series of fuzzy, out-of-focus, black and white selfies. Dysthymic Disorder is a very long depression of mild to moderate intensity. Not a very lovely or cheerful picture. That reality is brought home when I survey my 220 blogs and four published books. The pain of chronic sadness, irritability and despair is present front-and-center much of the time in my life. What that pain does is focus one’s self on, well, one’s self. Myself and psychic pain is what I have written about most frequently.
But as Jesus-followers we are called to die to self and be born again (John 3:3). That sounds like a good plan to me, but the devil is in how to accomplish this dying to self with the pain inside constantly refocusing one on self.
In coping with the chronic depression of dysthymia one risks becoming a narcissist, as the self’s interior states become such an absorbing focus. We think about ourselves and how we are feeling all of the time. Quite frankly, I hate narcissists, but at times I worry that perhaps I am one. A surfeit of selfies has been described as being characteristic of a narcissist. That thought causes me considerable self-loathing, and feeling worthless is one of the depressive triad: feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness.
So how does one die to self? I’ll list a few modest suggestions. It helps to be a Jesus-follower and therefore able to remind one’s self that our task IS to DIE to SELF, but some of these ideas do not require belief or trust in a benevolent deity.
(1) Do not be isolate yourself—stay busy and be around others even when you don’t “feel” like it. I have clients who frequently tell me, “I can’t do it.” when I tell them to get up off the couch and go to an event. My answer is always, “No, You won’t do it.” I emphasize the difference between can’t and won’t. I emphasize the difference between feelings and thoughts. Not doing things and avoiding others is a function of wilfulness. People can do things but often give up because they’re difficult–and there is a part of them that wants to reinforce their helplessness. We Jesus-followers call that the devil. It’s the little negative voice in our thoughts.
One way I fight a tendency to isolate is by going to a Celebrate Recovery (CR) meeting every week. In the men’s small group for anger and codependency I’m able to unburden myself in a supportive atmosphere—“confessing” my sins of the week is a sweet respite.
(2) Follow the Dylan dictum and stay busy being born. Graham Cooke says that the solution to our past (and present) is in our future. In other words focus on the future, and not allow ourselves to dwell on either past hurts or the present pain. Focus instead on the future joy one is being born into. As Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize. . .” Also, see Isaiah 43:18-19.
(3) In Philippians 4:8, Paul urges us to dwell on the noble, the right, the pure, the lovely, the admirable, things that are excellent and praiseworthy. He says “THINK on these things.” In other words don’t fill your minds with crap like “reality” TV or be absorbed by the transitory or the trivial. My spirits are always brighter whan I choose to listen to classical or Christian music on my car radio instead of “talk” radio. Another option for me is CDs of Christian teachers like Graham Cooke or Rick Warren. It is the sum and substance of Paul’s renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2). If you’re not religious listen to CDs that teach a skill or a foreign language. Do something with your mind; learning is like internal jogging and releases neurotransmitters in our brain.
(4) Focus on what you can do to help others. We are called to love others, and love is an action. Volunteer your time and talents. My involvement with mission trips to Third World countries and local programs to help the homeless have always caused me to think, “I don’t have it so bad.” Helping others always brightens my spirits and helps me die a bit to self. Altruism and volunteerism has been scientifically studied and is so much a part of our emotional makeup that even secular folks are now recommending it.