“Hello darkness my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again.” ~ Simon & Garfunkle
It was Monday morn, and like three I out of four Mondays in my life, I did not greet it or the new week with eagerness—more like, “Oh crap it’s here.” Another week, another uphill struggle. I don’t want to sound too melodramatic or “emo” as the youth say, but it just is what it is. I’ve struggled with Dysthymic Disorder and/or Bipolar Type II most of my life. It’s in my genes.
After a busy, stressful week my weekend seemed less than thrilling—though if I examine what I did and where I went it wasn’t all that bad. Friday night I socialized with a few friends after a Celebrate Recovery meeting. Without going into detail, it was an odd, disquieting mix of people, but I had a beer and generally enjoyed myself.
Saturday I had a couple clients scheduled. In the afternoon I went to Planet Fitness for my little bi-weekly 30-min workout—no big deal but better than nothing. Exercise is perhaps the best treatment for depression. Then on Saturday evening I went to a home church meeting.
Many weekends I attend two home church meetings and then Sunday night a megachurch. There are many in the two home churches who truly care about me and that means a lot. It is a bit like having a family. For a few hours it dispels the pervasive loneliness that I feel. Feeling alone and isolated, plus non-stop brooding characterizes my dysthymia.
Saturday night after the meeting I went to a later showing of a movie—8:15 just seemed too early to go home and sit by myself. I went to a comedy: “Paul Blart ~ Mall Cop II”—and for the first 20-min it was pretty funny, but then it was the same joke over and over about a clueless, self-important guy. In the middle I got dozy. But I came to for the last ten minutes and based on the finale decided I hadn’t missed much.
Sunday morn I went to a different home church service and then that evening the megachurch. After the church service on Sunday evening a group of us usually go out to dinner. We did this week, and there were eight of us. It was a pleasant enough way to finish off the weekend. Though as I sat there schmoozing about whatever there was a growing uneasiness about the morrow and another week.
This Sunday I felt like I was part of the conversation. It’s mostly all couples and being by myself I usually get stuck at the end of the table. Most weeks I just sit and listen. I wear hearing aids and if everyone is talking at once I can’t focus very well as they pick up ambient noise in addition to the conversation—tho some of that reluctance to join in is just me. I usually have difficulty participating in small talk. There are so many topics I really don’t care about. But this particular Sunday I was an active participant.
Anyway, going to church is what I mostly do besides work, and I go mostly for the fellowship. Sometimes I feel edified and worshipful, but I’m almost always uplifted by the fellowship. Being single I don’t have a bunch of family commitments and so I’m free to do lots of church. I’ve recently figured out that part of my role in Christ’s body is Cross-pollinator. I’m kind of a link, and so that makes just being there sort of a ministry.
Anyway, this all brings me back to Monday morning and the line from Don McLean’s song “Vincent” running thru my thoughts. . .”how you suffered for your sanity.” The song is about van Gogh and as most folks know, he lost the battle for his sanity and committed suicide. I hate to sound melodramatic but at times I’ve felt like I’ve struggled for my sanity. Much of my life it has felt like a losing battle. But I’ve never taken psych meds and I’ve never been hospitalized like my mother was many times.
I have an advantage over many people who suffer chronic depression. I have a master’s degree in psychology and forty years of experience as a psychotherapist—or as a friend of mine says a “PSYCHO-therapist.” Sometimes I take my own advice.
I’m also a Jesus-follower, and while that may not make my life easier, it does make it more meaningful. There can be an ennobling aspect in all suffering. True Jesus-followers understand that “all things work together for good.” (Rom. 8:28) That verse becoming real to me in 1998, led me to write a book The Unwelcome Blessing about my life as both a Christian and a depressive.
I started to write the book in 1998, and I finished it and published it in 2005. During those seven years I learned more and more about the topic of mood disorders and more and more about myself and my ability to cope. I became a stronger Jesus-follower—but there were still some things I didn’t get. The whole dying to self and Jesus living in me thing of Galatians 2:20 was just beginning to make sense. And I’ve found that is the real key to overcoming depression and breaking the strongholds of the depressive triad: feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness.
Another insight of the past decade is embracing the power to decide—the power to live life intentionally. Now, this is something that I knew before but didn’t really live out in my daily life. I still was allowing myself to feel like a victim. Like most, I’ve spent my life subjected to my moods and life’s setbacks. It used to be that some crap would happen and I’d feel depressed, and if enough happened combined with a low in my mood cycle I’d likely have a depressive episode.
So, Monday morning when I was overtaken by sadness, I made some decisions. I decided not to dwell on it. I told myself that I am not helpless. I decided to invest myself in a little extra prayer and giving thanks. Thanking God for what’s right in my life always lifts my mood. And it really wasn’t such a bad weekend. Maybe not the thrilling adventure I would have liked—but better than just okay—worth thanking God for. There were definite blessings in the fellowship. The sadness was just my dysthymia kicking up.
Also, running thru my mind all weekend. . . “There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary, and love for the broken hearts” from the Third Day song “Cry Out to Jesus.” This is an exceptionally powerful song for me—and when I hear it, I feel hope and love and peace stirring within me—and I’ll intentionally go with those feelings, and I will cry out to Jesus instead of embracing the darkness within as I did for so many years.