But the same old me. . . So, how to deal with that. . ?
I don’t think I’ve ever set a New Year’s resolution, and so far this year is no different—and I suppose that says a lot about my self-confidence and optimism. I’ve never been big on goal setting, and that essential pessimism about hoped-for outcomes kind of goes along with my dysthymia.
I’ve worked as a psychotherapist in one setting or another for over 40-yrs and it was about 25-yrs into that journey that I realized I was diagnosable too. I knew that my mother was seriously bipolar and eventually I came to the conclusion that my father was mood disordered as well. He always worked and was never hospitalized like mom. He always managed to reel in his cyclical manias enough to function, but he suffered vast mood swings on a three year rhythm from high to high or low to low. Though I knew there was a genetic link in mood disorders, I’d always thought my predominant sadness was just the result of life’s circumstances—the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or in more contemporary parlance—life sucks and then you die.
In 1979, I had an unexpected and quite dramatic born-again experience. Prior to then I considered myself to be an agnostic, and my observation is that agnostics are not the happiest of folk. Perhaps being chronically depressed makes having belief in a Higher Power more difficult—just as lacking faith might contribute to chronic sadness and pessimism. Though, I’m sure there are cheerful agnostics and atheists I doubt they are the norm. I find that most atheists are just angry true believers who’ve found their place in God’s universe a great disappointment.
I know that I should be “patient in affliction and joyful in Hope” per Romans 12:12 but living it out is another matter. So even after I became a Christian I continued to live life looking about two weeks ahead—and when you do that you end up pretty much nowhere (which is where I feel I am much of the time).
Goal setting and long-term planning have not been part of the big picture for me. If you don’t feel like you have a future, then why bother to try to invest in one. And many of life’s biggest decisions were simply to escape a less desirable outcome. For example, I stayed in graduate school to avoid being drafted and a likely ticket to Viet Nam. And I declared psych as a major for no better reason than it made registration in college easier and an older friend who I respected was majoring in it. So, I kind of backed into my life’s work.
Oh, the power of negativity! But rejoice, when your perspective is that short, and your planning that poor, you are more fully able to see God’s grace at work in your life. And it’s only thru God’s grace that I’ve ended up anywhere blessed. According to the Dave Ramsey school of theology my life should be a complete train-wreck. But due to God’s grace and credit cards I’ve traveled to Europe four times as well as assorted jaunts to the Caribbean and California. I’ve also published four books. This all came about in the past 13 years—at the dawn of the New Millennium I couldn’t have imagined any of it.
Becoming born again did not cure my dysthymia. I still felt sad much of the time and was still unwilling to invest much in earthly hopes and dreams. However, I did feet reassured about life’s final destination—and my existential anxiety decreased markedly. And, every now and then, I’d have an experience of what C.S. Lewis called Joy—not happiness, but Joy with a capital J. If you’ve experienced Joy you know what it is, but if you’ve not it’s hard to explain.
Roughly 15-years ago I accepted that my chronic sadness was just me and my inherited mood disorder. In the major mood disorders there are markers that strongly point to a genetic predisposition, and when you have two mood disordered parents (like me) your odds go way up of having either Bipolar Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder. Life’s experiences (losses and stress) contribute to it, but an awful lot is just the roll of the genetic dice—and I’m okay with God being the divine dice player. I’ve tried to let Romans 8:28 define my existence:
” And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
Today, it seems an over-used verse and almost a bit of a cliche, but in 1997, when I discovered it in scripture it lent my life so much more sense. And just a year or two later I was teaching a class at my church on coping with depression that eventually led to publishing a book titled The Unwelcome Blessing. My book examines depression from three perspectives: clinical, biblical and personal. I’m not one much to blow my own horn but I have not seen any books in the Christian market better or more comprehensive.
The book was written in various stages between 1999 and 2004, and it was published in 2005. I know more now than I did then and if I have enough time and energy I might write a second edition. I did write an as yet unpublished workbook Blessings Restored. It uses a 12-step format to cope with and overcome mood disorders.
I know all the scriptures about Hope, but learning to live them out has been a process. Investing myself in Hope and Trust was given a quantum leap in 2002, when the Lord directed me to spy Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust whilst just killing time in a bookstore waiting for a movie at the theater next door. Manning’s equation Faith + Hope = Trust made perfect sense to me. I had Faith of sorts but my dysthymia made Hope difficult and thus I had little Trust in God’s plans for me. However, it was in 2002, that I began living more boldly, taking baby steps out of my comfort zone and seeing the fruits of Trust. And it is in a consistent walking by faith (trust) that Christian maturity is approximated.
So what about time present: Yesterday, I prayed that in 2016, I become a more bold witness and a better steward of God’s time and resources. I’ve never been good at witnessing but then I’ve hardly ever tried. At best, I’ve tried to flame the embers of belief that some of my clients and acquaintances already had. So I want to be bolder and not pass up any opportunities to talk about the Lord. Somewhere satan planted the thought that doing that made you akin to a Jehovah’s Witness or a used car salesman—and nobody likes being thought of as a sales-pest. Also, at my age wasting the time God has given me seems a sin for sure. So in the future I want to be more mindful and intentional in using God’s time and His resources, and using some of that time to talk more about the Lord.
Uh oh, those sound like new year’s resolutions. Okay, so in 2016, I’ll try to be a better used-Carl salesman.