“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” Psalm 119:28
So, I awoke around 4:15 this morning—an hour or more short of what I’d like to have slept, and my first thoughts were pessimistic. Actually, they weren’t thoughts at all, just feelings—feeling alone and overwhelmed.
Its true, I am single, I live alone and what family I have isn’t nearby, and I do have a few immediate hurdles ahead of me, but really compared to what many people face they’re no big deal. But laying there in bed before dawn they seemed monstrous, enormous, overwhelming, like scaling Mount Everest alone, or surviving the North Atlantic on a life-raft. I’m sure many others share the same disquieting early a.m. thoughts and feelings.
I don’t have nightmares, and I don’t dream a lot. But I had an emotion-filled dream just before awakening that was rather unsettling and I suppose that added to my immediate feeling of helplessness. There was a sadness connected to the dream that involved guilt and self-condemnation.
I often start the day with a line from Psalm 118: “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” That runs thru my thoughts as I lie there coming awake. Or occasionally it’s the verse from Psalm 90: “Fill us at daybreak with Your love, so that all of our days we may sing for joy.” They focus my mind in a good way. But those lines weren’t there this morning. Thoughts were supplanted by feelings and emotions–and the emotions were sad, sorrowful. However, fortunately, I have the ability to intentionally search for scriptures in my memory bank and after meditating on them I regained a bit of equilibrium and serenity.
Somewhere back in the late-60s or 70s thinking or reasoning started to go out of vogue. Thoughts were pushed aside by emotions. We were told to “trust” our feelings. Feelings trumped thinking. I suppose this had something to do with the neo-Romanticism of the Age of Aquarius. I am a psychotherapist and psychotherapy in the 1970s and 80s morphed away from the analytic and got all “touchy feely”and like many I kind of went with the anti-intellectual flow.
I battle the chronic sadness called Dysthymic Disorder. It is a life-long mild to moderate depression. It likely has genetic roots. Some of its characteristics are the depressive triad: feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness. Unrealistic guilt and self-condemning thoughts are also part of the scenario. Ditto, early awakening. Many take medication for dysthymia, but I’ve chosen to cope without meds. I write about dysthymia and the other mood disorders in my book The Unwelcome Blessing.
However, since around Christmas I’ve been in unusually good spirits. Somewhat over two months is a long time for me to feel consistently cheerful. I attributed it to an unusually good holiday season. Normally I dread the holidays but this year I spent a week in California with my son and his wife’s extended family and it was a great visit. I was consistently alive to the joy of Advent for the first time in years. Normally the mid-Winter holidays are an up and down ride for me. During the week between Christmas and New Years I also turn a year older.
But this year was pretty nice–didn’t even dread the big b-day. Also I’ve been taking a powerful herbal gel-cap supplement rich in a very pure form of turmeric. There is a new theory gaining support that brain inflammation is one of the causative factors in clinical depression, and turmeric is a very powerful anti-inflammatory. FYI, Ukon is its name. And I thought that the Ukon was helping lift my spirits too.
One thought that comforts me is that I know that depression is cyclical and that now is likely the time in my rhythm to trend downward. Understanding that gives me some sense of control over it. I know my mood will trend upward again. But my biggest revelation about feelings is that they lie. They’re feelings, they’re not reality. Just like a picture of an apple is a picture, not a real apple, so it is that a feeling of helplessness is a feeling. It doesn’t mean that you really are helpless. Nevertheless, the feeling is very compelling. Conflating feelings with reality is likely one of the tricks of the devil. Whereas feelings may be good indicators, they are lousy governors. They let you know that something is broken but offer no solution. That is found in scripture, fellowship and godly counsel.
Psalm 119 tells us to meditate on the word—not on our feelings. Everybody, but particularly the chronically depressed, need to live life intentionally instead of being driven back and forth by feelings. Depressed believers especially need to refocus on God’s word and living life intentionally instead of the mood of the moment. One of our Creator’s gifts to us is the double-edged power to choose. It’s called free will.
Indeed, strengthen me according to Your Word.