I really hate the word “struggle” in relation to depression in my life. Two reasons why. First is it’s not a struggle. That’s kind of the thing about depression. It doesn’t really give you room for a struggle. Second, the word struggle assumes that my life is a battle against depression, like it’s a splotch on my otherwise wonderful life that I have to wash out. Like if I fight hard enough it will go away and my life will be shinier. It’s not that way to me at all. I don’t struggle with the mail that is delivered to me each morning, or struggle against the food a waitress brings me. It’s what’s been given to me, and I do my best to take it as it comes.
I don’t think I’ve ever been very open here about depression. I think it’s a good thing to talk about. Now is as good a time as any.
Everyone with depression will experience it differently. The best way I can describe my experience is that there is a button inside of me that I choose to push when I have to go to the grocery store or get out of bed or clean something, the “do stuff” button. Depression is that button being broken. And so, so much guilt comes with that, being ashamed of all the things I ought to be able to do (volunteer, reach out to friends, be a better sister, be awesome at work) but can’t.
So, that, paired with an acute sense of aloneness. Pushing a shopping cart back to my car, or chopping a pepper, or riding the train, is all overshadowed by this muffling, heavy isolation. The kind of aloneness that can suffocate if you don’t invite the Lord in to bring some fresh air in. For the past twoish years I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s writing on solitude and drawing a lot of grace and comfort from how he articulates the human condition of solitude. He writes on how to dwell with God in my own heart and be comfortable inside myself. To sit on the train and be comfortable instead of heavy. It’s a line I continue to explore and I’m thankful for a writer who so well articulated his own depression, to draw on his words for guidance.
Sometimes mothers know you better than you know yourself. It’s always a frustrating thing when they’re right. My mother was. When she suggested that I was depressed last summer, I writhed against the word for a month or two before realizing that it was the dark presence in the corner of my heart for the past five or six years. (I distinctly remember doing an “experiment” when I was 17 of charting out my emotions…yes, you heard that right…and would mark down happiness, depression, anger, etc. There would be long streaks of days for “depression” and I tried to see how it aligned with my period to explain it.)
It was frightening to give it a name, but freeing in that the huge GUILT I was carrying around about not being able to do and be everything I thought I ought to was not as real as it had seemed, because my inability did not stem from my character. It was a relief. Also a relief to call especially hard days “depression days” and know that they eventually pass, instead of being failure on my part to not get it together.
This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while because I want you to think I am strong. Above many things, I hate pity. It is nails on a chalkboard to my pride. Vulnerability is hard for me in that it exposes me in a way where I might be loved in a way I don’t want. Such as receiving advice or being pitied.
This morning in church I cried a lot and felt a twinge of shame as I got up to sing with the band after the sermon. What will people think? Do I look like a mess? My heart was racing. I could not pretend to be alright. I wanted to hide behind something. I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me. But I couldn’t hide. So I sang.
Halfway through the song, a peace washed over me. A blessing for my brokenness. Jesus’s tangible love of my exposed and hurting heart.
The greatest lie about vulnerability is that it is about me. It so isn’t. I must decrease. What better way than my honest, raw need of the Lord exposed for everyone to see? [What better way than to blog without a tidy resolution at the end of my post showing you all how very Capable I am?] All of my inability and helplessness visible with nowhere to hide?
Oh, friends. Humility is the only place to begin, but it kills me every time. It is so hard. I do not want comfort, I want to be the comforter. But my heart is not strong enough to walk through this life without being carried. Faith is a chosen helplessness. It is incredibly freeing. But it is a choice. It’s one I am trying to make an hour at a time where I am today. To be carried, and held, and to not squirm there.
It’s so hard. But here I am. And you would not believe the relief that comes from naming things as they are, and owning the helplessness with a mixture of amusement and desperation. It is the act of letting God take back his place in the order of things.
“Often torn ground is ideal for seed / that can root disappointment deep enough / to yield a harvest that cannot wither…the soul ready for its true Other.” (John O’Donahue)
Finding unexpected peace in this torn ground and darkness, friends.