Sometimes it just gets the better of you. Sometimes it’s debilitating, crippling. Other days it’s bearable, doable. Some days you’re able to go through your normal routine. Other times you have to drop what you’re doing, run to the nearest bathroom, closet, or dark corner, crouch down, breathe, and cry. Sometimes you clench your fists and grit your teeth.
Sometimes you just sit. You stop. You quit.
Today was one of those days where I just had to deal. I spent the morning with a close girlfriend. I said some mean things because I’d felt hurt, but at seeing her tearful response, I realized that I was speaking from a place of pain, of simply wanting to disperse some of my own pain out into the world to let someone else deal with it. I’m tired, weak, vulnerable, and broken. I feel bitter, enraged, furious, and drained from having the past couple of weeks writing about the last four years of my life. I just wanted to let some of it go.
Faith comes easy to some people, but for those of us who suffer from chronic mental illness of any sort, faith is often hard to hold onto. It ebbs and flows as spontaneously and sporadically as whitewater rapids. Smooth and gentle. Fast and rapid. Calm. Intense.
This is a life with depression.
Mine has been surfacing more lately, probably for a lot of reasons, most of which are too personal to divulge. But the one factor of which I’ve become aware is the level of self-loathing I feel so often. I don’t always like the person I see staring back at me in the mirror. I’m not proud of my actions. I can’t seem to stop the harsh, hurtful words that come out of my mouth. Yet I’m still here.
I struggle with body image. I want to engage in acts of self-injury. I want to leave, to disappear, to change my name and start a new life. None of this means that I don’t love the people who are a part of my life, especially my husband. But sometimes… life is too much. And as many of us who deal with depression, anxiety, or other forms of being mentally unwell, it’s not always easy to talk about off the cozy couches and out of the safe confines of our therapists’ offices, especially with the people we love most. And it’s hard to write about when we’re uncertain of how others will respond. But we move on.
Today was a hard day. Unfortunately in my case, being on hormone replacement (because my natural levels were low) has made the manifestations of depression in my life more unpredictable. So I’m always on edge, waiting for the next big crash, fearful that anything and everything could serve as a trigger. Yet I still do something that some might consider unwise for someone as emotional and empathic as I am: I listen to the pain, heartache, and struggles of the people around me, stranger or friend. I empathize, put myself in their shoes, feel the spectrum of their emotions as if they were my own.
I know in my head that I’m a whole person, but my heart feels broken beyond repair. Enough has changed in my life over the past few months that I don’t know how to move forward. I don’t know where God is in all this. I don’t know who I can talk to without fearing abandonment, rejection, or ostracism. So I turn to my journals, my blogs, my books and my Netflix subscription to be my friend. I sing. I play guitar. I make batches of chocolate fudge so I can remember what life was like before Nanny died, before I left the church, before my life was filled with uncertainty, doubt, depression, and anxiety. I play guitar until my fingers bleed and until I sense that some crack in my soul has been filled up with substances ranging from hardcore epoxy to silly putty.
I know that I want to write more about the church, about its mission, methods, and unmitigated madness. I want to write about its potential without lashing out at its problems. I want the people I know and love to know that they are loved, but I want to be known and loved as well. I think this latter part is at the core of the human condition.
We want to be known.
We want to be loved.
We wanted to be embraced.
We wanted to be accepted.
We wanted to be cherished.
We want to feel important.
We want to feel human.
We want to feel alive.
Depression keeps me from feeling any of these things, and so I’m having to find ways to acknowledge what my inner voice is telling me and counteract with deep-seated truth. If I want to have any chance of not only surviving but having a long, love-filled, accomplished (but not necessarily financially extravagant) life, I have to be able to distinguish the positive messages from the illogical, irrational, and harmful ones.
Not an easy task for anyone.
But we do it. We go out for dinner with our closes friends and indulge in cinnamon roll pancakes and hot chocolate. We hold hands with our loved ones, fingers intertwined as a way of being reminded that we are not alone. That we have strengths and weakness, and that our strengths compensate for another’s weaknesses and vice versa. We have to remember we are not alone. And I’m not talking about some pie in the sky, white-bearded deity who steps in at the most opportune moments. I’m talking about relationship and community. When I’m with someone I know, love, and trust, the depression dissipates. When they stand next to me as I gaze into the mirror, they tell me who they see. They tell me who I really am. And I believe them.
They tell me everything will be ok. I believe them.
They tell me I am loved… and I believe them, albeit reluctantly at times.
Depression is a cruel, ugly, heartless bitch who is unwilling to waver at times. But when we’re surrounded by love, we can defeat it. We can learn to channel the energy that’s urging us to run, to hide, to cry, to retreat into something that not only makes our lives better but also further enhances and enriches the lives of others. We grow stronger. We develop courage.
MICHAEL OVERMAN is a seminarian at Garrett-Evangelical in Evanston, IL. As a self-admitted “old soul”, Michael is more than comfortable asking the tough questions and not having immediate answers. Michael is passionate about all things interfaith, challenging the religious status quo — and baking whenever possible. A graduate from Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL with a BA in psychology, Michael believes Emma Thompson in Angels in America when she says, “In the new century, I think we will all be insane.” Find Michael on Twitter @irishremix8406 or catch up on his blog at www.FindingTheBalance.net.