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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Reason for despair?

Depression hurts. People don't think as sympathetically of 'mental illness' and they assume that its being 'all in your head' makes it somehow imaginary and unworthy of serious concern. They think that anything that originates in your mind is a 'choice' and therefore, you can just choose not to have it.

I don't know if it's a choice, but it hasn't felt like one for me. I am not sure, exactly, when I 'got depressed.' I just know that it's been decades. And like other chronic conditions, you never really 'cure' it. You control it. Most of the time, anyway.

My hope in writing this is that it may explain why some people, diagnosed or not, behave as they do. We're sometimes judged to be 'anti-social' or 'unfriendly.' Sometimes, we're 'boring.' Sometimes, we're 'lazy.' Sometimes people say, 'you don't want to have any fun.' This last piece is often true. Believe me, if you're thinking it, so are we, and 1000 other less charitable thoughts.

Beating the living shit out of myself is a skill honed over these many years, and I could teach the master course on it. Most people are, I believe, their own worst enemies, and I am among the most fervent of those. I know my faults better than you know your own name, and I can list them for as long as you like, and not repeat one. I suspect that many who have depression have a similarly deep, unbalanced knowledge of themselves.

When I am feeling this way, I prefer to be (insist on being, if possible) alone. Along with antisocial and unfriendly, add rude and aloof. Alone, I am much better able to focus, as my dad and fellow sufferer, used to say, on 'every shot I ever took.' And on every mistake and imperfect decision I ever made.

To the degree that I have voiced these thoughts, those who love and care for me assure me that I am wrong, that I have many good qualities. That is true, as it is also true for all of us. No one is 100% pathetically incompetent, foolish and unworthy, no matter what we tell ourselves.

And it is in this knowledge, that I start to pull myself back out of the dank, angry, miserable place that I fall into sometimes.

This weekend, I have fallen further into the pit than I have in a long time. I got help from a great therapist about 10 years ago. I stopped seeing him 4 years ago, having reached a pretty good balance of coping skills, antidepressant medication and, most importantly, a rapidly growing knowledge of, and faith in Jesus Christ. But this weekend I let it get the best of me.

Let what get the best of me? Well, depression doesn't always require a 'trigger' but it certainly appreciates the help when it can get it. My work has again become private enemy #1, but there are always others vying for the top spot. Depression opens the door, and takes each life concern in order of its potential to make me miserable. And they make me miserable specifically by causing me to blame various weaknesses and failures for the chaos in that particular area of my life.

Coping skill suggests thinking about 'something else.' Queue the next most damning trigger to keep the hit parade coming! When you've gone through all of them - and that can take a while - you start over. Although it's miserable, at least it's not boring, as I have never run out of flaws, weaknesses, failures and mistakes with which to punish myself. Oh, what jolly fun.

For a long time, I let this self-beating go on, in part because I thought it was a form of humility, which I have come to learn is one of my biggest strengths. But any strength, allowed free rein, will eventually create imbalance and if you don't check it, it will eat you alive.

It was through my spiritual awakening, and my faith in Jesus, including the study of his words and others in the Bible, that showed me this was not right. Long story short, God created me, loves me as a son, and although I have flaws and weaknesses, He loves me without condition. Who am I to dog myself when the Creator of everything, including my very own self, thinks I'm wonderful?

Something I learned recently resonates here. C.S. Lewis wrote: "Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." I can get behind that, because it's not too far from where I am. I can walk there!

And it is these ideas, and many like them, that help me climb out from under the rubble of my negatives to focus on the most relevant positive - God loves me, and really nothing else matters, but it is also nice that many others love me too. And knowing that God gifted me with many fine gifts - talent, skills and abilities, as well as people, places and opportunities to do His work.

Sufficiently buoyed by these thoughts, the risk is to ridicule myself, calling myself names because I let myself fall into a pit in the first place. Stupid, right?

Yes, and no. It is not 'smart' to let yourself get 'down.' But it's also not a choice. Depression is not a bad mood, or a sour disposition, or 'the blues.' It's a series of mental, chemical and eventually physical symptoms that can immobilize anyone. You don't punish yourself for catching a cold, so why do you do it for this? Because punishing yourself is a symptom, just as coughing and sneezing are for a cold.

So, no, it's not stupid - but we let it happen when we don't pay enough attention to the things that matter - God, family, friends - and focus too much on the challenges of life. When you do that, the challenges grow more daunting, and God, family and friends get crowded off the stage, where they aren't as able to help.

As I'm typing this, I am not out of the pit, but I see the light up ahead. I am praying, thinking, writing and calling depression out for what it is - a bully that has been stealing my lunch money all weekend. No more.

The last thing I want to say is, if any of this resonates with you, or reminds you of someone, share it. This has been therapeutic for me, but it would make me feel even better if it helps you, or someone you love. If it's you, then brother or sister, I feel you. If it's someone you love, my message to you is that they aren't doing it on purpose. No matter how miserable they're making you, they're feeling that miserable or worse.

God bless you.

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