Pushing My Own Envelope (part 1 in a series)

Filed under:Smaug, being jesus, life, lost in translation, prayers — posted by Sonja on December 29, 2007 @ 9:47 pm

A while ago my friend, Mr. Bill, and I publicly revealed that we have an agreement. We’ve agreed to always agree. When we don’t agree, well, we’ll disagree to disagree. Then, being a double negative, we’ll actually agree and everything will be all right. So, our agreement to agree works for us. We like it. One of the best parts of this agreement to agree is that Bill has one of the best blogrolls ever and I’ve been exposed to some new and wonderful writers through this arrangement.

I think one of the best has to be Brant Hansen at Letters from Kamp Krusty. If he’s not the best writer, he definitely has the best hair. If it’s not the best hair, it’s definitely the most like Jesus. For the longest time, I went to Brant’s blog and refused to believe that the guy pictured in the corner was really him … nobody who was real, really looked like that. Only fake people on television and in magazines look like that. But if you go to his blog, that really is him. Most of his writing is laugh out loud funny, but the photos aren’t. They are real.

You may have noticed I said that *most* of his writing is funny. It is too. He makes many a sharply aimed point with boisterous humor. It’s amazingly well done. He’s really smart. All good comedians are. He knows how to use language really well too. But once in a while he drops the curtain a little and gives us a peek into himself. And that is equally if not more well done.

Shortly after Thanksgiving Brant took a brief hiatus from blogging; about a week or so. When he came back he had a few posts about his reasons … here (1) and here (2). In one of them he revealed a long battle with depression and anger. He also revealed that he’s been using anti-depressants for sometime as a weapon in this battle. He confessed how inadequate this made him feel as a Christian and as a man and on a whole bunch of other levels. I wept. I read and wanted to comment. But what could I say? “Dude! I’m right there with you.” But I’m not. I’m right here with me. Brant’s experience is his and mine is mine. On some level they are similar because depression has similarities. But then again …

So. Several people linked to his posts and I read them again. I was undone. Like I was being unsupportive or something because I knew I was in this same boat so to speak, but remaining silent. Yet I am not in the same boat. We both have similar leaky barges on the same stream; there is a mixture of anger and relief about that. It might be that we both spend a lot of time waving our arms and yelling, when we could be bailing. Yet my silence was not condemnation or fear. If anything I had too much to say and eventually I realized I needed to let it process and write later in my own space. So here it is … my own words about being here with me.

A little less than two years ago I fell off a cliff. Most people would not know that to look at me, because no bones were broken and I have no lacerations or bruises … outwardly. But inwardly … well, now, that’s a whole other story. I faced a Balroc and like Gandalf, just when I thought he was gone, the tip of his lash caught the hem of my robe and pulled me over the edge with him. The fall was long, endless and sheer torture to a person with so great a fear of falling that I could not even watch that scene in the Fellowship of the Ring.

I had endless panic attacks and stopped eating and stopped drinking coffee (for the first and only time since my 12th birthday). I couldn’t sleep for more than 3 or 4 hours at a time and naps were out of the question … unless I snoozed out sitting up on the sofa. The only time I truly felt at peace was during the daily broadcast of the curling competitions in the Winter Olympics and when we were out on our daily walks. Whatever metaphorical demons had been unleashed in my brain were quelled during those brief moments. I could barely leave the house and only with an escort … LightHusband or BlazingEwe and had to have someone in the house with me at all times. In short … it was a nightmare.

I have been walking through a sine wave of depression for most of my adult life. It ebbs and flows, sometimes greater and sometimes lesser, but it has been an ever present companion. A shadow, if you will, lengthening or drawing close depending upon the position of the sun. Always lurking and never overwhelming. It was enough to make me angry sometimes. Or make me wonder why I am so different. Or wonder why I see things that others don’t. Or how I could ever get through one more day and then another. And wonder what is real joy? What does happiness feel like? Is this it? How about now?

Here’s the thing about depression that goes on that long. After a while you begin to not trust happiness or joy. It’s not that you don’t enjoy them. You do. You love them. At first. But then you wonder how long they’re going to stick around; like a deadbeat dad, you wonder when they’re going to leave again. And you kick them out first so you won’t get hurt again when they leave too soon. You get conflicted about them after a while.

Depression was casting one of its longest shadows when I found Jesus sitting around in my neighborhood back in 1990. He came into my life in the form of my neighbor, a pastor’s wife. She saved my life from depression (caused in part by my personality and in part by some meds I was taking for a newly discovered seizure disorder) and from spiders that I have an inordinate fear of. She talked to me for hours about anything I wanted to talk about. Sometimes I even listened to her. That’s how I know she was Jesus. I was 29 at the time and then turned 30. And sometime in that time period I did it … I said the magical words and planted the magical beans … and got saved. Or whatever you want to call it. Got washed and then baptized. Gave my life to Christ. Etc. PW (pastor’s wife) was very good about reassuring me that nothing would likely change right away.

On the other hand, as time went on, I began to hear tales of people who had been saved and then SAVED from this or that. I heard especially about people being saved from depression and other mental illnesses. I heard that Jesus would be enough. Funny, Brant seems to have heard that too. I think a lot of people have heard that one. Jesus is enough. Well, I suspect He is. I’ll come back to that in a few minutes.

The shadow ebbed and flowed … sometimes longer and shorter. Like any roommate, I learned how to live with it’s eccentricities and quirks. What would happen if I left the toothpaste tube uncapped and how to handle the temper tantrums. I also began to give it due consideration. Was I just like this? After all, there were no clear indicators from childhood. Other than I come from a long line of phlegmatic personalities … my father, a grandfather, a great grandfather, a great grandmother. On my mother’s side of the family there is a documented history of depression and suicide for unknown causes. What if this just is … what if I am just wired this way? How does that figure into the equation?

Fast forward to my journey through the caverns of Moria and the fall off the cliff. I was very fortunate to have a sympathetic and proactive family doctor. She got me into a psychiatrist and a counselor very quickly. In turn they got me onto some good anti-depressants and mood stabilizers and got me talking, respectively. I’ve been with both of them for the rest of the journey since then and they are wonderful. My psychiatrist suggested that it was grounds for a celebration when I told him that I’d driven across the Bay Bridge not once, but four times in one week in early October. It was a mark of how far I’ve come from the days when not only could I not drive, I could barely leave my house. He has been conservative, yet sensitive to how I’ve reacted to the meds. Keeping me in just enough meds so that I can breath, but not so much that I am comatose.

That’s the thing about anti-depressants. When you have enough, you can breath and eat and grow. You become a living thing again … by Sesame Street standards. In all seriousness, I can … I can breath and eat and grow again. I have space in my head for all three, sometimes even at the same time. But if you have too much, you become a wooden stick. As someone else once told me, you can’t cry, even when you want to … or know you should. On the other hand, not enough medication and most times, just breathing is a chore, eating and growing are right out.

So now I have my blue and green happy pills. I call them my happy pills, not because they make me happy but because they allow me to live. They allow me space inside my head to consider different paths when the way before me is desperate and hard. They allow me to consider others. And, they allow me to be more me. Now we come right down to the fine hard grit. Who am I?

I still have my shadow-friend walking with me. I have come to accept that she is likely to be part of who I am. She is woven into my character from many threads in my life. I am not certain that she would or could be unwoven now. Here is where I begin to struggle with the question that haunted Brant and one which haunts many Christians in similar circumstances … if I am wired this way, then why is Jesus not enough? Why is who I am and how I was made so uncomfortable that I need to take pills in order to get along … for me, I need them to get along with myself some days. There are days when I am so crabby and unsettled that I cannot get along inside my own skin. We are told that Jesus should be enough for all of that … He will heal you. But He doesn’t … or something. So here are my several different answers to that conundrum of faith. I believe and use them all depending on my mood/attitude. On days when I have more grace, I am able to use the more gracious reasons. On days when I have less, I am more pugnacious. (You know? I’m not a robot … my mood and attitude does change from day to day. So deal with it. ;) )

I’ve listed them as I think of them … not in any particular order:

One idea … God could heal my eyes too … but since I was seven I’ve worn glasses and no one bothers to tell me that Jesus is enough for my eyes. They just accept my glasses as part of me; the spectacles are not a character flaw, but the anti-depressants are? I wonder why that is. I also take acid reducers and multi-vitamins … Jesus should be enough for those too, I guess. But it’s a fallen world we live in, my body needs some help and no one sees that as a character flaw. But anti-depressants … well, that’s a horse of a different color. We’ve still got enough Puritan left in our cultural psyche to think that those who are depressed ought to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get over themselves. Okay … I’ll just do that.

Another idea … Jesus may be enough, but I am clearly not. Really. That’s the thought that runs through my mind when I hear that. I know for certain that Jesus is enough for all this and a bag of chips. He threw the stars into place and the sand into the sea. The oceans rise and fall at his breath, surely He is enough for me. Yep, He really is. But I am not. I am miserable. My bread doesn’t rise properly, I forget the physics of heat transfer and ask my son to pick up a scorching pan lid with no oven mitts on, I can’t keep all my friends straight and I can’t meet their expectations of me and I can’t meet my expectations of myself. No use telling me to lower my expectations because at 46 I’ve tried that over and over and over again. You think I haven’t? Like that’s a new idea? Yes, I’ve tried that … expectations are what they are. Try lowering your own sometime and see what happens. Nine times out ten that’s called … d i s a p p o i n t m e n t. Then you have doubled your fun. You don’t meet your expectations and now you’re miserable, because you also failed to lower them. YAY. So, by myself, I am not enough and I haven’t figured out how to do the partnering with Jesus thing.

Another idea … Grace is enough. Grace is enough, yet it is not enough either. Here is probably my most bitter commentary on the church and our greater culture in general. We do not accept others for who they are anymore. We have discovered that, “You know, there’s a pill for that …” instead of working at relationships and understanding that others are truly different from us, we all insist that others conform to us. Our culture has become a chaos of bubble Napoleonic little kingdoms each demanding that everyone else conform to them. We cannot accept one another as individuals anymore because we no longer have a vision for what that is. We want crazy Uncle Fred to take a pill so he’ll be like us, and overly affectionate Aunt Edna to keep her distance. I have to wonder, why is Uncle Fred crazy? Uncle Fred is a package … there’s crazy Uncle Fred PLUS genius Uncle Fred, but you can’t just have the genius. You have to have the crazy too. More than that, you must embrace the crazy … even if it hurts. That’s grace being enough. Telling Uncle Fred to “take a pill for that” is not grace, it’s legalism. Reducing Uncle Fred to the crazy guy in the corner is not grace, it’s contempt. Containing Uncle Fred out of fear is not grace … it’s fear.

Related similar idea … We have discovered the beast of legal mood altering drugs and released him on society. Now we can make everyone just alike. Don’t fit the cookie cutter? Let’s lop that awkward corner off with a pill. Smooth that rough edge with another one. Some days I wonder if we’ve entered that Brave New World that Aldous Huxley wrote about. Or the Big Brother of George Orwell. Too many of the outlandish mind control projects written about by the science fiction authors of the 30s and 40s seem to be morphing into existence today without government intervention, just a cultural demand for bland homogeneity of character. Stepford Wives and Redford Husbands; happy, smiling with nothing to mar their bland existence. Perfect teeth, beautiful hair, we must all conform to cultural norms. We’ve got a pill for that, ya know.

I am glad to be taking my lovely blue and green pills, don’t get me wrong. They help me understand my life and process my emotions in ways that I need right now. I guess I just wonder about the pace and tectonic forces of a culture which has pushed so many of us to this point. Why do so many people need mood-altering psychotropic drugs just to get through the day? Why do we need a pill for that?

P.S. Don’t answer more hard work, or less stuff … those are the easy answers and they do not account for the complexities of where our society and culture are right now. And anyone who comes by and says some version of, “you need God.” will be hung at sunrise – virtually … and in the kindest, most Christian way – by their toes.