Monday, 14 March 2011
As a depressive, the ability to summon, focus, and properly orient my creative energies long enough to write anything I’d consider worthwhile—or even lucid—is often a fleeting privilege. Time and again, I find myself subconsciously rendering my conscious “thank yous” to the gods of chance or spontaneous thought and not to God.
When I formulate a clear sentence and see it on the screen in front of me—when I read what I’ve been thinking for so long and finally understand what my brain already knew—it’s similar to rolling a boulder off my chest, and I can finally breathe. I find great relief in writing, but the work is paradoxical—to accomplish it is therapeutic, but to reach that point usually requires a great strain on my mind.
I find writing a dangerous act of self-exposure, especially in the blogosphere—bearing my thoughts to anyone who clicks on by. There are few things I find more comforting and which instill a sense of self-security more than knowing my thoughts are captive to no one but God and myself. Writing requires that I leave that comfort for the sake of pursuing a human connection with any possible reader.
But when I’m at my desk, the blank computer screen turns into something like a mirror, reflecting whatever pretentious pseudo-intellectual persona I hate to admit I strive for. I secretly want to be smart; writing reminds me that I’m insecure. I’m reminded that I often can’t organize my ideas into a steam of coherent thought, and as a result, I feel embarrassed and vulnerable.
The quality of my writing becomes the measure by which I determine whether or not I am smart, or at least functioning—whether I’m still sane. If my work is validated as good—maybe just a passing compliment in person or online—the purpose of my existence somehow seems legitimized. If this sounds dramatic, it is.
As a result, it takes me a very long time to write. I’m capable of obsessing over a single sentence for ten minutes, because I want it perfect. I want to piece it together and make it whole, so I can hold up to the light and examine it—I want to understand what the sentence is trying to tell me, because I want to understand what I’m trying to tell myself. If I can’t write—if the words won’t come—I become disoriented and confused. I feel like I know myself less, the world makes less sense, and I start to panic.
I’ve sat paralyzed, 500 words short of a final paper, my body literally shaking from anxiety, because I couldn’t write what I was thinking. I’ve stared at the screen for an hour hoping for inspiration only to find myself slipping into a terrible depression when it doesn’t come.
After waking up from what usually turns into a 15 hour consolatory nap, I ask myself the following question: “Am I depressed because I can’t write or can I not write because I’m depressed?” Psychology-based wisdom will usually answer, “yes.” Depression is both a result and a cause—and I believe this to be true, but I tend to treat depression only as a result when it pertains to my own experience.
I blame myself for everything—for not reacting positively to persistent, negative, intrinsically evil forces, which I perceive as entirely all too pervasive worldwide and therefore overwhelmingly discouraging and yet which create an equally dire existential situation for every other human being around me who manages to smile while walking opposite my direction down the street and get on with his or her life in a seemingly higher-functioning and more productive way than I do my own.
This usually forces me to meditate on the relationship between the constructive/destructive powers of my free will vs. the redeeming, omnipotent presence of a good God who allegedly reigns over every human action on this planet, including my own. To what extent can mental illness dominate my free will? To what extent can God channel the effects of my free will toward his own ends? To what extent do I blame my sin-nature for actions I willfully commit, yet which seem out of my control?
If I’m bed-ridden because I have mono, I have a clear and good excuse for why I’m bed-ridden, and I have a name for it. If I’m bed-ridden because I’m depressed or crippled by anxiety, it’s not so simple. There’s no blood test to remind me why I’m sick. Instead I’ll start to doubt myself. What if, for instance, I’m not actually depressed? What if I’m just lazy? What if I’m just scared? Or weak? Or defective?
The greatest struggle I’ve encountered as a depressive is convincing myself that in the moments I’m incapacitated what I’m experiencing isn’t my fault. Because I can’t see anything keeping me emotionally down I’m disposed towards believing I’ve somehow chosen to be this way. My fate seems entirely too much up to me—the consequences of my decision-making appear as if they exist outside the purview of God’s sovereignty, and this is a terrifying thought.
This is how I can go from simple writer’s block to existential crises in a matter of minutes. I want to write; I have emotions that feel so strong and vivid, and thoughts, which are so clear for the short moment they flicker in my mind, and yet too often my best attempts to put them in writing are futile.
My faith teaches me that my free will—contrary to how I usually feel—is not a curse, but a gift from God, which he uses for his own perfect end: Proverbs 16:3-4 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. The Lord works out everything for his own ends.”
This is something I want to believe and yet which I often struggle to fathom. When I’m depressed I usually act in ways I don’t want to, or rather, I don’t seem to act much at all. I sit helpless, broken under the weight of my indecisions, wishing that someone else could live the next five minutes of my life for me. How can my plans succeed—how can God work them out for his own end—if my very will to act on these plans is completely lacking? How is my lying in bed going to be worked out for any end, let alone a positive one?
I wish there were simple answers to some of these questions, which I could accept. Simple answers do exist but rarely speak directly to my current experience: God is bigger than this, God is speaking to you in the midst of your struggle, You will come out of this having learned something great, God is a good, always, Keep trusting in him, maybe this is a test. At best, I can comprehend these answers intellectually, and maybe this is what I have to settle for. I know what they mean, even if they don’t always speak to my soul.
I can choose to believe that God doesn’t care about me—that the hope I have in God’s sovereignty isn’t real—but doing so never makes me feel any better. Perhaps God shrouds himself in mystery so we'll be forced to trust in him through faith and not assurance. Faith is a distinct choice and therefore, so is hope.
I can choose to have faith even in my blackest moments—when logic leads me to despair and I can’t quite understand why I should keep going; I can reorient my heart towards God and pray that in time my mind will follow, and I can do so even when I’m bed-ridden.
Have you ever felt cripple by anxiety or depression? To what extent can mental illness dominate free will? Does the extent of your free will ever scare you?