Mork appears in some of my earliest memories and Patch Adams made me want to be a doctor and the movie Dead Poet Society made me want to be a teacher. There seemed to be real kindness behind the smile. There seemed to be a good natured generosity inside. What do I know about his character? Maybe he was rude or impatient. Regardless, what’s clear is that this was a gifted man who lived an interesting life, could afford all he wanted, experienced success at many levels and made a significant impact on the world.
And, yet, one evening a few days ago, apparently, he couldn’t stand to live another moment.
The idea of wanting to die is so foreign to me. I fought for my life for the past year. I have to do a little grace-work to not be offended at the idea of someone throwing away something I worked and prayed hard to keep and am thankful beyond words for. I’m scared I might have to die early because of stupid cancer. My knuckles are white from my desperate clinging to the caboose of the train of life and here we have people casually hopping off the luxury car!
I simply can’t imagine. Even at my unhappiest (you know, like age 15) I was always too curious and hopeful about what’s around the corner to ever consider ending it. ***I certainly do not say this to brag – on the contrary.*** I feel quite fortunate to not have traveled to these emotional depths. I tend to fluctuate between intensely joyful, deeply thankful, moderately angry and a bit bored but pretty much never do I find myself in the realm of despair. The closest I’ve felt to that is feeling scared and sad at the idea of dying.
I don’t know why some of us enjoy the benefit of nicely balanced brain function and chemistry and some of us have depression triggered by any number of issues commonly referred to as a chemical imbalance but specifically: genetic vulnerabilities, a faulty mood regulation issue in the central nervous system, high stress environment or ineffective stress management, medical problems or medication side effects. Put another way, mysteriously, some of us float around in the easier emotions and others of us are plagued by chronic melancholy.
I don’t know a lot. I’m not a doctor or therapist. However I know some things about this shitty little demon because some of my favorite people struggle with it mightily. Depression is bad. Dark. Painful. Even evil, maybe. While I believe there are medical causes and solutions related to depression, I also sense that there is a spiritual side to it. It distorts one’s good mind and mushes into patterns of unhealthy, unhelpful thinking. Depression strangles joy. It snuffs out hope. It creates an alternate reality of lies. It makes the world seem absent of good things. It makes the worst case scenario seem most likely. It can make the simplest task seem like climbing Everest. By yourself. At night. With a broken foot. In a bikini.
I don’t know what this really feels like. But I know what it looks like. And it breaks my heart.
It also breaks my heart to hear what people say about depression. Just get over it. Buck up. Look on the bright side. Trust God (good advice, surely, but insensitive and simplistic and generally ill timed.) Do some yoga. Memorize this verse. Not that some of those things aren’t potentially useful. But just shut up. If there was a magic bullet, it would be for sale at Target, clearly marked. Ok?
This thing causes people to End Their Lives. Like, kind of a lot of people. And it sends others down the path of substance abuse, and that’s not a pretty picture either. It’s not a simple problem.
So what can we do? I don’t know, actually. I mean, I can’t fix it or tell anyone how to. There’s medicine and good counselors. Those help some people some of the time. There is exercise and stress management. There is good for you food and enough sleep. There is love and support. I know that Jesus is big enough to handle it, but I don’t know how to say that to a hurting person without sounding annoying. So I pray. And I ask other people to pray. And I don’t try to fix them. And I am thankful for the health that I have.