Reflections from the Edge of Depression

When we are crushed like grapes, we cannot not think of the wine we will become.

— Henri Nouwen

Last week, I posted a journal entry about how I felt “the weight of darkness looming at the edge of depression.” Today, I think I have crawled, then walked, to a relatively safe distance from that edge, but I can still barely feel its gentle, almost seductive pull.

If you have ever had a major case of depression, the threat of a mild case scares you because you know how easy it is to slip into the darker part of the valley. Depression is like a deep, dark vortex, sucking you and everything in your life into it. Last week, I could feel my fingers clutching into the dirt, desperately trying to stay in some kind of light and to keep from sliding deeper into the darkness. Ironically, the darkness is strangely inviting. It feels sickenly comfortable there to wallow in your self-pity and suffering.

The thing about depression, like any other illness, is that it focuses your attention on yourself and not others. The pain, or the perception of pain, shrinks your peripheral vision to tunnel vision. You can only see what is right in front of you. The illness robs your energy. You feel drained, nearly hopeless. The vortex pulls you in deeper and deeper.

Fortunately, I identified the problem before it went too far. It seems that just labeling the situation seemed to stop the pull into darkness. When I took inventory of where I was, I had noticed that I had not been praying as much as I normally do. As I wrote in a comment, “The words [did] not seem to satisfy or help or comfort or whatever, but I will persevere in prayer. I have heard that when you least feel like praying, that is when you most need to. Regardless of what I am feeling, I do know that God will never abandon me (or any of us).”

In the end, prayer helped. Several good nights’ sleep helped. A bright, sunny day helped. Family and friends helped. My energy level is up, although not a 100% yet.

Karl at St. Stephen’s Musing posted a quote last week from one of the desert fathers on suffering:

Abba Seridos was gravely ill one day, afflicted with a high fever that would not subside. Nevertheless, he did not ask God to heal him or even lessen his suffering. He asked only that God would grant him endurance and a spirit of thanksgiving.

Karl added, “This, of course, does not exclude the petitions for healing.” (Karl also had another quote about being “philosophical about your suffering” that I thought was a little too impractical while in the midst of pain. But he is right about the Jesus Prayer helping.)

To be honest, I am a wimp. I wanted out of my mild depression as fast as I could. I knew the dangers. I begged God for help. I am thankful for the experience (although I do not want to repeat it). I did learn a few things from going near the edge:

  • I am not a perfect person. Although I have made some improvements since finding faith and making the commitment to “put out in the deep”, I will never be perfect on this side of heaven. I am still broken, and always will be.

  • It is in our brokenness that we most need God.

  • God will never abandon me. Even if it looks like my darkest hour and everything seems to be going against me, He is there. Depression, loss of a job, cancer, or even death is not the worst thing that could happen to me.

  • I have learned a few other things about God, about myself, and about my relationship with Him and others, but the words do not seem to describe them. Words are useless to describe the undescribable.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, Can You Drink the Cup?, uses the metaphor of the cup to describe life.

The cup of life is the cup of joy as much as it is the cup of sorrow. It is the cup in which sorrows and joys, sadness and gladness, mourning and dancing are never separated. If joys could not be where the sorrows are, the cup of life would never be drinkable. That is why we have to hold the cup in our hands and look carefully to see the joys hidden in our sorrows.

When we want to drink our cup of life and drink it to the bottom, “we should be talking about real lives, not only hard, painful, sorrowful lives, but also lives so full of joy that celebration becomes a spontaneous response.”

Alleluia! It’s new day. I think I see some buds on the tree…

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