Depression: I Am A Prisoner of Hope
“When I was young no one committed suicide-- we were too unhappy.” Woody Allen, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with depression-- and not just any depression. I am a special case. I have three different psychological maladies: major depressive disorder, dissociative amnesia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It seems that I have been depressed for my entire adult life, and if the experts are correct, I am terminal. I have received a life sentence. I can work toward becoming healthier, but I will be depressed for the rest of my life.
Walker Percy wondered whether or not depression was a sane response to life.
I’ve often wondered if Descartes ought to have said, “I hurt, therefore I am.”
My wife openly speculates that I have developed a friendship with my depression such that I don’t want to let it go. Given the excruciatingly slow nature of my progress, I can see why she would see it that way. But I don’t want to stay as I am.
I got depressed for good reasons. Self-protection is one of our strongest instincts, and it saved my life. We are wondrously made. The mind and body don’t allow us to cope with more pain than we can deal with at once. When we come up against trauma that threatens to undo us, our body and mind find ways to protect us.
When we are confronted with pain we can’t handle, it gets deflected to an unconscious part of ourselves where it is repressed until we are ready to deal with it.
Depression is the signal our emotions give us to alert us that it is time to take a journey to look for and process our repressed pain. Since this pain impacts us at every moment of our lives, whether we feel it or not, depression is not to be ignored. It is a signal for help that we ignore at our peril.
My mother used to tell me there is never a good time to have a child, it’s just that some times are worse than others.
That seems even truer of depression.
I don’t get to choose when I am depressed. Something within me decides, and it is up to me whether to suffer or deal with it.
For my part, I have spent most of my life suffering, because I didn’t know there was an alternative.
If I had been listening I would have known I have been depressed for the last 32 years. But I lived in a culture where it was not only politically incorrect to be depressed, it was a theologically impossibility. Minnesotans don’t get depressed; we just have moments of indigestion. Christians don’t get depressed; we merely have moments where our joy doesn’t feel as good as it should. Pastors don’t get depressed; they just have to deal with annoying people.
Me, depressed? Impossible.
I’ve got two Ph.D's and one’s in denial.
Until a few years ago I thought I was normal.
Thankfully, it seems God designed depression into the creation in order to help all of us find a way to work through the trauma of living in a fallen world. God made us in such a manner that the voice within that is trying to tell us to pay attention to our repressed pain gets louder and louder until even one as deaf as I can’t help but pay attention or stifle the volume by abusing alcohol or drugs.
But when God made us stubborn, I got a triple dose.
When I wouldn’t listen to my soul, my body decided to cease functioning.
It was the best thing that ever happened to me, though I must confess it didn’t seem so at the time.
Over the last four decades I’ve developed a very elaborate, and if I might brag, awesome coping mechanism. Despite the amount of pain within me, I developed a way to function as a “normal” human being. That coping mechanism served me well. It enabled me to function until I came to a point in my life when I was incapable of dealing with the pain.
And when I came to that point, depression possessed me and wouldn’t let go until I paid attention. Thankfully.
As I am still depressed, there is much that I don’t know about depression. What I do know is that you can’t handle it alone. You can try, but I can tell you not to bother. It won’t work.
The trauma I endured and the pain stored within is more than I can bear. I can’t face it alone. But I’ve learned I can face it with those who love me.
The most difficult thing I have ever done is to bring myself to share my pain with another. I’ve also discovered it is painful for the other to bear it with me. That’s why I need a team of others. I’ve got more than enough pain for one.
Nevertheless, I can testify to the fact that depression has been a gift to me. It forces me to confront what is killing me from within.
And as I do so with the loving help of others, the most fascinating thing occurs. Their love helps me work through the pain and I begin to experience healing. Pain I never imagined could be healed, is. Slowly, but truly.
Every bit of healing feels like a miracle. Maybe, because it is.
Depression is not a bad thing. Bearing it alone is.
I am glad scientists have developed medication to help those of us who are depressed. The medicine does not heal us, but it can help us function while the love of others who come alongside me helps me to process the pain and allow healing to take its place.
Does depression still hold me a prisoner?
Yes, and love gives me hope.
I am a prisoner of hope.
Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking relationship beyond the age of Individualism.” He is the Richard L. Bready Chair of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. He a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.
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