Sunday, November 16, 2014

My "Mental" Illness

Depression has been in the spotlight a lot lately, particularly in the recent and tragic events of several celebrity suicides.  People are talking, and that is very good.  People are taking notice, and that is very good.  As someone who has experienced occasional depression, and who is currently experiencing depression, I am glad that more people are realizing the need to take depression seriously.

And I hesitate to blog about this subject for several reasons.  I know it's controversial.  Those who believe specific things about depression, whether it's because they've experienced it first-hand, by walking through it with a loved one, or because they've studied it, are very adamant in their beliefs. Matt Walsh wrote a blog shortly after the death of Robin Williams that got all kinds of backlash.  I'm not afraid of backlash, but I am afraid of hurting people, as Matt Walsh did in the writing of that blog.  I did like a lot of what Walsh had to say, but if he did anything wrong, it was that he did the same thing that a lot of people who oppose his ideas on depression and suicide do, as well.

A lot of people seem to think depression is the same for everyone who experiences it.  Even if they don't think that's what they're thinking, their attitudes towards suicide seem to indicate their true thought processes.  People go to the extremes of thinking that all people who commit suicide are either making a horrible conscious choice, or that all people who commit suicide are too mentally ill to think clearly.

I don't have all the answers.  It's okay not to have all the answers, by the way.  But in talking about this with some others via social media, I realized what my thoughts on depression are.  No one who is experiencing it experiences it the same way.  And I don't have the grounds to say that all suicide is always the result of a conscious, awful choice.  I've been in some dark places.  I've been in some very dark places where it was all I could do to fight the demons (that I believe are both literal and figurative) that told me the world would be a better place without me in it.  But I've never attempted suicide, and God forbid that I ever do.  I don't know what it's like to be in that dark of a place.  I've always had control of my thoughts, to some degree, even if it was all I could do to just keep telling myself to hold on until morning.  Morning always came.  The night was so, so long.  But, oh, morning always came.

Some people might not have been able to think clearly enough to realize that morning was coming.  I don't know.

So I can't make any blanket statements.

But, and this is a but that might offend or hurt some people, I think there's a danger in going too far in the opposite direction and saying that all suicide (and all depression, but I'll touch on that later) is always the result of mental illness.  Our society doesn't like to deal with things that just can't be easily dealt with.  We like excuses.  We don't like to blame ourselves.  And we don't want to speak ill of the dead.  It's easier to deal with something like suicide if we can tell ourselves, "This loved one who left us didn't choose to leave us.  It was the depression.  It was the mental illness that killed my loved one.  It's the depression's fault."

I don't want to be insensitive.  I've lost friends to suicide.  I've had friends who have lost close family members to suicide.  It's awful.  There's just no way around that.  There's no sense to be made of it.  Yet we're a society that wants things to make sense.  It's easier to say that suicide is a result of a disease than the result of a very, very bad choice.

In the case of Robin Williams' death, many factors might have been at play.  He was suffering from Parkinson's and might have been having hallucinations.  But the thing is, we really don't know what was going on at the time of his death.  Sometimes, we just don't know.

And that's okay.

It's okay to not know things.

I think that we forget that sometimes, and we try to explain things.  We try to make excuses.  We try to find ways to make things make sense.

The problem is, suicide doesn't make sense.

It just doesn't.

I don't wish to offend.  I don't wish to hurt.  The thing is, if you're upset enough by anything I wrote above, chances are, you've already been hurt.  And deeply.  And I'm sorry.  I'm sorry for what you've been through and what you're going through.  Surviving a suicide is a grief no one should ever have to bear.  It doesn't make sense, and sometimes this world doesn't make sense.  And I'm sorry.

But sin and death exist in this world, and really, they were never meant to.  We're all subject to pain and grief and loss and hardship that God never intended for us.  But when Adam and Eve fell from grace, sin entered into the world, and we all have to bear the consequences.  Sometimes the pain we experience is the result of our own sin.  Sometimes it's the result of someone else's sin.  Sometimes, it's just a result of sin in general.  And this world is a hard, hard place in which to live.

And this is something else that might offend people, but I've already taken offense.  I take offense to those who make blanket statements about depression.  I take offense to those who say that all depression is a mental illness.  If all depression is the result of mental illness, then, because I experience depression, I'm mentally ill.

And maybe people who make such blanket statements are trying to be encouraging by saying that my depression isn't my fault.  I don't think that experiencing depression is my fault either, necessarily, but I'm not comfortable with this idea that I don't have any responsibility in how I live as a depressed individual.

If I wake up in the morning and don't want to get out of bed, I still get out of bed because I have things I'm supposed to do.  Is it easy?  No.  If I'm at work and I numb and disconnected from reality, I still work and try to invest myself in what I'm doing.  Is it easy?  No.  My particular brand of depression is more numb and apathetic than sad (though if I let myself have a pity party and invite my anxiety, I can get ridiculously sad pretty quickly), but I learned a long time ago that life is a whole lot more than what I'm feeling.  If I don't "feel" what I'm doing, that doesn't make it less real.  What I do is still important, even if I don't "feel" it.

And others might not be able to overcome it that easily, and there are definitely days when I struggle more than others.  But my depression is NOT a mental illness.  And what's more is, I don't necessarily want to be rid of it.

I read something somewhere (I wish I'd written down the source, sorry) that made some statement that depressed people's minds were so distorted that they didn't realize it was preferable not to be depressed.  Maybe that's where I am.  Maybe all of these thoughts are just the result of a mental illness, and therefore I'm just absolutely crazy.  But I don't think so.

I've been depressed, on and off, throughout my entire adult life.  Seasonal depression almost always hits me in the autumn, but I experience it at other times, too.  And what I've learned is that I do tend to think more deeply when I'm going through seasons of depression.  Artistically, some of my best song lyrics and writing have come out of times when I'm struggling.  And maybe I should think to ask God if I could have creativity without depression, but I've always kind of figured that it's connected.  I don't mean just creativity and depression; I mean life.

Life is not just joy.  Life is not just sorrow.  It's not just bursts of creativity or comfortable silences.  It's a journey, and I seem to be taking the scenic route.  Others have had problems with that, but I don't despair of who I am.  Sometimes my depression helps me slow down and look at things others might have missed, or that I might have missed if I weren't looking.

I don't see depression as a mental illness.  I don't see it as a gift either, really.  It's just something that is, that's part of what I have to experience along with everything else in this wonderful, awful life.

And this is more than just that old cliche about the only difference between a blessing and a curse is how you choose to see it.  I just know that I've got a path in front of me.  I don't always see the next step.  I just put one foot in front of the other, and pray I won't stumble.  And sometimes I do stumble.  And sometimes I retreat back a few steps.  And sometimes things are harder than others.

But one thing I'm sure of is that there is mercy in the struggle.

There is so much mercy.

Because the only illness I have is the same illness the whole world has.   It's not really a mental illness as much as it's an illness of the soul.  It's called sin.  There's only one cure for it.  And I'm just grateful that through all that I've experienced, I've met one named Jesus who has saved me from sin and self forever.  I struggle.  Oh, I struggle.  But my hope is in Him.

I can't speak for anyone else regarding depression.  All I know is that He's the One who has given to me songs in the night and joy in the morning.

And I figure as long as I'm traveling along this road of life, that's the way it's supposed to be.

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