There is a character in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible that understands me. He experienced deep grief, severe depression, dark despair, and a crisis of faith. My loss has no comparison to his, but he uses the language of my pain.
Last week I wrote about Job’s (pronounced “Joe-b”) grief. Today I want to focus on his language of what is now called “complicated grief” and severe depression.
First, let me highlight the similarities of and differences between grief and depression. Both include intense sadness, insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss. Complicated grief often includes anger, irritability, difficulty with acceptance of the loss, and excessive focus on or complete avoidance of the object of their pain.
Depression, however, differs in that it does not dissipate with time and is not relieved when surrounded by friends and family. Depression is persistent. Grief occurs in cycles of intensity and is often triggered by memories and reminders. Depression is constant. Pervasive.
Depression also includes guilt not associated with grief. Suicidal ideations apart from thoughts of wanting to join the deceased. Feelings of worthlessness. Interruptions in or difficulties with activities of daily living.
Job had both the characteristics of complicated grief and severe depression. Hear him speak.
“May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived.’” Job’s mood was so depressed that he wished he had not been born. He goes on to say he wished the day of his birth would turn to “darkness” and “no light shine on it.” He doesn’t want his birthday celebrated. He would rather it be wiped off the calendar never to come again.
In his depression he wishes his days could be shortened because they “end without hope.” He feels like his “eyes will never see happiness again.”
Severe depression robs the light, the sparkle from your eyes. Recently, my son bemoaned the fact that I was not there for him during his growing years. He is right. My body was there, but my spirit was, at best, on life support. I spent all my energy going to work and trying to stay alive. When I got home I had nothing left to give.
More than once Job’s testy mood is demonstrated by lashing out at his friends with sarcasm. “Doubtless you are the only people who matter, and wisdom will die with you!” he says. Sadness, emptiness, hopelessness dogged his days.
Job speaks the words of a depressed mood: gloom, clouds, blackness, barren, cursed, vain, trouble. He speaks my language.
“I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning,” Job utters. All interest in life is gone. Pleasure is but an allusion to him. His days are spent with pain in body and spirit. His days go by, “without a glimpse of joy.” For Job, life has become a withering flower and a passing shadow. What time remains will be “full of trouble.”
There is no purpose in living. All is sorrow. What joy, what pleasure, what happiness may be present is hidden beneath the anguish of his pain.
My father shattered his left hand and forearm and broke his back in an accident in 1981. He was 55. His injuries were so severe that he was forced to retire on disability. It broke him. For the next year he sat in a chair thinking that life was over. He eventually recovered his spirit. But from time to time he would say, “Son, do you know how much money I’d be making if I was still working?” Part of the life he loved was dead. And years later he still mourned its passing.
Job speaks the language of a man who has lost interest or pleasure in life and in life’s activities. He speaks my language.
For Job the days are long and his nights are longer, “How long before I get up? The night drags on and I toss and turn until dawn.” Insomnia robs him of the rest he needs to cope and recover. There is no comfort to be found in his bed. What little sleep he gets is troubled by frightening dreams and terrifying visions.
I suppose I have expressed about every emotion in my sleep – fear, anger, sadness, joy . . . I have cried. Laughed. Kicked. Punched. Preached. Screamed. Pled for help. Defended. Been aggressive. Just this past week my wife had to wake me because I was fighting in my sleep. At times my family can be quite entertained by my night-time antics. At other times it is frightening and dangerous.
Job speaks the language of a man with insomnia. “My face is red with weeping; dark shadows ring my eyes.” He speaks my language.
“I am guilty – woe is me! . . . I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame.” Feelings of worthlessness and guilt burden the spirit of Job. “When I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me.”
Guilt can actually be a good thing. But this is not the beneficial kind of guilt. It is excessive. Inappropriate. Self-loathing.
Job speaks the language of a man tortured by the pangs of guilt and the sting of shame. “My days are past; my plans are shattered.” He speaks my language.
Fatigue and loss of energy have taken their toll on Job. “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?”
Job speaks the language of a man robbed of his vigor and struggling in the morass of exhaustion. “My life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest.” He speaks my language.
“Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near.” Somewhere in the depths of complicated grief and severe depression, a candle of hope is still burning in the soul of Job.
If it were not for hope, I could never walk in my shoes through the many precipices of recurring clinical depression. Hope keeps me alive.
Job speaks the language of a man with hope. However dim. However small. Hope shines. He speaks my language.
(Next week I will write about The Language of Despair.)
Thank you for reading
The LORD be with you.