I am in my fifth clinical depressive episode since 1999 and have been for more than 10 months. There are a few things different about this experience than the others.
It is not as severe. The lines between mild, moderate, and severe depression are blurry at best. For example, in the DSM moderate depression is defined as somewhere between mild and severe. Dah! Like that really helps. For me, the line that defines severe depression is consistent thoughts of death and/or suicidal ideations. Thankfully, I have not traversed that boundary this time.
A second difference is that it is up and down. Not in a bi-polar sense of extreme highs and lows, but in the sense of better and worse days. My journal is full of yo-yo like recordings. In one entry my mood is improving, three days later it is depressed. Stable. Down. Lifting. Dark.
Another difference is the fixation with what might have been and what ought to be. In previous episodes I have been occupied with staying alive and putting one foot in front of the other. Now, however, my mind spins with credentials lost, relationships broken, spiritual abandonment, and incongruous Christian walk. Although the former is far more frightening, it is also much simpler. You have one thing to think about – staying alive.
These thoughts are filled with neglect, regret, failure, unimportance, anger. It is the unrewarded effort. The untouchable soul. The rejected logic. The dismissed rebuke. The futility of revelation. When the house is quiet and everyone is asleep or gone, it the roar that screams against my peace.
Just this evening (June 19, 2018) I was telling my counselor that there was this persistent feeling that my life was a mistake. Oh no, not that I should not have lived, but that I should not have done with my life what I did. From the time I was 14 years old, I sensed that I was called to be a pastor/teacher. Now, however, with the way things have turned out and my inability to handle stress, I wonder if the “call” came from God or was it me wanting to walk in the footsteps of my father and brother. Perhaps I should have focused on the teaching part of ministry rather than the pastoral side. Can a series of mistakes made at 14 derail his life for the next 40 plus years? Leaving him to wonder in the desert? Uncertain? Detoured? Lost?
This episode has had its physical dimension. Sleep has eluded me night after night until I am so exhausted that I sleep for 12 or 14 hours straight. Nightmares are abundant. For 10 months this cycle has not abated and little has helped. “There is no long-term remission without sound sleep,” one entry in my journal states. Physical exhaustion results in mental and emotional depression.
I have gained weight and although it is currently stable I seem incapable of losing. I’ve had three cancer scares. Diagnosed with second stage kidney disease. Gall bladder surgery. A bad case of the flu. And a knee and a back that just won’t heal.
Please! Please. I’m not complaining. It’s the old warning about the straw that broke the camel’s back. Most people can handle one thing or two things or even three things. But, even a healthy person will eventually break if enough pressure is applied.
Hence, remission has been elusive. On May 31 I wrote, “I think I’m in remission.” On June 3, “depression.” It’s almost humorous. Remission is stalled. Short-lived.
Letting go is the key to my recovery, but it is so very painful and difficult. I asked my wife tonight, “Do you think I am less than the husband and father that I could be because of my inability to let go of the hurts of my past?” It was an unfair question, but I could see the answer on her face. My past is robbing me of my present joy and my future happiness. This cannot, must not, continue.
I have a challenge before me. The way is unclear. I’m not sure how to proceed. But I am determined to face it. Defeat it. Be victorious. By the grace of God.
The LORD be with you.