Healing: Input, Thermometers and Thermostats

I was sitting on the couch watching an episode of Breaking Bad when my wife sat down next to me. The scene was intense. It was important to the plot of the whole show. The kingpin drug lord was making a point to one of his underlings in a brutal manner. While the underling watched the drug lord motioned for a thug to shoot the man’s brother in the head. In the style of the show, there was no looking away by the camera. The bloody execution unfolded right before the lens. The living brother bent over the dead brother as he bled into a swimming pool. I leaned forward to see what would happen next, but what happened next was not on the television.

I heard a small gasp and a stifled cry from my wife and looked over to see huge tears streaming down her face. I stared at her wondering what was wrong and if it had anything to do with me (I was hoping not).

“What’s the matter, baby?” I said.

She said through her tears, “That’s so horrible. So awful. How can you watch that?”

Under normal circumstances I’m not at a loss for words, and in that moment I heard a string of responses start up in my head. Things like: it’s just a show, it’s not real, it’s good story telling, it’s interesting… but right then I heard something else that came from another place; a revelation from the Holy Spirit. Looking at my sweet wife, who is a thoroughly loving yet remarkably unsentimental person, I saw it so plainly that it shocked me. My wife was responding to the images on the television like a normal human being would respond. To see what I’d just seen and sit forward curious to see what came next was not normal human behavior. It was a perversion of, or at least a diversion from, proper emotional response.

Listen carefully: I understand the value of stories. I am a story teller. Some of the stories I tell include brutal things. I am not suggesting we cannot watch things like Breaking Bad nor am I saying we need to “clean up” or censor everything. That’s not the point I’m making here. What I want us to think about in this context (healing depression) is that we may contribute to broken emotions by repetitiously taking things into our hearts and minds that call for an emotional response in reality but instead produce either a wrong emotional response or no emotional response. The Breaking Bad incident happened during a lull in the depression, but later, when things were especially hard, I went back to this revelation and made some decisions I’m sure helped me recover from depression.

What is depression? It’s lots of things, but anyone who has experienced it will agree that the experience of depression is malfunctioning emotions; emotions out of synch with reality. Perhaps it is also true to say it is the absence of proper emotions. As strange as it sounds, when I was at my worst, I could not be sad for sad things to the same extent I couldn’t be happy for happy things. Everything hurt so much and so long that nothing changed my emotions very much. It was like I could watch the tragedy and the comedy of life without responding. While we explore the reasons we are depressed, it makes sense to look for things that contribute to this emotional short circuit and work on rewiring our emotions. Since I was dealing with a mostly downward mood, I shifted my entertainment input to comedies and live sports, both of which required little thought on my part. Even the live sports can be a problematic thing when we are too invested in a particular outcome – seriously folks highly emotional responses to the result of games played by millionaires? That’s just as jacked up as my emotionless response to Breaking Bad.

I’ll tell a story on myself. My team won the national championship for the first time a couple years ago and even though I could barely watch the games it did effect my mood. I was invested, and it would have hurt if they lost. But now I go back and regularly re-watch the games because they make me happy; and it’s a lot easier to watch when I know they win. I do it for the same reason I watch the comedies that make me laugh and rarely watch new ones. I do want to be entertained, but I want to heal my emotions more than I want new movies or games.

We have to get real with ourselves if we’re going to get well. Getting rid of input that contributes to improper emotional responses and loading up on things that make us happy is relatively easy and accessible even for really hurting people. Did your team win the big game? Go on YouTube and rewatch it. Did that movie crack you up years ago? Find it and stream it. Is there a place nearby that makes you smile? Go sit and relive it. Go and get those recycled emotions and put them in your heart. On the other side: is a show making you feel heavy? Ditch it. Politics bringing you down? Turn off the coverage. A place remind you of loss? Stay away from it. Remember this isn’t a forever thing, it’s emotional triage. In the long run, one of the ways you’ll know you’re getting better is that you’ll be able to watch shows, go to places, receive news and have proper human responses.

It’s great to have normal healthy humans around like my wife who can help us see what healthy responses look like; thermometer people. It’s even better to have a relationship with a thermostat person like the Holy Spirit who sets the right temperature for us, whispers when we should heat up or cool down, and then helps us do it.

Some of the things He’s led me to understand I just shared: avoid “heavy” entertainment, disengage from the 24/7 news cycle, take in things that make you laugh, relive events that made you happy. The ongoing help from my Helper is the gentle nudge I get from him when I’m taking in things and not responding properly or letting the input push me too far down (or too far up) emotionally; the thermostat bumps me and I listen. Often the Spirit reminds me of the word “I have it” which resets my emotions to the proper temperature. The result is that I am not as easily moved in ways that used to spiral into deeper depression. The Holy Spirit is many things, but one characteristic I appreciate about him is his relentless hopefulness. I sense his presence here more than anywhere else right now probably because I know I cannot generate hope on my own steam. He is happy to give away his hope. All I’ve done is begin responding to the thermostat.

We can recover proper emotions. What he has done for me he will do for anyone who asks. Let me know if I can help you. You can email me at: rkenwardjones@gmail.com

Healing: distractions vs distractions

I told you last time about Spirit possession and how it (He) is helping me recover from treatment resistant depression and anxiety. I also promised to share a bit more of my story. These two things fold together nicely in this article.

After I decided to make the big change of leaving my job (the idea I shared in the article titled Making Space for Healing) I found myself working in a very low stress, non-thinking job; a job that gave me plenty of time and space for healing while keeping us fed. I’m very grateful I got this job, but I’d be lying if I said it was fulfilling or helpful in making me feel useful.

Usefulness is a big problem for people suffering with depression and anxiety for two reasons: we often feel like our lives are not productive and that deepens our loss of self AND we often feel like we are a burden to anyone who loves us. It’s a double whammy. We have little or nothing to give and yet we take… it’s a bad bad feeling.

One day while I was walking around the grounds of my new work place (walking is a good activity for depressed people – it’s an activity that contradicts lying emotions that hammer away all day telling you you’re basically dead inside; if I’m walking I’m moving and if I’m moving I’m not dead yet) I started to talk to the Holy Spirit as if He was there. I did it because I’d begun to believe He was there even though I’d only had a bookish idea of Him for most of my life. As I walked and talked I felt Him ask me this question: what is this depression to you? I heard myself answer quickly: this depression is a distraction to me; to my life. I have a good life. Great wife. Great kids. A nice home. People who love me. I have talents I could use. Depression is a huge distraction. It eats up my time and keeps me from enjoying everyone and everything. Distraction is the specific word I used. As soon as I finished answering, I heard the Spirit say this: you can’t get over a distraction with a distraction. It was a simple statement, no condemnation or shame, just a word from a friend.

I chewed on that for a few days. I had some ideas about what He might be talking about. I wasn’t a huge video gamer but I’d taken to playing games on my phone that involved beating levels and getting more tools to beat more levels. I spent the few hours a night when I felt a little less horrible watching television shows I’d already seen. I spent hours upon hours researching depression on the internet. And, I am ashamed to say this but it’s true, I’d fallen into looking at pornographic images on many occasions.

This is a topic worth it’s own article, but for now I will say that anyone who believes people look at pornography as a sexual activity don’t know it and they don’t know themselves. It is always a root of something else. And for all you helpful Christian folks out there who want to shout “Aha! I knew the root of your depression was sin! Save it. There are plenty enough Job’s friends out there, do you really want to be one of those guys? I know what came first and while I’m not without sin, I did not have a pornography problem before I was depressed for about 10 years. Even then it wasn’t something I neglected and accepted. I confessed and owned it while I struggled along; I didn’t surrender to it.

Pornography is emotional heroin; very potent; a Grade A distraction. The “high” is always followed by a crash of guilt and shame until repeated use numbs the user’s emotions to the point they no longer feel much of anything. It certainly cannot help a person who is depressed and dealing with wounded emotions in the first place. We can have a debate about other things that may or may not be distractions, but pornography is always and only a self defeating distraction.

A friend asked me what I meant by distractions. Could I name them? Distractions vary widely from person to person so it’s better to look at the effect rather than the particular thing. The main effect is to blot out the emotional life and give the brain over to something that keeps it from landing on the pain. While I advocate physical activity as a part of healing depression, it can be something we use to avoid pain. Work is another one we can use as long as it isn’t a place that confronts us with the pain. You see why it’s best to have a friend help you navigate healing? Both good and bad things can be distractions. We need help to see our motives and we need help to turn away from the things that are actually emotional pacifiers that keep us somewhat content. These things keep us trapped in depression. We need to get rid of them and own the pain so we can begin to disown it.

The weekend after the Spirit told me about distractions I went to a new church where I didn’t know anyone. At the end of the meeting a person made some closing remarks. He said something like “I feel some folks here are burdened and need to get rid of that burden. I feel someone is very distracted by their burden. I am inviting you to come up here as we close and just give your burden to God.”

I would be lying if I said this made me run to the front and dump my burden. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t prayed for more than ten years for relief. I’d prayed and asked a lot of times, more than I care to recall. But the use of that specific word “distraction” was hard to ignore. So I went. I avoided the people standing there ready to pray. I didn’t want to tell anyone what I was doing. I had my reasons, not the least of which was that if this didn’t work I didn’t want to have to talk about it. But I did go. I knelt down and I said “you know what my burden is and you know I’ve tried to give it to you plenty of times. I don’t have much hope or faith, but here it is. (I envisioned my depression in my hands and I laid it on the step). It wasn’t very emotional or dramatic. It was all I had left after so many years of disappointment. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen. I almost did it like a check-in-the-box so I could tell the Holy Spirit to get off my back. But while I was kneeling there and about to get up, I heard this: “I have it. Eat whatever you want.” That last part is kind of funny. I talked in another article about some of the crazy things I tried to help my depression. On the day I went and laid my burden down, I had gone 8 straight weeks eating nothing – NOTHING – but meat. I’d lost almost thirty pounds and it hadn’t made a dent in the depression.

All this took about three or four minutes max. I got up and went back to my family. I didn’t tell them anything. When we went to lunch after church, I ate like a normal person. At the time I was taking 10mg doses of methylphenidate three to four times a day, again with no perceptible difference in the depression. I quit taking it that day and never took another psychotropic medicine.

Disclaimer: I’ve already written about meds. (The Pharmaceutical Rabbit Hole) If they work for you, that’s great. Even if they don’t work for you I don’t suggest you quit cold turkey. I’m only telling you what I did. I’m not even sure why I did it. The Holy Spirit never said anything about it one way or the other. I’d quit all meds a few other times and it had not gone well. I ended up back on them. In fact, this time I didn’t tell anyone I had quit meds for quite a while because I was afraid I would fail again. I was not very confident in the “I have it” word. When hope gets stepped on long enough it isn’t easy to believe anything can change. And things did not change quickly this time. I had horrible days. I had days of just barely getting up from bed in the morning and making it back to bed at night, but things did start to change. Specifically that word kept coming back to me when things were very rough. “I have it.” I would hear in my head and heart and I would repeat it. That’s either true or it’s not. You either have it or you don’t. I will believe you have it even though it feels like you don’t. Ok. You have it. And I would go on. And I would also hear Him say “you can’t get over a distraction with a distraction,” whenever I went to mindless and/or destructive things that I’d used to keep the pain away.

I began to do other things like work out, or read, or write. I noticed I had enough energy to do those things. I realize now that the energy I used to keep myself distracted (which was either neutral or negative) was energy that I could use to do something life affirming (positive). The prompting of my great Friend Holy Spirit was just the thing to nudge me into choosing to live. No illusions though; it was a choice to live in the pain. It was a choice to walk with all the emotional noise playing full blast in my internal headphones. Those songs get to be like the shuffle function on my iPhone; there are three hundred songs in the playlist, but it only plays 10-15 over and over again. The depression playlist is: fear the reaper, regrets of the past, loss loss loss, useless, never gonna change, wasting days and wasting nights, worthless, and the number one hit: hopelessly devoted to hopelessness. No wonder we want distractions! But we can’t get over a distraction with a distraction.

In another article (Bad Days and Good Words) I’ve written about how I began to recognize how much better I was getting. It was sloooow going. I know everyone wants a quick solution. If you’ve never been in that much mental/emotional pain you may not understand how it feels for someone to tell you it’s probably going to take months or years to feel better. People want to be a nail and not a screw. They want a one time whack that will drive them into the wood. A screw takes more time. It goes into the wood one thread at a time. But when it gets cold in the winter those nails back out while the screws hold fast. It’s a better idea to quit looking for something to whack you and seek something that will secure you in the wood (all you middle school minded people are thinking my analogy would work better if I said you need to get screwed, but come on that’s low hanging fruit for us sophisticated folks). Moving along… isn’t it true many of the things we tried to get over our depression are really just distractions? Hammers? We can’t get over a distraction with a distraction. We need an actual solution that moves us along even if it is slowly. The best solution is the person of the Holy Spirit who helps us along bit by bit and gives the right word when we need it.

If you are like me and you are using distractions to cope with depression and anxiety, why not try using that energy on one life affirming thing; if possible something you love to do. Take a walk. Bake something for someone. Listen to an audiobook. See if you can just get that first thread to turn in the wood. Try to be honest with why you are doing the things you are doing. Ask for the Helper (one of the names of the Holy Spirit) to help you see your motives. Healing is possible. We can get our lives back and get those lousy songs to quit playing in our heads. If I can help you let me know.

Healing: How to Keep Going

So far in this series of articles about chronic, untreatable or barely treatable depression and anxiety, I’ve spoken in terms of things anyone can understand and apply. In the remaining articles I’m going to shift more to my specific journey and how I found help. The funny thing is I believe many of the articles I’m going to write will involve habits and/or methods you can apply outside the framework I’m going to suggest and you will find relief. I recently had a talk with a friend who was finding relief with a therapy that has many of the elements that work for me and has no connection to what I’m about to share with you. It was interesting comparing notes with her and realizing that someone developed a therapy that I had discovered on my own. Well, not exactly on my own – but I will get into that shortly. I believe the question is one of sustainability. I’m sure if you’re reading these articles and you or someone you love suffers from TRD you aren’t just interested in getting relief, you’re interested in a sustained relief – a lasting solution. This was one of the main reasons I wanted off the pharmaceutical Mary-go-round; it was so obviously unsustainable.

If you’re brave enough to read these articles and start applying these things to get free, I’m sure it has taken a lot of effort. I also know that we people with TRD don’t have a lot of energy or hope. Even if we see a little progress, we can easily lose steam. Discipline is not our strong suit, not because we are lazy or weak, but because the nature of TRD is to steal hope, and whether you know it on a conscious level or not, hope is the essential core of motivation. In order to get well and stay well, I believe we need continuous help, motivation, and discipline that are not coming from our broken cisterns. We need more than a blueprint, we need a builder. We need a person to take us along, not a plan we have to follow on our own. We need someone with us all the time, someone who is able to know us intimately and lead us confidently. We need a spirit guide.

I’ve tried to do some research into the topic of spirit guides. It’s messy and I’m not sure I’ve got enough of a grip on it to say too much other than the idea has existed a long time across diverse cultures. Native American totems may represent animal spirit guides and shamanism seems to be the search to find spirits that can either guide or be guided to help us. Modern religious movements are fascinated with connecting to a spirit world to guide us in the physical world. I guess the extreme end of the concept of spirit guides would be those who explore spirit possession. This makes sense to me, especially if we are struggling with TRD.

Imagine you’re out golfing and you hit your ball into an impossible spot in the rough, behind a tree a long way from the hole. What are your options? You could just quit and give up. You could cheat and kick the ball to a better spot. You could walk up to the ball and rehearse in your mind the shots you’ve seen great golfers like Phil Michelson or Tiger Woods hit and try to copy them. Wouldn’t the best of all be this: what if you could be possessed by the spirit of Phil or Tiger right when you needed to hit the shot? All their confidence and skill and muscle memory and experience could be yours. If you really needed to hit that shot, and you couldn’t cheat or quit, spirit possession would be a wonderful option, wouldn’t it?

But it does sound weird. Spirit possession. And what happens after the golf game is done? I’m not sure I want the spirit of Tiger or Phil hanging around. Maybe it wouldn’t be very nice to have them in there all the time. Their spirit might make me do weird stuff. And what’s this got to do with depression and anxiety any way? I said in a previous article (Healing) that if you’ve ever felt bad enough for long, enough you’d be open to trying anything if you thought it would make you feel better. What about spirit possession? Would you try it? If you have severe depression and anxiety it’s likely you’ve already tried chemical possession. Pharmaceuticals help some people. We can talk about those things, but what if they don’t work for you? And what if the spirit of Prozac turns you into a person you don’t like? If it costs you your personality it isn’t really a cure. And nobody wants to lose themselves to depression or to its cure. We just want to be ourselves. We want to be present in our present without all the pain.

If I told you you could be possessed by a spirit that would help you get well; would walk you through the pain; would keep you being you, and was expert at living the life we all want to live, would that interest you? What would it cost? What’s the catch?

I told you healing is possible. Here is how I’m finding my way out of TRD; how I’m finding these steps and methods I’m writing about. I found a person to help me. As I said, we don’t need a plan to get better, we need a person to take us to healing. A person, not a plan. And the person needs to be with us all the time because depression and anxiety don’t take coffee breaks. The person needs to be inside of us because the problem is there. The person needs to be real, trustworthy, and separate from us because we need a voice to lead us that we know isn’t us – if we could direct ourselves we would have done it long ago. We need a personal spirit possession.

You see it coming. Here’s where the guy tries to convert me to Christianity. Yes and no. If by “convert” you mean I am suggesting that you say a prayer and read a book and go to meetings and stop doing bad things and do good things, then, no. That’s not what I’m suggesting. I’m suggesting that you should invite a spirit to possess you. This is actually what Christianity is. It isn’t a book or a church or a code of behavior. Christianity is an invitation to spirit possession. If you are skeptical about this it’s probably because you’ve accepted a form of Christianity that leaves out the essence of what Christianity is. You’ve been told about the church or maybe you’ve already tried the version I call the Father, Son, and Holy Bible version of Christianity. But I want to tell you about the version that Bible actually explains. It is good news for people like me who are helpless and hopeless. Those other versions of Christianity leave all the work at my feet. All the discipline, all the change, all the obedience lands on my back. Sure they talk about getting me out of hell when I die (and nobody I’ve ever talked to wants any part of hell, even atheist friends would rather not go there) but I’m in hell now and I can’t get out. If it all depends on me I’m lost and I’m lost. That’s not the good news I’m supposed to find in the Bible – not the “gospel” they claim we all need. But there really is good news if we just read it for ourselves.

Here is the good news the Bible actually lays out as simply as I can put it: God wants to be our friend. He wants to be in a relationship with us. Anyone in a relationship knows that someone is going to make a mistake and that is going to mean one of two things: either forgive the offense or end the relationship. The difference in having a relationship with God is that He isn’t going to be the one who makes a mistake, we are. He has a plan to forgive every offense so we can always keep our relationship with Him without worrying about it. That’s what Jesus dying on the cross is about: total forgiveness forever. He does all the heavy lifting. Just like any relationship we are free to accept His friendship and His forgiveness; our choice. We can’t have a relationship with anyone without making the same choices. This is all good news but it gets even better. Jesus told people that if they decided to accept God’s friendship, they could receive a gift and that gift would be a person named the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of Christ. He said this person would be our helper, counselor, and comforter. Jesus actually taught spirit possession.

This may sound intimidating. What would it be like to be possessed by a Holy Spirit? If you’re like me you’ve heard of and seen some really weird things that are associated with being “filled” with the Holy Spirit. I’m not going to go into that. I think it’s a good idea to question allowing ourselves to be possessed by any spirit. And when you think about it clearly, no spirit has more potential to mess up your life than the spirit of an all powerful God. All I can say is that we don’t have to guess what it would look like to be possessed by this Spirit if we just read the accounts of Jesus’s life. This is what it looks like. It – He – is the Spirit of Christ and He will lead us to live the life described in those accounts. It isn’t a weird life. It’s a life full of friends and work and parties and peace. It is a life of rest and a life that endures suffering, questioning, and fear and never loses hope or gets cynical. It is not an anxious or depressed life. Even people who don’t believe Jesus had anything divine in Him admire the life He lived. It is a loving life and a full life even though it wasn’t long. Would you like to sleep in a storm? How about having answers for people who hate you and try to trip you up? What about a life that is able to forgive quickly and laugh easily? A life that overcomes prejudice and welcomes any kind of person with easy hospitality? Even a life, if you can accept it, that brings miracles to hurting people? And all of this can be ours. We can have the Spirit of Jesus in us.

Questions? Won’t it mean that I’m no longer me if I’m possessed by the Holy Spirit? Won’t He boss me around and mess up my plans and replace my desires? The answer to this question is pretty simple. God wants friends, not robots. He wants love, not slaves. Religions are about obedience and control, usually by a group of religious “insiders” who have it all figured out and use their inside knowledge to manipulate us. But you see the gospel makes everyone an insider. Everyone gets the full benefit of friendship with God. This flips obedience on its head. When we get the Holy Spirit we get the ability to hear God for ourselves – from the inside out. We don’t obey our friend’s wishes to make them our friends, we do it because we love them and we love what they love. Obedience to God is actually just God helping us to do the things that will make us happy. He made us and the world and He is deadly serious about us enjoying it all.

The Holy Spirit is gentle like Jesus – same life – look at how Jesus talked with people who were not getting it right. Did He come off like a jerk? Or a patient friend leading people into the good path? And even when He got right with people wasn’t it loving? I can’t imagine a true friend who won’t or can’t set me straight when I need it. I believe the whole point of the Holy Spirit coming and being inside of us is to help us become us. After all “holy“ is just another word for “complete” or “whole” or “healthy.” And isn’t that what we are trying to do? Isn’t depression an interruption and a distraction from being us? Being whole?

This has been a long article. I hope you’ll let this idea sink in and ask God to be your friend – accept His friendship and His gift of, well, His gift of Himself in the form of His Holy Spirit. I’m going to write from here on as a person possessed by this Spirit who is guiding me and helping me. He deserves all the credit so I’m going to give it to Him. I believe the articles that follow will be helpful but I’m not sure many of us can keep it going without the kind of help I’m suggesting here. As always, healing is possible and available for you. If I can help please don’t hesitate to ask.

Bad Words and Good Days

“How was your day?” My wife asked me, looking into my eyes hopefully. I didn’t say anything. I just looked back at her and thought of how to answer. And then I cried. It wasn’t an unusual day. Nothing happened. It was no different from the day before and no different from 15 minutes before she asked. Why cry? It is not enough to describe depression as a long series of bad days. Depression is waking up in prison in the pre-dawn darkness of your execution day with no hope of anything changing. The sun never rises, the dread never relents, there is no escape, everything reminds you that you are in jail, everything repeats the sentence pronounced against you by a judge you’ve never seen: you shall die while you wait to die. So some times when my wife or another innocent bystander dropped by my jail cell and asked how I was doing or how was my day, I cried.

As I began to heal from treatment resistant depression, I started to notice the way I answered the question: “how are you doing?” Specifically I noticed when I had a day that wasn’t as bad as the one before, or when I had a couple of days that felt a little better, I was hesitant to answer the question honestly. I was hedging my bets. I would never say “I had a good day.” The most I would say was “today wasn’t as bad as yesterday” or “I’ve had a lot worse days than today.” This made me curious. Why would I hold back hopeful information?

A quick analysis of this habit gave me an answer. I was so used to feeling bad that I had developed a defensive strategy to protect myself from people, places and things that required me to expend energy. I knew my tank was low from the moment I woke up and I had to be careful not to run out of gas. When I was having a little bit better day or two, I would not say so because it meant people might begin to expect more from me; more that I was pretty sure would not be there when I needed it. Keep expectations low. Keep my words in line with my dark reality. And there is another aspect of it. The depression never lifted very far or for very long. Every time I thought I might be getting better it boomeranged against the back of my head. They say many prisoners of the Nazi death camps would not leave even when the guards ran away and left the gates open. They couldn’t accept the possibility of change when they’d been hopeless so long. Hopelessness is its own kind of paralysis.

I listened to my words more closely and discovered how much I used the word “bad.” I used it a lot: I feel bad, I had a bad day, things are going badly. It seemed like I should do something about this. It seemed like I might be the person repeating the jail sentence over myself again and again. Maybe if I could find new words it would help me change. It couldn’t hurt. So I changed my words a little at a time. There were lots of adjustments that emerged once I got started. Using the word “bad” turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. I’m not going to bore you with my list of negative vocabulary words I had to weed out of my life, but I will share the most significant one because I’m pretty sure it will help you. What we decided to do was to substitute “hard” for “bad” when it came to describing my days. At first, when my wife asked me how my day went, I’d usually stumble over bad and get to hard. Before long, I would say it had been a hard day, and not too long after that I began to say this: It was a hard day, but hard days are not bad days. Hard days mean I am working, I am trying, I am moving. You see the difference? Bad days are just days to endure. That is what the depression jail cell is; something to be endured, not lived. Hard days are working days. Hard days are the days spent lifting weights and building our body and studying for a career. Hard days are preparing for the day I get out of this cell. Soon the hard days felt like accomplishments instead of feeble scratches on the cell wall marking off the passage of time. Eventually I had the confidence to say “today was not as hard as yesterday” and that led to “today was a good day.” And they really began to be good days!

While this transformation happened I found out that my tank was not as empty as I thought it was. One day about six months into the walk out of depression, we went to visit friends. As we sat in their back yard talking, the inevitable question came: so how are you doing? I said I was having a lot of hard days, but then for some reason I began to think of things that had happened since I’d made the space for healing. I ticked them off: I had not been able to read anything for about two years, but now I was reading again. I had not been able to workout more than one day a week, but now I was working out 5-6 days a week. I had not been able to listen to music, but now I was enjoying it. I had not been able to write, but now I had started to write a novel. Sitting there I realized that I was doing great compared to where I had been only six months ago. I saw that I was no longer in jail at all! Depression is a distortion of our image. It is a funhouse mirror that we use instead of reflecting on our true state. Language plays a large part in perpetuating or breaking the image. Try it out. Find your own distorted words and make your own substitutions. Stop pronouncing your own death sentence. Sentence yourself to life. Ask your friends to help you see you more clearly. Let me know if I can help you. I’d be glad to do it.

Side note: Many of the things I’m writing about began around the same time. It may be that some are more significant for your healing than mine. The combination of these things is potent – kind of the opposite of what they tell us about dangerous drug interactions. Emotional bandwidth, making space for healing, getting a new perspective on medicine, changing our words, and a few more things I’m writing articles about have the potential to combine in ways that will move the immovable object that’s sitting on our chests. We can walk out of this jail. Believe it.

Everything Sad is Coming Untrue

I was mowing the lawn when a friend called and shared some bad news. I should say he shared some more bad news. I hung up the phone and went back to mowing. I love my time in the yard. After many years of relentless depression it has become a place of joy. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I could barely function. The grief was so heavy and I felt so useless that I retreated to the yard and mowed the grass just so I could accomplish something – anything – useful; something that would say I had some value. It was a pitiful declaration of being alive in spite of the weight of death inside me. I did not enjoy it, I only wanted to get it done. I was so sad all the time that everything tasted sad. There was no place to go that didn’t feel sad. There was nothing to see that didn’t look sad. Everything was sad. The yard was one of the few places I could swim in a sea of sorrow and, if not move forward, at least tread water. I used to shed a lot of tears while I worked in the yard. They were like juice from a crushed piece of fruit. The sorrow squeezed my heart so hard the tears just came.

While I mowed, I listened to an audiobook about Winston Churchill. He was familiar with depression to the point his loved ones set people to watch over him lest he give in to it. He lived in sad times with enough bad news in any given day to crush anyone. Did you know he cried a lot? It comes up again and again in the book. Churchill cried publicly. He cried without shame. Churchill’s tears. It makes me cry to think of it. And as far as I can tell, he had no reason to believe things would change. I mean he had no logical reason. He believed in spite of all the bad news. He spoke to the people with the facts. He spelled out the bad news. Then he told them they would prevail. There was something hard in him that did not break. He was crushed and sad and he cried and he did not break. He believed. When he told the people they would prevail, they believed it too. I think they believed it because he did. I can’t see any other reason why they should have believed it.

Mowing. Listening. I decided to switch to music. There was a song I wanted to hear. Everything Sad is Coming Untrue by Jason Gray. I listened and I mowed and I cried some more. But I cried the most when I heard these words:

Every winter breaks upon
The Easter lily’s bloom

This is the hard thing in me that’s not going to break. Depression couldn’t crush it; it only drove it deeper into my being. I died a thousand deaths in my yard. I attended the funeral for my happiness. But there was something in me that was not me. Everything else in me was pressed down into the ground; into the perpetual Narnian winter that knew no Spring.

Life is coming Alive
Death is destined to die
And love…

Love. It is love in me that could not be crushed. Not my love for others or love for my own life, not even my love for God could withstand the depths of the coal mine. It was His love for me that hardened to diamond in the emotional hydraulic press. God loves me. He loves me. I believe. I believe. I believe.

I’ve had enough bad news to last a long long time. People are sad all around me. People wonder if this war will flood over them. Can we prevail? Do not look away. Do not deny the bad news. Do not hold back your tears. It looks bad. It looks hopeless. We’ve suffered much loss. We expect more. Now. Let me tell you. We will prevail. We will. Believe with me. God loves us. He loves you. This isn’t another thing, it is the thing. Anyone presenting a war strategy that leaves Jesus out is sadly mistaken. Listen. God spoke to all of us in Jesus. He said it plainly. He made it simple enough for a child to grasp. He said I love you; all of you. Can we be friends again? Come back to the garden and this time, eat from the Tree of Life. That other tree was poison from the first bite and it is today. Listen. Stop eating from it. The knowledge of good and evil isn’t helping anyone. You eat it all day long. You feed yourself on your news and your social media and your politicians, and it’s made you sick and weak and given you a stomach ache. The other tree is right here. Life. Eat it. Take it in. All day long. Taste it. God loves me. God loves me. God loves me.

Broken hearts are being unbroken
Bitter words are being unspoken
The curse undone, the veil is parted
The garden gate will be left unguarded

Now let’s win. Let’s play like the outcome is assured. It is. Hate is a parasite and sorrow is the echo of the death of death. Love prevails because God is love. Easter is the proposal of heaven. Down on one knee God says “I love you, will you marry me?” The engagement is sealed. His promise ring around my finger is the Spirit of Christ. The wedding day is set. The celebration is here. Let’s put on wedding clothes while the bombs fall. Let’s declare that we are subjects of the King before we are citizens of a country, or members of a race, or constituents of a party. We are the beloved of God. What can they give us that compares? And how will they take away from us what heaven has proclaimed over us? We are begotten and beloved not buying and behaving. Listen. We are the change. Let heaven speak to you. Let it whisper. Let it shout. Let it resonate. Jesus repeats it. He doesn’t mind saying it again. He is like a lovesick suitor who cannot resist turning back to get another kiss and to say one more time “I love you.” He never tires of saying it and will say it until we hear it; say it till we believe it; say it till we feel it; say it till we know it; say it till everything sad comes untrue. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Could it be that everything sad is coming untrue?
Oh I believe that everything sad is coming untrue.
In the hands of the One who is making all things new.

When I sat down from my mowing I wrote this down. I realized it is already happening. I’ve already lived it here in this yard. His love for me is gently persuasive and the sadness is gone. I am helping Him to do it in my family, my work, my neighborhood. I know it will work for everyone. I know His love is the cure that runs in my veins. I rested from my labor and wiped the good sweat from my face. On my patio where I used to cry without hope, I smiled and watched my bluebirds building a nest.

The frozen rivers run
The death of winter comes undone
Whispers of Kingdom come
While the bluebird sings

Everything
Everything that I thought I knew
Everything
Everything sad is coming untrue

Making Space for Healing

During the quarantine of ‘20 we cleared out two crawl spaces, the attic and the shed. We found a lot of things we had forgotten; most of it went to Goodwill, a little to the landfill, a few items went back into storage, and fewer still returned to the land of the living. It was therapeutic, getting rid of useless stuff in the attic, but the most practical thing we cleared out was the shed. We use the shed for storing bikes and yard tools and other odds and ends. It took work to sort it all out and reimagine how to use the space, but now that it’s done, it’s easier to get to the useful and necessary things for everyday life.

About nine years into the cycle of depression and anxiety that stole so much of my life, I came to the conclusion that I would not get better unless I made space for healing. I needed breathing room, or I would drown. I needed to reimagine my life; to see life without depression and anxiety as its defining characteristics. This meant leaving my job and accepting a season in which healing was the priority. It meant moving one of the biggest things in the shed so that everything else moved.

Much of the way we are told to treat depression is adding something to our lives; a pill, a counselor, a diet, an exercise regime. Those things may have their merits, but they can also be a matter of working around stuff that needs to move in order for us to live well, and to get healthy. We might need to remove and reorder things rather than adding things. We may just need space to heal.

Depression has gravity. It draws things into our lives we don’t necessarily want or need. The longer depression remains in our lives the more it sets up its own miniature solar system of misery. People and tasks, attitudes and habits begin to orbit around the depression. When this continues for a long period of time, we are dehumanized; we become depressed people; eventually we become depression itself. This is part of the disease and plays a role in perpetuating it. Our vocabulary changes. Our countenance changes. Our bodies change. We need to break up the system. We need to reimagine our lives and make space to change and heal.

When I worked as an intelligence officer in the navy. I met a civilian who worked with the tech side of our organization. He was a nice guy and once in a while we’d chat. One day he told me he didn’t like his job very much but it paid the bills, and he had a lot of family obligations with college aged kids, and he had a mortgage and… a shed full of stuff. I asked him what he really liked to do. He told me that even though he had no experience in medicine, he thought he’d like to be a doctor. While he was talking it hit me – why did he have to keep doing life this way? I blurted out “why don’t you quit your job, apply to school, and become a physician’s assistant?” It wasn’t premeditated. It just came out. I remember the look on his face. There was this shadow of doubt and then I said something like “why not just look at it as a possibility? Think about it differently. It’s your life after all.” Not long after that I transferred to a new command and lost track of the man.

A couple years later I went back to my old office and I ran into him. He was a different man. His countenance was different. His physical energy was different. Before I could ask him about the change, he told me he was about to finish up PA school. He said that after our talk he went home and discussed the possibility with his family and they were for it. The process had been tough on them and had caused some disruptions in their lives, but they’d gotten through it. He was so thankful and insistent on praising me that it felt like too much. It was almost embarrassing. I hadn’t done anything. But as I think back on it now, I see that it was a big deal. He had never taken the time to reimagine his life. He had never given himself the space for things to change. All it took was a suggestion. It made all the difference in the world. When he was willing to move the one big thing – his job – everything changed.

I don’t advocate making change for change sake. If you are fairly functional you may not need to move the big things. You may be able to improve your life with less drastic measures. But if you are dealing with treatment resistant depression, you need to make space for healing. You need to create a season in which healing is the priority. You need to make a big change to break up the depressive center of gravity in your life.

Do you want to get better? Are you sure? What seems so big that you won’t consider moving it? I left my job and took a significant pay cut. I changed the center point of my community and had to alter the way I related to most of my friends. I made some people mad and disappointed others. Everything shifted, but now I know how to get to the essentials without stumbling over stuff. There is room to breathe.

Take some time to think about your life. Do you have to keep doing the job that is sucking your life away? Do you have to live in the place you don’t like? What if you didn’t have to make the same amount of money? It helps to think of space to heal as a season for healing. Maybe you love your job but it stresses you out and keeps the shed too full for other things. What if you stepped away for a year or two? And what if you moved to another place for a season? Birds migrate, we can too. Maybe all you need to do is reimagine your life and it will be enough to break you loose from depression’s gravity. Go ahead and dream it. Live anywhere and do anything. Allow yourself the freedom to be free.

We can change. We can be healed. You can reimagine your life. It will cost others and you will need others to help you, but depression is already costing others around you and asking others to help us is ok. You can ask me. I’d love to help you. I bet there are folks already in your life who will help too. Let’s do it. Let’s clean out the shed and make space to heal. It helped me a lot and it can help you.

Depression & Emotional Bandwidth

For many years we hosted Chinese students who lived with us while going to high school in the States. We seem to be a family that can adapt to having people in our home and, for the most part, it did not create disturbances in the way we lived. We just treated them like they were our kids and they treated us with respect. Two of them grew to be what we now call our “Chinese sons.” We’ve been to China with them and met their families and while they are now living in other towns they often come home to be with us. We love them. Our kids love them. They count them as brothers. We made room for them in our lives. And there was more room.

When my daughter was born I discovered many things, but the most profound was the expansion of my Grinchy heart. I knew I loved my wife and family, but the first time I saw my little girl I realized there was a new dimension to love I’d never known even though I’d seen it playing out in others all my life. I thought I knew it but then I experienced it. It was like seeing triangles all your life and suddenly discovering they were just sides of a pyramid. My heart could do things I didn’t know it could do.

A few years later we decided to add another baby, but not before we talked long and hard about it. We were so in love with our little girl. Would we be able to love another person this way? I had my doubts. It really troubled me. What if bringing another baby into our lives meant we didn’t love either one the way we loved the first? We talked with people who had already done it and they all said the same thing: you don’t understand it now, but you will be able to love them both with your whole heart. I admit I wasn’t fully convinced, but being forearmed with the expanding heart experience from having our daughter, I agreed to try it again. And again my heart surprised me. Love surprised me. We loved our son the same way we love our daughter; comprehensively and profoundly. I had to change my paradigm again. It seemed the triangle wasn’t just a pyramid; that my heart was more like a paper football made of a very large piece of paper and it could keep unfolding – maybe infinitely. There was more room.

During this time I began teaching a Sunday School class. It was only a little group of people to start, maybe eight of us. Each week I noticed this feeling inside me that started to grow. I didn’t know these people very well but the feeling was like an echo of the love I felt for my family. The class grew and visitors began to come and I found myself telling them I loved them. The words just came out of my mouth without much thought. I got some strange looks but I couldn’t help myself. Soon I began to realize I really did love these complete strangers. Some of them became people I knew intimately but that happened later. My heart was doing that thing again; unfolding and making room for more and more people. There was more room.

I’m betting that a lot of people understand this love thing better and more naturally than I do. My wife is more wired to love first and ask questions later. I’m more cautious and contemplative. But even if you don’t love many people I bet you feel a desire for it. We feel the desire to love and be loved and we sense the possibility. It’s in us. There is a huge emotional bandwidth for love; it might be infinite. Test it out and be honest: can you imagine a scenario where you love too many people? Would you ever be able to tell someone “I’ve got so many people who genuinely love me, I just can’t take another”? No. We are wired for lots of love.

It took me a long time to see the other side of this emotional bandwidth thing. Feeling bad about people has the opposite affect on our hearts. I mean exactly what I say. It’s not just hating people that goes to work on our hearts. It is holding people in a place inside us marked “this space reserved for idiots.” This may not be too problematic for those who are relatively emotionally healthy, but it is deadly in people with depression and anxiety. It can choke off emotional bandwidth to the point that we can’t function.

One of our Chinese students who lived with us was a big time online gamer. It usually wasn’t a problem, but at nights when we tried to stream movies and he was running his games, it sucked up enough of our WiFi bandwidth that every five minutes we got the spinning circle of death buffering thing. It made me very unhappy. It’s no fun trying to watch a movie in three minute segments. It ruins the whole show. Feeling bad about people can do this to us.

Just as our hearts seem to be created for infinite love, just a little criticism, ill will, judgment and – drum roll please – CONDESCENSION – is like one of those tiny little pellet sponges you can get at the Dollar Tree for your kids. Drop it in some water and sproing! It’s a big ole T-Rex. We are just not made for the stuff. Another test: isn’t it true that you can remember a slight against you longer than you remember a compliment? Isn’t it more likely for you to tell a friend that someone was rude to you today than to tell them someone did you a courtesy? Be honest. What’s more common?

Emotionally healthy people are not bitter people. It could be that the seeds to our depression and anxiety are sown by others but watered by us. If this becomes a habit we can end up with a whole prison block of people we keep in our hearts that we feel bad about. And we have to house them and feed them and make sure they don’t escape. It’s exhausting. It steals emotional bandwidth. It is the opposite of adding more people we love. There is not more room. I really believe there is no room at all for these negative feelings. Even one is one too many.

Part of my recovery has been the rejection of bad feelings toward anyone or anything. I became aware of the need to clear out the prison; release the captives and quit being the judge, jury, and executioner for those who offend me. I discovered it took too much energy; it was contributing to me beginning to buffer in real life. isn’t that what depression and anxiety feel like? Buffering – not present in our own present. Spinning wheel of death.

I have a suggestion for you. I would take this to the extreme. I would not allow a single bad feeling about anyone to take up space in my heart. And I mean it. Not a politician. Not a celebrity. Not a past lover. Not a current boss. Not a sports person. None. No one. Not a single one is worth me losing my emotional bandwidth. This takes practice. I realized I’d grown so used to harboring bad feelings about certain people that they were confined in maximum security. It took me a while to even find the keys to unlock the cell doors. But little by little I emptied the jail. And you know what? It wasn’t the bad guys who got free, it was me. Try it. Depression and anxiety feel bad enough, jettison the unneeded bad from your heart. And if you want to accelerate the process try something else: love a stranger. Love someone who has no way to give you anything in exchange. You don’t have to do something large. You don’t even have to talk with anyone to start loving them. How about this: think about how nobody really knows the deep pain inside you and how they probably think you are doing ok but you’re not. Now look at the next stranger you see and consider that they might very well be feeling like you do. Let your heart feel for them what you’d like someone to feel for you. Healing happens a little unfolding at a time in little moments that aren’t far away. You can do it. We can do it.

Addicted to Medicine

If you feel bad and you expect medicine to fix you, it changes the way you relate to medicine. I don’t mean pills; I mean the capital “M” Medicine. The term used to describe the huge swollen mass of accumulated knowledge and practice that educated folks allude to when they say things like “look at all the amazing advances in Medicine over the past fifty years.” The system. There have been some truly amazing discoveries in medicine through the years; so many in fact, that from a distance we can be deceived into believing medicine has all the answers. That’s too broad a statement, I know, but it’s a reasonable starting point. And it’s a dangerous one. Before you get sick; before something goes wrong beyond upset stomachs, headaches, or broken bones, the average person could be forgiven for believing medicine does have all the answers. Doctors are glorified in our culture. They are upheld as the most intelligent and capable among us. Whether they seek it or not we ascribe a kind of nobility to them. Beyond the individuals themselves, medicine itself is glorified. It’s like we feel a need to celebrate the knowledge of our bodies as if we’ve climbed the highest mountain; we are masters of the heights. But, suffer from an ailment like depression and fall into the hands of medicine, and you’ll learn a harsh truth: doctors are all just practicing medicine; that doesn’t mean they get it right.

Unmet expectations are the source of our greatest frustrations. I entered into the medical system believing treatments existed for every ailment. It was just a matter of time and testing to get to diagnosis and on to treatment. Of course I knew that all treatments didn’t work, and some ailments are terminal, but it never entered my mind that medicine would eventually look at me and shrug it’s shoulders. But that’s what happened, and it took a decade to break me if my addiction to medicine.

I had all the classic traits of an addict. I arranged my life around getting access to my substance – the medical system. I spent tons of money on it. I couldn’t think of changing jobs without accounting for a medical plan that would keep me close to my medicine. I let it abuse me. I showed up for office visits on time only to wait and wait for my “fix”: a visit with a doctor with too many patients and too little time to spare on me. I kept going back to it even when it gave me nothing and sometimes made me worse. I thought about it all the time. I lived for the hope that the next hit would be the one that really made me feel better. I spent hours and hours searching the internet for doctors who had a new way or a deeper understanding of my condition. I gradually came to realize my addiction but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t believe my Medicine; our Medicine was failing. Just one more time. Just one more hit.

What’s rock bottom for the person addicted to Medicine? When do you give up on it and admit you can’t go on pursuing it? You see the issue. Heroin? Yes. Dope? Sure. Even if you’re addicted to work you can give a good explanation for walking away. But medicine? Try to tell people you’re giving up on medicine and you’ll see the look in their eyes. Crazy.

Is it difficult for you to get into this headspace? Imagine living with no health insurance. No doctor to call your own. How does that sound? How does it feel? Now imagine telling your family and friends you aren’t going to pay for health insurance for you or your family any more. What kind of response do you expect to get? Before you get all squirrelly on me, I’m not saying you need dump health insurance or doctors. It’s just a thought experiment to get you to see that we have a relationship with Medicine that needs to be examined. If you can’t see your life without it, you need to ask why and you need to ask what it is you expect of it. You see? It has the potential to abuse you if you blindly give yourself over to it. And just in case you think I’m excluding them, I feel the same way about “alternative medicine” and “homeopathic medicine” too. All of it. It’s all addictive.

Let’s take a step back from the glorification and addiction and give ourselves permission to get healthy with or without all mighty Medicine. Let’s remember that almost 2000 years of medicine was based, to a large part, upon the color of fluids that drained out of bodies. There were years upon years of practices like “bleeding” performed by all members of the medical community; a practice so unquestionably accepted as “orthodox” and “good medicine” that a doctor who wouldn’t bleed a patient would have been suspected of quackery. Every one of us has the potential to fall into the trap of believing we live in the cultural moment of all moments; that in our time we’ve reached the state of the art; and we know more and better than we ever will. Medicine is not unique in having a short memory for embarrassing episodes. Let’s agree that there are probably things we are doing which will look as foolish as the bell bottom jeans I wore in eighth grade (there are no surviving pictures out there…I hope). If we do this we can free ourselves to look elsewhere for healing while at the same time keeping a healthy relationship with medicine. Give yourself permission to live without medicine. Get separation from it and then decide how you want to relate to it. Maybe you’ll find you don’t need it or maybe you’ll decide to come back to it; hopefully not as your master, but as your servant or your friend.

In closing I’ll remind you again that I’m not writing to people who have a good relationship with medicine or medicines. I’m writing to people who are suffering from depression and anxiety that is either treatment resistant or is not helped very much by “state of the art” medicine. People like me. From my years of reading about this, I believe there are many of us out there. I want to help them. Healing is possible, and we don’t have to put all our hope into medical advances. It’s a big deal to give yourself space to walk away from things that don’t work for you and just breathe. The energy you’ve used on medicine can be used elsewhere. Have courage and hope.

The Pharmaceutical Rabbit Hole

Q: How do you know you’re depressed?

A: Someone gives you antidepressants.

Does that sound right? Part of my story is the long term use of psychotropic drugs. I’ve been on SNRI’s, SSRI’s, antipsychotics, methylphenidate, and some others that don’t fit into neat categories. I’ve been on them in combinations and for varying lengths of time and doses. I’ve been on some of them more than once and some in doses that were ridiculously high. I’ve done a lot of reading about these drugs, and I’ve experienced their effects, their “side effects,” and their withdrawal effects. In my journey I’ve run across lots of people who rail against these drugs and accuse the people who develop and sell them of being evil and interested in making money from the pain of others. You have to remember when you read things like that it’s because the drugs didn’t work in their case; if the drugs worked for those people, they’d have the opposite opinion.

The problems I have with psychotropic medicines aren’t that someone tried to create a pill that would fix depression; if you really know what depression is and what it does to people, it is noble to pursue a cure. I don’t mind people making money from the things they produce either. What are they supposed to do? Work for free? People have to pay their bills! The problems I have are different. They are more about my opening Q and A.

The first doctor to prescribe me an antidepressant was my General Practitioner. I was having issues with fatigue, brain fog, and stamina. I was also going through a hard time of transition in career and with my kids leaving home. I’d done a bunch of tests (I will write more about the medical system in another post) and they all came back negative. By the medical yard stick I was “fine.” Only I was not fine. Frustrating. So one day, after reading out the results of all the latest tests, my doc pulls out a pad and writes me a prescription. It was for something I’d never heard of before: Effexor. “Let’s try this,” he says. I feel pretty bad so I don’t ask questions, I just go and fill the prescription and pop the pill. This may sound incredible, but I don’t believe I knew I was taking an antidepressant. I’m an American. When things are broken we fix them. When we feel pain we take a pill and it stops. I wasn’t too curious about how it worked, or why the doc wanted me to take it. He was the expert and I wanted a solution. As I said in a previous post; when the pain is bad enough you’ll try anything to get it to stop.

I don’t know what your first experience with psychotropic medicine was. I hear many different stories. Some of us may have been put on meds before we were old enough to have a say in the decision, others got prescribed like I did by a GP, still others sought out psychological help and this is where they started with the drugs. One thing I do know is this: whoever gave you a psychotropic medicine did not know how it would work. And it stands to reason if they didn’t know how it would work, they didn’t know if it would work. The truth is that when a psychotropic medicine works, it was at best an educated guess; a shot in the dark. I will tell you what my GP said when I went back to him a couple of weeks after I started taking Effexor. By then I knew it was an antidepressant and I was concerned and confused. Maybe you can relate. I took a low “loading dose” to begin (these drugs require titration to get them into your body when you start taking them and out of your body if you stop) and in the first two days I felt an immediate improvement. It was like my brain snapped back to its normal pattern. I had been dizzy and fuzzy and tired, but I had a lifting of the grey cloud. One of the things I distinctly remember was the way my vision changed. There was a literal clearing of my eyesight. I had not even known that my sight was dim. I’ve since come to associate what I call “the lift” – times when I am aware of the release from depression – with clarity in my eyesight. I asked the doc why an antidepressant made me feel better when I wasn’t depressed. He said my body didn’t make the distinction between depression and non-depression, it just responded to a drug that met a need and we didn’t have to worry about what we called it.

That’s my problem with psychotropic drugs, right there. Why do they work? Nobody knows. Why do they get prescribed? People who feel bad want to stop feeling bad and people who want to help them can’t find anything wrong with them. This is hard to imagine in other areas of medicine, but it is the common place story for people like me, who don’t have a problem that has a root detectable with any modern medical tests.

Imagine telling a cardiologist your heart hurts all the time. Their response is doing all the tests they can do, and, finding nothing, offering you a drug they don’t understand and only guess might make your heart stop hurting. Now add the fact the drug they give you has potentially serious and permanent side effects, will take, on average, a minimum of 6-8 weeks to show any benefit, has significant withdrawal issues, and may damage your heart. Now imagine going back to the cardiologist in two months and telling them you don’t feel any better and maybe a little worse. They advise you to take a higher dose of the drug that’s not working and come back in another two months. When you do that and it isn’t getting better, they tell you to quit that drug and start a second drug which is also a substance that they don’t understand and are only guessing if it will work. You start over again, hopeful that your aching heart will feel better. Good news! This time after 6 weeks you notice a slight improvement, but…your sex drive is in neutral and you’ve gained ten pounds. No worries, the doc says, we will start you on a second drug that should knock down the weight gain and possibly a third drug to get your sex drive out of neutral. You had a painful heart to begin with, now you have sexual issues and weight issues to go with the heart issue. Congratulations, you’ve fallen down the pharmaceutical rabbit hole.

Do you know the side effect most often reported for psychotropic medicines? Depression. In the speed reader portion of commercials for the latest and greatest pill, just listen. You’ll hear it. May cause depression. Having fallen down the pharmaceutical rabbit hole myself I want to give you some advice. This is for you if you have treatment resistant depression or long term “treatable” depression, and for those of you who love someone who is dealing with this problem. For the purposes of this advice I’m going to assume you’ve been on (or you currently take) meds that don’t work or meds that give questionable improvements.

1. Be willing to imagine yourself healed without meds. This sounds pretty simple, but if you’re down the rabbit hole, especially if, like me, you’ve had a period of relief with one of these drugs but now nothing works, it gets hard to believe there is another way. The nature of the pharmaceutical rabbit hole is to trap us in a one dimensional way of thinking. Meds worked, therefore I am depressed/anxious, therefore I need meds. There is an almost endless progression of “new” psychotropic meds with claims to effectiveness. Each cycle of trying a new drug with a slightly different operating mechanism eats up time (=life) and money (=life) and keeps us from looking at other paths to healing. If you can’t imagine yourself without meds, ask someone to help you believe it; to believe it for you until you can. I will believe it for you. I have believed it and I’m living it. I’m no different from you.

2. Don’t accept marginal improvement as a reason to keep taking meds. The way most of these meds effect us is, generally speaking, a dulling of our personality. We become less ourselves. We lose a lot of what makes us unique people. We also lose motivation. The rabbit hole becomes the pain we know and we are timid about the pain we don’t know. We can become convinced we can’t be better. We can be better. Give yourself permission to be better; to feel better than just “not horrible.” You are worth it. Your full self is valuable and needed. Hard to believe? It can be. If I can help you to know this it will be a great point gained.

3. Make a plan to get off meds. I am not telling you to get off meds if they work for you. But if they did, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. Some psychotropic meds are very difficult to leave behind. All require us to make a plan. There are lots of horror stories of people doing very bad things when they stop taking psychotropic meds too quickly or take them irregularly. The trouble with mood altering meds is that they are mind altering meds. We may not be good judges of how we are doing when we take them or stop taking them. It isn’t helpful that some drug manufacturers distort or minimize the truly harsh effects of withdrawal from their drugs. And we don’t have to be on a drug for very long to experience significant withdrawal problems. The first time I got off of Effexor it was horrible. I was told the drug would be fully out of my system in about a month. I set out to grind through the withdrawals and get to that mark. But it didn’t get better a one month, then two. All the “experts” said this couldn’t be withdrawals because the half life of the drug was short enough that it was all gone. I felt the way I felt and that’s all I know. It was bad, and there were lots of testimonies from others about the same thing. I gave up and went back to the drug not because it helped my depression, but because it had created a dependency I couldn’t ignore. Not all the meds are like this, but many are, and none should be dropped casually. Make a plan. Get help. Make it into your work; your job. It’s a hard job. Give yourself a break. If you are walking through it with someone help them make space to rest a lot. Tell people what you are doing and ask them to support you. If you fail to get off the meds the first time, don’t think you can never try again. You will learn things by the first attempt that you can apply to the next try. Go easy on yourself. Those voices in our head that call us failures are not us and they are not our friends.

4. Make your own decisions and be your own advocate. People are risk averse and mental health professionals are not an exception. They all have caseloads and pressures of their own. They try to help their clients but they usually have too many to be fully engaged with one.

5. Give up on the speed solution.

Healed

Today is the start of something new. For over ten years (maybe closer to fifteen – it’s hard to track) I struggled/fought with depression. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (mdd) – there’s a reason I don’t capitalize that. Eventually I found myself in a category of depression called treatment resistant depression (trd) – also no caps. Can you guess how you end up with treatment resistant depression? Right. You treat it with things that don’t work. Lots of things. I will go into some of those things as it becomes useful to us, but for now I will just say I tried a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals, diets, counseling, and other therapies looking for relief; everything up to electroshock which I looked into but didn’t do solely because I couldn’t carve out the three months of my life it seemed to require. I wasn’t afraid of doing it; the threat of suffering significant memory loss is nothing compared to getting some relief from the relentless grinding gray misery of depression. I have a YouTube video saved somewhere of a man explaining his struggle with depression. In it he makes the statement: if you told me that eating rat dung every day would fix this, I’d do it with no hesitation. Serve it up. Yeah. True. There is an amazing discipline to feeling so bad so long. Eating nothing but meat? Did it two months straight. Go to an hour long treatment every day for six weeks in a facility an hour from your home? Did that – no t-shirt, lots of money. Take a little white pill at precisely the same minute three times a day for a year? Without fail. What should we call this? The discipline of hope?

As solution after solution failed I found my options shrinking and becoming more expensive in real terms: the loss of time and the long term risk to bodily health. And I also found a strange phenomena at work; the need to keep something out there in reserve. If you are reading this and have a loved one suffering from depression or it’s evil twin anxiety, or both – probably both because they invite one another to the party in our minds – it’s good to understand that sometimes we look like we are procrastinating but sometimes we are just keeping a potential treatment out there because if it fails it eliminates another path to a better future. It snuffs out another hope. “If this doesn’t work, I can always do that.” But it’s a very bad day when “that” was the most extreme solution out there and it didn’t work. Then where do we go? I have a friend who was diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis. It was so severe his docs recommended he go to the Mayo Clinic. He resisted going at first because of this very reason. “I mean,” he said, “if I go there and they can’t do anything for me, what’s next?” I get it.

Hope is the thing. If you’ve ever lived through a period of lost or diminished hope you’ve tasted the taste of depression. It’s like waking up with cigar mouth; everything tastes like smoke until it wears off. The thing about depression is that you wake up with it, spend all day with it, and go to bed with it, and do it again and again. And if it’s treatment resistant, no amount of Listerine and Colgate helps.

I’m writing this now because I want to give hope and help to people suffering like I did and to the people who love them and don’t know what to do. As things got more and more hopeless for me I remember googling the phrase “healed from treatment resistant depression” in any form I could come up with. Mostly what came up were sponsored ads for treatments that had already failed me. Not good. The other things were usually not encouraging; usually people telling stories of temporary relief and commiseration about how truly terrible it was to have this chronic condition. It hurt my heart and pushed me down further. I’m sure that out there somewhere there are more stories of healing and hope, but I couldn’t find one. I wondered if the people who got relief were so afraid to go near the topic again that they shut the door, locked it and threw away the key. I can’t say I blame them. If you’ve ever felt as badly as I’ve felt as long as I’ve felt it, you could be excused for leaving it as far behind as possible. But I also thought it was ominous. Wouldn’t at least one leper out of ten turn back to express the joy of being healed? So I’m writing this down and inviting you to come along and see if we can find healing and hope together. If you or a loved one is suffering from depression/anxiety I want to help you. I want to start by saying today I am healed. I am not on any medication or treatment. I have my life back without the defining words “depressed” or “mentally ill” hanging over me. I’m present in my own present. It’s possible and accessible, and no, I’m not selling anything. What I have I will give freely and cheerfully. I will continue to tell the story and give away what I have discovered as I can write it down here. I’ve discovered that public comments and exchanges usually don’t lead people to good places, so I am not going to open these posts for comments. If you want to interact with me you can email me at the contact email and I will do my best to respond promptly. I will share anything I believe that will be helpful and my wife, who has suffered through depression with me will also offer her insights. Today I am healed. You can be too.