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.