Treatment Resistant Depression, Thankfulness and Gone with the Wind

I learned that I have a thanksgiving deficit. I’ve had it for a long time. I had (have) good parents who taught me better than to be ungrateful. They taught hard lessons that should have stuck with me but didn’t. One of the clearest was the night they decided to take us to see Gone With the Wind.

In our little town we only had a few theaters with one movie showing in each. The Visualite, The Dixie, and The Wayne were special places we rarely visited. One night mom and dad announced we were going to the movies and piled us into the car. I was excited until…

“What are we going to see?” I had something like Star Wars in mind.

“Gone With the Wind,” came the answer.

“What’s that?”

“It’s an old movie they’re bringing back to the theater for a special showing. It’s a classic.”

“How old?”

“It’s from 1939.”

All my excitement drained away.

“”What?! Is it even in color? Why do you want to see that? Sounds boring. Can’t we see a new movie?”

Then they said the magic words: “it’s educational. It’s a movie everyone should see.”

No thank you. I didn’t want an educational experience. I wanted a movie. I continued voicing my complaints all the way into town. My dad drove up Main Street and I could read the marquee on the Visualite. He kept on driving. Right past the theater. When I realized we were not stopping I asked why.

“If you can’t be grateful for going to a movie we aren’t going at all.”

It was a long silent ride home. It was…educational.

There are other things I remember being ungrateful for too. More than I’d like to catalogue for you. Looking back I can say I’m grateful my parents kept giving to an ingrate. It takes a lot of patience and love to give to people who often don’t appreciate what they’re given. Most of us grow out of the worst of our ingratitude, thank God, but not all of it. Not me.

Not long after I heard the Holy Spirit say “I have it” with regards to my treatment resistant depression, I heard him say I needed to start giving thanks. I didn’t want to give thanks. I didn’t feel thankful at all. Ten years of depression will do that to you. But he was persistent in that gentle way he has of leading us. He said there were lots of things to be thankful for and I should give it a try. So I did. It became part of my morning routine. I’d get in my car and drive to work and start thanking him for things. I started with easy stuff. Shoes. Shoes are good and I’ve got shoes. I realized I was wearing shoes and I have more than one pair of shoes. And pants. And a belt. It was winter and I had a car with heat. My wife. My kids. A home. The ride to work got more interesting. I thought of more things to be thankful for each day.

In a previous article I wrote about sowing seeds of joy when I didn’t feel joyous. At the same time I was doing that, the Holy Spirit prompted me to be thankful. I’m not sure how these things work together but I think it was like plowing a field.

Ingratitude is hardened ground. Try talking to someone who is truly ungrateful and you’ll discover its nearly impossible to get anything good to stick to them; they turn it down; they blow it off. Practicing thankfulness broke up the landscape of my heart. If you are depressed long enough you’ll develop some hardness. I believe this is something we do to protect ourselves because depression hurts so much. Even though I didn’t feel thankful at first the act of looking for something to be thankful for cut through the top layer of hardened soil and gave the seeds of joy a place to take root. I’ve told you before and I will repeat this: I didn’t know this was what was happening and I don’t think you need to analyze it to death. Depressed people need accessible solutions that don’t require long and arduous pilgrimages into our psychology. We don’t have the energy for that. You don’t have to understand what I’m saying here for it to work. Just try it. It’s not hard. You can do it and it won’t hurt to try.

In my case, the thankfulness became a habit. Instead of looking for things to be bad (= making room for more depression) I looked for things to be thankful for. The result was a gradual belief that even though I didn’t feel it, God was giving good things to me, an ingrate. My heart broke open and joy began to grow. It wasn’t fast, but it was real. I will even say the most ridiculous thing I think I will ever say: I eventually thanked God for the depression. It’s been a difficult course to take, but it has changed me forever for the better.

Let me know if you need help. We can do this. We can walk away from depression and into life. I will believe with you and for you if you can’t believe yet. Email me if you want some help:

rkenwardjones@gmail.com

Healing: Robinson Crusoe Seeds

I re-read Robinson Crusoe recently and I have to admit it bored me. When I was a kid I must have speed-bumped over the tedious descriptions of his domestic life after surviving the shipwreck. Cannibals and treasure were big when I was little, now the book reads like a guide for end-of-the-world prepers, including pages and pages about agriculture.

But a particular turning point in Crusoe’s story that I’d missed was discovering a bag of seeds in another shipwreck in his island. There were not many of seeds and he didn’t know exactly what type they were, but he knew they were important. He knew if he could get them to grow he would have food for the long haul.

The first harvest was the greatest challenge. Not much came up. He had a decision to make: use the crop for food or use it to sow for the future. Tough choice. No guarantees. The seeds may not sprout. The weather may fail. The birds may eat it all. He had just enough seed for one attempt. He agonized over the decision. When he finally did sow the seeds, it was like imagery from the Psalms where it says a sower went out weeping carrying seeds to sow. The crop did come in for Crusoe and in successive years yielded crops that sustained him for many years.

When we are really depressed it feels like we have little or nothing to offer the world. Depression is a soul turned in on itself. We don’t necessarily set out to do it, but we become takers. Anything that comes to us; any seed of joy or hope, we eat it up. We are so starved for anything good it’s inconceivable to do anything else. But those seeds, landing in a depressed soul are like snowflakes falling down a chimney; instantly gone without a trace, therefore I know how ridiculous what I’m about to tell you is. I thought so myself when the Spirit suggested it to me. One day he asked me what I wanted to see in my life. I said I wanted joy. He told me that the Kingdom Jesus talked about was an agricultural kingdom. That understanding sowing and reaping were key to understanding his kingdom. If you want to reap a crop of joy, he said, you have to sow joy. I can’t say I understood this very well and I won’t pretend I believed it, but there was something so simple and earnest about the way he said it to me that I thought I should give it a try.

Like Robinson Crusoe, I had to scavenge for seed. I was shipwrecked on the island Despair. I didn’t think there were any seeds I could sow because I was so joyless, but I also felt the Holy Spirit wouldn’t suggest something to me that was impossible. And just like Robinson Crusoe I found the seeds weren’t on the island; they weren’t in me at all. In order to sow seeds of joy, I had to look at other people and think about what might bring them joy. Then I had to sow the joy I wanted; not the joy I felt, because I did not feel any joy.

I guess all seeds are dead until they meet the right conditions, and every seed doesn’t sprout even then. It’s risky, this sowing business. The seeds go into the wind. Some are lost. Some land on rocks. But some eventually go under the ground. Then you wait to see if life will emerge. That was the really strange thing; taking the few seeds of joy I found and throwing them out into the world without knowing if they would produce anything, or when they would. It wasn’t easy but I did it. The Spirit helped me. He showed me the seed. He prompted me to sow. He whispered that it was ok to wait and to be patient.

I wish I could tell you why this works but I can’t. Do you know no one can explain why seeds sprout and grow into their kind or why humans cells divide in the womb and make a child? Go look it up. You’ll find plenty of “how” but nothing on “why.” It’s built into the world, that’s all. It doesn’t just work with joy. If you’re anxious try sowing peace. If you’re angry try sowing kindness. The more you want to grow the more seed you’ll need to sow.

What did this look like for me? It started with rejoicing over things that others were enjoying. In my depressed state I had become immune to the joy of others. I tended to minimize or ignore or discount anyone’s joy. It was as if I said: since I don’t have joy, there must not be such a thing as joy – it’s all fake. That’s not a good way to find joy. In fact, that frame of mind closes the door to joy and locks it from the inside. If a thing doesn’t exist why would we expect to find it?

What I did is easy to do once you think of it, and once the Spirit helped me I saw there were lots of places to sow. A kid is enjoying riding their bike or shooting hoops. Smile at them. A lady finds a good deal in the grocery store. Tell her it’s cool. The guy next door plants a bush and you see in his eyes that he likes it. Compliment him and it. That’s sowing joy. I admit that when I started doing this it was hard and I felt a little fake, but the more I did it the more it felt real and right. Like much of what I’ve shared in these articles, I can’t pinpoint the moment the joy started to grow, but why would I? Seeds grow down into the soil before they grow up into the light. The plant is not there and then it is. And unless it’s one of those crazy bamboo trees that can grow three feet in a day, you can’t see much difference from one day to the next. It did happen though; I began to feel joy. When I saw other people enjoying things, I felt it was real.

Maybe that’s what happened. Like it or not this is a world where faith is the soil of life. It’s the core of economics and relationships and everything in between. The staunchest atheist gets up every day and walks in faith. It’s unavoidable. When I started believing in joy again, the fallow ground of my depressed heart was tilled as it were; it was broken up and the joy seeds fell into something they could take root in. Slowly the crop grew into something sustainable and sustaining. Now I have joy. I even have seed to give away – like writing articles to encourage you!

Give this a try. It’s very simple and accessible just as all the things the Spirit has suggested to me. We know it has to be that way because depression and anxiety don’t leave room for strenuous, hard to attain solutions. We can do this. You can walk out of depression and anxiety. Please drop me a line at rkenwardjones@gmail.com. I’d love to help you.

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.

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.