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.