Bad Words and Good Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Sad is Coming Untrue

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

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

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

Every winter breaks upon
The Easter lily’s bloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healed

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

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

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

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