Ever since my friend helped forge the connection between Kierkegaard’s act of kenosis, or self-emptying (in my case sharing with the world my story of depression and recovery) and “The Full Monty,” I’ve been on the lookout for other flashers like myself.
The following is a gripping post on RealLivePreacher.com, produced by Gordon Atkinson, the pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. He is unflinching in his honesty, which is why it’s a potent piece of writing.
I tried to pick out parts to excerpt (because it is sort of long), but then it wouldn’t be the FULL Monty. So here is his post in its entirety…
It seems like just a short time ago that I wrote what I thought would probably be my last piece on depression. I kind of ended that series with me on medication and doing fine. Ended it on a good note.
But something happened last week, and I’m quite frightened by it. I am detached from myself enough to wonder why I’m writing about this and making it public. There must be something in talking to “you” that is like therapy for me. Either that or I’m an emotional exhibitionist. I really don’t want that to be true, but what do I know? Maybe I am an emotional exhibitionist. I don’t even know what that is, but maybe I am.
The hell with it. Here goes.
I had what I will describe as an emotional crash. I had a normal day on Tuesday. I got some writing done, even sent an essay off to Christian Century. I felt fine on the way home, and the evening began as evenings normally do around our house. And then it hit me. It was almost like someone threw a switch in my mind, turning all of my thoughts and feelings in a negative direction.
What surprised me was how rapidly depression, sorrow, and anxiety descended upon me. I don’t ever remember having such a rapid mood swing. One of the girls said something–nothing memorable, just something–and then a wave of sorrow and despair crashed over me. My mood bottomed out in about five minutes.
The feelings I had on Tuesday night are familiar to me since I used to live with those feelings much of the time.
Let’s see if I can describe this for those of you who don’t have this problem.
There is a feeling of hopelessness, a kind of “Oh my God” feeling. It’s the way you would feel if you walked around the corner and found that something precious to you had been destroyed beyond all repair. You stand there shaking your head and looking at the broken pieces of the thing you loved, and in those moments you feel so sad and hopeless. That thing is now broken, and you will never ever have it again.
Remember, I have no reason to feel this way. I KNOW that, but it doesn’t make the feelings go away.
There is also what I would call emotional and mental exhaustion. This would be like the feeling you might have if you worked a 12-hour shift in a factory, then came home to discover that you had 50 hours of mind-numbing, tedious labor yet to do, labor that would also be physically painful so that you would not even be allowed the small comfort of getting lost in the tedium. The point is, you dread this labor intensely.
But remember, there was no labor facing me. This is just a description of how I felt. There is nothing real behind the feeling.
The last feeling is one that is destructive to my relationships. It is the feeling that any contact with anyone is going to make me feel even worse. If I see my girls or Jeanene, I’m going to add a heap of guilt and shame to all that I am already feeling. If I can just be alone–I think–I won’t have to deal with any additional bad feelings. When I am in this state, my need to be alone becomes desperate, almost frantic. If anyone threatens my isolation, I become very resentful toward them. One of the girls can bounce over, all happy and everything, and want me to do something. My reaction is to get angry. Thank God I’ve learned to stuff that anger down, but good. Because I AM NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS OUT ON THEM.
It’s a short-term fix, but stuffing anger, even stupid anger, only fuels depression.
Now amidst all of these feelings are swirling thoughts that are destructive, not based in reality, and paranoid. My mind races from one crazy thought to the next. Um, I think I’d rather not go into the crazy thoughts. Just stuff about relationships and how people feel about me, the reality of what I am facing, financial ruin, and oh yeah some stuff about how I probably can’t write so good no more.
These days I do have one thing going for me. I UNDERSTAND that this is not a normal way of thinking and feeling. I KNOW how I am supposed to think and feel. And I KNOW that these feelings and thoughts are not tied to the reality of my life. Even Tuesday night, right in the middle of the bad time, I BELIEVED that the thoughts and feelings were not going to last.
I gave myself a little pep talk:
“This is probably just a glitch or something, right? I mean, I am taking medication that is dickering with my brain chemistry. It’s probably just a drug fart or something, right? Right? Probably just something like that. Right?”
You know what I did? I went to bed. I used to be able to put on a pretty good act, but now I know that’s a dead end. You can only keep up an act for so long. If you are going to crash, now is as good as a week from now. Might as well get it over with.
I laid on my bed and stared, turning off my mind as best I could. I slipped into a daydream-like state, thinking about things that aren’t true but would be nice if they were true. It was like an internal movie or something. Just the silly fantasies that everyone has. In one of mine I actually write something that makes some money, so Jeanene can come home from work–which she would like to do–and suddenly all the pressure of the children and their care and finding time to write is gone, and I can write as much as I want and everyone lives happily ever after.
You have thoughts like those, right? Sure you do. You do, don’t you? Please tell me it’s not just me.
I got through the rest of the week okay and decided that Tuesday was an isolated event, nothing to worry about. Then I woke up Sunday morning, and it was like Sundays back in the bad days. I was filled with dread, sorrow, and horror. And it was EASTER SUNDAY, for goodness sakes. We were having a potluck breakfast, a fun service, an Easter egg hunt afterwards for kids, and we have a whole bunch of new friends at the church these days, people I am enjoying getting to know.
I should have been happy. Instead I kept waking up, dreading the coming of morning. I finally got out of bed at 3:30 am, showered, and went to the church, having slept maybe an hour. I remember I used to do this before–go to the church hours early so that I could get myself ready for people to arrive.
I did not want to be there. When everyone arrived, I hid in my office while they were eating breakfast. I came out and got through the service. I don’t know. I got through the day. I took a long nap. Watched a movie. Picked up around the house. Did some stuff.
So what does this mean? Am I slipping backwards? What I haven’t told anyone is that I’ve had a couple of these setbacks before, and I’m now taking the maximum dosage of the medication that I’m on. So there is nowhere left to go, chemically. What does that mean? Will I have to try new medication and deal with new, unknown side effects? Is this the moment when I find out that the problem was just my weakness after all, and I need to get up off my ass and get active and start helping people more or whatever so that I can find the source of true happiness and put all this depression/depletion stuff behind me?
No, that’s not it. I’ve tried all that. It doesn’t work, Gordon. You can’
t work this stuff away.
I mean, I really don’t know. I don’t want to call the doctor and even get started asking these questions for real. Maybe this will go away on its own. I feel good today I think.
Listen while I talk to myself again:
Okay, apparently something is wrong with my brain. I’ve been told that it’s not a major thing; I just have trouble keeping my neurotransmitters in stock. They must be on backorder or something. This has nothing to do with what kind of a person I am, good or bad. So I have to take some pills. So what? Occasionally I might have a bad day. So what? Tuesday and Sunday were just bad days. So what? Tuesday is gone and so is Sunday. It’s over and today is a new day.
That’s all I know. I’m not all that smart or wise with this stuff. I only know how to describe it. I can’t fix it.