I think I’m ready now to write this. It’s difficult to describe. I would liken it to living in a constant haze. An all-encompassing fog that surrounds heart, soul and mind. It deadens the senses. Colors become muted, voices and music are blocked out, laughter is forgotten, memory quickly fades and concentration is a thing of the past. Emotions are stifled, apart, perhaps, from an overwhelming sense of self-pity and guilt. Habit is the only reason to get out of bed in the morning. The motions of life continue: eating, sleeping, work, meetings, obligatory greetings but there’s no enthusiasm. The joie de vie has fled. The mind is a funny thing.
I have no idea if I’ve adequately described it or if these feelings are unique to me. But this is my experience with depression.
It’s why I haven’t written in the last month. I’ve had plenty going on, many stories that I would have enjoyed sharing but I could never gather the necessary je ne sais quoi to sit and write. My stories would have been tinged with a lie if I had not expressed my inner emotionlessness.
I felt the first signs of oncoming depression during my training. I communicated what I was feeling somewhat in my last post. I was able to distract myself during my vacation to Mombasa with constant activities and good food. But returning to Clove Island the haze settled on me deeply and firmly.
Circumstances certainly didn’t help. I arrived on my island thoroughly seasick only to discover that five weeks had accomplished none of the promises our landlady had made and we still had no water. After a discussion with her, it seemed she had given up and there was no hope of getting water running to our house…ever. Without water, the house stayed covered in its filth. The dust made me physically ill and the mess drove my OCD, Type-A personality to the brink. The next three days were spent searching for someone who could deliver water to our cistern. After hours in the baking sun, on the third day, I finally had success. Three thousand liters and $50 later, I lay on my bed exhausted and spent but proud that I had accomplished something. With my last reserve of energy I bought some bleach and climbed the stairs to the cistern on the roof in order to sanitize the water that was pulled from a river used for laundry, watering animals and trash disposal. As I came around the corner and caught a glimpse of the cistern, my shoulders dropped and my head fell as I watched my hard work pouring out of the seam of the cistern onto the hot roof in two steady streams. I “Charlie-Brown” walked back down the stairs, put in a call to my leader, curled up on the floor in the fetal position and cried. Though I’d been on the verge of tears for days, especially when talking with others, I’d held back, swallowed the lump and starred ahead resolutely. This last thing broke through and ripped out the pent up emotions and I cried softly until one of my teammates arrived with various rubber object (including a flip-flop) to try and stem the flow of precious water.
From that day things didn’t really get better. I had about 50lbs of laundry that needed to be washed including all the curtains and couch covers that were covered in dust. The power situation has returned to pre-World Cup state, meaning very little of it. We went 36+ hours without this week, allowing the food in the refrigerator and freezer to thaw and rot. There are problems with the English classes that are supposed to start next week. The stress and water hauling has caused my back to feel like it did after my accident last February-in other words, bad. Etc. Etc.
But life is always hard on Clove Island. Things are constantly going wrong. If circumstances were all it took, I would have lived in a constant state of depression since arriving. So what makes it different now?
This is where the guilt comes in. I’m not dying. No one close to me is dying. I didn’t just break up with the love of my life or get fired from a job. I have friends and family who love me and pray for me. They encourage me as best they can. When an encouraging phone call, email or hug brings no emotion, or worse yet, annoyance, I am soon overcome with guilt. I try to avoid being around anyone because I am afraid my seeming indifference will hurt them. I am disappointed in myself and I can’t help but think I’m letting down all those who love and care for me.
Christians shouldn’t be depressed, right? “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!” We learn that from childhood. I just need to pray a little harder. If I just cast my cares on him, I will experience a peace that passes all understanding. I know. I’ve thrown these same platitudes at my friends. But it hasn’t been that easy. So what is the answer?
This morning I was doing my normal devotional, another daily habit that continues whether I draw anything from it or not. I do it because I know I should. And I read and underlined this partial sentence, “…every steep circumstantial hill that has zapped our spiritual and emotional strength, and every deep valley of depression that has left us gasping for hope.” Whoa, hello. Are you talking to me? The next line read, “Consider Jesus[i]”.
I decided to take that as a challenge. Jesus suffered during his life, not only at the cross. Jesus wept when he heard of Lazarus’ death (John 11:35). He sought solitude when news of his cousin, John the Baptist’s beheading reached him (Matthew 14:13). And I read an interesting blog that argued Christ was depressed on the night of his betrayal.
Never tell someone, “I know how you feel.” I’ve heard this many times in my sensitivity trainings. It’s well meaning but false. You don’t know how I’m feeling. I don’t know how you’re feeling.
But as I considered Jesus, I came to the conclusion that he actually does know how I feel. Intimately and lovingly. And he doesn’t have his arms crossed, looking down on me from heaven with disappointment, waiting for me to pull myself together so I can get back to the work of loving him and loving others. No, he’s right here with me. Even when I don’t feel it, when I don’t feel anything. My feelings don’t change the fact that he is walking beside me. When I don’t have the strength to lift my eyes to see where I’m walking but can only watch my feet as I shuffle through life, he is beside me with his hands on my shoulders, gently leading. He is my shelter; my strong tower and I will hide under his wings until my bruised soul heals.
[i] Harper, Lisa. Hebrews: The Nearness of King Jesus. Pg. 47