“Rejoice always.” 1 Thes. 5:16
Some of you remember that back in April, I went through a serious fall emotionally. It is what some people call “depression.” I wrote about it while fractured. In short, my mind broke. I don’t know how else to put it. There was a black hole that suddenly showed up in my brain that sucked all hope, purpose, and sanity out of me. One minute I was fine, the next minute I crashed.
This experience has come to define my life as much as any other thing I can think of. My daily emotional well-being now has a referent point, a bar if you will. “At least I am not ‘there,'” I often tell myself. Now, things could always be worse.
The other day, I took my son, Will, to his basketball game. I watched his game and enjoyed it as every father does. After we got home, we sat on the couch together and talked. It was one of those conversations about nothing. But something happened during this conversation that made me to further realize that I was not as “recovered” as I thought I was. While I talked with Will I was suddenly filled with a sense of happiness that I had forgotten about. I don’t know how to describe it. It was like I could suddenly, just for a brief moment, smell again. I don’t know what it is like to be without a sense of smell, but I can imagine. I have a friend in California who suffered a blow to the head last September. Since then, he has not been able to smell. With this, he has lost his ability to taste and enjoy food. He may soon forget, in an experientially way, what it is like to enjoy life in such a way. But in this moment with Will, an aroma passed by my nose and I remembered how joyful life could be. I also realized the residue of depression.
It took six weeks for me to “come out” of the black hole last Spring. Once the “cloud” departed, I proclaimed victory. I even wrote about this victory. I celebrated. I waxed eloquent on the perils of depression. I gave council to those who were depressed. I was still alive! However, I did not realize the lingering effects of the injury for many moons.
Four Stages of Emotional Wellness
Please note, that I am not a professional. I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. I don’t think I even qualify to be called a Christian counselor, though I have taken the required courses at seminary (which gives me just enough information to be dangerous!). These stages are representative of my “journey” through depression. So take it for what it is worth.
There seems to be four stages that one can find themselves in emotionally:
Find joy in just about everything. Able to enjoy life with little effort. Many hopeful plans for the future with contentment in the present.
You are yourself here.
Content with life and find joy in some things. Takes more effort to enjoy life. Plans for the future are present, but not so hopeful.
You are potentially yourself.
Frustrated with life. Very hard to find joy. Downcast and pessimistic. Plans for the future may be present, but tainted by sadness and hopelessness.
You are losing yourself.
No hope or joy in anything. Despair for the present and future. Fear of living and fear of dying. Unable to access reality.
You are no longer yourself.
You all know how much I like charts, so here is one to boot.
Please understand: I don’t want to minimize the line between the “Sad/Depressed” stage and the “Despair” stage. It is night and day. I think we can stay in the “Sad/Depressed” stage for a time. But the utter hopelessness and hell of the despair stage cannot last for it will eventually take one’s life one way or another. I think most people visit each of these other stages from time to time, but there is something completely different when you pass into the darkness of despair.
For six weeks, on and off, I was in this despair stage. That is why when I came above the line of despair, I felt like the depression was over. I felt back to “normal.” However my definition of normal was tainted do to the exposure to the “dark side.” Anything was more normal than what I was experiencing there. Therefore, I felt “normal.”
But here is where I think I have gone over the years:
I think many factors led to my emotional fall. Maybe overconfidence. Maybe wrong decisions. I don’t know. But I also believe very much that God wanted me to go through this. I still have not worked out theologically how I say that it was God’s will for me to lose my joy and enter into despair, but I do think that I am a better person because of it. I could not have lasted long in that despair stage. I don’t know if I would have ever killed myself, but the anti-reality matrix would have taken my life one way or another.
However, recounting that terrible time is not my purpose here. My purpose is to chronicle my journey and come to terms with my “recovery.” The sense of emotional smell I encountered the other day demonstrated that I was not fully recovered. I am not sad or depressed in most situations. I can go there, but it is situational and I can get myself out. However, my desire is to reclaim joy, optimism, and hope. I want that to once again be my default composure. I want to be able to smell all the time.
All of this to say that I realize that while I am in remission from depression and despair, I have yet to recover. It lingers. “Rejoice always” is a command in the Scripture that I cannot find the ability to obey. I am only at the place where I can “rejoice sometimes and in accommodating situations.”