...we might experience illness and the symptoms that come with it, but we are not our illnesses. We are not depression, anxiety, cancer, tumors, amputated limbs, developmental delays, or any other clinical diagnosis. Yet for many who cope with the reality of illness, mental illness in particular (I'm biased here and I will fully own that), the line between diagnosis and identity is blurred verging on nonexistent. I think there's something wrong with that picture.
It wasn't until I sat down at lunch with Audrey today outside of the Chase food court on the steps next to the fountain, listening to the rush of the water and feeling its spray on my recently buzzed scalp that I realized it's been a decade since I stop saying I was "struggling" with same sex attraction and started identifying as gay. That summer demarcated the era of denial from the era of acceptance. I didn't know it at the time, but nothing would ever be the same.
I fight the temptation to define my own worth and value by what I own, by the money in my bank account, by the labels on my clothes. And yet this time of year I am reminded of the source of my worth, of the One who found me so valuable that he would rather become like me in order to join me than stay where he was and remain distant.
When I first heard of seasonal affective disorder, something inside me clicked into place. Winter has never been easy for me, especially since moving to the Chicago region over a decade ago. I can handle the cold—to some extent, at least. I can even enjoy the snow. But the darkness... that's what gets to me. After the time change, my heart sinks. 4 p.m. is too early for it to be getting dark, and yet we cannot escape it. Darkness is a natural part of life's cycle, of life's order.
It is in those moments when I believe something else is needed. Not a savior or a liberator, but something else. Someone else. Someone willing to sit with you in the anxiety and depression and pain. Someone who won't talk your ear off with clichés or platitudes, but will sit there in the absolute silence, awkward as it may be, and wait—wait until you're ready, until you have a little more energy, a little more strength. It is in these times and places, be they deaths, depression, hallucinations, rapes, assaults, or any other moment of sheer agony, that we just might need God to show up and be. No magic tricks. No saving. No liberating. Just sitting down next to us. No consolation. Just presence.
Emotions are different for each of us. Depression hits people with different degrees of intensity. And we all have our coping mechanisms—some healthy, some not. For some of us, our scars are visible. For others, they are buried deep within. Visceral. Unseen.
I’M LOSING MY FAITH IN ME
I CAN’T REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I FELT FREE
FROM VOICES INSIDE MY HEAD
WHEN I TASTE LIBERATION, THEY JUST FEED ME FEAR INSTEAD
when we rid ourselves of distractions and vices, when we remove the bandages that cover up our wounds, we have to face them. Smoking for me (and I might venture to say for many others) isn't really about smoking. Sure, I enjoyed the buzz of the nicotine, the ritual of that initial incineration. I loved the habit of slamming a pack against my palm, or finishing a drink at the bar a little more quickly so I could go out and light up with friendly strangers. But at home, in the privacy of my own sanctuary, the ritual of smoking was a distraction from actually encountering myself.
In life, people come and people go. Relationships last for a moment, and they last for a lifetime. We feel pain, and we cause it. We face dilemmas, and sometimes they take a while to be solved. As the Explorer told us Saturday night, life is about balance. Sometimes it comes naturally, but more often than not, we have to work at it. Though I initially named my blog Finding the Balance on a whim, over time, I've realized the significance of its title for me personally (and apparently for many of you). Balance is hard, and we cannot find it alone.
I'm not sure if I'll ever really be able to let go of the pain I feel most days. Yes, I experience joy and happiness. Yes, these things bring me fulfillment. But depression, whether in label or in manifestations, truly does make me feel alive. It reminds me that I can't live on my own. I need God, my faith, my friends and family, and even the total stranger to live. My depression is a gateway to connection. I've tried hiding it, putting on the face, but doing so only leads to superficial relationships. When I'm honest, when I'm vulnerable and not simply transparent, then my connection to the world and to those around me is strengthened.