Sunday, March 2, 2008

this weight I'm carrying

I have been feeling down recently.

I'm on my morning walk. I have dragged my feet to this rock, and am sitting here writing this in a tiny notebook, next to a lake with a rippled blue surface and visiting wood ducks and herons. The beauty is the furthest thing from my mind: it doesn't even touch the way I'm feeling.

I hesitate to call this feeling "depression" because I know clinical depression is far worse than this. I can get out of bed in the morning. I am aware of the cool breeze on my face, and the soft, deep blue of today's sky - although, like inadequate pain medication, they only take the edge off. When I pray, I can feel God's nearness - the skies haven't turned to brass, and my prayers don't feel like they're echoing off an empty heaven.

But my insides feel like a medicine ball which I am doomed to carry around with me. A wide band of over-tight elastic seems to press around my chest. I find it difficult to breathe - in, out, in, out, each breath meets the resistance of the weight I'm carrying.

I can identify some of the reasons for what I'm feeling. I'm over-tired and over-wrought after months of blogging, writing, dreaming, planning and raising 4 children. I've repented (repeatedly) of people-pleasing, of trying to live up to others' expectations and hopes for me, of the over-conscientiousness and perfectionism which will make me read what I'm writing 10 times before I post it.

But the weight remains, heavy and suffocating.

I know this is normal. While only (only!) 5-8% of people will experience clinical depression in their lifetime, the kind which often requires medical treatment, most of us will experience this heaviness from time to time.

It's part of life, a normal reaction to stress, loss, tiredness. It comes and goes: sometimes it's with us for an hour, sometimes for a week. Sometimes it persists for months on end, like the mild post-natal depression after my second baby, when I cried for an hour every afternoon and barely made it through each day.

I know Jesus probably felt like this too. If it's part of the normal human condition - this sadness, this melancholy, this heaviness - then he experienced it with us. He stayed up nights praying desperately for his Father's comfort and direction. He felt every temptation as we do - the idolatry of human need, the pull of expectation, the siren-call of human praise. He dragged his feet through days of tiredness and discouragement.

Somehow, the fact that my Lord in heaven knows exactly how I feel is intensely comforting.

And now I will drag my feet home again. As I open the door, all 4 children will probably have a fight to settle, a hurt to comfort, or a need to fill. There's cooking to be done, piano lessons to be given, family Bible time to sit through (sorry - I mean enjoy). I will do these things as cheerfully as I can, because it's my job and I love my family. I know from experience that I may feel some small comfort in the hard labour.

I will keep forcing myself through the motions of love and responsibility until the day - maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month - when happiness becomes a normal state again, rather than a fragile surface like thin ice, which I press on gingerly to see if it will give way.

I will go on knowing that Jesus went on, that he battled exhaustion and despair, that he put one step in front of the other, spoke one more word to the demanding crowds, escaped in a boat and found the crowds still waiting, called out to his Father on a night lonely with cold stars, went back and kept on loving. All in the knowledge that the day would come when he would plumb the ultimate depths of sadness and endure his Father's abandonment on the cross for our sake.

Meanwhile, I will try not to treat my children's demands as interruptions, or this sadness as a burden, for sadness is God's blessed gift to grow me in love, patience, trust and hope. Sadness is not something to be rejected, but something to be embraced, for in its fire my faith grows stronger and I become more like my Lord.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16

There's a very helpful chapter on depression and how to respond to it in Peter Brain's Going the distance. He distinguishes between endogenous depression, which is biological, often requires medical treatment, and affects perhaps 5-8% of the population; and exogenous depression, which is a reaction to loss (and I would add stress, tiredness, hormones, etc.), which responds to support, sleep or counselling, and which affects all of us often.


Anonymous said...

Dear Jean

Thank you for expressing yourself so openly and honestly. I will be praying for you.


Baddelim said...

I swing by your blog regularly and find it uplifting and enriching. A rarity in the blogworld.

And this post is no exception. This is real and raw, and yet rich and exquisite in expression. Why does pain bring forth from us beauty?

I'm encouraged by your faithfulness and determination to keep fixing your eyes on the Lord Jesus and bravely move forward.

I hope you feel better soon.

In Christ,

Rachael said...

As I read this I was reminded of the poem by Keats, Ode on Melancholy, that suggests we ought to welcome melcancholy because without it we don't really understand or appreciate joy. But how much greater the reasons you have expressed for the place of sorrow and sadness in our lives. Thanks!

And like Jennie, I am encouraged but many of your posts (I read them everyday) even if I don't comment very much. I also hope you feel better soon.

Leigh said...

Hi Jean, I have just discovered your blog and have been very encouraged by the struggles you describe and how they take you away from God's unconditional love. I struggle with the battle of the flesh to see myself as a child of God rather than a slave to needing to 'acheive perfection'. I love your quote 'Deeply flawed but deeply loved'. Blessings also to Steve and the Kids

Jean said...

Thanks, Leigh, and happy reading - hope you enjoy browsing. You'll certainly find plenty about the battle with perfectionism on here! :)