Proverbs 12:25 states that, “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.” A heavy heart is experienced by many people who claim to be suffering from depression. Depression makes the heart stoop…droop…sag…and otherwise hang low. However you want to say it, a heavy heart is depressed and it is NOT up and full of joy. It’s a tough place to be. It’s a sad place to be. It can be a lonely place. Depression is a claustrophobic box with walls that get closer and closer with each passing experience of whatever triggers stir up those feelings of helplessness within us.
My own personal conviction is that depression is NOT caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but, instead, the chemical imbalance is caused BY the depression. Our bodies were created by God to react to outside stimuli. For example…the release of adrenaline in what is called the “Fight or Flight” response is our body reacting to an outside stimulus. There is danger before us (a mugger) and we need to decide to stay and fight him (Fight) or flee (Flight). Our spouse is attractive to us, and we see them, and that triggers feelings for sexual intimacy within us. Once those feelings begin, physiologic changes occur within our bodies in RESPONSE to the outside stimulus of seeing our spouse. It’s not that physiologic changes happened to our bodies and then we had thoughts of sexual intimacy with our spouses. The body REACTS to a stimulus.
This is why I CAN NOT buy into the notion that depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance. Even in the case of a diagnosed Major Depressive Disorder, my belief is that a trigger occurred to set the person into a tailspin, thus causing their heart to be heavy and stoop…or get depressed. The depression has become major because it has had a duration of at least six months and has caused considerable interference with living life normally. I believe even these states of depression started with some external trigger, but it’s been so long that the initial stimulus for the depression has long since been forgotten and buried. But I do believe that depression is REAL! I want the reader to understand this fully! Depression is real!
Please also understand my personal take on this…depression, even Major Depressive Disorder…starts as a situational depression (also referred to in psychology as Adjustment Disorder). A situational depression generally starts with the appearance of a major and traumatic event or change in your life. For example, the death of a child, parent, or best friend could be triggers perhaps. Losing a job or being forced out of a career can be examples of other triggers. Getting a promotion could be a wonderful and positive experience overshadowed by the trauma of leaving loved ones and moving from the East coast to the West coast. In any event, these situations can invoke within us sadness, lifelessness, anxiety, crying, sense of hopelessness, withdrawal from responsibilities and the like.
What can trigger a situational depression in one person may not in the next person, and vice versa. We all have our frailties, and they are usually hidden within our personalities. Certain personalities may make us highly sensitive so that even the slightest of triggers can set a person off into a tailspin. That is what happened to me in May of 2015. The “traumatic” event in my life that started my tailspin was the death of a loved one of sorts. I haven’t crashed and burned as a result of this tailspin, simply because I REFUSE to crash and burn. I recognize it for what it is…something I need to ADJUST to…hence the name adjustment disorder (for those having a hard time adjusting to the life change).
In Greek mythology, a story about a boy called Narcissus is told. This boy was very attractive, but didn’t really realize that about himself until one day he was walking through the woods and came upon a lake shore or riverbank and saw a reflection in the pool. He stared for long periods of time at himself, admiring himself, and perhaps seeing things in him beyond what others actually saw. But in any case, he was enamored with his beauty and who he was. That’s where my weakness lies and why I am in a state of adjustment right now.
As far back as eight years old I can remember being self-absorbed. I was spoiled and learned to manipulate and get my way as I grew older and became a teenager. I had dreams and aspirations to be a surgeon…no, a WORLD CLASS surgeon. Not so much to help people, but rather to have the nice things I wanted…beautiful car, beautiful house, beautiful wife, and the glory and adoration that would come along with being a world class surgeon. All this when I was as young as eight years old! No thought to help people. No thought to what it was going to take to become a world class surgeon. Nope, it all centered on what I wanted to get out of a career like that.
Back in those early years I hated the way I looked. I never liked to see myself in photos, let alone a mirror. But then, something snapped in me. I don’t know when it was, but I one day fell in love with myself. I actually started seeing myself in mirrors and liked what I was seeing. I doubt I was seeing what others saw. I’m sure I was seeing a severely distorted view of who I truly was in the eyes of others. There is a psychological disorder called Body Dysmorphic Disorder where an eighty pound anorexic person can see themselves as an obese person. I truly believe I was experiencing the same thing, just the other way around. I was seeing myself as better than I really was. My fascination with myself carried over into adulthood so much that for my 40th birthday party, everyone bought me gift that included a mirror.
In psychology, the diagnostic criteria for one having a Narcissistic Personality is spot-on in describing me…and I’ve known this. And it’s so much more than stopping at every mirror (not literally). There are huge and severe mood swings for even the simplest of triggers…such as the word “no!” And I’ve had to learn to deal with the word “no” so it doesn’t set me off. The best way I have found thus far is avoiding the word “no” altogether by not putting myself in the situation where I may meet rejection. And there’s so much more that is off point of this post…so back to the point…the tailspin…
Remember I told you my traumatic experience was the death of a loved one of sorts. It was me. I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, or if it happened by itself or if it was precipitated by outside forces, but one day I looked in the mirror and was horrified. One week I’m loving what I see and this next week I’ve been saddened! I was shocked at how old I got and how I liked nothing of what I was looking at. Just weeks earlier I was looking at my reflection and feeling really good…but not anymore.
I have blemishes on my face that I notice now. I have gray in my mustache that didn’t bother me before, but now is aborhant to me. Not only that, but at closer inspection, that mustache of mine is awful wiry. I have lost all tone in my chest muscles. My belly won’t go away no matter how I stand in front of the mirror. I just look old! But I don’t FEEL old. I feel youthful and I believe youthfulness will stay with me regardless of my chronological age. But like the line in Evita says, “Oh what I’d give for a hundred years! But the physical interferes every day more. Oh my Creator! What is the good of the strongest heart, in a body that’s falling apart…”
So, specifically, it was my youth that died. I have found myself struggling to come to terms with the loss of my youth. I had heard about it being a cause of depression in some people in a passing conversation with my pastor earlier this year, but I dismissed it as something I’ll look into writing about at some point. Well guess what…that point is now. Except that I’m writing this from experience and not as research. I mean, for years I never aged and then suddenly the mirror fast forwarded 20 years to where my reflection matched my chronological age. That eight year old is dead…that twenty year old is dead…even that forty-four year old is dead. What happened from one day to the next? How did my youth suddenly die? What happened?
One of the scary things about adjustments like this is that you don’t really know how transient it will be or how long and drawn out and debilitating it will be. Make no mistake about it, my general state right now can be best classified as a depression reaching the level of a nuisance in my life. But throughout the day, things get to me now that never got to me before. For instance, people graduating college are generally entering the workforce in their early twenties…as I get older, the gap between me and those entry level practitioners widens. I’m getting older and they are seemingly getting younger. I’m working on my golf game, trying to improve. I look at a twenty something and see that they have more time to work on their game than I do (statistically speaking).
Perhaps that’s part of it. Perhaps I am having a hard time with the loss of my youth that I am focusing much time and effort on mourning, because the reality of where I am in my life and what’s ahead of me is a tough thing on which to focus. It’s like having lived with a spouse you loved for twenty years and they’re suddenly taken from you and immediately replaced with another spouse you don’t really know. It’s much easier to focus on the loss of the spouse you loved than to move on with the uncertainty that is life with a spouse you barely know. In other words, that reflection I grew to love and helped me feel positive and optimistic about life is suddenly gone and replaced with a reflection I’m not happy with and one that scares me to death. If my reflection looks like this now…what’s it going to look like when it’s sixty? The change in my reflection has brought me face to face with the reality that my virility and vitality will soon be waning…if they haven’t already begun to do so.
So what does Dylan Thomas have to do with this, and why may he be right or wrong? Dylan Thomas is the author of the poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night. It’s a sort of pep talk given to a dying person to not give in, but rather to fight with everything you have to not die. I think if you can prepare for death (like in the cases of terminally ill people) you can accept it better when it comes so there’s no need to fight. But there are other times when a person is clinging to life after suffering a severe injury and we want the person to fight to survive. But in my case, death came over night and when I awoke, it was too late to prepare and too late to fight…and that STINKS!!!
If there is any consolation in all of this, it’s that the man in the mirror is me in the here-and-now as I currently exist…and I think with this guy I’m going to do BOTH! I will prepare for his eventual death which will likely coincide with my death and accept that along the way there will be times of struggle and trials, but that reflection will forever keep me from running backwards in time, as that true reflection of who I am today won’t allow that. That old man in the mirror will keep me grounded, and in a strange sort of way keep me moving forward to an uncertain future rather than allow me to run to a past that no longer exists.
But I’m not going to take a fatalistic approach to this uncertain future. The reflection may grow older and older, but I will not let go of it. I will nurture it and learn to love it in an appropriate way. I will no longer despise it. I will learn from it. I will learn my limitations that were masked by my dysmorphic view of myself prior. I will care for this new face I see…for it is indicative of the real me as I am today. But no doubt, the devil will entice me to think on those “glory days” and try to get me to mourn the loss of my youth once again, and with that I will not go quietly (gently). I will not allow the devil to lead me by the hand to a different place and time.
The best thing about God is that no one else needs to be able to understand me, because God can know exactly what I’m feeling, what I’m trying to say, and what I actually need. All I need to do is be honest with Him. The lesser known refrain in Dylan Thomas’ poem is, “Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light.” Rage makes me think of someone yelling out. So here’s the antidote to Proverbs 12:25 that we started off with. “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry came before Him, even into His ears” (Psalm 18:6).