When I talk to other depressed people, I find that they rarely want to admit that they’re depressed. Those that do say the same kinds of things. “I’m managing just fine,” they will say. And there’s this gut-check response for me, where I’m like, “obviously you’re not managing” because of all the evidence to the contrary. So I take another look at myself. Am I managing so well? I gave my wife, my best friends, and others the chance to speak into this. There were mixed reviews, but most noted that I am able to make myself do things where the stereotypical depressed person does not. My depressed friends and family members usually disappear from social networks and their phones for a period, and then they eventually fade back into the world. I remember listening to a young girl named Alissa who decided both that she was fine, she was regulating her depression on her own, but also that she was a mess and needed help. There were both realities in her head. Essentially, there were two conflicting identities at work, as well as the two spirits. One trying to save face, the other confessing a flaw. The depression hides and isolates, and the Holy Spirit in her opens up, reaches out, it draws people in. Alissa tried as best she could to articulate the “seasons of darkness” as she put it, where the world seemed so harsh and she felt so alone. My mechanical self, referencing those other times — because my non-depressed self doesn’t get my depressed self either — wanted to give her some bootstrap-grabbing advice. Well, just tough it out or something along those lines. She talked through her coping mechanisms as I, for probably one of the first times, recognized my own. She smoked, drank, sought out boys, partying and such, and then she did some more G-rated things. Eating, sleeping, or sometimes not eating. Making herself invisible, she did her best to hide in her room and listen to the sounds of silence. By nature of what I did and how I did it, even in the highest of spirits, my coping mechanism was that much harder to spot. My drug of choice in life, control, playing out in hyper-discipline and hyper-will power, made depression an easy problem to roll over. The problem, obviously, was that I never looked this issue in the eye.
How do I conquer something that is so much bigger than me? There were many a time when a sin or a lack of progress was fixable in my own strength, my own intelligence, my own will. I can make myself stop. Who can tell my body, my arms and eyes and mouth, what to do except for me? I am the master of my body, I tell it when to get up, when to work, when to feel. But then I run into that wall, and suddenly I see something else pulling my hands, my heart, my eyes in directions I don’t want them to go. This was, I am sure, my first fight with a power — internal as it seemed to be — that was greater than me. The helping and the rescue process was beyond any teaching or any knowledge. In explaining relief to a depressed person, there is no sharing of information that can overturn the chemical, emotional, spiritual reality. I know how it works, I have studied and prayed and researched at length the reality of depression. Everything from wide statistics, prescription surveys, and personal, spiritual antecdotes. It just doesn’t matter what my mind tells me. These are instructions on how to dunk a basketball. “Jump high?” That seems obvious enough. “Oh, jump higher than that… Let me try again.” Nope, I still can’t jump that high, not with a basketball in my hand, not even with a well-timed running start. It doesn’t matter how someone explains it to me, or how well I understand it, I am not going to dunk on an full size, NBA level basketball hoop. Hoping that all kinds of learning would translate to this area, I sought out those who had done the impossible themselves. How did you beat this? Maybe I can watch you do it and then replicate that. Or hearing about it. Even, in spiritual osmosis, I could have someone do it for me. Nope, not even close. I found out, after some powerful failure, that these spirits were personal to me. The line of relationship was drawn straight to me, there was no proxy or re-routing to the strength of others. No human being was going to carry this burden for me.
This resolution led me to question God anew. What good was his strength if it was separated from me, stuck in someone else? It wasn’t used up, seeing as how his power is supposed to be unlimited. And that limitless nature seemed to have walls, an exception that made the rule, but only for the weakest part of myself. And more to the point, isn’t God an other? That’s the whole crux of it, the point, that there’s a God and I am not him. For a while, that was the logical explanation. God is God, I am not. In the same way, I reckoned, he was strong and I am not. His strength was strictly separate, as his person is separate from my person. The danger on the other side was, if my surrender to depression was my finding the limits of my own strength, how much of my life was my own? Meaning, my forgiveness for others, coming by the resolve of legitimate, true logic — I can afford to forgive that dollar amount, this much dishonor, or I must forgive this much in order to receive my own in return — how much of that process side-stepped God’s own power in me? Had I will-powered my way to loving behavior instead of accessing the God-work in me? How much of that was, in actuality, an act of my own strength? And, finding that, what is the difference between my personal forgiveness, love, power, etc, and that which God has put in me?
Who was it that was strong enough to control me? At times, it didn’t seem to be God. His will didn’t seem to inflict itself on my will, or overcome me by overt, powerful means. I am finding, again and again, that there are persons, both material and not, who are more than willing to inflict their will on me. My interest in power by any means has brought me to sharpen my ability to manipulate, sell, push, pull, or otherwise exert my self without threats, lies, or any physical exchange. God is teaching me about the nature of his power, and this by itself, but also in contrast to the world’s power paradigm. I look at the triumphs of individual will, either revolutionary acts, martyrdom and self sacrifice. Even the rampant drug abuse in the US prison system is a testament to the strength of an individual’s will. People are limited by little, it seems, if their will and desire is fully engaged. I returned to some of the more pivotal moments in my life, seeing that my strength had overcome great difficulty. I don’t want to use “magic” or “spirit” as a catch-all explanation, but there’s a profound, and profoundly important blur in the boundary between my self and God’s Spirit in me. I end up with three spirits at work in me, God, me, and the enemy. I know God and the enemy can’t mix, and I also know the new spirit that’s been created in me — but the struggle continues! I can scarcely make sense, even in sussing out the idea of the new creation, the indwelling. It’s a physical line, that of separation, but I am still desperately curious to know, where does God’s Spirit and mine touch? Where do they begin and end? And when will the transformation, my redemption be complete? I have God in me, and yet I am still so miserable at times. All the while, I see that God has a will, a desire that trumps mine. He has, lovingly, exhausted and outlasted my self, my will and desire, until I make room for his. Finding the difference between my heart and his seems to be both necessary and also completely futile. I am, or I ought to be, spiritually intertwined with the person of God so that we, the two and the one of us are indistinguishably a single rope. It’s the picture of the vine and the branches, a single, grafted-together plant. There’s something of a truism about the fruits of the spirit, that they are essentially just character — “character” in the sense of emotional and relational maturity. So we grow into a good, fruit bearing plant, right? I’ve found that, in my depressed life, there is this spiritual conversation in me between myself and God where I am very much trying to keep my “self” separate from God’s “self.” I would rather not go through the process, what with the submission and the humility, to have God’s character become mine. In depression, there is a strongman in me, that is both external but also my own self. It’s not a question of coaching, in the sense that I could resolve to “Be taught by the God-coach, as opposed to the Devil-coach.” I am talking about a spiritual being, not a doing, and an indwelling that displaces the old spirit and makes my spirit new. God, how I want to have new spiritual life! I know that my God-breathed self doesn’t experience depression, and so as much as it is true that I feel this, I am in this state even as I write, there is someone else born in the spirit — this is also true, and truer in every sense of the word. I am, and I am also becoming, the beloved son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit in me. I am not depressed anymore, because I’m a new creation. And yet, by the grace of God, I am still here, fighting it.