Monday, November 2, 2009


I watched the "Great Pumpkin" Halloween special the other night and I was struck again with how dark those stories really are. Good grief, Charlie Brown is a seriously depressed kid! In this one show he got rocks in his trick-or-treat bag when everyone else got candy, he got a party invitation by mistake - he was really on the "do not invite" list, he was taken in by Lucy's football gag again, and his friend Linus was laughed off the stage by his schoolmates. And yet we continue to watch these holiday specials every year and have a real affection for them - why is that? Maybe Charlie Brown represents something in all of us - our fears, our insecurities, our feelings of isolation, and even our tendency towards depression. If we can watch it on TV or read it in a comic strip then we can laugh at it and those feeling don't seem so terrible anymore.

I never thought much about depression until a few years ago. I had the usual ups and downs of life but nothing too serious or disturbing. My unstable childhood included moving every few years, many different schools, and never being able to maintain friendships (if I didn't move then my friends did), which resulted in shyness and insecurity. But because of my loving family and our Christian faith I was happy through all of the upheaval, and that provided a solid foundation to bring into my adulthood. Life swept me along through college, graduate school, marriage, three children, the ministry for Ed, and library jobs and I thought I was coping with everything pretty well. As the kids got older and moved towards college age the demands on my time multiplied and my ability to keep up started to slip, but how could I complain? I had no more on my plate than anyone else I knew, so I just kept trying to stay on top of everything and the pressure kept building.

Of course I finally reached a breaking point - I woke up one morning with the world spinning and thus began a nightmare of dizziness and exhaustion that lasted for months. I had to let go of everything because I was barely able to function - it was like I had been holding onto a bunch of balloons that got bigger and heavier until I got sick and had to let go of them all. What was left was a useless shell of a person, at least that is how I felt (my family says otherwise). And that is when depression came into my life. Maybe I was depressed before my illness - is being stressed and overwhelmed a kind of depression? I don't know, but it certainly eventually resulted in depression. I went for walks every day during my illness because only when I was walking did my head feel close to normal, but I always knew that I would have to stop walking eventually and the horrible dizziness would be back (I've heard it described as going up and down a spiral staircase under water). No one knew how close I came to stepping in front of a car during those walks - I couldn't bear the constant dizziness and I was sure my family would be better off without me - I was just a burden. That's how out of touch with reality I was because of course it would have been devastating to my family! Three things stopped me: I couldn't bear to do that to the driver of the car, a deep seated survival instinct, and the protective hand of God.

I finally emerged from the dark tunnel of illness and slowly gathered up the pieces of my life but I was not the same as before - I had a new awareness of the dark side of life and of how depression can creep up on us. I didn't want to shy away from the reality of depression, I wanted to look it in the face and acknowledge its existence. I was drawn to the song "Child Psychology" by Black Box Recorder with the line "Life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it" - I had to stop playing it because it was freaking the kids out! On the show Gilmore Girls Rory says she likes the song because it makes her "gloomy" but to me it is more about fighting against despair - the implication is that killing yourself is not an option so get over it.

Another song that struck a chord with me was "Into the Ocean" by Blue October, especially the lyrics in the chorus:
I want to swim away but don't know how
Sometimes it feels just like I'm falling in the ocean
Let the waves up, take me down
Let the hurricane set in motion, yeah
Let the rain of what I feel right now come down
Somehow these words express how I felt before the vertigo hit, and how I still feel sometimes when life is too overwhelming and I'm having difficulty coping. Sometimes it seems like it would be a relief to just let go of all of the stress and worry, and allow myself to be swept away in a wave of feelings. And in a lot of ways that is exactly what I should do. Of course I still have to fulfill my responsibilities to my family, my church, and my career, but I need to let go of the stress and worry and trust my future to God. He says "come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" and that is what we all have to do - rest in the knowledge that God really is in control and does have a plan. In other words "let go and let God!" It sounds too simplistic and it is not easy but it is the only way to keep from falling apart.

Depression is pretty widespread in our culture, and this is evident by how often we see it in pop culture, which is another way to say I found a third relavent song! A recent song by Rob Thomas addresses depression from a different point of view - that of those effected by the depression of a loved one. "Her Diamonds" expresses the helplessness of watching someone you love struggle with depression, at least that's what I hear in it:

By the light of the moon she rubs her eyes
Sits down on the bed and starts to cry
And there's something less about her
And I don't know what I’m supposed to do
So I sit down and I cry too
And don't let her see

And she says oooh I can't take no more
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
Cuz I can't help her now
She’s down in it
She tried her best and now she can't win
It's hard to see them on the ground
Her diamonds falling down

There are a couple of things that struck me with this song. The line "And there's something less about her" is heartbreaking to me, because that is how you feel when you are sad and hopeless - like you are less than you were or you should be, and obviously that is how others see you as well, whether or not they admit it. "Her diamonds bring me down cuz I can't help her now" shows how agonizingly helpless it is to watch someone you love shut themselves into their sad world where you can't reach them to help, and the comparison of diamonds to tears emphasizes the preciousness of our relationships.

When things aren't going our way and our future is uncertain it is easy to wallow in sadness and apathy, but this behavior is a slippery slope that can lead to depression and a point of no return. We have to remember the ripple effect our actions have and focus on the positive things in our life and what we can do to change our situation. In other words don't give in - fight the negative thoughts! We can and must acknowledge the things in our lives that make us sad and stressed, and we can express our feelings in music, art, humor, writing, talking, and whatever else helps take the fear and stigma away. But most importantly we must cling to our family and our God for strength and security, because shutting them out is the worst thing we can to. Let's laugh at Charlie Brown, cry with Rob Thomas, and ride the waves of life knowing that God will always catch us when we fall, if we let him.