Tapping Out

Tired-WriterIt’s Friday night, and my wife is at the hospital with her mom and dad. My father-in-law has had a wide range of health problems over the past few years, so your prayers for him would be appreciated. The kids are all in bed, so this should be prime writing time for me.

I’m tapped out, though. I have a whole bunch of things on my mind – such as whining, victim mentality, more depression stuff, etc., etc. – but I have absolutely no wherewithal to generate anything tonight. I think my brain has already decided to head on into the weekend.

Speaking of the weekend, I hope you have a wonderful one. I’ll be back Monday!

Two Thoughts

????????????????????????????????Well, as I predicted yesterday, I wound up getting a tetanus shot today. This was due to a dog biting me on the leg during a bicycle ride yesterday afternoon. At least, I think he bit me. I was riding past his house, he ran out at me, I got past him, and then I suddenly felt a sharp sting on the back of my right leg. Not wanting to stop and risk further canine confrontation, I didn’t examine my leg until I got home. There was a small gash there, but since I didn’t see what happened I don’t know if it was caused by tooth or claw.

This was, obviously, not the relaxing ride in the country I had hoped it would be. Bike riding has been an excellent natural way for me to reduce the effects of depression by combining exercise with exposure to sunlight. It’s one component of keeping myself in check, though, so it usually doesn’t do the trick all by itself. Throw in an unexpected factor, such as, say, a dog bite, and a normally positive activity can quickly turn negative.

After my wife helped me clean up the wound (You’d surprised how difficult it is to see the back of your leg. Then again, maybe you wouldn’t.), I found a phone number for the house I had passed by and called to ask if the dog had received its rabies vaccinations. A tetanus shot may be inconvenient, but a rabies shot is some serious business for a human. After briefly explaining what happened, I was told the dog indeed had been properly vaccinated, and I was given permission to “smack him” if he ever tried to bite me again.

Upon hearing I would not require a rabies shot, I felt a flood of relief wash over me. My leg was still stinging, but I felt a tremendous sense of calm in knowing my worst fear wasn’t going to be realized. It didn’t occur to me until later in the evening that I had every right to be extremely ticked off about the whole situation. I mean, this was supposed to be a pleasurable activity for me, and it was nearly ruined by someone’s overzealous pet.

I didn’t go there, though. I didn’t exactly choose to be happy, but the more positive thought eventually won out in the end. I didn’t nachmaneven realize what had happened until I was reading an article on the internet that mentioned Rabbi Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. I still don’t know much about the man, but this particular article explained how he was of the firm belief that two thoughts could not occupy the brain at the same time. In other words, a positive and negative thought could not coexist at the same moment. One would eventually win out over the other.

Nachman believed choosing the positive thought was the key to overcoming depression. I’m still not sure I line up exactly with this theory. I am notorious for weighing positives and negatives to no end, sometimes to the point where I can’t make a decision at all. In yesterday’s instance, though, Nachman would have been proved entirely correct. The positive thought of things not turning out as bad as they could have made me forget to be angry, and in turn caused my mood to not sink into melancholy.

Of course, if I wake up in the morning with a sore arm I might be whistling a different tune. For the moment, though, all I have is a Band-Aid on my arm, an understanding that dogs can sometimes do stupid things, and a desire to get back on my bike as soon as I can. Maybe that rabbi was onto something after all.

Back To The Start

On this fairly hectic day that managed to somehow include me getting bit by a dog on my afternoon bicycle ride (Thankfully, the dog dog bitehas had its shots. Still, I may be in line for a tetanus shot come tomorrow.), I’m feeling a little tapped out in the idea department tonight. So I’ve decided to feature a link here to my other blog (which has been shamefully neglected since I started this one) where I decided to talk openly about my depression for the first time. Some things have changed since this was written, but the basic ideas are still the same. Hopefully, barring any further canine-related incidents, I’ll have something new to say tomorrow. In the meantime…


Not Getting It

I feel bad for Richard Martinez. I really do. Anyone who loses a child in as senseless an act of violence as Martinez lost his son, richard martinezChristopher, is wholly deserving of our sympathy. Christopher Martinez was only 20 years old, a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He was one of seven killed in Santa Barbara this past Friday evening by Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old fellow student at the university.

I also feel bad for Richard Martinez for a different reason, though. In an emotionally charged speech this past Saturday, Richard placed blame for the incident squarely on “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.” He went on to use words like “insanity” and “madness” to describe his frustration with current gun laws in the United States. His rage was palpable, and his words spread over the internet almost instantly.

I’m sad for Richard Martinez because he totally missed the point.

I’ve been trying ever since I first read about this tragic story on Friday to muster up some sort of sympathy for Rodger. He obviously had some sort of mental issues going on, but since I’m not a therapist I couldn’t tell you what they were exactly. All the news reports I’ve read described him as very shy, a withdrawn soul who had extreme difficulty in social situations. I read in one article that his parents suspected he might have had Asperger’s Syndrome, which proves how out of touch the media can be with mental illness, since Asperger’s was removed from DSM-5 last year.

As hard as I’ve tried, though, I’m still having difficulty finding much of anything about this man who killed seven people before stampyeventually taking his own life as well to feel for. There’s an old episode of The Simpsons I think of sometimes where Bart wins an elephant he names “Stampy” in a local radio station contest. The episode ends with Stampy being taken to a wildlife reserve, where he begins ramming his head into the other elephants, prompting the reserve manager to tell Bart, “Animals are a lot like people, Mr. Simpson: Some of them act badly because they’ve had a hard life or have been mistreated. But, like people, some of them are just jerks.” And as much as I try to understand this man, everything I read about him just makes me dislike him even more.

Best I can tell, Rodger’s “manifesto” he had written and the videos he posted on YouTube prior to going on his rampage essentially boiled down to two overall points: He didn’t like his roommates, and he couldn’t get laid. Maybe I’m over-simplifying, but the majority of his rambling manifesto I read screamed “victim mentality” at every turn. He wasn’t a cool kid in school; he had never seen an adult woman naked; video games ruined his social life; no one helped him get used to his new high school; and on and on and on…

All of which brings me back to Richard Martinez. Yes, a gun was used to kill his son, but it was a legally purchased gun. Considering some of the other issues at play here, gun control is almost on the periphery. Rodger’s parents divorced, which he described as a traumatic event in his life. His sexual education came not from a parent, but from pornographic movies. He drank alcohol irresponsibly. He tapped into the new culture of narcissism that allows anyone and everyone to call attention to themselves on the internet. He had an unhealthy obsession with having a relationship with a woman and was a bitter, frustrated young man.

elliot_rodger_t479The gun was just the vehicle here. Rodger’s road had been paved for years by an existence marked by self-centeredness, lack of attention and love, and no moral compass to set him straight. It would be blasphemy for the media today to mention that maybe, just maybe the lack of God in a killer’s life might have been beneficial. Of course, that’s no guarantee; Christians do crazy stuff all the time. Shouldn’t we at least consider, however, pointing those with issues like Rodger’s in the direction of a God who promises to never leave nor forsake him?

I had one steady girlfriend my entire time in high school. I was skinny, had a mop of curly hair I didn’t know what to do with, and never became the athlete I wanted to be. I remember being so lonely and miserable in my early 20s that I contemplated walking away from God altogether. He was punishing me, my victim mentality told me. He didn’t like me. For reasons I still can’t explain, though, I stuck with Him. I’ll have been married 16 years this July.

Maybe I feel bad for Elliot Rodger after all. In many ways, he was just like me. I never killed anyone, though. Richard Martinez is right to be angry. I just wish he would be angry about the things that mattered.

The Big Drop

I am a total wimp when it comes to amusement park rides. Spin me around in circles, and I’m fine; plunge me off some kind drop-off, and I’m praying to God for survival. That feeling of hurtling toward potential death has never done much for me, so I tend to avoid things like roller coasters and log flumes and stick closer to the tilt-a-whirl. Occasionally, though, one of my children will talk me into riding something I almost immediately regret getting on.

This happened a couple of years ago at Disney World. Against my better judgement, I joined my wife and kids on the Splash splash mountainMountain ride. This was fairly early in our day at the park, which meant there would be other attractions to take in from there. As anyone who has ever ridden a log flume before knows, there is that moment when you’re just about to go over the edge of the falls that feels like your stomach is going into your throat and you’re going to drop into nothingness. If I could just avoid that moment, I would be fine.

A funny thing happened after we rode that ride that day. That feeling I just described continued to happen to me, even on rides that were relatively benign compared to the first one. I still remember very clearly going over the small drop-off near the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and being so nervous I was white-knuckling the metal bar in front of my seat. Even the slightest dip had me on edge the rest of the day. It was unnerving, to say the least.

I am purely speculating here, but I would imagine I experienced a very small, minuscule dose of what it would be like to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Before you think me an idiot, I am in no way comparing a jumpy day at Disney World to having to deal with a post-war or mentally traumatic experience. As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that “PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm,” though, it did offer me a tiny, tiny glimpse into what an affliction of this kind might feel like.

MemorialDayFlagI thought on this Memorial Day of that day at Disney World because there are so many military veterans struggling with this very condition. I’ve read heartbreaking accounts from celebrities such as actor Patrick Stewart and singer Sammy Hagar about how their fathers behaved incredibly erratically and irrationally after wartime experiences. I know people with spouses who have been diagnosed with PTSD. I am only a spectator looking in, however. My heart goes out to the soldiers who can’t find peace today, but I feel utterly powerless to help them.

A search of the internet today brought up a few possibilities of PTSD occurrences in the Bible. The most common citing I found was the story of Noah. Long before Darren Aronofsky’s Noah film was released, I had heard people discuss the fact that there were more than likely people outside of the ark who were screaming for help, maybe even banging on the outside of the boat, as the floodwaters rose. Noah had to hear that, but he couldn’t let them in. Following God’s commands is not always an easy task, and Noah basically had to turn his back on his dying neighbors.

Noah’s story takes sort of a nasty turn once the flood is over, as he winds up drunk and naked inside his tent. It’s an odd epilogue to an account of the only righteous man on Earth at the time. King Saul did some pretty nutty stuff later on in life, too, and David’s Psalms are an open book on his fluctuating state of mind as well. Were any of them suffering from what we now call PTSD? We’ll never know for sure, as the type of psychological analysis we employ today is not found anywhere in the Bible. What is for certain, though, is that even good men can go off the rails following traumatic experiences.

I pray today not only for military veterans suffering from this affliction, but anyone who has dealt with it for any other reason as well. Your drop was a lot steeper than mine, and you have to deal with it every day. May we all pray to find ways to ease your burdens and comfort your souls.

Sunday’s Coming

True story: It’s about 10:45 at night, and I just turned to my wife and said, “Man, I wish I hadn’t said I was going to write something for this blog every day.” Weekends with five children can wear a guy out. With that in mind, I’ll beg for your mercy and amend my earlier statement to “post something here at least every Monday-Friday.”

Just remember, though: Today is Saturday. That means Sunday’s coming. Keep an eye out for those in your church who may be on the slippery slope of a mental illness. And get some rest tomorrow. I know I will.

It’s Only One Day

I still remember very clearly my first real “breakthrough” moment once I began undergoing counseling for depression. I was fortunate enough to be able to utilize the psychology office at the local university for this counseling, and my once-a-week appointments were usually scheduled for not long after I got off work for the day. Since the office was not set up to accept credit or debit cards (Dave Ramsey would hate me. I hardly ever have real money on me anymore.), I would either have to bring cash or a check with me. I was glad the student center on campus had an ATM from the bank I use on the premises, because I could duck in and get the money I needed on the way to my appointments.

As many of us know, though, the time your shift at work is supposed to end and the actual time you get to leave can be two very different things, so I found myself hurrying like a madman to reach many of my sessions on time. To make matters worse, the ATM I mentioned might have been the slowest one ever made, and I found myself nervously drumming my fingers on top of it on numerous occasions as I waited for my transaction to complete. Combine this with the time it took me to trek across campus, and the perfect recipe existed for me to run late for an appointment.

Not long into my counseling journey, I arrived on campus much later than I intended to on the day of one of my scheduled bad daysessions. As I stood waiting for the ATM to spit my money out, I glanced up at the clock on the wall and realized I was going to be late. If I was too late, the session would be cancelled altogether, and if I was only slightly late I would just lose time that week. Obviously, neither idea appealed to me, but I knew one of those two scenarios was going to play out on this particular day.

I don’t recall exactly what had been going on in my life that day, but I can tell you this: No matter the circumstances, that particular instance of tardiness was going to be my fault. Even if it wasn’t, I was going to make it so somehow, and then the stage would be set for my entire line of thinking to go completely off the rails. “I’m late again. Why am I always running behind? What is wrong with me? God, why did you make me this way, where I can’t even manage to get to an appointment on time?”

And then, suddenly, as if a switch of reason flicked on in my brain, I looked up at the clock again, saw the time, considered the events that led up to that moment, and thought to myself, “It’s only one day.”

I was going to be late, no doubt about it. Instead of this particular misstep being thrown onto the pile of regrets and condemnation in my brain, though, I somehow realized it wasn’t going to affect my tomorrow, didn’t have anything to do with my yesterday, and would resolve itself in my present. It was as if I had figured out how to isolate that moment and let the frustration of it go. Maybe best of all, however, was that I didn’t feel as if God was going to hold it against me or was disappointed in me or had caused this to happen to punish me somehow.

Matthew 6:34 instructs us to “not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” because “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” It’s just one day. Because your today is dark, it doesn’t mean your tomorrow has to be. Yes, things are not going as you had planned, but that doesn’t mean they will always not go your way. I’ve gone back to that ATM moment in my mind several times since that day, and those four words that flashed through my brain have become a sort of mantra for me. I hope they offer something to you as well.

Ironically, I’m finishing this up a few minutes past midnight, which means I’ve already broken my vow of posting something every day. Doesn’t mean I’ll miss it again tomorrow. After all, it’s only … well, you know.


Long Time Coming

I’ve been putting this off for a while now. I knew I was supposed to do it, but I didn’t want to. I’ve been piddling around on my other blog, hoping the idea would go away, but it kept getting stronger. My complete lack of qualifications and my persistent fear of not being good enough did not seem to matter to God. I needed to do this, and He wasn’t going to let me rest until I did.

I feel I should begin by telling you what I am not. I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. The only degree I hold is a Bachelor of Arts in English/Professional Writing. I am not a counselor or a pastor or even a Sunday School teacher. I am not getting paid to do this. And, perhaps most importantly, I am not a perfect person or some kind of “super saint” who is here to tell you what to do.

depression-300x336Here is what I am. I am a 40-year-old husband and father of five who has wrestled with depression for as long as I can remember. I have been diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder (formerly know as dysthymia or dysthymic disorder). I have been through counseling, and I currently take an antidepressant every day. I am also a Christian who struggled for years with the notion that my salvation alone was supposed to make me immune to things like this.

Depression in the life of a Christian is a tricky subject to broach. For one thing, its very existence in a believer’s brain seems to contradict a lot of what the Bible says about joy and peace being ours to claim. It can also be extremely difficult to figure out who is actually suffering from it, who is just a little down in the dumps, and who is using it as a crutch or an excuse to mope around. Throw in the fact that the great majority of people in churches know little to nothing about depression, and you’ve got a recipe for massive amounts of misunderstanding, hurt, and denial.

Perceptions of depression outside of the church aren’t much better, although for slightly different reasons. Whereas a Christian has prayer, the Bible, and the fellowship of other believers to fall back on, those who are not saved are often left with a somewhat more vague hope. They know they need to get better, and there are some great therapy techniques out there to help them achieve that, but eternal peace seems to be largely absent. Victory seems less possible than just gritting your teeth and getting through another day.

I began to feel a desire to write about depression from a Christian perspective, and I’ve done a little of that on my other blog. It never felt like enough, though, and since I didn’t want the other blog to become all about depression, I only wrote about it sporadically. The vision, however, was growing larger. I’ve been pecking at a book idea for a while now, but I felt as if God was pushing me to do something more, something more interactive. I’ve been on the run from this blog ever since.

My goal will be to publish something daily here pertaining to the subject of depression (or other mental disorders). Everything here will, hopefully, be filtered through a Christian perspective. I’d also like to open things up to guest bloggers and those with their own stories to tell. Who knows what else might happen here. I’m just hoping it doesn’t flame out entirely within the first week.

So welcome to Lights In The Darkness. Feel free to leave me a comment about what you might like to see here.