Depression in any of its forms is a ravenous life cancer. I watched my mother suffer through it in the last seasons of her 58 year old life. For her, depression’s well spring was almost always directly tied to people. It seemed there was no shortage of people on a life list waiting in line to screw her over. Generally right after she’d done something really good for them. Usually people in her inner circle…friends, neighbors, and yes even people in her church.
In one of her deeper, darker moments Mom said once, “It’s possible to feel more alone with someone in the room, than be by yourself“. I’ve never forgotten that. When someone you know says that to you, it sets you back a bit. It’s hard to let it glance off of you.
After your 40th birthday party, you start thinking about the chromosomes in your DNA chain. You begin wondering which RNA markers are steadily rising to the surface…which ones will lay dormant in the bear cave of their spiral ladder chain? What hand have you been dealt? You drive slower to your primary HMO.
I’ve been in an emotional flat spin for the past four weeks. A single event pushed me into some hard core interpersonal turbulence. It felt like falling into a big industrial drier filled with baseballs. I can trace the spin cycle back to the reading of one line of one correspondence. I don’t remember much after that. When you fall into a depression, people ask you if you’re “okay”. Curiously, I lost my ability to answer the question, empirically. You get so lost in the drier that you forget what “okay” felt like. It’s a curious phenomenon.
People around you know something’s wrong…that there’s a wire not firing. But in the drier, there’s only the “now” of your mood. It’s timeless in your reference frame. It always was, is, and will be. It’s scary when someone asks you if you’re “okay”, and you can only honestly answer, “I don’t know”. (I say, “I don’t know”, a lot lately. In response to a great many number of things.)
After talking to close friends, and looking at information online, I breathed an electronic sigh of relief when I discovered I wasn’t depressed in the clinical sense. In fact, I was less symptomatic, than psychosomatic. A parent’s shadow – especially the ones that have passed, hang dark and heavy sometimes – like a wet wool sweater draped across your shoulders. But sharing in confidence what had triggered the event with others revealed that disappointment, and not depression, was the source of my baseball drier downdraft. In that sense alone, not unlike my mom’s own trail of tears. More importantly, in their presence, these people I’d confided in helped me “reboot” from the blackness. Some rolled up a proactive sleeve – reached fearlessly into the cave…to draw a part of me back out into the spring of sunshine. Others stood at the cave’s edge, and waited. Not so close as to impose, but close enough to be seen. Showing up, and shutting up.
In the drier with the baseballs, I thought about my mom, my dad, and my own end. Not in a suicidal way – more of a flash forward “best case scenario-midlife weird thoughts”, way. I thought about what those last few moments would be like (I want to say it was in a dream, but things have been confessedly foggy of late). Those last few breaths. The last views of the ceiling, or floor, as fate may have it.
What will I feel as my spirit unplugs from this hard drive heart and networks with the Eternal? Will I mourn conversations unspoken, or swell with the pride of love lived loudly?
Will my children fight over my things and stuff…inanimate objects, or fall back firmly in the snuggled memories of me? I think and wonder what I could and should write here, and my heart swells so large in my chest, the salty water so full in my eyes that I fear I should burst. The idea that one day I won’t be here to hear my son Caleb say, “Good morning Dad, how did you sleep?”, and feel his follow up hugs against my chest forces the tears over the edges of my eyes. This and a million more “for granted’s” and a million more beyond.
Such are the true treasures. These are the touchstones I believe that lead most earnestly back from the baseball drier…call the loudest to you from the confines of the cave. Ironically, you see them shine the brightest in the darkness of that depression, though. When you are miles underground, their light appears like fireflies.
In that sense alone I am grateful for the the flat spin. In that sense, the time there drifting, had value. I am reminded on my best days that I am still flat-spinning towards the ground. That we are all spinning towards the ground. That we are never really flying, as ‘Buzz Lightyear’ so correctly noted, but “falling, with style”. There’s an intentional ‘out of control’ difference here. An inward realization, and appreciation, I think. A gratitude that we got to fall, at all – ever.
Pastor Francis Chan once spoke about a prayer he prayed. How in an unexpected gratitude he was thankful for every breath he breathed as he prayed…literally thanking God for every breath breathed in, and out. It forced him to reflect how each moment, each life sustaining second was handed from an allotment of breaths…a bank account of heart beats.
Try it, like I did this morning. It’s sobering. That you’re counting backwards from a known number. Five hundred thousand………Four hundred thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine, and so on.
My hope for anyone who reads this today – on the inside or outside of the cave, is this prayer for you passed forward. To look at life in gratitude, without regret, as we all fall face forward towards the ground. This is what I’m taking with me today, from the cave.