I’m sitting at home tonight alone. My family is off doing the annual fireworks display thing downtown. I can’t go. The noise. The people. The clutter. The questions from my children. I just can’t take it. It would wear me down. My brain would overload. I would get nervous and jittery, like too much caffeine. Then I would start to shut down. I would turn into a zombie. Staring into space, praying for the noise to stop.
It’s not that I don’t like fireworks. Okay, truth be told, I’ve never been a huge fan of fireworks. But we’ve always gone to the fireworks. It’s what you do on the 4th. Duh. But not this year for me. I just couldn’t take it.
This is, of course, simply one of many examples of things I have missed because of my illnesses. Between depression and anxiety (two illnesses that often go hand in hand), I have missed a lot over the years. Graduations. Confirmations. Birthdays. Recitals. Even little things like walks to the park, extended family events. The list could go on and on.
And this is just family, of course. If we started to talk about church, I’m not even sure where to begin. For me, the most obvious and painful is preaching and teaching. I love preaching and teaching. It’s why I became a pastor. Yet my mind doesn’t’ allow me to function well enough right now to do it. I used to be just numb to this. Now I’m more anxious to get back into things. I’m sure my counselor would tell me this is a good sign.
But whether we’re talking about family or church or other parts of life, the reality is that depression and anxiety just plain change things. You can’t do these things. At least for a time.
How are we to deal with this? If you’re like me. There is:
- Guilt. I believe I should be able to do all the things I “normally” do. But if I had a broken leg, would I feel guilty for not being able to walk? Maybe, but it would be pretty silly. Why do we believe this is different?
- Shame. I’m embarrased that I am so weak and incapable. (This, btw, is a kissing cousin to pride.) The concept of weakness and suffering is one that does not come easily to pastors, especially younger pastors. We may know all the right answers about suffering, but it is different when one is in the middle of it.
- Relief. I know I can’t do these things, and so it is liberating to be free of them, at least for a time. A period of rest (sabbatical? Sabbathical?) is a good thing. But we are so programmed to GO GO GO until we drop, that this relief is often fleeting. So, it leads back to guilt.
- Creepy Despair. Will I ever be able to do the things I enjoy again? Or have I given them up for good? Despair is really more of a theological term than a medical one in my opinion. See the Sixth Petition. Satan causes despair by using the events in our lives to lead us away from where our confidence lies (Christ and His Gifts) and onto ourselves, or something or someone else. Despair is creepy, and it creeps in to the most unsuspecting places.
- Hope. This is the most elusive of them. Relief from the responsibilities of life for a time is a gift and a good things. It’s hard to see. Hope is like that. But it will come, as sure as the morning. Even when you don’t feel it. Even if you can’t see it. It will be there.
Every day I go through these. Sometimes one more than another. The hope took months to come. Even the relief took time. But I have been able to look at things now a little differently, thanks to medication, counseling, a supporting family and congregation, the the prayers of many friends.
So how do you deal with these and other results of a changed lifestyle? What have I missed?