I spend my five minutes of Ideal Life Exercise-ing on Sundays thinking about my Spiritual Life. Not to do my Bible reading, or to pray, but to sit back and think about how things are going in this one relationship that is my most critically important one.
Very often, this leads to a much longer time of contemplation, not because I have to, but because I want to. Today, I was remembering how the simple act of making a list when I was at my darkest point helped me find a tiny bit of light.
Out of the pit
As someone who has struggled with my own mental health ups and downs, specifically with post-partum depression, I am intimately acquainted with what it feels like to feel deeply, deeply empty. I have felt the corners of my lips squirm a little, trying to figure out how to make it look like I was smiling, when I think, for a time, my body had forgotten how to do it–as if the synapses that connected my brain to my mouth no longer fired.
In that deep, dark, lonely place, there is no wifi and no electricity. There is no communication with the outside world…well, there is, but it isn’t genuine. There is no way to express how empty it feels.
As someone who pretends very very well to be socially functional, I know that no one actually noticed what was happening to me. That was the terrifying piece…I had backed myself into a corner because I had learned how to put on a mask, and that mask was all anyone ever saw. But inside, I was ** this close to turning to dust.
Although I was alone–not even my husband knew what was happening inside my head at the moment of my deepest struggle–I was not alone.
Generations and generations of men and women have experienced depression. Some of them even show up in the Bible. I mean, King Solomon wrote a whole book about how “everything is meaningless.” Elijah was so down in the dumps that he couldn’t even feed himself. King David, the one after God’s own heart had been there. Moses had been there.
Asaph, one of the psalmists, wrote this:
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
(Psalm 77: 3-6)
This passage has it all: misery, insomnia, brain fog, nostalgia.
The little spark
Do you know why I started reading Psalm 77 at the depths of my depression? Not because I was up on my daily Bible reading, that’s for sure, because I wasn’t up on anything. I had a half-formed thought that maybe, just maybe I should open my Bible, but I really wasn’t in the mood.
I had to start somewhere, and I definitely didn’t care to start at the beginning. I was born in 1977. For as long as I can remember, each year on my birthday I would read the Psalm of the age I was turning. So, at 29 I read and meditated on Psalm 29. At 30, Psalm 30…and so on. At the time this was happening, I didn’t even really remember how old I was anymore (brain fog) and didn’t care to do the calculation. But I knew what year I had been born in. I actually said the words, “If there isn’t something for me in Psalm 77 then I will never open my Bible again.”
My attention was caught when I saw the passage I quoted above. That all sounded so familiar. Then, there was the next part: Verses 11-13
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I don’t know why, but the words, “…then I thought…” stopped me as if I should pay very close attention. As if what had resonated above might find its answer in what would be found below.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
It felt vaguely like turning a corner in a dark tunnel. What if there was some kind of healing, not in being nostalgic for better times, but in simply remembering some of the amazing things that I had seen happen in my life?
Not magic. Peace.
Again, there is nothing magical about this process. It hardly qualifies as miraculous. But the act, not even of really thinking about some of the good things that had happened in my life, but just listing them, started bringing a tiny tiny tiny bit of light into my deep dark pit.
The good things were there. There were plenty of them. I didn’t have the clarity of mind to be grateful about them, but I could list them. Literally, just the act of listing the good things in my life was an enormous act of the will. It was exhausting.
But do you know what? God showed up. Not magic, not miracle. Just a tiny, involuntary upward pull of the muscles at the corners of my mouth. (I am crying just thinking about what it felt like to smile involuntarily for the first time after months and months…)
There was still a long ways to go. During this time, I was asked to give a seminar on vocal technique to a worship team in another part of France. I did (because I hadn’t yet given up my responsibilities in the church, even though I was so unthinkably ill-equipped to be leading anyone at the time.) I was able to leave my tiny little scalawags with their indulgent father for the weekend.
By the end of the weekend, I had a kind of revelation about what it meant to “raise my eyes to the hills, from where comes my help…” I will share this another time, but it was a turning point for me.
The Next Right Thing
All I can say is that healing started not through any concerted effort on my part, but just vaguely following what felt like the next right thing. When it is the right next thing, the path gets a little brighter, sometimes imperceptibly, but enough to want to take another step.
Right things for depression can include going to see a therapist, getting on the proper medication, dealing with clutter, having difficult conversations. It can also be as simple as getting into the shower or opening a book or choosing what you are going to wear the next day.
If any of this resonates with you and you just don’t know where to start, make a list of some of the good things that have happened. I am not saying “be grateful,” because I have been where you are, and someone telling me to “be grateful” when I was depressed felt like they were guilt-mongering. I am just saying make a list. You can make a list without being grateful.
I’ll be over here, hoping for the day when the divine spark starts brightening your darkness. Until then, just make a list.