Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Garden Variety Despair

Thank you for your encouraging comments. I don't want to turn this blog into a self-loathing sounding board. I try not too. I have often discussed the human condition of pain and many assume I'm talking about my own pain . . . which I'm usually not. Often I am thinking of pain because I encounter it daily in others. But this was never suppose to be about me in the way some blogs are or Face Book often is, which they discuss their battle with . . . whatever.  I'm not saying that is a bad thing, but just not my intentions here.

With that said, I will  try to make sense of my world, but only as it helps to define that larger world. I'm ashamed to say that I'm on a rocky crag (emotionally) right now out of stereotypical and one may say, classical reasons. There is nothing extra-ordinary about it.

 I know many people who have encountered remarkable suffering . . . tragic loss of a child, personal diagnosis of cancer and they are in their thirties and many more examples of such suffering. In these extraordinary shadowy places, those people have earned the right (not saying it is the healthy thing, but the reasonable thing) to shake their fists at the universe . . . which means at God . . . and declare the big "WHY?"  They also have earned the right to say also "Why me?"  A normal, decent person who has absorbed such an intrusion into their lives must wrestle with these things.  The only path out is through this questioning place.  Those who never ask the question, I suspect, choose the zombie world that remains captive within the suffering.

But I have neither earned the right to either of those questions.  My suffering is so classical that it is pandemic but often unspoken.

I turned 58 this summer.  My life is passing far faster than I had expected. Part of this journey, and typical for this age, my mother and aunt, who live together, both began to suffer dementia this spring. They live 2500 miles away. I flew down and spent time with them in June. I worked hard to set up care for them. That care is no longer viable and now we must, against their wills or understanding, kidnap them and bring them to live, with either my sisters, or myself.

Being in that sandwich age, I also had the un-pleasure of moving my youngest son 1500 miles to start graduate school just two weeks ago.  Since he was my last (of five) children I am now a father without a purpose. I find myself aging and almost friendless.  In the midst of the loss of my fatherhood (not to insult people who have lost children through death, which of course is much worse), I had left the evangelical church and all my adult friends two years ago.

I also have some modest health problems . . . that too is typical for someone of may age.

So, for the past few months I have felt myself sinking in this depression.  I'm not quite clinically depressed . . . yet . . . and, while I totally agree with the need for antidepressants at the right time, I'm not a candidate . . . not at this point for medications. I want to feel, even though that feeling isn't pleasant.

So, before I get into "wallowing" I want to take this discussion to a broader level.  I do think that we Christians have had very little direction in how to relate to and deal with these forms of depression.  The tradition has been to say as Monty and friends did, "always look on the bright side of life." We were taught that disappointment is, well, sin or at least the wrong way to look at things.

But disappointment, I think, is the most "Biblical" way. In being disappointed, I'm saying to God that I agree that I should live forever, but certainly will not. That I had done the job of raising my kids . . . therefore, they should be mine . . . to keep. But they are not. That we deserve a life without pain, but will not have nothing of that.

So what is the solution . . . my solution, or the solution of humanity?  It certainly doesn't lie within the inward pointing convolution of positive thinking or the other form of denial, the upward flow of transcendence, be it meditative Christianity or pantheism. These are all "blue pill" living, or the imitation of living.

I choose to embrace reality as it is. You can not know the pain of aging and painful joints if you had not tasted youth, where you ran and leaped over small trees on the mountain side and tumbled down green meadows . . . bouncing to your feet without an ache. You would not know the sting of the loss of a child, be it geographical and emotional loss like mine, or the horrors of metaphysical loss of death, unless you had known the joy of holding a helpless but warm little body next to yours. You would not grieve the loss of a mother who can barely remember your name unless you had heard that mother call your name a hundred thousand times before . . . to check on you . . . to make sure you are safe. Now how do I keep her safe?

But I'm not agreeing with the positive thinkers that God did all of this, the blissful embracing of the good and the taking away of it, as a lesson or purpose.  It has no purpose but pain and there is no glory within it.  The only hope is not in mental gymnastics and there is certainly no hope in nilism. The only hope lies with the great saints of Hebrews eleven . . . looking into the haze before us and knowing that somehow it will find a remedy, a remedy that we can't imagine.  In the meantime, to bridge the gap of faith that I lack, I might find a psychologist.


Virginia said...

Thank you for your very honest post. I think I sent you a comment several weeks ago and observed that I thought you were hurting. I did not mean to say that in an accusing way, because it is my experience that we all have hurts which we can try to ignore or repress, or embrace, or offer for healing to whatever God we trust. It seems you are very conscious of yours and I consider that a good thing. In fact my practice when I recognize a hurt or depression or self-pity in me, is to love myself exactly as I am. I observe myself with the pain and uncertainty of my feelings, and I wrap my arms around myself and love myself with the hurt and pain and all the other "stuff". Over time, I have found that my love changes me and helps me to endure and exist either through or in spite of the pain.
That is just my way. I am sure there are many ways. And I am also very sure that counselors can be very helpful.
I have also found that Buddhist thought seems to speak more directly to the reality of universal suffering that we all experience than does Christianity. The "heart sutra" has been very comforting to me.
So I offer none of the above to "fix" you, this is just my experience. But I do feel very compassionate toward you and I bless and intend for you to find your way to love. Virginia

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

JMJ -- I turn 58 in November, I never married, and I'm just over a prostate cancer scare (all biopsy cores negative, but PSA and Free PSA still suspicious so my urologist has me on regular 6-mo surveillance & retesting). I've been through depression, though none as bad as you've had. Will try to contact you off-blog later this week.

The tradition has been to say as Monty and friends did, "always look on the bright side of life."

If you're talking the ending aria of Monty Python's Life of Brian, remember the visuals of that ending scene and the second verse of that aria, "Always look on the bright side of Death". That's my answer to all the positive thinking types.

j. Michael Jones said...

I'm sorry about your cancer scare and I'm glad that it didn't go that way.