Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression and the Great Lie

The liar spinning his lies.

The suicide of Robin Williams has led to a number of posts on the internet about depression.  Both this one and this one are well worth the read.

It may be presumptuous of me to add anything, as my own personal pain has been quite mild by comparison.  Not that I don't have "mental issues", as my friends and regular readers will no doubt be happy to tell you!  But my own struggles have mostly been with anxiety and with demons of a different stripe.

However, I did experience one long dark night, a period of what could be called depression or despair or murkiness, a mixture of anger, hopelessness and listlessness that lasted for about two full years and that only recently ended.  Many of the posts on this blog were written in the midst of it.

It was "situational" for me - dealing with some very dark truths of human nature brought about by two situations that somehow managed to plumb the depths of who I was as a person.

And by far the worst thing about it - and perhaps this is true of all who suffer from chronic depression - was the lie.  The great lie.

***

We can all endure a certain amount of suffering and disappointments, even great pain and anguish in our lives if we can perceive the purpose of the pain.  If we're fighting to defend our nation in a just war and we get taken prisoner, the torture and deprivation we endure is out of love for something greater - and that makes all the difference.  But if the war is meaningless, if we were drafted in a conflict that was designed to fill the pockets of the corporate oligarchs who are trying to enslave us, then the suffering has no context - no meaningful context, and in that case seems unendurable.  Pointless.

Losing sleep because you're nursing your newborn is difficult, but a blessing.  Losing sleep because life seems meaningless and you can't function is a curse.

So love makes any sacrifice a glory, and even if our own sins bring about a darkness - that at least is part of God's plan and is an aspect of his Severe Mercy.  Being crucified for a sin you're guilty of is awful, but it's not so bad as what an innocent man suffers, as the Good Thief pointed out to the Bad Thief on Calvary ("And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." - Luke 23:41)

All of these ways of suffering are difficult.  But it's at that moment when even God seems to drop out of the equation that things are really bleak.

And in that moment the lie, the great lie, comes directly from the mouth of the father of lies.  And his favorite tool is the very meaninglessness and injustice that fuels our pain and that makes us long for a suffering that is justified, when he convinces us that ours is not.

Perhaps the most terrible of the Temptations of Jesus was one that was not spelled out, one that we can only infer.  When the devil tempted Our Lord in the wilderness, the theme behind his hideous whispers was power, power to compensate for doubt.  "If you are the Son of God ... prove it and Lord it over nature!  Lord it over others!  Lord it over death itself!"

But in that darkest of all dark moments, that terrible time on the cross when the sun itself went black, what was whispered in His ear must have been something like this ...

It's worthless.  You're worthless.  You thought you were the Son of God.  You thought you were doing good, helping them.  But they don't want your help.  And this is the hour for which you were made?  Ha!  It's an hour of emptiness.  This is an hour of absurdity.  Nothing matters.  You call this a sacrifice?  It's an empty gesture in a universe of empty gestures.  Your precious Father has abandoned you utterly - and you deserve it.  Because you're worthless.  "Are you still maintaining your integrity?  Curse God and die!"

That last line is from the Book of Job (Job 2:9), and I'm sure Satan used it, for the devil knows his Scripture well, and can quote it to his own advantage (see Luke 4:10).

But so does Our Lord.  When the dying Messiah cries out, "My God!  My God!  Why have you abandoned me?" - He and his listeners knew the rest of the Psalm, which ends with triumph and glory.

But my point here is that the great lie, the trump card played by the Prince of Lies, is the horrible untruth that everything is meaningless and that we do not matter.  No one can come to suicide without passing through that terrible curtain.

The antidote to this?  By the grace of God, Pope Benedict XVI explains the incredible ...

Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.

That may be very hard to envision when you're in the throes of depression (it's hard to envision even on a normal day!) and that truth can only be conveyed if we offer more than mere words to one who is suffering.

But when I was depressed, that's what got me down the most - the conviction that my efforts were all for naught, that everything I did was simply selfish, that even my most ardent attempts at being loving and self-giving were sins in disguise, and that no matter what I did, it was never enough, that there was no way to escape from the utter indifference of the universe, that even the human heart was empty and all its passions contrived, that, as Lucy once told Charlie Brown when talking about his beloved dog, "Snoopy only loves you because you feed him."

In other words: "Are you still maintaining your integrity?  Curse God and die!"  Don't forget it was Job's wife who told him that, the woman he loved most in all the world.

So, my friends, life can be far more difficult than we often pretend it is.  And the inner struggles of those around you can be far greater than you could ever imagine.  So love them.  And remember, as Chesterton said (my emphasis) ...

Christianity alone felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point -- and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." No; but the Lord thy God may tempt Himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane. In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”



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