Happiness, hope, reason, and other things we take for granted

Predictably, as with my last cycle of depression, the first thing I lost this time was my capacity to experience joy. And then I quickly lost my capacity to feel any positive emotion at all. To a point where I started to count self-pity positive, because at least I still considered myself worth feeling sorry for. At the same time, part of me thought, been there, done that. I knew, from the previous time round, how depression rolls. Just give it a couple of months, and I’ll soon be spending more time out of bed than in bed.

But before that could happen, I managed to convince myself that I was going insane. One night, I found myself staring at the same PDF document of class readings for 6 hours and not comprehending a thing. I could read the words on the page but couldn’t piece them together. I could sometimes figure out the logic within a paragraph, but quickly forget what I’d come up with as I wrestled with the next. I began googling brain disorders, because surely depression doesn’t do this to you! I told my roommate how incredulous I was that I couldn’t understand my reading (it wasn’t even Marx or Kant or anything like that), and how I feared I was gradually losing my sanity. I didn’t bother remembering what she said in response. Kind words don’t change anything.

Before I knew it, my world had descended into an unrecognizable level. My roommate was sitting on her swivel chair next to my bed one night. She had a colored pen and paper in hand and was drawing out a visual chart of my last 2.5 years at UChicago, accounting for the ups and downs, making sure to record the significant events that had once made me happy, and accomplishments I had once been proud of. While I appreciated the effort, I could not believe. I believed that I did write the script for a successful play, but that was sheer luck and even the lamest of Singaporean humor would have been a novelty to an American audience. I believed that I was once so proud of a paper I wrote on Mormonism, I shamelessly emailed it to a bunch of people. But of course I was just delusional. What was I thinking? I couldn’t bring myself to imagine what people must have thought of me when they read it. I had come to believe that I was hopelessly stupid. Not just average or slightly below average. I was flat out stupid and had always been.

On the first day of class of spring quarter, I left The Sociology of Reproductive Rights nearly in tears. I had felt so naked in class. Surely they could see through my eyes and see my fear? Surely they could tell I was only pretending like there was anything interesting to introduce about myself? Surely they agreed that I didn’t belong in this school? Or any school at all, for that matter. I walked aimlessly around campus, my mind swimming in a new idea: I would flourish in a primitive, hunter-gatherer society, where one’s sole aim was to survive. My roommate called me, as part of her new daily routine, to make sure I wasn’t alone. She was alarmed when all I could say was, “I’m just wandering around. I’m not sure where I’m going.” And this was after the previous night’s “I wish I was a human vegetable.”

I couldn’t overhear any conversation without thinking, “I could never talk like that.” And while I used to look at families with little kids and swoon, I now couldn’t help but think, “Someone like me should never be allowed to get married. Or have kids.”

The last 21 years were wastefully and delusionally spent. I resented the people around me for colluding to trick me into thinking I would ever be a functional, let alone valuable member of society. I didn’t even know how to be a friend. The people who are my friends are my friends because they’re too nice to not be anyone’s friend. I, on the other hand, was sick, twisted, cold, uncaring, unfeeling. I’d always been and had simply gotten tired of putting on an act.

I stopped dressing well, why fool others and yourself with a polished exterior, only to hide how filthy you really are? I stopped eating well, why treat your body nicely if you feel you’re better off dead? Looking into the mirror was a painful experience. It would show me how ugly I was, inside and out.

One day, during the summer, while a couple of friends played beach volleyball on the sand, I sat at a nearby bench with my journal. I started off praying to a God who seemed to love everyone but me, but it quickly turned into pure self-berating. I wrote: My heart is a filthy piece of trash. If only I could dig into my ribcage, yank it out, and fling it out of sight.

Then  I reveled in a new idea: if I’m wishing this hard that I would cease to exist, there’s no way it wouldn’t come true. It thought it was genius. It would save me.

Did I know I should never take happiness for granted? Sure, anybody who’s ever been unhappy knows that. I didn’t know I couldn’t take hope for granted. I always thought of hope was a choice: you can choose to have hope, or you can choose to wallow in hopelessness. Until I came to a point where I could not accept any source of hope, be it from family, friends, myself, or the Bible, because I was so convinced there was no way out of the pit I had unwittingly dug for myself. And then there are those things you thought you could never lose. Your intellect, your capacity to reason, your sense of humor, your wit, your interests. When such things are lost and later restored, you learn that nothing apart from your decisions is yours. You’re not entitled to anything. You didn’t earn anything. You don’t say you found your sanity. You say your sanity was given to you.

How I got out of that dark pit of endless mind games is a whole other story. And a mysteriously wonderful one. But for now, I want to end with a few precious thoughts: I was thoughtfully and lovingly created by a Heavenly Father. When I find hope I cannot refuse, it is a gift from him. When I have compassion on others, it is from him. When curiosity propels me to seek truth, it is him. All that I am and all that I will be are from him, and so I’ll strive to spend the rest of my life stewarding these things for his kingdom, his people, Him.

I echo the words of King Nebuchadnezzar uttered some 2,500 years ago:  “At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:36-37) Praise and glory to the Lord who gives and takes away according to his perfect will.

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8 thoughts on “Happiness, hope, reason, and other things we take for granted”

  1. I’m going to throw out a wild card here– have you ever been tested for celiac disease or food allergies? You don’t have to answer that publicly. It’s just something I often ask people because unless we have the right tests, we might be putting the wrong kind of gas in our car, so to speak, and that can wreak havoc on our sense of well-being. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is often the worst thing that people from other countries or cultures can be doing to their bodies as well. I know this doctor, he has a great site: http://www.centerforfoodallergies.com/.

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    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! I’m not allergic to anything as far as I know, but I have never been tested for celiac disease. Are those things that can also result in hormonal imbalances in the brain, leading to depression? Neither my therapist nor my psychiatrist mentioned anything like that. I’m curious, though.

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      1. It’s usually the naturopaths who look for such things, not any other treatment provider. Having your body’s immune system react to an allergen or having an intolerance to a food can play into anxiety, depression, and all sorts of so-called “mental” problems that actually have a medical explanation. If I were a doctor I would never, ever treat someone’s anxiety or depression without looking into their diet and also checking for thyroid issues. A fantastic website about thyroid issues is http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/.

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  2. Wow, reading this was like looking into the past. I can totally relate to most of this, down to writing things down that make me sick to my stomach to read now. I thank God that I found my way out of that pit– and it makes me happy to read accounts of how others turn their lives around in the same way. I’m so glad you dropped me this link! It really made my day.

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  3. My wife suffers from bipolar, my daughter has more medical conditions the I can count. I used to wonder why god challenges us in these ways. What his plan was, why we suffer. I spent nights awake wrestling with myself.

    Then I doubted. Then I realized there was no god. Then my world made sense. I have found hope and comfort in that this is the only life we get. There is no after life or god we have to try and impress. There is no god that would create you and your brain with this disorder that causes you to slip down dark paths. It is simply the luck of the draw.

    We all have flaws we need to learn to live and cope with. Find comfort and strength through those who suffer this mortal condition, not some immortal being that sits uncaring from a throne. Realize that all of the times you fought through depression that it was not through the strength of a deity, but of your own strength. Your will to live and survive makes you an incredible human being. You fight for your life more often then the rest of us, but when you win, it is you who wins.

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