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“That’s All I Need.” February 23, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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This morning I heard a “testimony” of a guy who was at his wits end because he was an alcoholic and how his mentor encouraged him, told him to take things one day at  a time, and to decide not to drink today.  He said when he woke up the next day, after choosing not to drink, the urge had left, at least for the day.  And that was enough.  I don’t know what he did the day after that.  Maybe it’s enough to deal with addiction one day at a time.  Maybe it’s enough to deal with life one day at a time.  But the future looms, dark and desperate, like a loud, windy thunderstorm on a black night.  I’m afraid, and it’s starting to downpour already.  I can’t avoid it.

I have moments of psychic pain that is difficult to put into words.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  The helplessness.  The hopelessness.  The purposelessness.  The disappointment.  The frustration.  The doubt.  The guilt.  The stress, with the related physical symptoms that I can’t shake on a weekday but that don’t seem to bother me on a weekend.  I don’t really understand other people’s depression, but I know mine very well.  Yesterday I taught a Sunday School class the first half of John 3.  You should read it.  You should read it slowly.  And today I woke up, got out of bed, got dressed, and drove to work.  A routine Monday.  I understand eternal salvation from a Judeo-Christian perspective.  In fact, I have no doubts about my spiritual estate.  When I die, I stand to inherit, if I’m right about how I understand John 3.  But while I’m living it’s an entirely different situation.

Those kids all had John 3:16 memorized.  They rattled it off so fast I don’t really think they understood any meaning behind the verses.  They, and I, need to take the time to slow down, read it for content and comprehension and not just for the pride of knowing all the words.  I noticed it in them yesterday, and saw in them a mirror, showing myself, the one who pridefully wishes to have it all memorized and know all the answers, all the words of the verse, without necessarily understanding the meaning behind it.  I think I need time to slow down until I fully understand.

Our pastor told the church yesterday that it’s not about us, and I would like to agree with him.  But how can I “Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus” (It’s an old hymn, we don’t sing those at the church much and didn’t sing any yesterday.), when I can barely drag myself to work through the haze of my feelings about life?  All those people who don’t know much about depression tell me I need medication, counseling, etc.  They tell me I need to think positive, focus on the good things.  There are plenty of those.  The problem is that with respect to my emotions, it is about me.  Do I really just choose to be happy?  Do I medicate it away?  Would a counselor really help, or would that just be another person I drag down by being honest about my feelings?

I have a friend who has all but turned his back on “my religion” at least his denomination of it.  He says guilt is useless to me, it cripples me and leaves me doubting and is the cause of all these depressive feelings.  There’s wisdom there, along with a great deal of experience.  But I still question whether I’m asking the right questions and seeking the right answers.

Maybe one of them is right.  Maybe I should surrender my dream of control.  Maybe I should surrender my guilt feelings over stuff I routinely do, just because an escape doesn’t present itself when I need it.  Maybe both of them are right somehow.  But I have another question neither of them is answering:

What if depression is like pain?

I mean, what if depression, like pain, can be a healthy thing?  If you can’t feel pain, like people with Hansen’s disease, you can get into serious trouble.  But feeling the pain is good because I’m aware to move my hand quickly away from the fire, or the stove, the hot light bulb, or move my foot off of the broken glass or the toy on the staircase.  If I medicate my depression away and I’m off in la la land somewhere, not aware of the stimulus that’s causing the feeling, how can that be good?  Maybe something needs to change on the outside, so my depression can go away.  Maybe I need to move in some direction or another, away from whatever is causing the pain.  Is the motion physical?  Is the motion mental?  Is the motion environmental?

I have everything I need except control.  And crowns for two teeth.  And the ability to do my own plumbing.  And the ability to fix my own car.  And manage my time.  And the time to slow down and understand and to do what I really want.  Anyone else hear Steve Martin from “The Jerk?”

Well I’m gonna go then. And I don’t need any of this. I don’t need this stuff, and I don’t need you. I don’t need
anything except this.

[picks up an ashtray]
And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one – I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.
[walking outside]
And I don’t need one other thing, except my dog.
[dog growls]
I don’t need my dog.

Steve Martin’s character was looking for a shred of control, something he could hold on to that was solid.  And there really was nothing to hold on to that would fix whatever was wrong.  When it all turned upside down on him, like a country song, even his dog turned on him.  Sometimes life comes after me with a vengeance.  And I know well that everyone else experiences the same kind of life.  What’s different is their response.  I don’t know any other response than to enjoy the good times and endure the bad times.  But I think that realistically, there’s nothing I can hold on to, materialistically speaking, that will fix my issues.

When I was a teenager, I contemplated suicide, and chose not to do that on that day.  I can’t say that the contemplation has left me.  But the urge, now there’s a different story.  I don’t cut myself.  I haven’t ever attempted suicide.  I try not to be destructive, and I encourage people to be creative above all else.  Creating is the oppposite, and it’s better in every way.  Being destructive doesn’t resolve anything the right way.  Suicide doesn’t resolve anything the right way either. It’s not logical to me, and to me it would feel like a cowardly escape route.  Not to mention, it leaves a mess behind, including cleanup and the physical disposal of a body, and the hurt feelings, leaving deep emotional scars on those left behind.  And what if you try it and fail, and leave yourself worse off than you were before the attempt?  I’m not going to try it.  And I’m not going to recommend anyone else try, or do, it either.

I think rational thinking, the desire to not make it worse for other people, and the endurance of some people around me have probably saved my life.  I don’t even think about my own exit, until I’m old or some unforeseen accident befalls.  I have my dad’s example.  Every day he woke up, got out of bed, and did his job, the same job or jobs he held for something like 30 years, until he retired.  And I think he’s settled into a new routine in his retirement.  It’s just a quirky routine to me, but he can do what he wants because it’s his time.  He has enough money, I guess, although major expenses still make him a bit cranky.  They go out to eat together, and with friends sometimes.  He likes to go shopping.  He spends it, and he talks to people.  I’ve gone with him and watched him do that.  He doesn’t need very much of anything, but he gives a lot of things to his kids still.  My sister lives two doors down from him and we live 30 minutes across town.

He has more control, I think, since he has both money and time.  But if I inherited a tendency for depression from him, I wonder how he feels.  Sadly, I know he recently lost a pet cat, and more recently a pet dog, to old age.  It’s got to get to him.  I think it would affect me.  He must be sad; he had that dog for years.  We had a dog when I was a kid, but it was always referred to as “mom’s” dog.  And her dog lived a normal dog lifespan and died before he retired.  They moved away from Indiana for a while, but then moved back to be closer to more of the family.  And when they came back, “Babe” was a part of their family.  Cats, the dog, and all their stuff, transported from Arkansas and deposited here in Indiana, and they settled in to a new routine.  I know he still misses the dog.  They went on walks together in the morning and in the evening, and she watched him mowing the grass and taking care of the yard.  And now she’s gone.

I think it would be great to have a pet dog.  Unconditional love and warm feet when watching TV, in exchange for food and shelter, and a bit of exercise would be good for both of us.  Maybe my dad wishes he had a dog but is afraid to make the emotional commitment again.  I wonder if I would feel that way if I were in his shoes, or if I would get another dog.  I don’t think he plans to get another dog ever again.  But I think it might be emotionally healthy for him, and if he took it for walks, would be physically healthy for both of them.

Despite the emotional and financial commitments, I still think I might like a pet dog.  It seemed to help my dad feel less depressed, and now he doesn’t have that buffer, that way to turn away from his inner pain, if I’m right about what causes our depression. We’re both fairly emotionally stable on the outside.  But on the inside sometimes I’m adrift in that emotional hurricane.  It comes and goes.  Some days I barely notice a breeze.

I think, just maybe, that’s all I need:  Crowns for my teeth.  The ability to fix my own plumbing and my car.  Enough free time to slow down until I understand, and the time to do what I want, after manageable busy time to do what has to be done.  And control.  And a pet dog.

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