Actually, I’m not going through a wave of depression right now. But it does come and go and I’ve had to learn how to be OK with it. A new friend who found this blog told me she’s struggling with the concept.
This post is directed toward her. It’s my attempt to answer some questions she asked me about it.
You mentioned that you have frequent bouts of depression medication and therapy don’t seem to touch, and that you’re at a point where you’re learning — trying to learn, anyway — how to live with it and be happy, even though you’re kind of resigned to the notion that true happiness is beyond your reach.
The answer is complicated, but it goes something like this:
First, I should mention that I still have my ups and downs and always will. Bad things will still happen, but I know beautiful things will happen, too.
My addictive personality still pins me to the wall sometimes. I’m not binge eating or drinking like I used to, but the temptation is always lurking nearby, taunting me. I’ve learned to manage my OCD pretty well, but it still escapes from its cage on occasion. My wife will testify to that.
Too much OCD out of control will almost always send me back to the depressed place.
A couple years ago I started to wonder if I’d ever understand true happiness in the face of these chronic conditions. The answer, I’ve found, is yes. Sort of.
I don’t think I’m happy in the conventional sense. But I don’t think anyone really enjoys that kind of happiness.
And that’s the problem.
We have an overdeveloped sense of what happiness is supposed to be. I call it the Happily Ever After Syndrome. We have this stupid idea that if we can just get the right job, find the right mate, accumulate the right amount of material things and have as little conflict with people as possible that we’re going to be on cloud nine for the rest of our lives.
Deep down we know that’s bullshit. But we reach for it anyway.
It’s a battle of false expectations. And when we can’t reach those expectations, it’s a huge let-down. It creates a hole in our souls that we try to fill with more material things and with alcohol, food, drugs or a combination of the three. For others, porn works, too.
That stuff makes us feel better for a few minutes, but before long we feel worse than ever.
I think that hole is still in me. But through the Grace of God it’s gotten a lot smaller.
My faith is part of it. Some people shut right down when you mention faith, but I can’t avoid the subject, because believing in a higher power and fighting tooth and nail to devote myself to Him is something that filled me with a peace I didn’t have previously.
Some people have told me it’s a waste to live that way because after death there’s nothing but darkness. OK, let’s supposed their right. I still have no regrets, because living this way is better than living with the shame I always felt when I was all about me. I’ve also noticed something about people who think I’m crazy for that: They never seem to be happy, either. But I try not to judge them. I’ve done enough wrong in my life to know that I’m in no position to do so.
That doesn’t stop me from being an ass at times, thinking I’m better than the next person. But it helps.
The biggest thing, though, is that at some point I changed my expectations. Some might say I lowered them. More accurately, I think I just discarded expectations altogether. Sometimes the expectations still swell beyond reality, but they’re much more in check than they used to be.
And through that process, I’ve discovered there is happiness. In being more accepting about the low points, I can deal with them more quickly and move on.
I used to grope around for eternal happiness in religious conversion. But some of my hardest days came AFTER I was Baptized a Catholic. I eventually found my way to abstinence and sobriety and got a pretty good handle on the OCD. But there have been plenty of sucky days since then.
I like to think of these setbacks as growing pains. We’re supposed to have bad days to test the better angels of our nature. We’re supposed to learn how to move forward despite the obstacles that used to make us hide and get junked up. When you can stay sober and keep your mental disorders in check despite a bad day, that’s REAL recovery.
This is where I consider myself lucky for having had Crohn’s Disease. That’s a chronic condition. It comes and goes. But you can reach a point where the flare ups are minimal.
It’s the same with mental illness and addiction. You can’t rid yourself of it completely. But you can reach a point — through a lot of hard work and leaps of Faith — where the episodes are minimal.
Accepting all this for what it is lets me be happy.
Prozac, therapy and the 12 Steps have helped me immensely. But they don’t take the deeper pain at your core away. These things just help you deal with the rough days without getting sucked back into the abyss.
The depression I experience now is more like a flare up of arthritis or a passing headache than that desperate, mournful feeling I used to get. It’s a nag, but it doesn’t break me. It used to break me all the time.
Maybe I’m not happy forever after, but that’s OK. My ability to separate the blessings from the bullshit has improved considerably in the last five years.
That’s good enough for me.
I hope someday it’s good enough for you, too.