Shouldn’t be posting! Because I’m at work! But it’ll just take 2 minutes! To tell you about my small guest post! Over at the blog of the redoubtable Simcha Fisher!
One summer, age 15, I looked around and noticed I was in a fantastic mood. It wasn’t occasioned by anything in particular. I remember the quality of the sunlight and the feeling of lightness. I told myself, Fix this moment in your memory; you’re feeling good for no reason. Next time you’re feeling bad for no reason, remember this, come back here.
Naturally, this never worked. You can remember with clarity how it was to feel a certain way, and still be miles away from feeling it.
Last week I was driving and happened to think of a man I had been infatuated with some time ago. For a moment I could feel myself settling into an old habit of thought, could see it start up in my head like an old song: how much I had cared for him, how inadequate I had felt next to him, the air of impossibility and frustration and obsession that had surrounded so much of our friendship.
Then I said to myself: “No, that’s enough, it’s not helpful to think about that right now.”
So I stopped thinking about it. The thoughts lingered for another minute or two, then dissipated, and I moved on to something else.
If that story doesn’t seem extraordinary to you, congratulations: you may be sane. But to me, the ability to stop thinking about something when it’s painful and useless to think about it is so new, so amazing, that it still seems like a superpower, or like some preternatural ability familiar to Adam and Eve but lost forever to us. Once again I marvel: is this what normal people are like?
I remember the experience of wanting desperately to stop thinking about something, but having no more power to do so than to regulate my heartbeat, or to bring down a fever. I don’t doubt that I’ll experience this kind of thing again. I expect everybody does, from time to time. The difference is that I don’t experience it the majority of the time, which is to say that I’m no longer defenseless against whatever shadow happens to be swooping by, no longer caged, tied down, at its mercy.
I credit the meds for this. I don’t know how much of it is really due to them, how much to therapy, and how much is due to whatever-it-was I gained from the dark valley I passed through last summer. I don’t particularly care, either. An amputee who receives a gorgeous set of mechanical legs might be tempted to sit around and brood that he wasn’t able to sprout a pair of legs on his own — maybe by concentrating really hard, or praying a lot? — but that would be stupid. The point is that now he gets to walk. The point is that the wherever the legs came from, walking is very, very good.
Like Calvin says: “There’s no situation so bad that it can’t be made worse by adding guilt.” To the pain of anxiety, I would always add the guilt of not trusting enough. If I trusted God perfectly, wouldn’t my anxiety have disappeared on its own — no pills necessary?
Maybe. And maybe if the amputee trusted God perfectly, his legs would grow back.1 The question is moot, because I don’t trust God perfectly, and I can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to, and it’s not that I don’t try. It’s that I don’t have the necessary equipment — I can’t trust God perfectly for the same reason that a crocodile can’t fly.
I don’t need to beat myself up about not [yet] owning a pair of wings. Healthy people don’t panic in ordinary situations, but it’s not because they trust perfectly; it’s because they don’t have to trust perfectly to keep from screaming.
So — thanks, Jesus, for this bottle full of lovely white 20mg ovals. If I was perfect, I wouldn’t need them. But I guess if I was perfect I wouldn’t need you, either.
Passing this along from a friend. One small but easy way to get your voice heard. Took me about 5-10 minutes.
I’m currently a senior at Trinity College in CT working on a thesis looking at the sources of influence on the beliefs and practices of Christians who experience same-sex attraction. I’ve been trying to read, listen to, and interview numerous Christians who do have same-sex attractions, both those who believe it is within God’s will to be in a committed, monogamous same-sex relationship and those who believe homosexual partnerships are fully prohibited by God. I created an anonymous online survey as part of the project, and I have been blessed with over 100 responses, but only 19% of them are from gay Christians who believe God prohibits homosexual sex. I must say that I have been grateful to find your blog where I can read a number of posts by people who are gay but celibate. As I’ve been doing my research, it has become apparent that Christians who are gay but not willing to be in gay relationships can often find themselves with condemnation from both sides. So, this blog is a beautiful thing.
Would you consider sharing the link to my survey with your blog readers? I’ve been running it for three months now, and I will have to close it down in a few weeks so I can begin analyzing the data. It is a great hope of mine that I could get a more even response before then. I want to represent well gay Christians who obey God’s prohibition of homosexual sex, but I fear that will be difficult with such a low response rate. Here is the link to the survey, please let me know if you do post it: [link]
If you don’t mind their trademark combination of foulness, expletives, poop jokes, and brilliant insight, I highly recommend this article on Cracked: Five Great Joys In Life That Healthy People Never Experience.
If you’re lucky enough to have a condition that can be treated — not even cured, just treated a little — the moment the medication kicks in is like unlocking a secret level in life. All these years, you’ve existed at half power because chronic illness Harrison Bergeroned your ass, so any meds that take even a fraction of that weight off of your shoulders are basically giving you…superpowers. If people thought you were obnoxious after you got those glasses, with your constant prattle about wood grain and cloud patterns, they’re going to strangle that newfound health right out of you the first time you wake up to find it doesn’t hurt as much as it usually does.
“Holy sh★t, have you ever realized how great it is not to feel like you’re going to die after you eat?”
“Have you tried this walking stuff? It’s amazing! It hardly hurts at all!”
That’s how I felt last night. I had 7 or 8 guys over for a poker game, old friends and new. It wasn’t anything remarkable, except if you remember that I’m the guy who, five or ten years ago, would find it terrifying to even be in a room with 7 or 8 other men my age, forget about inviting them over.
A few drinks in and, thanks largely to having watched Warrior1 a few nights ago, I got the idea that after the game, wrestling would be a good idea. A lot of other people agreed, and we tore it up for a while — none of us particularly in shape, none of us knowing what we were doing, but everybody having a great time. We only smashed one lamp, but it wasn’t even a nice lamp.
Hitting people and smashing things is, obviously, fun enough on its own, even before remembering that I’m the guy who, back in high school, faked a stomach illness because I was too terrified to participate in field day. And now I’m wrestling in my living room, in front of 7 other guys who are ALL CHEERING, and I’m not even worried about if I’m gonna win or how I’m gonna look? And not only that, but I don’t do half bad?
I never would have believed it.
Like the guy on Cracked says, our condition is treatable. I’m not talking about SSA itself (the verdict is still out on that), but everything else, the stuff that really matters — the loneliness, the insecurity, the not-belonging.
The treatment is harder and slower than we’d like, but Oh man, it’s worth it.
Gosh, William Lynch just gets better and better:
The sick [i.e. the mentally ill] deeply fear that they are not human. They interpret an endless variety of problems and distresses as nonhuman.
I remember I used to feel that it would be a relief to have the kind of problems that “normal” people had: in high school, worrying about girls; in college, about grades; later, about money. These things seemed to me standard problems, problems you could talk about. And it’s true — I heard people talking about them all the time.
But I was consumed with things that I couldn’t talk about — things that, it seemed to me, it was shameful even to feel, because they were not within the range of the normal, the human.
This is why, when I find myself stuck in a traffic jam, I sometimes can’t stop grinning: how enjoyable it is to be having a normal human problem! I imagine it’s how someone from Haiti might feel when he has to buy creamy peanut butter because THEY’RE OUT OF CHUNKY.
When people are mentally ill they excommunicate themselves or are excommunicated by human society…let us imagine the mentally ill as living the life of excommunicates from our humanity, from the human race.
For many men with SSA, this feeling is manifested specifically as a (real or perceived) excommunication from the world of his fellow men, rather than from humanity at large. If the mentally ill person feels that he is outside of the realm of the human, the man with SSA often feels that he is outside the realm of the masculine: that there is an essential difference between him and other men.
I say “an essential difference” because it doesn’t feel like something that can be overcome: the very fact of having to overcome it in the first place seems to place one outside of the realm of the masculine. So, seen in those terms, it’s an insoluble problem. One feels that, even if he somehow attains the masculinity he thinks he lacks, he’ll still be forever marked — because he didn’t have it from the beginning.
(As if anybody is born knowing how to be a man!)
I remember the look on my friend M.’s face when, from the middle of my own personal Golgotha, I explained this to him for the first time — I used the phrase “insurmountable chasm” (who doesn’t get histrionic when they’re in the Pit?) to describe the distance I sometimes felt between me and other men. And, wow, I could tell he got it because of — God bless him for his empathy — the way the blood drained from his face. He hadn’t really understood, before.
For the sake of the sick, therefore, we must be concerned to enlarge the concept of the human so that it can include everything in them.
Walker Percy, somewhere in Lost In the Cosmos, has the image of a man riding a subway, feeling lost and isolated and alienated. But luckily, he is reading a novel about a man who feels lost, isolated, and alienated. Since the man in the novel feels as he does, the feelings become endurable — because they are something human after all.
What to take from all of this? Our job as Christians, it seems to me, is to “enlarge the concept of the human” to include those struggling with SSA. This is done, not by pretending that SSA is not a problem, but by acknowledging that it is a human problem — which means something that can be talked about, sympathized with, understood.
More specifically, this means — for both the sick and the well — acknowledging that the feelings of inferiority suffered by men with SSA exist precisely because they are men. Every man wants to be a man, wants to love and be loved by other men, sometimes feels inadequate as a man.
For the man with SSA, this desire takes on an extra intensity. But the important thing to remember is that the desire arises, not despite his manhood, but because of it.
I’ve got no words for you today, so I give you the words of Fr. William F. Lynch. These are excerpts from Images of Hope, which I have been reading on and off since about March. It was one of the very few things that helped at all when things were darkest.
It contains some of the most breathtakingly dead-on observations about depression I’ve ever seen, and no small amount of powerful weapons for doing battle with it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a passage and said: Wow, he gets it. I never met anybody else who got it.
So I’ll present them without further comment. I hope you’ll get the book if you like what you see. In my copy, each of these passages has a big star, or heavy underlines, or DOUBLE underlines, or all three.
People who do not attend to detail are poor in hope. They do not believe that anything will come of detail. They rather expect that the pattern will form of itself, without the detail. This is contempt, which is the opposite of hope. The mentally ill frequently find it extremely difficult to have hope in language, in talk, in the use of one word after another, in actually saying to the doctor, step by step, word by word, what they think or feel.
Hope is related to help in such a way that you cannot talk about one without talking about the other. Hope is truly on the inside of us, but hope is an interior sense that there is help on the outside of us.
The image of the absolutely self-sufficient man is a mockery of physiological and psychological fact.
I know at least one therapist who abandoned the treatment of a particular schizophrenic in despair, only to find that his acknowledgment of despair had cured the patient! In acknowledging some of his own hopelessness he had himself rejoined the human race and had thereby helped to relieve the patient of an impossible burden, the burden of having nothing but beautiful feelings.
I propose that the sick person is really helpless, and that there is nothing more human than to be helpless. He is helpless. For he is operating within his own closed system of fantasy and feeling, unable, as a result, even to see or imagine what is on the outside. He needs another’s imagination that will begin to work with his own, and then the two can do it together. He must put on another’s imagination in order to rediscover his own.
This is agony, so to melt one’s thoughts, wishes, feelings, and self into those of others that one completely loses the taste of self. If we can say it without raising any moral implications for the sick, I think tha this is the psychic parallel of the terror of the loss of the soul. It is not the loss of the soul; in fact, the sickness may ironically turn out to be salvation, but it causes reverberations similar to the terror of this loss.
Christianity has regularly been interpreted as a great source of inhibition and as an enemy to wishing and willing. If this interpretation were correct, we would have to acknowledge that Christianity itself is one of the prime sources of mental illness. But it is not true; only those who will always refuse to wish will, in order to legalize their position, invoke a counterfeit Christianity that calls their refusal health or virtue. If Christianity were such, it would be the perfect system for taking away hope, piously pronouncing that if we remained thus hopeless until death, it would intervene at that moment to reward in death the hope that was never allowed to function in life.