[Welp, no way to write this post without worrying my mother. But really, I’m fine, just had a harrowing day or two a while back. And I took notes!]
A good1 depression, like a good virus, is a master of self-perpetuation. Its primary job is to attack various systems in the host; but its secondary and more important job is to ensure its own longevity.
A virus perpetuates itself in three ways.2 First, by making copies of itself; second, by adapting to the host’s defenses; and third, by turning the host on itself — convincing the immune system, for example, to attack elements of the nervous system.
A really masterful3 depression works the same way. It starts simply enough, with the kind of thing that would make anyone feel bad: an awkward social interaction, the reappearance of an old sin, or any personal failure, shame, deficiency, or spell of hard luck.
But then the thing propagates itself exponentially, the master depression spawning several sub-depressions, and each of these spawning their own sub-subs,4 until the system is completely overrun by continuous waves of guilt, shame, and helplessness that seems to come from nowhere and everywhere at once.
At the onset, there is a particular cause; but by the time the thing gets into full swing, everything is the cause. Like the lover who sees every blade of grass as proof of the goodness of the world, for the truly depressed person, everything — every interal and external event — is a fresh reason to feel like utter crap.
But this is not the cleverest part of a really well-designed depression. At this point, the virus’ job is to convince the host that killing it (by means of prayer, distraction, charity, etc.) is not in the host’s best interest. Here is the argument it uses:
- You [the host] were happy until A happened.
- A revealed you to be afflicted with devastating personal deficiency B.
- Thinking about B makes you unhappy. Not thinking about B would make you happy again.
- However, given the seriousness of B, it is your duty to think about it until you have resolved it.
- Moreover, not thinking about B would be only to mask the problem, rather than to solve it. So to ignore B would be a kind of self-delusion — successful only until A happens yet again.
- Better to be conscious of the harsh reality of the thing than to live in a fool’s paradise. You know, like Neo when he takes the red pill. Let’s see how far down the rabbit hole goes!
- Therefore, under no circumstances must you permit yourself to stop thinking about B until you either (i) decide on a course of action that will utterly eradicate B from your life, or (ii) discover the secret error in your thinking that caused B in the first place.
If the depression does its job well, the host will choose option (ii) and decide to think his way out of the depression — without ever noticing that THIS HAS NEVER EVER WORKED BEFORE, not even a little bit.
But even if the host chooses (i), he will end up at (ii) eventually anyway, since the process of deciding to radically change his life will lead him right back to brooding on A, which starts the whole process over again.
Trying to think your way out of a depression is like trying to put out a fire by using gasoline. It’s like trying to quench thirst by drinking salt water. It’s like trying to fix a broken leg by walking it off. You can’t fix the problem using your mind, because your mind is the thing that’s sick.
What do you use then? Anything else. Here’s what I usually do.
- Pray, maybe something like this: “Lord, I can’t see any reason for not feeling this way, but I trust that there is one, because I know that you are good.5 In the meantime, until it goes away, I accept the pain it causes, and ask you to use that pain for [x, y, and z].”
- Find something to do: call a friend, clean the house, go for a walk, get some exercise, work on a project for somebody else. If you’ve got an Adoration chapel nearby, head over and bawl your eyes out6 with a journal nearby.
- Whenever the depression’s self-perpetutating mechanisms reassert themselves — whenever you’re tempted to start thinking it all through again, trying to find that hidden secret — pull the plug on that thought, shut the process down, and continue what you’re doing.
It might take a while, but you’ll get over it. Next time will be easier. In the meantime — and this is important — you’re not where you were before. If you’ve offered the thing up, you have helped yourself and others more than you know. In the economy of grace, freely-accepted suffering is better than gold.