Mechanical Legs

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.

1 But, nota bene, probably not.

14 Comments on “Mechanical Legs”

  1. Rickie Mack says:

    Long time reader, first time poster here. Because of your posts about deciding to start medication, I was able to muster up the courage to make an appointment. I’m now rounding up my third week on the meds, and I have to say that my social anxiety is much, much better. It still is intensely uncomfortable (and I hope taking them longer will help increase the effect), but I used to completely avoid social situations as much as possible.

    I, too, deal with doubt, very much so. That is why I took so long to decide to take meds; I thought if I prayed enough or had enough faith that I would be freed from my demons. And yet, even almost into a year of a really bad relapse, into anxiety and depression and an eating disorder, I had not been able to pray myself into recovery. I find it interesting that the time period that I stopped thinking of myself as in “treatment” for an ED and all of the associated issues and began thinking of myself as in “recovery” for an ED and the various co-occuring issues is around the time that I decided to give the meds a try, for at least 6 weeks.

    Thank you for your honesty, in your postings, in dealing with all of your crosses. It has helped me so much in my own journey toward healing, through trusting in God, and *all* of the ways His Divine Providence manifests, either directly through Him, or through the people He has bestowed His knowledge to, to create medicines and therapies that can help with the process of healing. I pray that our weaknesses may be made strong through the strength of His cross.

    1. What a high compliment, Rickie. Thank you, God bless you, and may you continue to experience healing.

  2. Susan says:

    Beautifully written, Steve. I usually equate my Lexapro with insulin for diabetes, but I love the mechanical legs analogy almost as much as I love not being a walking incendiary device. Peace be with you!

  3. Kellie says:

    As valuable and well-said as the honesty of your bad times was, it’s definitely been exciting to read about these recent good days. And that last paragraph is so well put. Thanks for writing; this makes me thankful.

  4. Tammy says:

    I’m not sure how to say what I’m feeling Steve but your posts are so heartfelt and real and moving. They often, in some way, describe so clearly a struggle more common that you know. Most of all, they are so very, very helpful, thank you

  5. “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?”

    Steve, in those two sentences you summed up YEARS of my own spiritual/emotional/psychological angst…and you are SO right: it’s a moot point. Because I can’t trust him perfectly…but I don’t have to be perfect, I don’t have to earn his love. Amazing how difficult it is to accept that! I’m reminded of a song by my friend Danielle Rose (some may find the lyrics a bit saccharine, but they are definitely born from a soul that has suffered quite a bit):

    You saw that I was perfectly imperfect
    Oh happy fault, the sin of Adam’s pride
    That’s the reason that you became man
    And bore the new Eve from your wounded side

    If it weren’t for my sins and wounds and weakness
    Then you wouldn’t have married me upon the cross.
    Why do I fear being seen naked and broken?
    That’s why you came, because I need you that much.

    When you hung upon the cross looking at me
    You didn’t die so I would try to be somebody else.
    You died so I could be
    The saint that is just me.

  6. Laurie says:

    I know what you mean about the wonder and awe of being able to stop thinking about something! I was recently gushing to friends about such a moment… perhaps they thought I was silly. I was too excited to notice.

  7. Sarah says:

    Steve, thank you so much for this line:

    “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 have all but completely stopped praying because my struggle with Faith has just seemed so hopeless, and I beat myself up because part of me thinks I bring it on myself by not trusting in God more. But I’m going to keep this line in mind, and I’m going to try saying the rosary again.

  8. Charity M. says:

    Steve, this is so many kinds of good. I can’t wait till the day you write a book! Every time I stop by, you inspire me to keep blogging and to be more authentic in sharing my walk with the Lord. Thanks for letting God use you!

  9. El says:

    It’s so good to hear from someone who has the same kind of experiences as me. Beautiful post.

  10. Beth T. says:

    Whenever I have trouble controlling my thoughts, I ask my guardian angel to assist me in keeping my head above the fray, examining the thought with the eyes of God, and, if possible, getting it out of my head. I’m no longer in a state of clinical depression and anxiety, but it hasn’t failed me yet. God loves you; hang in there!

  11. Elisa says:

    I stumbled upon your blog from Simcha Fisher. And I so needed to read this today. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing. I needed the encouragement to keep seeking treatment and hope that one day soon I will feel better, and reassurance that just because I need medicine to feel better and function does not mean the health is not “real”.

    1. God bless you, Elisa, and I hope you find a way to feel better very soon. Sending a Hail Mary your way.

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