“UNDERSTAND the Impact of My Suffering.”
Depression-anxiety is not an awkward house guest who stays for a few hours and then goes home. You quickly begin to realize that depression-anxiety wants to live with you. It begins to arrange the structures of your life as if it “owned the place.” It is moving furniture, hanging pictures, and putting its favorite foods in your refrigerator. Unless you are willing to de-accommodate these changes, depression-anxiety will remain in your home as long as you allow (passivity towards these changes is permission).
We will examine six ways depression-anxiety makes itself at home in your life.
1. Unhealthy Lifestyle Accommodations: Withdrawal from friends, erratic sleeping patterns, eating for comfort rather than nutrition, avoiding things that feel like “too much work,” neglecting interests that usually energize you, and similar changes make your life a hospitable home for depression-anxiety. If you leave your door open and have a big bowl of mixed nuts in your living room, don’t be surprised if you’re living with squirrels. If you allow these changes to persist, don’t be surprised if you’re living with depression-anxiety.
2. Changes in Role or Identity: Being anxious-depressed can change the way we see ourselves, and, thereby, how we relate to other people. We can begin to take on pejorative titles like “sick,” “crazy,” or “broken.” These become sources of shame or entitlement; we begin to hide or expect things from others in a way that creates an imbalance that is unconducive for healthy relationships. The result is that healthy friendships grow distant and we are left with enabling or shaming friendships that feed our depression-anxiety.
3. Living in Response to Emotions: We begin to measure our day on the basis of a single variable – how do I feel? Further we begin to make choices on the basis of a single variable – will this make me feel better… quickly? When this happens our mood begins to dominate our thinking and cloud our decision making. No longer are we considering what a “full life” would be; instead we begin to live for relief. Whether we are abusing a substance or not, we are beginning to think like an addict.
4. Loss of Hope for Change: A primary measure of the severity of depression-anxiety can be revealed by the question, “How much hope do you have that things can be better?” The fading of hope is the measure of severity. Hope is the difference between a challenging season of life and experiencing depression-anxiety. Hope does not make us immune to unpleasant emotions, but it does buffer us against despair. If you want to know the difference between “normal sadness and worry” and significant depression-anxiety, it is when hope begins to fade.
5. Passivity Towards Change: “It doesn’t matter what I do, so I might as well do nothing,” is the cynical response to the loss of hope. Passivity is the behavioral expression of the absence of hope. The result is an atrophy of the will. In the same way that physical passivity results in muscle atrophy, growing passive towards the things that upset you results in an atrophy of the will.
6. Loss of a Sense of Time: In the absence of goals and short-term memory loss (common features of depression-anxiety), the loss of a sense of time. The longing for what is “next” is key to our sense of time and memory. When we surrender our ambition and hope to depression-anxiety we forfeit what connects tomorrow to today and allows “this task” to take on meaning as it contributes to something “we want and believe is possible.” The result is that every moment begins to float in an abyss of meaninglessness.
Read Lamentations 3:1-48. Often when we think of this passage we start with the “happy part” that begins in verse 21. Take your time and walk with Jeremiah, the author of Lamentations, as he traces the challenges which create a great sense of felt-need to cling to hope (v. 1-20). Note how much detail Scripture gives to “understanding the impact of his suffering.” Now read the way that Jeremiah fought to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) in the second half of this chapter. Allow this to both dispel any sense of whining you may feel as you seek to understand the impact of your suffering, and to strengthen the notion that God intends to care for people with hard emotional battles like yours through his Word.