May 20, 2013

Depression, Relationships, and Choices

A week or so ago someone very dear to me passed along this blog post as a way to help explain what they had personally dealt with over a period of four or five years in the not-too-distant past. It's the best description of depression I've ever come across. In some ways, it's the best description of any mental state I've read or had explained to me in that the author makes something indescribable actually understandable to someone who hasn't personally experienced such a thing. Apparently this post struck a chord with others, too, given that within 10 hours of publishing it the blogger had received 5,000 comments. [Of note, her last post prior to this was written eighteen months earlier, in late-Oct 2011, apparently in the early throes of her ordeal.]

Since reading and re-reading the post and dwelling quite a bit on my own experiences with someone caught in such numbness (something I didn't recognize at the time, much less understand), I've been rather reflective about the more general issue of 'relationships' and much that is implied by the word. It’s important to note (for me, at least) that the blogger is telling her own story, that her experience is hers alone, something very personal and unique in its context and that the person who shared it with me had their own experience, too, just as personally definitive for them as the blogger’s was for her. In many ways it reminds me of C. S. Lewis' A Grief Observed, his deeply personal account of dealing with the loss of his wife. His grief was his own and how he dealt with it could only be unique, by definition, as no other person would have shared the exact same experiences, felt the same feelings, had the same relationship as his did with his wife. So it is with anyone’s experiences even when accounting for the same type of event (a love, a loss, an accomplishment, a disappointment).

But even though each person’s experiences are unique, I think we can still draw insights from them when they are shared (as the blogger chose to do), thoughtfully merging their observations with our own to arrive at a fuller understanding of the human condition. Though there are many ways to gain insight into what makes each of us tick--the arts are an especially powerful medium in this regard--nothing has greater impact than our daily interactions with those around us.  

Having reached my 50th year, I've come to appreciate that the vast majority of our interactions with others, the vast majority of the issues with which we must grapple, are of the rather ordinary variety that constitute 'living'. And yet within this ordinariness we have an extraordinary ability to affect the lives of those with whom we come into contact each and every day, whether for protracted periods of time or the briefest of moments. The reality is we likely have no idea at all what another person might be dealing with, what burdens they are shouldering, or what path in life has brought them to that moment where we find ourselves touching them in some way – at an intersection or in the checkout line, over the phone or in the bleachers, during a meeting at work or around a dinner table.

Judging from my own experience I know that the ordinary can lead one to casualness, to take things for granted. Too quickly we can find ourselves ignoring the condition of others, not out of coldness (though this, too, happens), but from the distractions of our own living. It takes a measure of thoughtful consideration, of choosing to be intentional in our discourse with others, that enables us to pause a moment to 'connect.' I think that too often this intentionality or purposefulness is missing, leading us to miss opportunities to brighten someone else's day, to show common courtesies, or just be polite. Our Lord would have us act differently, of course...calling us to relate to each other with patience, understanding, tenderness and love in all things. I've long thought that scripture, ultimately, is the story of relationships: the relationship God desires with His creation and the relationship He desires each of us to have with each other. We get things right when we take the time to get to know others or, at the very least, to pause for a moment when tempted to react to a provocation. Pausing enables us to temper our response or, better, recast it in an edifying way such that we account for things we likely don’t know as when we are unaware when someone might be struggling with the hidden burden of depression.

There  are certainly moments in life when resolute firmness is required, when meanness, injustice, cruelty, even coldness must be addressed for what they are, confronted and righted...when evil must be stopped dead in its tracks by whatever means are necessary. But such occasions seem to come along rather infrequently, don't you think, when compared with the wealth of opportunities to act in simple kindness toward others as our Lord desires?

Life is too short...and much too lose any portion of it at all in casual disregard of others.

Addendum: A terrific 4-minute video that captures the blog post mentioned above.

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