This is the 10th in my Lenten series of posts based on Monica A. Coleman’s book about people of faith and depression, Not Alone.
I frequently use a metaphor in my work with church groups that I picked up from my friend Pastor Dave Owen O’Quill that is fitting during this week of Passover to also use when we talk about how we deal with depression. Congregations are notorious for not wanting to make any real changes. They aren’t so much afraid of the changes but the losses that occur when change happens. Pastor Dave likens this to the Israelites getting out into the dessert and getting scared because things are new, scary, and uncertain and they ask Moses to lead them back to Egypt where at least they had some food. “Back to Pharaoh” says, Pastor Dave. “They always want to go back to Pharaoh. The Promised Land is too scary.”
Monica Coleman uses this same type of analogy to describe the journey to wholeness we go through as people living with depression. She recounts stories from novels and the New Testament of healers asking people “Do you want to be made well?” This is a lengthy excerpt, but an important one:
Do you want to be made well? I like this question for all that’s behind it. The healers are asking: Are you willing to have a new experience? You know sickness, but you don’t know wellness. You’ve learned how to manage what you do know. You know it like the back of your hand. You know how it dips, turns, and immobilizes. You know the hint that today is a bad day. You know how to hide it, work through it, or surrender to it. (At least I do.) So are you willing to venture into the unknown? Are you ready to learn new ways of being in the world? Are you willing to trade a familiar sickness for a health you may not recognize? Are you willing to feel things you haven’t felt before? That’s a lot of weight. Are you sure you want to be made well? The healers are asking: Are you willing to work for it? The road from sick A to well B is not straight or paved. It winds; there are obstacles; you will fall on the path. Are you willing to get back up again? And again? You will feel as if you are groping in the dark. Will you trust that there is light at the end? Until you get there, can you work with the shadows? You will need community. Can you trust those who love you? Can you hold tight with one hand and release with the other? You will have to trust in the process. You will need faith. Do you want to be made well? These are real questions for people who live with chronic conditions like Bambara’s Velma, the Gospel’s sick man, and those of us who live with mental health challenges. Of course one wants to feel better. But are we willing to have new experiences? Are we willing to work for it? Do we want it bad enough? Getting to “yes” is a journey all its own. It’s a big deal to crave wellness more than the comfort of what is well known and in the face of the trial-and-error character of the work. It takes many of us years to excavate the hope that is needed to walk the way to wellness. That should be enough. Do you want to be made well? I like this question for all that’s behind it. I also like this question for all that it’s not. It’s not: Why are you here? What’s wrong? What are your symptoms? Do you have health insurance? …I want a society where the healers ask the only question they need to know the answer to: Do you want to be made well?Coleman, Monica A. (2012-08-24). Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression (pp. 125-126). Inner Prizes, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Being made well, the journey to wholeness is one that many people, myself included, are reluctant to make. As painful as depression is, it is what we know. Our pain and our struggle is safe. Everyone who hurts longs to be well and free of pain. But getting well is not just the absence of uncomfortable symptoms. Getting well is like resurrection, also appropriate this week as a metaphor, in that it involves not just coming back to life, but coming back into a NEW life. Wellness is not just alleviating symptoms, it is integrating the fact of depression into your life, making peace with it enough so that you do not live in fear of it. All of us would have said to Moses at some point, “let’s go back to Egypt” but the only way to the Promised Land, we must eventually learn is through the unknown wilderness.
Reflection Questions from Not Alone
Do you want to be made well? Are you ready for the unknown? Are you willing to work for it?
I debated for a while with myself about whether or not I wanted to publish my thoughts and responses to this particular section of Coleman’s book. The reason it has been a hard decision
is that I finally decided to answer “yes” to this question and that answer has led to both a liberating and terrifying path over the last 16 months. I’ve written about is a bit before on the blog and certainly on some Facebook posts that have gone out to family and friends. I decided in December of 2011 that I did indeed want to be made well. I had to face the reality that I was very obese (290+ pounds) and that I ate compulsively and was in fact slowly eating myself to death. I struggled for weeks before I actually began a food plan in earnest. It was going to be drastic and I sat on the knife edge of whether or not I wanted to actually change, to get well. As pounds came off, feelings rose. feelings I had been burying and ignoring by eating. Accepting and dealing with my depression is one thing that followed losing weight. Admitting to myself that I hadn’t been happy for a long time in a long term marriage was another.
I was ready for the unknown. Scared, but ready. I had let depression and compulsive eating run things for too long. It finally became time to change. I could see, I could feel, I knew that if I continued to let these things run my life, I would be in real danger of not only eating myself to death, but of remaining trapped by depression’s darkness. The last 16 months have been both exhilarating and dreadfully painful. I have gone through a divorce, moved around the country in search of work,and pursued a new relationship. I’ve had to lean heavily on family and friends. It has a been a long story of just starting over in many ways. It’s been risky, but I didn’t want to stay in the land I knew well – the land of depression and addiction – just because it was safe. I lept, trusting I will land on the other side. I jumped with the faith of leap. I didn’t so much take a leap of faith, but put my trust in the jump itself, that it will take me where I need to be and that I will land well. I’m not going back to Pharaoh.