Thursday, December 16, 2010

This Too Shall Pass

"Confess your faults to each other and pray for one another, that you may be healed."

Just a warning that for some of you, this post will cause you to lose all respect for me. For others, it will help you feel superior. For a prospective employer reading my blog to decide if I'm a chance they are willing to take, this might be a deal-breaker. But for others, you may identify with the reality of living with episodic depression. It’s a killer of everything you ever thought you were, every way in which you ever achieved, any strength you once held. Feeling like you are teetering on the edge of falling forever from grace, knowing you’re held only by God’s mercy. Holding onto hope that once again, in a day soon to come, you’ll be able to be normal again. And still in the middle of it, caring enough to try to help another, or at the very least (or the very most) lift them to God in prayer. If that doesn’t scare you or make you cry, then don’t read on. This post isn’t for you.

Perhaps the reason I am drawn so to homeless people is recognizing that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Perhaps it’s more than having an understanding. Perhaps it is fear. I am drawn, revulsed and warned all at once.

Today, the quiet, patient, homeless man I “helped” one Friday was pacing wildly in front of the same Starbucks. Was he using? Had no one responded to his need this morning?

Daily, I wonder what I could do to truly help him. Sustainable, long term transformative help. Daily, I wonder and daily I conclude, “Nothing,” and drive on.

Today, I wavered. What if I walked up to him, laid my hand on his arm, looked in his eyes and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Isn’t that what Jesus asked? Would I really be like Jesus if I did that? Could I answer the man’s request? What is the likelihood that he would ask me for something I would be unable to provide? Does he truly want help? Can he even change? Does he want to? Could he sustain it?

I think about Mother Teresa, how she sacrificed everything to serve the poor, needy and abandoned and felt it was no sacrifice. But I’m married. I have a son. University tuition. Obligations. Would my husband be willing for me to supply this man’s request? I’m a lone woman approaching a strange man in the dark, would it be safe?

All this before 7 a.m. while sitting at a brief red light beside Starbucks. Then the light changed, and with it, my perspective. I drive on in a fresh, black morning onslaught of personal melancholy. I muse about asking the homeless guy to help me. Help me learn to live on the street, to escape my reality. How quickly I could blend into the look. Sleep in the car. I’ve already practiced the unkempt clothes and unwashed face, almost every morning when my husband rouses me to drive him the one hour round trip to work because he loathes public transit.

Hair askew from the wrong hairstyle against an unforgiving pillow, I pull a headband over the unruly parts, throw an over sized ski jacket over yesterday’s crumpled clothes I just re-dressed myself with from where they’d been discarded on the floor overnight. But why begrudge this small favor to my spouse, when, for 30 years, he has faithfully worked to provide for our family. I don’t have a job. It’s not my husband’s fault I can’t get to sleep until the wee hours of the morning and feel unrested when he rouses me. It’s the least I can do to give him a ride. Doesn’t charity begin at home?

Today, I uncharitably ask my husband not to try to carry on a conversation with me. This is definitely not the time. Overwhelmed with fatigue, I resort to whining: “I feel like I’m spending my life waiting for something to change.”

What, though? For a job to miraculously appear? The two promising avenues are in the slow lane, and won’t resurface again until after the New Year.  I just flip back and forth between helping a homeless person and becoming one myself.

Perhaps the change I need is in my medications. Except I’m not taking any. Not even vitamins. I can hear someone saying, “Well, that’s your problem. What you really need is…(fill in the blank with another holistic healthcare or alternative self-medication option).”

Perhaps I need more light. Seasonal affective disorder can be helped with special lights. My friend has offered to loan me hers. She’s better. But the season is changing soon. After my upcoming birthday on the winter solstice, the days begin to grow longer.

I’m sure my moods would change if I altered my eating, sleeping and exercise habits. Personal self-care is the first best remedy to almost any difficulty. Bad habits have become ingrained and cemented in my days. By now some of you are thinking, “What a loser, why doesn’t she just… (fill in the blanks).” I know. I know. I know it all. Most homeless people do too. It’s the “doing” that’s the kicker.

“Yes, Virginia, there is…” no remedy. And I follow up my “waiting for change” remark to Brent by saying, “…and I can’t change myself.” Talk about shirking responsibility. Or am I?

It’s not that I am incapable. It’s like Dolly Parton (insert high-pitched country twang here): “I kin dew that, but it just pluuuuuuuumb tuckers me out!”

There are so many skills I know how to apply, but I’m exhausted in the trying. So much so, that lately I don’t even start. I just think about it and am overwhelmed with fatigue. Mental. Emotional. Spiritual.

How do I change in the throes of melancholy. Is it full blown, out of control depression? This is rhetorical, please don’t offer advice. Unless you’re willing to come alongside and be my personal mentor, life coach, cook and bottle washer, don’t give platitudes and don’t preach. Unless you can love me like you’re my mother and comfort me like the Holy Spirit, don’t speak. Unless you’re prepared to lay down your life for your friend, will you even recognize her need without reading this excessively self-indulgent blog post?

What if it isn’t me? What if someone you see every day is depressed? Or homeless? Or lonely? Or despairing? Can you (can I?) look beyond our own borders to see the need and meet whatever part of it we can?

My melancholy comes and goes. Others live with it forever. Can you (can I?) be dispensers of hope? Like the widow in the story of Elisha whose obedience ensured the oil and flour never ran out, can we take the last of what we have and give it to another who asks of us, trusting that “(our) God will supply all (our) need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

Maybe it’s time I got up and made some Plum Tuckered Out Pudding for Christmas. I’m going to suck it up, sister. Are you with me?

Now, I have to go because a friend who can’t drive needs to run some errands. See? That I can do. I’m feeling better already.

P.S. I love you for reading this far. Pray for me.

Update, Feb. 18, 2011: I'm feeling much better. :-) Thank you for your prayers. I briefly debated about deleting this post from my blog, knowing that prospective employers could well be reading it. I have chosen to leave it as is. I believe authenticity and vulnerability are crucial to who I am as a person. I don't spill this information indiscriminately to everyone I meet. I assume those who come to my blog do so out of a personal interest to know me better, to be encouraged and, on occasion, to laugh. I read the comments in reply to this particular post and see that more than one person was encouraged. For me that is enough. So, if you are a prospective employer and this blog post is a deal-breaker for you, then I am grateful, as I would not have been a good fit in your organization.  Too bad, though. I think I could have helped you grow more compassionate.

Update, Mar. 19, 2011: After a seven month search, I began my new job last week. The focus and intensity of meaningful work, combined with intentional gratitude, dispels depression. Thank you to those who have been my encouragement and prayer partners. You changed my world.


  1. Hugs and tears sister... I'm right there with you.

  2. Hi Joyce. I've been reading your blog now and then (you are a great writer, btw!) and this post had me thinking. My 20 yo son is struggling with depression (I think) and many of your thoughts have been my own. I see homeless people totally differently now, since I know that all of us are only a step or two away from being there. I pray for wisdom for how to help my son (he just doesn't seem to want it) , while at the same time part of me just wants to ignore it when it hurts too much. I want to be a 'dispenser of hope', but wonder how. Love and prayers to you. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Ah, yes, my anonymous friend. At that age, I think often young people suffer from chemical imbalance brought on by poor eating and sleep deprivation. They are finding their way and it is a hard haul. The difficulty is helping one who cannot accept they need help. Sometimes we can only offer prayer, hold them with open hands, trusting that God loves them more than we could imagine and is working out his purpose. Hugs and prayers back your way.