God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riving thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under a man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
––Christian Wiman, “Every Riven Thing”, in Every Riven Thing, 2010.
Joy’s trick is to supply
Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
Nothing can satisfy.
––From Richard Wilbur, “Hamlen Brook”, 1987, in Collected Poems: 1943-2003, 2004.
Try to remember this: what you project
Is what you perceive; what you perceive
With any passion, be it love or terror,
May take on whims and powers of its own.
––From Richard Wilbur, “Walking to Sleep” 1969, ibid.
I Love My Depression
I love my depression. That is a lie; but I am past wholly loathing its existence, or at least I have been for some months now. God knows human moods are always a pendulum swing away from extreme—as inescapable and inevitable as they are temporary. Depression comes and it goes, sometimes like a slow, bone-dry summer in Texas, unending and unendurable, except that it is (or must be), and sometimes like the mild fortnight of Fall in the same state of my childhood onward.
Read those poems again. They are meant to be weighty, so let their burdens sink down upon you. You are unsure whether God belonging “to every riven thing he’s made” is comforting or altogether unsettling. Or whether Joy is something to long for or to dread. Or whether we should live lives full of emotion or be always a little guarded.
It’s both. It’s both. It’s both.
There is a sense of frustration that inevitably arises within us when someone answers a question with, “Yes and no,” but also a sense that such an answer is probably the truth. Truth, when we dig down into it, will resist to the end our attempts to place it on one side or the other, to assign it a label, a box, a denomination, a division; indeed, it even resists and transcends our attempts to claim that there are in fact two sides at all, instead of a million, or none. Yes, there are definite characteristics of truth; to deny that is to deny the possibility of any reasonableness or meaning whatsoever and is thus self-defeating. The truth is absolute. And yet that absolute is seen shining at the bottom of a deep pool full of swirling, iridescent life and shadows of action that both assure and obscure its existence.
But I am waxing poetical.
In his documentary on Bipolar Disorder, Stephen Fry, who himself suffers from the disorder, asks others he interviews something along the lines of, “If you had a big red button, and if you pushed that button you could get rid of your illness, would you push that button?” Surprisingly, many people, though not all, answer No.
I will let you discover their personal reasons for yourself (see link at the end). Anyone who has struggled with mental illness has asked themselves this question, or at least has been asked. For me, a young man who struggles both with depression and with that equally distressing calling called Art (not to mention my Seminary calling), there is a growing sense in which I would not be so quick to seek a depression-ectomy.
Two Sides of a Coin
Why would I not want to get rid of it? Because depression is not a self-contained thing. Much like any other way in which we express and understand ourselves, whether in joyful rapture and endless chatter or through tears and silence, or a mix of both, depression is a mode in which we can live. And like these other modes, much of what creates our moods or comportments toward the world and life is external, and sometimes uncontrollably random. On some days, we may just as soon sneeze from allergies as suddenly be happy because of circumstance. Other days, these ways of acting (joy, fear, alertness) can arise from what we know, what we believe, our faith or lack of it, our sense of hope or dearth of meaning.
This ability to change moods comes not from some sort of evil capriciousness, but from a sensitivity, sometimes an over-sensitivity, to our lives: our inward life (spiritual life, emotional life, intellectual life, etc), our interactions with others, our interactions with important events and with the mundane and ritual, our interactions with God. Along with our natural sensitivities, we have ready-worn paths which were trod in our brains before our birth, which channel our energies in specific directions and which may both make sense to us and altogether surprise us, or (you know it’s coming) both.
These paths in large part define who we are, either through our acceptance of or resistance to them. I know that the more sensitive I am to myself and what is around me, the more apt I am to become depressed. It is as if in order to experience life most fully, I must be willing to risk more.
But there is another sense in which my depression is one side of a coin and hope is the other; sensitivity is what turns the coin from perspective to perspective and the coin itself is creativity, in the most general sense of the term. Everyone is creative: making something new out of what existed before. And here I abide, perched upon the thin edge of this coin, feeling it sway and twist under my feet as I open myself to what’s around me, feeling at times the threatening wind of fear come up to tempt me to shut down; but to shut down is the same thing as to fall headlong into the dark side of this coin, into depression. To live I must, well, live. Keep going. Keep risking. Keep believing.
We abide in this strange time flux, the crucifixion of Christ on the one hand and the resurrection on the other. At the crucifixion we hold our breath with the onlookers, unsure whether our suffering, as His suffering, is total defeat or if there is some greater victory to be achieved through it. We look for assurance; there is none. We can neither give into doubt nor give into hope and are torn asunder by the friction and tension that vibrates our bones and yet are simultaneously excited by it, as that same deep pool of truth is shaken and we catch another glimpse of meaning and understanding, or at least of empathy for the sufferer, that is, the human. Other times we find ourselves buried and enclosed, wholly numb to everything and helpless to loose the bindings which constrict us. I lived for years here. And then we come unexpectedly and all of a sudden to the resurrection, where we, with Christ, have overcome and we find our faith and hope embodied, fleshed out, moving around––our ideas, once so vague, now live and breathe and astound us as we feel their realness. It is human life to feel all of these, to a greater and lesser extent, as we move through life, living one season to another, Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter to Spring again just when we had almost given up.
To say hope and depression are two sides of my coin is to say this: I am acutely and constantly aware of the struggle between despair and hope, between faith in God and doubt in everything, between feeling and apathy, between powerfulness and powerlessness, and all of the other truths which appear to us at times as two distinct things, but which are all, in reality, instrumental to the human life. Each side, the hope and the terror, fill out the vague and embody the truth; indeed, shadow is necessary in any painting to give a sense of depth and reality, of truth. A painting may just as well be too light as too dark and thereby lose its realness.
I would not give up my depression because by it I have been brought and am being brought to a fuller understanding of the human, of the contingent, as Wiman would say. It teaches me that all humans are right now in this state of contingency and that through accepting our contingency we are more apt to see each other for what we are, both powerful and creative and in total desperation and need––all simultaneously. It is in realization of our need where we come to experience the joy of others, and of God; it is in the creative pursuit where we learn to lean on God and others as we risk much in order to live much. It is in the acceptance of human contingency, the acceptance as perfect guide that moment Christ himself hung in contingency at the mercy of God the Father, that we have a uniting hope of moving from crucifixion to resurrection; all that is left for the transition is to give up all false hope of total power over ourselves and over our ability to change us and everything around us. The neural pathways of our minds were trod before we were born, leaving us in contingency, leaving us human.
But human is not so bad a place to be.
God used depression to teach me humanity, and it is in this understanding of humanity I find the material to create, to explore, to risk.
And I would not trade that for the world.
Comment below and let me know if you agree and if you too struggle with mental illness!
For More Information:
1. Stephen Fry, The Secret Life of Manic Depression, on Youtube: http://youtu.be/rGDl6-lyfMY
2. An Interview with Christian Wiman, https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/interview-christian-wiman ; also read his book on poetry, faith and doubt: My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.
3. My past blogs, “When Catching A Cold Becomes Your Fault” and “Mental Health Awareness and Art: From a Depression Addict.”