In a recent message at The Journey Church, Pastor David Morehouse talked about the valleys that virtually everyone experiences in life. While the message itself was not specifically about depression, one of the things that distinguishes Pastor Dave from many other ministers is his willingness to share about his own battle with depression over the years. The main point of his message was that all “valleys” come to an end. If you are in a valley right now, you won’t be there forever. If you are on a mountain top (emotionally), you won’t be there forever either.
I am reticent to define depression as a mental illness, although it clearly is, mainly because there is still such a social stigma attached to the term “mental illness”.
This is a particularly difficult issue for me to discuss at this point in time because I have been deep in an emotional valley for the past two weeks. It was just two weeks ago, or thereabouts, that I planned to return to Ontario to teach English as a second language. Then, as I played the movie, as the saying goes, I realized that my plans might not be too realistic and I abandoned them. That left me without any real plans or vision, or hope for the immediate future.
I plunged into this emotional valley and began eating donuts, cake, candy and any other refined white sugar dessert I thought I wanted. My weight loss, which I had worked so hard to achieve, began to slip away. I noticed that my ankles and knees began to hurt once again, but I continued eating the donuts, even though I can honestly say I haven’t enjoyed them. After eating them, I feel nauseous, drained of energy, and depressed. Weekends tend to be worse than any weekday because any routine that I might have during the week is abandoned on Saturday or Sunday. Yes, I go to church every week and love to connect with the people at my church. I look forward to the music, the teaching, and the fellowship every week. I am part of a small men’s group, and right now am awaiting the launch of the men’s group for this church year. Even with all that support, deep valleys occur in my life.
There are some key elements to these valleys.
Anger. Perhaps more than any other element, anger triggers dark feelings that carry me into the deepest valleys. Often I am not angry at another person, but myself for my own failures, myopia, or lack of discipline. Lacking a credible target, I might lash out at anyone or anything. It might be an object that I smash, then later regret. It might be an amount of money that I spend foolishly or thoughtlessly, then realize I made another stupid mistake. I might pick on some defenseless soul, a clerk in a store, someone who is unfortunate to call at the wrong time, a faceless entity that I can abuse without feeling guilty because I probably will never encounter that person again. Whatever venue I might choose or have available, anger is a key element in a valley experience.
Negativity. The sun never shines when I am in a valley. Life is never positive. There is no hope, not just for me, but for the world at large. I also bitterly resent happy people who have a positive outlook on life. To justify, to myself, my inner rage and negativity, I tell myself their happiness is not justified. If they knew how miserable my life was, they probably wouldn’t be so happy. (Like the world revolves for me?) Immersed in emotional darkness, I can see no hope or an end to my current troubles. It is at this point that I am most vulnerable to making foolish decisions that can have long lasting consequences.
Isolation. I shut the outside world out completely. I turn the ringers on my phones off and hide in a cocoon of my own making. The very thing I need I avoid – contact with other people.
The Dance with Darkness. When I am in the valley of depression and despair, I seek others who also are in the same place to share my misery. There is an old saying after all, misery loves company. Perhaps that is true, but it does not help me get out of the valley of depression. The dance with darkness is nothing more than a brief encounter with others, usually on the Internet, who I would never recognize or associate with in real life, who give credence to my feelings at that moment in time. They reinforce the lies I have told myself about myself, about others, about the world itself. Negativity, anger, rage, pessimism, are welcome guests at their table. I have no intention of staying long, nor do I ever linger for a long time. It is merely a dance with darkness, brief and something I wish to quickly forget.
Light. The Bible teaches us that light conquers the darkness. The darkness does not surrender and leave by itself. The light conquers the darkness. For me, most of the time, my valleys come to an end because another person calls me, sends me an email message, or a Facebook message and wants my help, or perhaps, just wants to hang out for a while. At that moment in time, light has conquered the darkness in my life and I begin to climb out of the valley.
The valleys always come to an end. The valley that I am experiencing right now will come to an end. I will, sooner rather than later, stop eating the donuts, begin exercising, watching what I eat, find a job, and rejoin society again. There will be more valleys. There will always be valleys — but there will also be mountain top experiences too.