This is part two of three parts. See last week’s part one, “cry it out”
In 2001, the rock band, Creed, released their album Weathered that featured a song that climbed into the top ten of the Billboard music charts. “One Last Breath” has stayed with me in the years since it received a lot of radio play because it so well describes how I can feel during a depressive episode.
My favorite verses say:
Please come now, I think I’m falling
I’m holding to all I think is safe …
But I’m down to one last breath, and with it let me say
“Hold me now. I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking,
Maybe six feet ain’t so far down
This song came to me when I was talking with one of my best friends. I walked in circles in my small apartment kitchen as I held the phone to my ear.
“I can feel myself dying.”
My friend was as alarmed as he should have been. As alarmed as I would have been if I had heard that sequence of words in the emotionless tone I was using.
I tried to explain. I often think of each depressive episode like a death. Something in me dies with each episode. Something new is reborn as well, but it often takes some time to notice it, to know what it was. To speak its name. And, I’ve argued that when we do, when we finally know that something has died and something has taken its place, we should ritualize it. We should hold a funeral or memorial service. We should throw a birthday party to cheer in the new birth.
For me, this is the complete and public side of what really happens when faith traditions assert that God can do a new thing in us. (Isaiah 43:19a) That when we live in faith and Spirit, we are new creations. Old things pass away and new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Sometimes I’ve lost a part of me that I’d never chosen to lose. Or at least not so painfully. Other times, I’ve shirked a childhood habit, disillusion or unhealthy crutch. I acknowledge that even if good came from it, it did not feel good. And I acknowledge that wherever I am now is okay. Whoever I am now is loved by God and hence worth of being loved and accepted by me.
Discerning these deaths and births is no easy feat. Sometimes a therapist guides me towards it. Other times, I grapple for it on my own, or stumble upon it years after it has happened.
This is the kind of discerning that is best done in the new life. I reserve the human right not to seek the good or the lesson while I’m suffering. But sometime later. After the death. After the resurrection. Then, I can talk about it. The gospel writers must have understood this well.
But in that moment, walking around my kitchen, I hit the realization too early. And I told my friend, “I feel myself dying. I don’t know what is dying, but I feel like something is dying.”
In the midst of balancing work and family and all the healthy things I’m supposed to do, I realized that I could not trust my mind. Alone with my thoughts, I was unloveable, unbearable, always right, terribly wrong, easily injured, completely misunderstood and invisible. I waited the obligatory six weeks for the meds to kick in. I forbade myself from making any important emotional decisions until the fog cleared.
In this season, I felt myself dying. “But,” I told my friend, “I don’t know what I’m losing.”
We checked in about doctors, work, meds, exercise. I affirmed that work and meds were all that I could do just then.
“I’m worried about you,” he said.
There can be a fine line between feeling death and making it happen. Voicing it kept me on the non-suicidal side of the line. Saying it aloud, to someone who understood, didn’t make it stop. But it disarmed its power.
Talking to my friend, I was barely aware of that. I didn’t know what was dying or how long I would feel it. I held onto the message of the resurrection that even though I felt like I was dying, I wasn’t.
I don’t know every world religion. I barely know a couple well. But it seems to me that this is the core teaching of Christianity’s resurrection, Buddhism’s nirvana, Yoruba traditional religion’s becoming an ancestor (to name a few).
That even when it seems like you’re dying . . . you’re not.
This is part two of three parts. The next part will be posted next week.