I’ve been battling depression for as long as I can remember. I have gone to shrinks, taken vitamins, prescription drugs, tried all kinds of things over the years. But what is it that makes someone (me) depressed?
Life isn’t fair: When I was young I was taught to stay in line, wait my turn, obey the rules and finish my work. Up through the third grade or so, that worked out great for me. The teachers found out I was smart, I was teacher’s pet in all of my classes, and I got rewarded for good behavior. But around the fourth grade or so, bullies started popping up. I was physically tormented, verbally assaulted and threatened by one bully or another, all the way into high school, so much so that I had drawn out revenge plans on how I was some day going to find them and kill them. I never fought back. Bullies cut in line and get to go first, have no remorse, no guilt at all, and even when confronted say it’s all just part of growing up, helps kids toughen up. And guess what – they get their food before I do.
It still happens, you know. I get bullied in traffic all the time. What do I get for obeying the law, waiting for the light to turn green, while others cut through the parking lot? They end up way ahead of me, and never get caught. And if I know the left lane ends up ahead, I’ll stay in the right lane, and there’s ALWAYS a big truck that races down the left lane and shoves his way in front of me at the last minute. I drive a short car and bullies in big trucks act like I don’t exist; I’ve been run off of the road several times, literally, and what reward do I get? What reward comes from having no tickets on my record, always obeying the speed limit, getting passed left and right, never EVER seeing someone else get caught? Cheaper car insurance. Big whoop. The bullies get to drive faster than me, they beat me, outrun me, and look like they’re having fun while I suffer.
The same thing happened in school, and at work. What reward do I get for finishing my work? A paycheck and a mediocre review. Some time around the fourth grade, work started to get tough, I started to get pushed, taking advanced classes, doing homework for hours every night, all kinds of extra credit, so I could get an “A+” while kids all around me were having fun, forgetting their homework, getting B’s in normal classes while I was being depressed, watching my life go by. In order to be successful and maintain the ultra-high expectations that everyone had for me, and still do, extra credit is required. And it’s not fair. Life is not fair. I should be able to just do my job, which I’m very good at, and go home & relax, but if I don’t meet my “stretch goals” I’ll get a poor review. That means doing the same thing I’ve always done – bust my ass to make everyone happy, which means long hours or weekends. I’m still doing “extra credit” while people all around me are having fun. If it’s not job-work, then it’s home-work: remodel the kitchen, fix the car, build a fence, build a deck; I try & try & try to make everyone happy, and just because I CAN do something, I feel that I HAVE to.
So that’s one thing: life isn’t fair. When I stop working and look around, I get jealous of the guys with boats & new cars & fancy houses. I know they’re in debt, and I’m not, but that’s not much consolation when I’m busting my butt replacing my air compressor and the neighbor drives by towing his new boat with his new SUV, out for another fun day at the lake. It just seems like with all of my hard work and dedication, I DESERVE a new car, for instance, but I don’t get one because I’ve already spent the money on gifts for my wife – mostly appliances or fixtures for the house – or on supporting my kids or whatever. I have an excellent credit score, but like I said, that’s not much consolation.
Life is too hard: I start way too many projects, and I am feeling incredibly overwhelmed. It always takes four times longer to do something than I think it will. I’ve got requests & plans stacked up so high that if I was somehow able to quit my job & spend 40 hours a week on projects, I would never, ever finish. In fact, it’s sad, because by the time I reach the end of one project, the last project is already deteriorating and needs to be redone again. Now with four kids and two grandchildren and the job and all the projects and bills and work that has to be done (by me, because if I don’t do it, it just won’t get done), I’m totally buried. Just maintaining what I’ve already got takes all of my spare time. Car maintenance, pool maintenance, home repairs and the yard use up the 5% of energy that I have after a stressful day at work.
I don’t know how some people seem to always have time on their hands. They come home, kiss their wife and have a beer, watch TV and wait for dinner. Maybe my wife doesn’t cook that often, but it’s not her, it’s me. I feel guilty if I sit down. I come home and get attacked by the dog, kids and wife, all wanting attention, and as I look around, projects are screaming at me for attention too. It’s just too hard; there’s not enough of me to go around. Life, I suppose, was not meant to be easy. Life is hard. It’s hard to wake up at 4:30 am. It’s hard to keep a car running and shiny. It’s hard to install cabinets or stain concrete. It’s hard to make progress, get to the finish line while I feel like I’m walking through molasses. It’s hard to maintain the image everyone has of me that I can build or fix anything.
Life started to get hard in the fourth grade, and it hasn’t stopped since. I truly wonder if other people are as relaxed and happy as they seem. My life is incredibly hard, and when I try to make a list or plan out how I’m going to get everything done, it’s depressing. There’s never anything left over; never any free time, unless I choose to sit on my butt and let the weeds grow. It is very depressing, for me, because I put myself dead last on the list. I always figure that if I work hard enough, I’ll finish, and then I can relax. Well, it’s been decades, I never finish, and as soon as I start to take a break and someone can see that I have some time, they ask for something. And since I never say no, I either do it right then, say no & feel guilty and do it right then anyway, or put it in my planner, adding it to the dozen or so undone check-list items on my to-do list.
Life is too short: Having watched my youth slip away as I spent most of it working myself to death, I’m almost 50, and having given away any extra money that I ever got instead of saving it, I have less than one year’s salary saved up for retirement. I don’t think you could call my life fun when I was in school, because I rarely did anything but work. Even being on the baseball team got to be a source of stress that the other kids depended on me so much, and I quit. In fact, anything you can define as “fun” I’ve quit. I don’t play tennis, even though I love it. I don’t play music even though it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to be a successful musician. I’ve even given up on ever being able to start my own business, due to a long, long series of failures, from multi-level marketing to software development to masonry work; if I’m going to have a ghost of a chance at living past 65, it’s going to have to be on a company pension.
Five years ago I really threw in the towel. I was a contractor with big dreams of somehow making it big. The teachers were always so impressed by me, I thought I could come up with something on my own, an invention, that fame & wealth would follow me and I’d be my own boss. But it didn’t work out that way. Part of it is health insurance, but five years ago I gave up the I-can-quit-any-time role of a contract employee for the I-am-chained-to-my-cube-for-the-next-20-years role of a direct hire. Sure, the benefits are great, the insurance is great, the salary is great (as long as I keep over-achieving like everyone expects me to), but I have no hope of ever becoming anything more than a dad with a job and several demanding “hobbies”, or more accurately, do-it-myself projects.
So what am I working towards? I’ll retire in 15 years, the house will be paid off, I’ll start pulling a pension, and I’ll be a hunched-over sad little man, showing the scars of a long life of stress and tension on my wrinkled gray head. Then what? I will finally, finally have the free time that I’ve craved and lusted for, and it’ll be too late. I’ll be old and if nothing changes, in very ill health. I won’t be able to do anything else but shuffle to the mailbox or pull myself into the hover-chair by my bed. Life is too short. You work your butt off to save money or earn a pension so you can retire when you’re weak and frail and can’t pursue any of your dreams anyway, and then you die.
Nobody loves me: This goes back to the extra-credit thing. You know, I love my wife dearly, and my kids too, but in order to get someone’s attention I have to either harm myself or perform like a circus monkey going above and beyond everyone’s expectations. I’ve done both. See the section on my struggle with alcohol for “proof” of the self-harm thing. (Get it? Proof, like the 80-proof whiskey bottles I have in my room. Ha. Ha. Ha.) As I’ve grown older, it’s become harder and harder to “top” my last performance. People get accustomed to my level of achievement, and not only that, but to my INCREASE in achievement, and are not impressed unless what I do today is bigger and better than what I did yesterday, or better than they could possibly imagine.
What makes a person feel loved? It’s when someone gives you something without you having to ask. It’s when someone notices you’re depressed and gives you a hug. It’s when someone strokes you and says everything is going to be all right, or compliments you or says something nice. It’s when you get something without having to PAY for it. I can’t stop myself from paying; I go the extra mile, I do the extra credit, I try to look at the world through other people’s eyes and see exactly what they want & try to give it to them, but I don’t get the attention and affection. It doesn’t work that way.
The only people that “love” me are my parents, and they don’t count. I know, I’m lucky to have them, and they would do anything for me, but I have my own kids, I know what that kind of love is. But I’m married; I’m supposed to be unconditionally loved 24/7, but I’m not. I know, she says she loves me, all the time, but she never DOES anything about it. Never, ever for free. It’s very aggravating. If I want a hug I have to ask, or behave the right way, or be in the right mood; if I want anything more, then there’s a list of a dozen things that have to all line up for a minimum of 24 hours. And then I look at the kids; I have two, unmarried children, and they have more sex in a week than I do in a year.
The bottom line: To sum all of this up, I am depressed because I feel like I deserve more than I’m getting, and I’m jealous of others who are breaking the rules and getting all the things that I long for. I play fair, I try to make everyone happy, I give until I’m broke, I work until I collapse, I drive my 350 horsepower Camaro like it was a family sedan, never cut anyone off, have no tickets on my record, I tithe, I pay my bills on time, I do anything and everything that anyone at work or home asks of me, and I get a nod of approval for all of my efforts. Never a bonus. Never more than a “good job, now can you…” from anyone in this world. No matter how hard I try, no matter how much work I do, still trying to follow the simple rules from elementary school, staying in line, waiting my turn, which never ever ever ever ever ever comes because I let everyone in the world step in front of me.
The truth: In reality, I don’t deserve any of those things. If I got what I deserved, I would be eternally burning in a lake of fire. My perspective is all wrong; God sent Jesus to die, He paid an extremely high price to redeem me & save me from the flames, and I have enjoyed peace and grace ever since I decided to trust Him. I don’t deserve to break the law and speed around in my hot rod. Jesus said we should obey the magistrates and they that have authority over us, and that was during a time that Jerusalem was being ruled by a malevolent, vile dictator. Much less the cops who are actually (usually) enforcing the law without malice. I will be content with what I have, because He will never leave me or forsake me. That’s in the Bible somewhere, too. I am blessed beyond measure in just having my salvation, and His Word, and the assurance that He will take care of me, no matter what. Even if I spend an entire weekend drowning in whiskey, He may not be pleased, but He will never cast me out. Just like my kids; sure, I’ll get mad, but they’ll always be my kids and I’ll always love them. There is nothing they could ever do to NOT be my children, and that includes the one I adopted.
The solution: Putting this into practice is the part I have a hard time with. When I’m jealous of some fancy new car, I need to remember how blessed I am to not have a car payment, and how nice my car is compared to the old rust-buckets that I used to have, and if Christ wants me to have a new car, then some day I will. When someone bullies me in traffic, I have to remember that I’m following Christ, not my own path, I’m driving like I care about other people, and I don’t have to keep looking out for cops so I can try & slow down at the last second before they catch me. I can feel sorry for someone who thinks he has to prove his worth by beating everyone to the red light. And when I’m overwhelmed and stressed out, I need to stop & pray, be still and know that God is ultimately in control. I need to yield and let Him work through me; then if the house looks like crap, it’s all His fault 🙂
Easier said than done, that’s for sure. It’s so easy to forget that Jesus is the answer to every single problem there is. Every time I find myself frustrated, I realize I’m not trusting God to do it, but working my butt off to do it in my own strength. Every time I catch myself being jealous, I’m forgetting who He is and how He saved me and provides for me and how much I have, not just in money and posessions but in love and acceptance. And when I need attention and my wife is ignoring me, I need to remember how much I love her and let her know how beautiful she is and how lucky I am to have her.
I really wouldn’t want to switch lives with anyone else. If I really think about it, my life isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t want to give up what I have – my wife, my kids, my home, my family – just so I can be a jerk with more stuff and shallow relationships. I’m good. As is.