When the apostle Paul penned these words to the Corinthians, he was referring to our limited knowledge as mortals of spiritual things. But in another sense, this phrase represents an apt description of what it's like to be severely depressed.
I recently had an eye exam, and have always been fascinated by that machine... you know the one... "Is 1 better, or 2?" "2 or 3?" Lenses of different types flip back and forth, sometimes improving our sight, sometimes making it worse. Sometimes it's impossible to see a change at all. In the end, we hopefully arrive at that perfect combination of correction that allows us to "see" clearly again. All too often, however, life serves up a strange array of lens combinations that completely screw up our ability to see clearly.
I realized, as I thought about this experience, that it was a perfect metaphor for the kind of depression that I suffer from. To me, depression isn't just "feeling sad." That's a gross over-simplification, and is actually pretty insulting to those who are deeply depressed, as it minimizes the depth and breadth of what they typically experience. Severe depression is much deeper and infinitely more complex than that. It is an infinite set of layers of strange lenses.
Think about it. If I were just "sad," there are a ton of things that I know I could do to brighten my spirits. With serious depression, however, almost nothing helps, and even worse, you don't FEEL like doing ANYTHING. It isn't something that is "once in a while." It's EVERY "while." Even as I sit here writing this, the overwhelming feeling is to walk away from this blog and do something else, because... what difference will it make?
Severe depression is an Insidiously Vicious Cycle from Hell. It is relentless. It never ends. And it relentlessly feeds on itself, growing stronger and more vicious.
A great example.
I often lament that I have no close friends, no one to really talk to, no one who will understand the good, bad, and the ugly that is me, and yet still be there for me. I crave that. I've had it at different points in my life, and those were the times when I can look back and say, "Now THAT was a good day..."
On the other hand, I understand perfectly why I have no close friends, and quite frankly, I don't blame anyone for not wanting to be close to me. After all, I'm a loser. I'm miserable to be around. I'm a failure. An insufferable asshole. A pariah. I disappoint those closest to me, and let everyone I care about down. I don't even like me, so how can I fault anyone else for not liking me? I'm not worthy of love. I've come to accept that you'll never have what other people have. After all, I don't deserve it.
But then... the loneliness. "Gosh, I wish I had just one close friend..." and the guilt, shame, regret, and anguish come out to play. It's both dizzying, frustrating, and demoralizing. And it never ends.
You crave acceptance, understanding, and compassion, but the depression that grips your soul makes you someone so difficult to accept and hard to understand that it's next to impossible for others to feel compassion for you.
The undercurrent of irritability, anger and annoyance with just about everyone and everything ebbs and flows like the tides, but never really goes away.
When the emotional "tide" is in and you're deeply depressed, it's difficult to be around anyone without saying or doing something rude, intolerant or unkind. The compulsion to judge, to be harsh, to be abrupt, short, and untactful and undiplomatic washes over you like a 50-ft wave.
When the tide comes back out, guilt and regret at how you treated people when the tide was in become your constant companion... and you vow to be different, to change, to "be better next time." Until the "next time" comes. But it's never better. Wash, rinse, repeat. You never get a break... never a chance to just be... happy.
Of course, those around you see you as either a Colossal Asshole, or a garden-variety asshole. They never see the "real you." They never see the person you wish you could show them... the kind, loving, compassionate, funny, happy, upbeat, cheerful person that you imagine yourself to be when you dream.
And when you're not obsessed with trying to figure out what you can do to make people like you, much less love you, your depression takes the cue and steps into the forefront of your internal dialog to (very loudly) remind you of every petty, dark, disgusting, evil, horrible, selfish, hurtful, and despicable thing you've ever done in your life to remind you of just how utterly ridiculous you look trying to find something... anything... about yourself that can make yourself "likeable..." to someone. And of course, your depression speaks inviolate truth. Which is why you are a loser, and unworthy of friendship and Love. Back to Depression Central. Wash, rinse, repeat.
It's an unending Hell. It's an infernal merry-go-round that never lets you off. The only thing that keeps you from hurling yourself into the Great Abyss is the fleeting glances of the colors, sunshine, and happiness that others get to enjoy... and for a brief moment, imagining how they must feel.
The bottom line to this rather depressing blog is simply this... severe depression (especially when it comes adorned with the cherry of PTSD on top) varies in type and intensity from person to person. It's never simple. It's always complex and convoluted and difficult to get your arms around. And it's always debilitatingly painful. And rest assured that you have no earthly clue what anyone with severe depression is really feeling. You might feel like you can relate, because you've had "sad days." Those with severe depression think that's absolutely adorable.
If there is someone in your life who suffers from this horrendous condition, here is the magic bullet... just love them. Embrace them without judgment, especially when their emotional tide is "in." Don't wait for an engraved invitation to let them know that you accept them. Let them know, whether they know you know about their condition or not, how much you value them... no matter how they treat you from time to time. Because it really isn't about you. Hardly ever. Doing just those little things will give them a sliver of hope... which could be all they need to hang on to.