Friday, February 02, 2007

When Things Go Bad

When things go bad, a person has many emotional choices: anger, fear, sadness, contentment, equanimity, peace, joy. When things go bad, a person has many choices of action: aggression, suppression, escapism, confrontation, submission, sublimation, engagement. When things go bad, a person tends to go either inward or outward--with whatever they feel and believe. That is, they either punish themselves or others or show mercy and grace to themselves or others.

My natural inclination is to go inward, way inward, for years inward, during tough times. The stimuli of the world around me feels like too much during tough times. The grief and isolation I feel is compounded by the isolation I choose. In the last few years, I've tried to choose differently. Going inward for years didn't help me. It didn't help change my circumstances. It didn't undo the damage. It didn't help heal the wounds. Like I have said before, I wasn't much interested in having my wounds healed. Going inward was my natural, not Spirit-lead inclination.

As a consequence, I caused myself more pain. It was self-indulgent, really, and depressive. I'm not sure how much of the depression was my choosing, but my estimate is approximately 75%. Don't get me wrong, a child's death is debilitatingly traumatizing. I think loosing a limb would have felt less painful. And I'm not sure I'll ever be "over it". Most certainly, my personality is changed beyond recognition. I don't remember myself before Andrew's death, but the pictures I have show a girl without a burden--or at least not that kind of burden.

I take responsibility for my depression, though, because having learned to view difficulty differently (doesn't mean I complain any less) changed my outlook on other losses. And other very significant trials and tribulations came down my road not long after Andrew died. I chose different emotions and beliefs through those troubles. I forced myself to live outward.

Here is what I decided: since I was living anyway, I might as well really live. Truth be told, after Andrew's death, I think a big part of me wanted to die, if only to be with him. A friend I met in the hospital said that she was a surviving twin, and on her mom's deathbed her mother's last words were, "Now I can be with Jennifer." All her life, she had raised her daughter and all her life she missed her other twin child. Sometimes, I worry about my surviving son's early years, considering my semi-death-wish. And yet, I wanted to live for him. And then, I wanted to live for my daughter. And then, when my son was born two years ago, during that pregnancy for the first time, I feared dying myself. This was new to me, this fear. My children needed me and I wanted to be there for them forever.

Most of my self-inflicted trauma hinged on unhelpful beliefs. I'm going to share some with you because maybe you'll be helped by examining these beliefs, too.

  • Sadness is how we show we care.
  • If we're happy, we'll forget the bad thing.
  • If we're happy, people will judge us to be heartless.
  • Crying honors the dead.
  • Feeling bad is "normal".
  • Expressing joy is "abnormal"
I'm not going to pass judgment on these beliefs. In fact in some cases, I think they are both true and false depending on the situation. Some are just plain unhelpful. Are you bound by those?

When heck broke loose in my life I found great solace in Ecclesiastes. Solomon was miserable through most of it and it felt great to know that even someone that wise and close to God could be that miserable.

I tended to ignore, though, the Man After God's Own Heart. When David's first-born son with the love of his life Bathsheba died, he grieved for three days and nights. And then he stopped grieving. Ruthless, you say. I disagree. David decided to be joyful again, David, of all people knew God's mercy and love and forgiveness. David did not punish himself any more than God punished him. He knew God was perfect in his justice and he trusted Him.

At a church conference, I gave a talk about God and depression. It was a subject near and dear to my heart. A man on the front row with his wife, a pastor who had lost his job, seethed in anger at my encouragement to examine and discard unhelpful beliefs. Finally, during the question and answer time he said, "What about Jesus Christ? Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and nights! It's okay to be alone during troubling times."

My answer was simple, "Of course, it's good to have time of contemplation and aloneness, but even Jesus came back."

Jesus came back. He had a mission. He had a job to do. We all do. We all have gifts and talents that we need to use in God's service and it is rare, unless we are John the Baptist, that the isolation IS the mission. And of course, it is okay and even good to go into times of deep meditation and contemplation and communion with our Father in Heaven. But we must come back.

And to those of you suffering and grieving and isolated, I ask you to examine your beliefs and feelings. But most of all, I ask you to come back. You are here. Now. You have a purpose and a reason for being. In the midst of broken-heartedness, sometimes that purpose becomes clear. Please be open to that purpose. Please be open to God's healing.

Please, come back.


Anonymous said...

Melissa, I think you've written some really good posts but I have to say that this post is one of the most meaningful posts I have read. Thank you for these words!

jess said...

I know I need to "come back." It seems so unlikely.... thanks for this post.

Gina Cobb said...

Excellent. Thank you for writing it.

Dr. Melissa said...


Sometimes the way back is to follow the path of someone who has already traversed it successfully.