(This post was written by a friend of mine. He feels it necessary to keep his identity a secret, because he works in a Christian organization that might react punitively if it found out that one of its personnel struggled with this kind of issue. It is sad to me that such is the case, but I appreciate my friend for sharing this.)
I remember the first time I fell.
My immature heart failed to recognize the abyss into which it stumbled; no one spoke of depression in the early 80’s, especially not in our highly-conservative Baptist circle. I retain a vague impression of blurry faces and hopeless thoughts, of wandering through water puddles and and conversations, numb as the rain. Carol Ingram, as sensitive an individual as I had ever met, spent hours with me one day attempting to know where I had gone and why I couldn’t seem to return.
Is it drugs?
Someone hurting you?
Calvin Camp – how I despised that man – confessed to cluelessness in the matter, and admitted that it seemed “…we have lost him, for good.”
I was 13.
I struggled for years to understand the Hole that periodically opened at my feet, without warning. It’s a tricky, deceptive thing, sometimes staying away for years in order to fool me into thinking I stood on permanently solid ground; what a devilishly playful little imp, popping up out of nowhere but always right at my feet. I was six years old again, riding home in the back seat of the family’s banana-yellow Gran Torino, wondering how the moon always seemed to know where I lived. It followed us, I surmised, as we pulled out of the church parking lot and headed through town towards the house. Like the moon which managed to track me through the twists and turns of Main Street, the Hole always knew where I was, and where I would be. It was there somewhere, just out of sight, waiting for me.
I’ve written letters to myself in the midst of my multiple descents into the darkness, notebook paper filled with warnings. “You’ll never be free! Don’t run! Don’t hide! It knows! It knows! There’s no escape because none has been earned!” My frustration with my own blindness, my failure to anticipate – again – the arrival of an emotional wood chipper turned me against myself, and the pages overflowed with seething rage and cruel despair. All semblance of poetry exhausted, my scrawlings deteriorated into name-calling and insults as I enthusiastically told myself how I really felt about me.
Every time I climbed out, I cried, “Freedom!” with all my heart. Never existed a creature more thankful than I when my free-falls stopped and my inexplicable rises began. Confidently I sauntered away, secure in the knowledge that this would be the very last time. My heart sings, the sun shines, my children laugh.
And every single time, it finds me again.
This cosmic yo-yoing exhausts me. I hate the brief, vast distances between myself and the family. I misplace personal items because I lack the emotional energy to care where things land. I spend time wishing Wife did not have such a flawed husband, then segue smoothly into self-flagellation for not being good enough. I dread celebrating my recovery while confessing the commission of long-since defeated sins that made a re-appearance during my despair. If my luck holds, repentance does not trip me as I clamber out. More than once the realization of my despair-inspired moral turpitude has shoved me angrily backwards, wailing, to fall once again.
And still, I fall again and again.
How long, as the prophets cried, will God delay my salvation? Wasted hours engaged neither in duty nor in pleasure. Days spent narcissistically gnawing on myself instead of reaching out to others. Opportunities for myself and my family unnoticed while the walls of my dungeon blocked my view. Bible verses remained unread. Prayers continued unprayed. God went unloved.
And still – periodically, eventually, inevitably – I’ll slide and stumble and tumble down into the depths again, convinced that the light I once saw truly did not exist except in my fevered, hopeful imagination.
The Fisher King holds the top spot as my favorite Robin Williams movie. Williams’ exploration of despair-inspired madness remains his most powerful, touching work. An academic, sent into a despairing, homeless exile while accompanied by a fiery horse-riding behemoth known as the Red Knight, discovers himself suddenly on the dangerous precipice of happiness. His heart warms to the possibility of touch, of connection, of emotion untinged by flames and horror. As his story nears a pinnacle, Williams accidentally passes a reminder of that which tripped him up so many years ago, and he freezes on the sidewalk, lost in remembrance. His remembered pain serves as a call to arms, and the Red Knight reappears, roaring and burning.
Until the day I die – until my own Hole is someday forever filled by a divine shovel – I will remember Williams’ cry. He wails, he screams. He falls to his knees and begs the Red Knight, “Please – let me have this!” He wants to be finished with pain, with despair, with not only hurting but living with the knowledge of his hurt. He craves once again the healing touch of human connectedness, and he vainly begs the Knight to be gone. He runs shrieking and flailing madly through the streets, escaping his imaginary tormentor briefly before calling out, “Where are you?”
His pleas resonated deeply with me when I saw the movie, and despite just a single viewing Robin’s words and screams have always remained with me. I want to tap the screen and ask, “You, too?”
But we’ve gotten it wrong. We’ve turned to the manifestation of our inner turmoil and made requests and pleas. We beg to be heard, hoping this time to acquire permission to exist in the light, free from the depths of our personal Holes. We’ve been talking to the wrong Person. Regardless of its power, Despair cannot grant us our desires, nor is it the one to whom we should cry, “Show yourself!”
What hope exists? That’s next…