Thursday, September 25, 2014

Two into one

I don't like to write about work too much. God knows it caused me enough problems in my last job. However, yesterday I had a customer come in..... and he was acting a little strange. I greeted him as he walked in the door, and he didn't really respond but simply asked for a piece of paper. So I gave him one, he wrote something down, and he handed it back to me. It was an email address. I knew what it meant as soon as I read it.

His old email address had been The new one that he wrote down - that he wanted me to update in his customer profile - was onedogday. He had lost a dog. He was barely able to tell me the story of having to put his long-time friend down. This guy was grieving, and it made me sad.

I was thinking about that when I woke up this morning. I lay in bed a long time thinking about it, and it helped me make some sense of my life. I think I have often misdiagnosed myself as being a 'depressed' person - someone who struggles with depression. Certainly I have had bouts of it over the years. I can often 'feel' it in my head when I get that way. But depression - for me - is a more temporary condition that is a symptom of something else. For instance, when I was seeing a counselor last year, he kept trying to convince me that my depression was just one symptom of my being burned out. It wasn't 'how I was,' it came about as a result of something else. Now it makes sense. For too long I have been using two entirely different words to describe one condition.

I am not prone to depression.... but I am prone to sadness. Some people refer to it as melancholy. Certainly I am not ALWAYS sad, but I get sad when I see someone else who is sad. I get sad when I hear someone talk about their grief - whether it is losing a loved one, a misfortune that has beset them, mistreatment, etc. - but I also get sad thinking about all the hatred and violence and injustice in the world; when I see people stuck in self-destructive patterns; when I think about the criminal way politics is often carried out; when I witness manipulation and degradation of fellow human beings. Those things weigh heavy on my heart. It doesn't cause me to be 'depressed'..... it causes me to grieve! They are not two words describing the same thing.

So, I still feel bad for the poor guy who came in to change his email address. Gosh, I grieved for a long time when I had to put our dog down. It doesn't mean I am depressed about it. It means I care. It doesn't mean there is something wrong with me. It means that is how I manifest compassion for the souls around me; for the world I live in.

As I lay in bed this morning it started to rile me up a bit. There have been a number of people who have made me feel 'wrong' because they wanted me to "get over my depression." You know what? F*ck those people. I like who I am. I like that my heart hurts for other people in their grief. I like that I give a damn about not only individuals, but entire groups of people who are mistreated, misguided, or maybe even simply mistaken sometimes. I think this is how God made me, and just maybe that's how God wants me to be. It's my way of identifying with those around me... The broken, hurting, struggling people I do life with. Not that other people don't care either, but this is how I do it.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking about as I lay in bed this morning. The two are not the same thing. And maybe I'm okay after all.


MR said...

Certainly depression is not your identity. And I think as soon as it becomes a "diagnosis", even a temporary one, the word gets a bad rap. I've said before that it was ironic you were condemned for the very thing that made you a good Pastor, your empathy; you just hit critical mass with the load put on you.

That being said, most people only get sad when something happens to them directly or hits close to home. Certainly there is an abundance of sadness out there, enough to be sad the rest of your life if you open yourself up to it. I guess the difference is how much it permeates you. I think Pastors listen, sympathize, pray for those afflicted and they're off to the next person. If you take "ownership" of other people's misery that will be a heavy burden to carry indeed. I think this was the difference between you and other Pastors, that you didn't defend against the sadness but truly felt others pain. This made you a good Pastor, but the individual toll on you and your health also means that it's probably the worst job in the world for you.

If you were the person in charge of putting down stray dogs & cats, you'd instead secretly hide them at home. Trouble is your house fills up after a while. And even though those dogs and cats aren't YOURS, people will still think you're a hoarder.

MR said...

Oh, also important to note that I've seen contagious emotions work on you positively, too. If that guy had come in and said he won 10 grand in the lottery and wanted to change his name to and went on about how it's come just at the right time to change his life for the better, I have no doubt you'd have been in a great mood the rest of the day.

JAH said...

This makes so much sense. It is funning how in reading "An Arrow Pointing to Heaven" that is the very thing they were talking about regarding Rich Mullins and it reminded me of you. You just put it into the exact words I was trying to think of yesterday. I guess it is kind of a "heavy blessing" of sort to be wired like this but I can't think of you in any other way and know that many people have benefited from you being just the way you are. Like me. :)

MR said...

sorry Dan, the world doesn't know what to do with someone who ACTUALLY gives a shit.

Pastor D said...

In one word you have empathy -which means you're human -

Pastor D said...

Which also means - you care -

Jim Lehmer said...

I was on a solo climbing vacation in Colorado last week. No radio in the truck, no TV in the motel, no internet, barely any conversation with anyone - just eight days of climbing, soaking in hot springs after, and eating and falling asleep at 8:30 to get up at 4:30 and do it all again. My kinda time.

Anyway, after a few days of detox it really was some good time for introspection. Last Saturday, I was driving toward the last climb before starting to head back home, and I was thinking about how and why I come across so cynical sometimes, and it hit me how much I am actually an open and hopeful and optimistic person, but because of some life events, some that were decades ago, I have this defense shield around me (I've long said "Scratch a cynic and you uncover a wounded optimist.")

Anyway, in there somewhere I started wondering if I could retrieve that sense of openness and wonder I had when I was young, and I just started weeping. For me. For the sense of wonder gone. For all the people I've hurt because I've been "Shields up." For all the things I've lost due to the same. It all came bubbling out (I probably shoulda pulled over, but the mountain highway wasn't busy at 6:00am :).

Weirdly enough, it was very cleansing. I have been at more peace with myself and who I am since. I don't know if I can hold onto it - old habits and all that. But I am glad there is still something in me that responded to that.

I write that because I have long sensed that we share some similarities in that regard - we wounded optimists.