Acceptance and Endeavor


Why I Try

I saw my psychiatrist last Friday. I drive forty-five minutes into Philadelphia to see him, and then an hour or more back out (rush hour seems to begin earlier and earlier these days). For those who know me – this is a lot of travel…but improving my health is high on my list of priorities. Why? Simply b/c it lets me do my job better and be a better person.

When I’m not ruminating on my anxieties, I can listen to and empathize with the anxieties of others. When I’m not in the pit of depression, I am ready to reach out to the other. When I’m not sleep deprived I can offer my full attention.

Rabbit Trail: On Suffering

Many argue that our suffering makes us better able to interact, understand, and love others. To some extent I think this can be true, but I place qualifiers upon it.

  1. Suffering does not inherently result in a larger capacity for good, it must be cultivated as such.
  2. Some forms of suffering decrease the ability to perform good in the short-term[1] while increasing it in the long-term.
  3. Some forms of suffering almost always result in reduced capacity for good rather than greater capacity.[2]

I’ve experienced a lot of pain and suffering, especially over the last year, and I would suggest that the pain and suffering I’ve suffered at some point passed beyond the point of breaking to heal stronger to simply breaking. The lessons to be learned from the suffering where learned and yet the suffering continued unabated – sometimes intensifying.

Perhaps bones heal stronger after being broken, but not after being pulverized – in the latter case they just don’t heal.

But I am distracted from what I intended to write…let me return.

Endeavor

I continue to fight for better health to be a better person. I continue to improve my diet, to exercise, to work on my sleep hygiene, to read, to grow, to reach out.

As of yesterday I have health insurance again for the first time in over a year. My psychiatrist prescribed provigil (modafinil) for me as I struggle (and have for many years) with Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) which is extremely frustrating. I am waiting for the pre-authorization to go through with the insurance company.

I hope that it will help me feel the energy a ‘normal’ person experiences on a daily basis. I’m not looking to be superhuman – just not super-tired. On the other hand, I’m a bit frightened. My last experience with a new medication involved audio and visual hallucinations and parkinsonian-like tremors that lasted for several weeks. I’d rather not do that again.

Provigil also can increase anxiety – which isn’t something I need, I have plenty of anxiety, thank you very much, no second helpings for me. It has been shown to exacerbate OCD symptoms – and I am already taking Adderall (20 mg) which also exacerbates my OCD symptoms.

In the end, it will be a matter of trade-offs. Does the increase in anxiety I feel (if I do) outweigh the benefit in wakefulness I experience? For me, the anxiety and discomfort I experience from taking Adderall are relatively minor in comparison to the increased ability to focus and reduced impulsiveness (e.g. its easier not to consume very large amounts of unhealthy foods) I experience.

Right now the vocal ticks are subtle but annoying. They are caused by the Adderall. No one hears these ticks as they are controllable with significant effort, but they burst forth on occasion as “hmmphs” when I’m by myself…they cause no practical harm, but they are annoying – kind of like the hiccups.

So, I’ll try the Provigil and see what happens…

Acceptance

At the same time that I continue to look for solutions to my weaknesses I also try to accept what I cannot change – or at least what I cannot change yet. This is a difficult balance – the endeavor to move forward with the acceptance that I am limited…it is even further frustrated in that the road forward is not always clear – the endeavors I make sometimes are useless or worse regressive…and accepting that my endeavors don’t always work and that they do sometimes set me back is really difficult. Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel and say, “I’m just going to stay like this…It is too hard learning how to change.”

It is difficult for me to accept that I am going to feel tired, that I am going to need naps, that I am at times struggling to empathize. It is difficult for me to accept that I must again face my anxiety, and again, and again, and again. It is frustrating to know that my depression can sweep in upon me at any moment, that the sky can turn from bright and sunny to the darkest shade of midnight at a moment’s notice and to a great extent I am utterly helpless to prevent it.

Stumbling in the Dark…

So much of what we do in regards to our health – especially our mental health – is a stumbling in the dark. We know that there are things which work for some people some of the time – but we can’t tell which ones will work for us at this time.

Doctors say that one of the best ways to fight depression, anxiety, add, and so on is exercise. I’m doing it – to the tune of two hours a day…I think it helps, but not much.

I know the medications help – the prozac, adderall, and wellbutrin – but I also know they have side effects – and I’ve been on prozac for so long I don’t even know what those side effects are any more. Have I always been this way or is this something the prozac causes?

Some would tell me to go off the medications. Honestly, that usually pisses me off. Yes, I said pisses – b/c I feel pretty strongly about this. Trust me, I don’t want to be on medications. If I could get off them I would…in fact, I am continually seeking to move myself in that direction…but I’m also not interesting in descending into the depths of pain and paralysis which these medications have freed me from.[3]

Sidebar: Why What Works For You Doesn’t Work For Me

Let me digress for just a moment. Folks are always telling me what works for them in regard to their illnesses – and I appreciate this – until they suggest that this will work for me as well. I am interested in trying new cures, I am interested in going new ways, I’m not closed down to new ideas – but b/c it works for you doesn’t mean it will work for me.

For numerous reasons what is effective for one person will be ineffective for another – and right now we haven’t been able to analyze what causes something to be effective for one person and ineffective for another. We know that some of it is the result of genetics, some may be the result of experience, others may be conflating variables.

In my family two of my siblings had bad asthma – I don’t. One of my siblings had a deathly allergy to peanuts – I don’t. One had a deathly allergy to bee stings – I don’t. Point being – even within the same immediate family there is room for significant genetic variability…which means that while taking St. John’s Wort may help one individual immensely it isn’t going to touch another person. The same is true of pharmaceuticals – which I rely upon more heavily – for some people prozac works wonders, for others it does nothing – or worse causes suicidal ideation or increased anxiety.


I’m so glad for you if some means of treatment has cured you of your ills…I’d love to hear about it and I will consider if it might be a beneficial road for me to journey down…but please, don’t insist that it is the road to health.

P.S. I also believe in the efficacy of spiritual solutions / divine interventions. I am a fan of a lot of what Neil T. Anderson has written, but again, I think we are looking at partial solutions – not always solutions. The same Paul who by the power of God raised a young man from the dead at another time writes to his adopted son, Timothy, to drink some wine for his stomach ills…no miraculous cure, just practical advice.

End Sidebar

Accepting Grace

I believe in grace. I believe in love. I believe in God. I believe in the God who is love…and I think I’m pretty good at extending grace to others.[4] I’m not so good at accepting grace for myself…and this is the ultimate challenge in acceptance. To accept who I am now…while not giving up. To endeavor while receiving grace. To go on while knowing I am falling short. To accept love without deserving it.

It is funny, I can extend grace, I can teach grace, but I have the hardest time accepting it. Paradoxically, this may be the reason why I can extend and teach grace. I extend it b/c I know how desperately I need it. I teach it b/c I know how deeply the truth transforms us – from experience and b/c I can feel inside of me the murky depths roiling as they experience grace pulsing through them…ohh, would that they would be overturned, exploded, made free and clean!

Prayer

Father,

I’m angry at you a lot. I feel like I’ve suffered enough…I want to serve you and yet I am so hobbled in my abilities. I wonder why you call me to love others and then cripple me in such ways that limit my abilities.

I feel lost so often. I struggle with battles that refuse to abet. Even in my dreams, O Lord, my subconscious lives out the struggles again and again – the relationships that have been torn and lost…and which, O Lord, I am entirely confused how to restore – if they can be restored.

Father, let me accept the things I cannot change, let me change those I can, and let me have the wisdom to know the difference.

I am not as brave as Paul who would desist from crying out to be healed from his thorn in the flesh. I still ask you after these many years to remove this burden from me.

I am afraid. I’ll suffer as long as you want me to – but I don’t want to suffer for anything you don’t want.

I kneel at the cross and let your agony, your pain, your suffering wash over me. It is the only balm I know to soothe this broken soul.

Amen.


  1. [1] And I use ‘short’ in relative terms as compared to one’s lifespan. In other words ‘short’ could be a week but it could also be five or ten years.
  2. [2] This is something I’ve been saying for a long time, but which I feel has finally received some external validation as I read John T. McNeill’s A History of the Cure of Souls. For example, Christians oftentimes argue that the shed blood of the martyrs strengthens the church – that the natural result of an unpersecuted church is a weak church. While there is something to be said for this, I think that McNeill makes an excellent point when discussing Armenian Christianity, “…the sufferings of the Armenian Christians under the Turks were too severe to yield the moral advantage that often comes from state hostility in milder form.” (pg. 317)
  3. [3] I am not resistant to all suggestions to get off medications – not only do I desire to but I am open to such advice when it comes in a way that is reliable and reasonable. My current psychiatrist is an advocate of natural treatments, but he isn’t going to take me off my medications or suggest I go off them – it will be a long process of trial and error to see if various natural remedies/supplements/etc. can replace/supplement what the medications currently accomplish…
  4. [4] Though sometimes, I know that my version of grace is inadequate. If it was truly grace it would include more justice than I sometimes include…There is a severity to grace which I have not yet learned…

For My Scrupulous Heart.

Scrupulosity is my constant enemy. Many experience increasing peace the closer they seek to draw to God, I experience increasing angst. Others can find satisfaction in the level of their devotion, for me every advancement in devotion only reveals more horribly the abyss out of which I seek to climb…

What is someone scrupulous doing being a pastor? I ask myself the same question sometimes. Every sermon I prepare brings increasing pain, not increasing peace.

I have begged the Lord to relieve me of this thorn – but He has not. Is His grace sufficient for even me? Sometimes the intensity of the scrupulosity weighs so heavily upon me I feel as if I will break.

Tonight I am not in the deepest depths of despair, but it is certainly lurking at my door. I can feel its dark tendrils creeping round my throat, it wants to pull me slowly down into the abyss. I strive to climb up, towards my Savior, but somehow I am climbing down, deeper into the abyss.

So, I spend some time reading Scrupulous Anonymous…for those who struggle with scrupulosity like me, here is a quote to soothe your fevered brain (I hope) for a moment as it cools mine:

From Father Thomas M. Santa's article in Scrupulous Anonymous (April 2014) "Rules upon Rules."

From Father Thomas M. Santa’s article in Scrupulous Anonymous (April 2014) “Rules upon Rules.”

It Was The Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

On Monday I moved most of my belongings out of the house and into the new apartment. I’m excited about the apartment. While I wasn’t far from the church before, now I’m literally next door. I’m looking forward to the opportunity this provides to be active on a daily basis at the church while also able to retreat into the safety of my apartment (aka, fort of the introvert).

An illustration from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

An illustration from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

I have a 1995 Mazda Protege. It is a sea-sick green color, 151k miles, and my mechanic tells me the exhaust has been patched so many times its hard to tell what is what…but the cost of replacing the exhaust whole is nearly what the car is worth – so we continue to patch it, piece by piece. The Protege is me. It is my favorite car out of all the ones I’ve owned – more than the Suzuki Samurai and even more than the Chevy Aveo. Why? I don’t know. In some way I feel like it reflects who I am…I don’t care a lot about fancy things, I like what is practical, and lest you or I forget, I come from the middle of nowhere where cars that look like this are the norm instead of the exception.

I have a similar feeling about the apartment. We’ll have to see as I settle in – but already I get the feel of it being me…and at this juncture I haven’t brought any of the furniture over – my books are in stacks against the wall, my LCD monitors are on the floor in a corner, and my food, dishes, and silverware are overflowing the table. This is good, it is good when something feels like you before you’ve even made it your own.

About this, about the church – I feel good.

On the other hand, last week and this week have been no picnic in the park. Charity moved out on Saturday and I soon after. Throughout these days I’ve been followed by a constant ache in my head – really nothing to complain about – but annoying and ever-present. I thought at first I was coming down with something – but it hasn’t morphed into anything more – it just hangs there, placing slight pressure on the back of my eyes, trying to bump them out of their sockets.

There is a heavy weight inside me that cannot be quantified. It is a void and as I peer in I can discern nothing. What are you? Why are you here? What will it take to make you go away? I know, I know – time will make you leave my door – I must be patient.

The weight makes my stomach churn. It pulls down on my shoulders and at the corners of my mouth – it lulls my eyelids to sleep. It places weights upon my arms and legs – why are you so heavy today arms? Why do you move so slow today legs?


It feels a lot like it did before…but the anger isn’t there nor is the hopelessness. It is just the confusion, the sadness, the grief. I’m nervous as I walk through a store – the thoughts inside my head want to burst out of my eyes in streams of water. I don’t ever want to be that person – the one who breaks down in the middle of a store. I never expected to be the one who broke down in the middle of my church family.

Responsibilities I dread weigh upon me. Getting the house ready for renters. Talking to the township and securing the necessary code review. Securing landlord insurance. Deciding whether to use a property management company. Convincing my mortgage company that renting is a good idea. Giving away the cats.

These pile on top of those other responsibilities that I dread – and yet await my full attention…demanding it with ever increasing intensity. Taxes. Health Insurance. Bills…

Yet, I am hopeful, I am optimistic. When the anxiety of all that I have to do rolls over me I remind myself that Christ told me to worry only about today – the future will take care of itself. Then I practice deciding what I really want to accomplish today and tell my OCD to go kill itself when it begins asking me why I haven’t done x, y, and z yet. “That isn’t for today. Today I will do a, b, c. Tomorrow I will decide what to do – maybe x, y, z, maybe something else. But that is for tomorrow. Don’t think or worry about it today.”

Please Don’t Paralyze Me.

I function pretty well in most areas of my life – but I have real difficulty with anything relating to the law.

I used to do my income taxes myself – err, try to do them – but I gave up and now go to H&R Block…I could never decide if I had done them right. Even with H&R Block’s help, I feel an deep queasiness in the pit of my stomach. The hours I spend collecting the documentation…the hours I spend sitting with the accountant – I just want to vomit.

Now I’m moving. I’m excited about that. I’m looking forward to my new, smaller domicile. I’m looking forward to making it me. It already feels more me than this house.

Why am I moving? So I can rent out the house to bring in some extra income. I’d sell it, but the value of the house declined by around $40k since we bought it and the mortgage currently slightly exceeds the value of the home…that sucks.


I posted on Craiglist and had eighteen responses within two days. Sweet. But the paralysis began to set in yesterday…that deep gnawing feeling that I can’t handle this…I can’t mange the intricacies of all this.

The first step is to talk to a code enforcement office for the township and have them do a review of the house. What needs to be fixed or changed to bring it up to code? But this overwhelms me. Why? Because I’m afraid he’ll say there is something huge…and then what am I supposed to do?

As I write about it, it is obvious that my mind is skipping steps ahead – steps it doesn’t need to take. First contact the code enforcement officer, schedule an appointment, and see what happens. Then deal with whatever happens when it happens. Don’t predict, don’t become paralyzed by the potential. Easily said, much more difficult to do.

I’ve been doing fairly well for a while now – but this sort of thing can really knock me for a loop. I just don’t want to have to deal with it. Others can do this with relative ease – in part b/c they don’t worry so much about if they don’t follow this guideline to the T. But for me, well my head is throbbing, I feel nauseous – and I’ve been fairly immobilized – reduced to posting old pictures – for the last 3+ hours.

I hate this. These things come from the outside and rock my world. This is why I wanted to join the military when I was younger – why it still sometimes looks appealing. All I need do is follow orders – I don’t need to think for myself – b/c making decisions hurts too much.

It sucks. So I’ll try using the CES device, I’ll go to sleep, I’ll talk to my counselor in the morning, and hopefully I’ll be functional enough to freaking talk to the code enforcement officer.

I try to architect my life in such a way that I avoid these things – but they always come after me. I look back at my teenage years with some sadness – knowing that my inability to determine how to run a legal small business continually kept me from becoming the early blooming businessman I could have been. I’ve lost opportunities b/c I just couldn’t make the choice. I was paralyzed by the freaking laws…

It takes all my effort right now not to type out a blue streak…the pain is intense and these family-friendly words can’t communicate the pain I feel inside right now.

I’ve dealt with this sort of thing before…and sometimes, sometimes I’ve just taken the hit. In this case that would look like just leaving the house empty…maybe even letting it be foreclosed on.

I won’t do that – but the pain is intense enough that I want to…I want to so, so badly.

My OCD in 2002, I was eighteen.

I’ve been reading through my own journal entries…trying to understand some aspects of myself more. Came upon the following entry from February 11th 2002 – twelve years later.

Crap! I hate my life. Why must I always be convicted of the smallest nothings? Why cannot I live like any other normal person? Why must I be such an idiot? I hate my life. I wish for the sweet peace of death and eternity with Christ where I will no more sin nor have to worry about sin nor worry about my past deeds. I hate this!
In the past several days I have asked Phil if he was offended by my (jokingly) calling him a heathen b/c he had his ear pierced, told a guy I said things about Dr. ——— which I shouldn’t have (don’t even remember his name), and told my mom that I did not watch the Matrix for the reasons I told her I did. Now I am convicted about such things as playing too roughly with my siblings and scaring…Jeremiah’s little brother, I don’t even remember his name.
Ohh God, how much longer must I suffer under this conviction? How much longer before I may have peace? Will you always turn your face from me and give me no wisdom? Must I always be lost in this pit? Why have you forsaken me? I seek your face and yet feel as if it is hid from me. I push on every day behind the mask of peace and serenity and yet within my soul is the utmost turmoil. Can I have no peace? Will you not allow me to move on? What am I to do with these matters? What can I do to rectify them? How can I in any way make better what I have done. I feel like swearing Lord, I want to let loose, I want to die. I do not want life anymore, Father, please will you give me snakes and rocks? Can I have bread and wine? Must I always seek and never find? When I knock on the door will you never answer? Ohh, God, please. Forgive me for my trespasses and show me the way that I am to go. I feel so guilty! And all I want to do is swear. I do not want to speak to you, I do not want to speak to you. I type this now b/c I am afraid as soon as I get on my knees I will lose the desire and stand again. OHHH GOD!!! GOD DO YOU HEAR ME? MUST I EVER STAND THIS WAY? PLEASE HELP ME! GOD!!! PLEASE!!!
Okay, I have to clean my room, but I ask for your help. Am I to press on? God? God? God?
I know you’re out there…I know you hear me….I know you love me….I just don’t feel like it. Ohhh God, please. Please. Please. Please.
Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Please. Give me peace by life or death, O Lord, I beg of you. Amen. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Forgive me for my anger. Amen.

Fisher Wallace – Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation – A Lot of Days

I haven’t been recording for a while. It looks like my last entry was for the 26th-27th of January (2.19), that means nothing for the 27th-28th (2.20), 28th-29th (2.21), 29th-30th (2.22), 30th-31st (2.23), 31st-1st (2.24), 1st-2nd (2.25), 2nd-3rd (2.26). Today is the 3rd to 4th (2.27).

The churches’ annual congregational meeting was on the 30th and I was experiencing significant anxiety regarding this. I can say that objectively – b/c I think my sudden deterioration reflects such a fact, and I can say this b/c I felt emotionally uncomfortable over this period of time, but I cannot say w/certainty that this was caused by anxiety regarding the meeting. I wonder if this is what Anne Wilson-Schaef means when she talks about “frozen feelings.”

I’m not sleeping well. Awaking frequently throughout the night. I am experiencing turbulence in some of my relationships. The congregational meeting went okay…but I laid a fleece (and, no, I’m not a fleece laying sort of guy) and God…well, I don’t know if he answered…which is way worse than him either saying ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I am Robert Frost standing at the crossroads, choosing which path to follow and feeling a bit like God just tripped me into a tree instead of directing me to either path. I know that is unfair to God, but that is still how I feel.

I used to say I don’t cry a lot. I can’t say that anymore. On the 31st I watched two episodes of Chicago PD and both made me cry – and no, they weren’t particularly emotional episodes. Something faintly reverberates with me and I start crying and I don’t even know why.

February 2nd I was a mess. I know not to have difficult conversations the day before church, but I did and I paid for it the rest of the day and into the next. Still, the sermon came together and the membership class when fine – everything worked out.

I’m riding my bike every day for 2 hrs. or so. I’m at around 172 lbs., sometimes as low as 170.6. I can’t wait to break into the 160′s – it’ll be the first time in probably nine or ten years that I’ve been under 170.

I haven’t been tracking my sleep. I know subjectively I haven’t been sleeping well – though I slept well last night.

I’ve been a bit spotty with my CES usage – sometimes once, sometimes twice. Yesterday I used it both morning and night. Today I’m using it as I type this. Subjectively, I think it is having a positive effect.

My score on the Goldberg Depression scale is 25 (mild to moderate depression). I believe this is the lowest I’ve scored on the Goldberg Depression scale thus far. While I am experiencing a lot of unpleasant and difficult emotion – my sense of hopelessness and inability to experience pleasure seem to be less.

My score on the Burns Anxiety Inventory is 14 (Mild Anxiety) – this is significantly lower than anything I have experienced thus far. I’m still feeling perpetually anxious – but perhaps less intensely anxious.

Fisher Wallace – Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation – Day 2.13, 2.14

Day 2.13 (Mon->Tues)

Conflating Variables

  • I did use CES both in morning and evening.
  • I exercised for over 2 hours.
  • I napped for slightly over 2 hours (over two separate times).
  • I participated in Nomads in the evening.

Results

  • My sleep was very broken up. I went to bed at 1 am (much later than usual) and awoke around 5 am.
    • FitBit has me down as taking 7 min. to fall asleep (normal), waking 9 times (low normal), and in-bed versus actual sleep 4 hrs 43 min versus 4 hrs 14 min.
    • I would fall asleep again later for four hours – much longer than usual, but bringing me back up to a regular eight hours. In addition, I still napped for slightly under the normal two hours.
  • I made three phone calls in rapid succession – this indicates I had more energy than usual for this sort of task – as I find phone calls extremely draining.
  • Overall, my depression and anxiety seem to have been stable – no big dips, perhaps a little less than previous days.

Day 2.14 (Tues->Wed)

Conflating Variables

  • I used CES both morning and night.
  • It snowed a ton, everything went slower, I stayed home all day.
  • I exercised for over 2 hrs.
  • I took several naps – totaling around 3 hrs.
  • I did Lumosity brain training for almost an hour.

Results

  • According to Fitbit I was “in bed” for 9 hrs. 28 min. but actual sleep time was 7 hrs. 37 min. This was b/c I don’t turn off my sleep recording when in the middle of the night I get up and do stuff – last night I awoke in the middle of the night and spent two hours reading.
  • It took  8 min. to fall asleep (slightly long) and I was awakened 68 times (I think this is probably thrown off since I didn’t turn the FitBit off while reading – every time I moved it probably thought I was awaking).
  • The Goldberg test comes back with a score of 40 (moderate/severe). This is up from a 38 on Day 2.8, but only slightly. This was surprising to me as subjectively I feel that my depression is the same/lower than before. I think this may be explained by the fact that I am feeling better in some areas – but then realizing my struggles more heavily in other areas. I weigh the better areas lighter – but the lighter rating isn’t enough to offset the heavier rating I then give to areas in which I can see I am giving heavier ratings.
  • The Burns Anxiety test comes back with a score of 24 (Moderate Anxiety). This reflects movement in a positive direction. On 2.8 I was at 31 – putting me at the very low end of severe anxiety, now I am in the middle of moderate anxiety. Hopefully these gains will be stable – but it is worth noting that on 2.4 I spiked to a 45. It may be that I am cyclical – having lows (twenties), normals (thirties), and highs (forties).

Charles Spurgeon’s “The Minister’s Fainting Fits”

Charles Spurgeon was perhaps the greatest preacher of the 19th century. One of his works is a compilation of lectures he gave to pastoral students. What follows is the entirety of his eleventh lecture, titled “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” in which Spurgeon tackles the topic of depression as it applies to the ministry.

I’ve modernized the language, provided explanatory annotations at various junctures, etc. I cannot agree with all he says – but there are so many powerful passages within this brief work, it is worth a read.

The Minister’s Fainting Fits

From Lectures to My Student, Vol. 1, Lecture 11.

Author: Charles Spurgeon.

As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, became exhausted,[1] so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord. Fits of depression come over most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy. There may be here and there men of iron, to whom wear and tear work no perceptible detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as for ordinary men, the Lord knows, and makes them to know, that they are but dust. Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited with it[2] at seasons by no means few or far between, I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts regarding it,[3] that younger men might not fancy that some strange thing had happened to them when they became for a season possessed by melancholy; and that sadder men might know that one upon whom the sun has shone right joyously did not always walk in the light.

It is not necessary by quotations from the biographies of eminent ministers to prove that seasons of fearful prostration have fallen to the lot of most, if not all of them. The life of Luther might suffice to give a thousand instances, and he was by no means of the weaker sort. His great spirit was often in the seventh heaven of exultation, and as frequently on the borders of despair. His very death bed was not free from tempests, and he sobbed himself into his last sleep like a great wearied child. Instead of multiplying cases, let us dwell upon the reasons why these things are permitted; why it is that the children of light sometimes walk in the thick darkness; why the heralds of the daybreak find themselves at times in tenfold night.

Is it not first that they are men? Being men, they are surrounded[4] with infirmity, and heirs of sorrow. Well said the wise man in the Apocrypha,[5] “Great travail is created for all men, and a heavy yoke on the sons of Adam, from the day that they go out of their mother’s womb to that day that they return to the mother of all things — namely, their thoughts and fear of their hearts, and their imagination of things that they wail for, and the day of death. From him that sits on the glorious throne, to him that sits beneath in the earth and ashes; from him that is clothed in blue silk, and wears a crown, to him that is clothed in simple linen — wrath, envy, trouble, and unquietness, and fear of death and rigor, and such things come to both man and beast, but sevenfold to the ungodly.” Grace guards us from much of this, but because we have not more of grace we still suffer even from ills preventable. Even under the economy of redemption it is most clear that we are to endure infirmities, otherwise there would be[6] no need of the promised Spirit to help us in them. It is of need be that we are sometimes in heaviness. Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others, that they may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering people, and so may be fitting shepherds of an ailing flock. Disembodied spirits might have been sent to proclaim the word, but they could not have entered into the feelings of those who, being in this body, do groan, being burdened; angels might have been ordained evangelists, but their celestial attributes would have disqualified them from having compassion on the ignorant; men of marble might have been fashioned, but their impassive natures would have been a sarcasm upon our feebleness, and a mockery of our wants. Men, and men subject to human passions, the all-wise God has chosen to be his vessels of grace; hence these tears, hence these perplexities and castings down.

Moreover, most of us are in some way or other unsound physically. Here and there we meet with an old man who could not remember that ever he was laid aside for a day; but the great mass of us labor under some form or other of infirmity, either in body or mind. Certain bodily maladies, especially those connected with the digestive organs, the liver, and the spleen, are the fruitful fountains of despondency; and, let a man strive as he may against their influence, there will be hours and circumstances in which they will for a time[7] overcome him. As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off balance? Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality; of them it may be said, “Melancholy marked them for her own;”[8] fine minds in spite of this,[9] and ruled by noblest principles, but yet most prone to forget the silver lining, and to remember only the cloud. Such men may sing with the old poet

Our hearts are broke, our harps unstringed be,
Our only music’s sighs and groans,
Our songs are to the tune of lachrymae,[10]
We’re fretted all to skin and bones.”[11]

These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special usefulness; they may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualifications for his peculiar course of service. Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow; others to the shades in which alone they flourish. There are precious fruits put forth by the moon as well as by the sun. Boats need ballast as well as sail; a drag on the carriage-wheel is no hindrance when the road runs downhill. Pain has, probably, in some cases developed genius; hunting out the soul which otherwise might have slept like a lion in its den. Had it not been for the broken wing, some might have lost themselves in the clouds, some even of those choice doves who now bear the olive-branch in their mouths and show the way to the ark. But where in body and mind there are predisposing causes to lowness of spirit, it is no marvel if in dark moments the heart succumbs to them; the wonder in many cases is – and if inner lives could be written, men would see it so – how some ministers keep at their work at all, and still wear a smile upon their countenances. Grace has its triumphs still, and patience has its martyrs; martyrs none the less to be honored because the flames kindle about their spirits rather than their bodies, and their burning is unseen of human eyes. The ministries of Jeremiahs are as acceptable as those of Isaiahs, and even the sullen Jonah is a true prophet of the Lord, as Nineveh felt full well. Despise not the lame, for it is written that they take the prey; but honor those who, being faint, are yet pursuing. The tender-eyed Leah was more fruitful than the beautiful Rachel, and the griefs of Hannah were more divine than the boastings of Peninnah. “Blessed are they that mourn,” said the Man of Sorrows, and let none account them otherwise when their tears are salted with grace. We have the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels, and if there be a flaw in the vessel here and there, let none wonder. Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin — are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? The kingdom comes not as we would, the Lord’s[12] name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep. How can we be otherwise than sorrowful, while men believe not our report, and the divine arm is not revealed? All mental work tends to weary and to depress, for much study is a weariness of the flesh; but ours is more than mental work — it is heart work, the labor of our inmost soul. How often, on Sunday[13] evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break. Probably, if we were more like Paul, and watched for souls at a nobler rate, we should know more of what it is to be eaten up by the zeal of the Lord’s house. It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed; we are to spend and to be spent, not to lay ourselves up in lavender, and nurse our flesh. Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail. Moses’ hands grew heavy in intercession, and Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Even John the Baptist is thought to have had his fainting fits, and the apostles were once amazed, and were very[14] afraid. Our position in the church will also conduce to this. A minister fully equipped for his work, will usually be a spirit by himself, above, beyond, and apart from others. The most loving of his people cannot enter into his peculiar thoughts, cares, and temptations. In the ranks, men walk shoulder to shoulder, with many comrades, but as the officer rises in rank, men of his standing are fewer in number. There are many soldiers, few captains, fewer colonels, but only one commander-in-chief. So, in our churches, the man whom the Lord raises as a leader becomes, in the same degree in which he is a superior man, a solitary man. The mountaintops stand solemnly apart, and talk only with God as he visits their terrible solitudes.

Men of God who rise above their fellows into nearer communion with heavenly things, in their weaker moments feel the lack of human sympathy.

Like their Lord in Gethsemane, they look in vain for comfort to the disciples sleeping around them; they are shocked at the apathy of their little band of brethren, and return to their secret agony with all the heavier burden pressing upon them, because they have found their dearest companions slumbering. No one knows, but he who has endured it, the solitude of a soul which has outstripped its fellows in zeal for the Lord of hosts: it dares not reveal itself, lest men count it mad; it cannot conceal itself, for a fire burns within its bones: only before the Lord does it find rest. Our Lord’s sending out his disciples by two and two manifested that he knew what was in men; but for such a man as Paul, it seems to me that no helpmeet was found; Barnabas, or Silas, or Luke, were hills too low to hold high converse with such a Himalayan summit as the apostle of the Gentiles. This loneliness, which if I mistake not is felt by many of my brethren, is a fertile source of depression; and our ministers’ fraternal meeting, and the cultivation of holy intercourse with kindred minds will with God’s blessing, help us greatly to escape the snare.

There can be little doubt that sedentary habits have a tendency to create despondency in some constitutions. Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholy,” has a chapter upon this cause of sadness; and, quoting from one of the myriad authors whom he lays under contribution, he says — “Students are negligent of their bodies. Other men look to their tools; a painter will wash his pencils; a smith will look to his hammer, anvil, forge; a husbandman will mend his plough-irons, and grind his hatchet if it be dull; a falconer or huntsman will have an especial care of his hawks, hounds, horses, dogs, etc.; a musician will string and unstring his lute; only scholars neglect that instrument (their brain and spirits I mean) which they daily use.”

Lucan well said, “See you twist not the rope so hard that it break.” To sit long in one posture, poring over a book, or driving a pen,[15] us in itself a taxing of nature; but add to this a badly-ventilated chamber, a body which has long been without muscular exercise, and a heart burdened with many cares, and we have all the elements for preparing a seething cauldron of despair, especially in the dim months of fog

When a blanket wraps the day,
When the rotten woodland drips,
And the leaf is stamped in clay.[16]

Let a man be naturally as blithe as a bird, he will hardly be able to bear up year after year against such a suicidal process; he will make his study a prison and his books the wardens of the jail,[17] while nature lies outside his window calling him to health and beckoning him to joy. He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy. A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best. Heaviest the heart is |
in a heavy air,
Ev’ry wind that rises
blows away despair.[18]

The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trout, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops[19] — these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary. For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim.

The times most favorable to fits of depression, so far as I have experienced, may be summed up in a brief catalogue. First among them I must mention the hour of great success. When at last a long-cherished desire is fulfilled, when God has been glorified greatly by our means, and a great triumph achieved, then we are apt to faint. It might be imagined that amid special favors our soul would soar to heights of ecstasy, and rejoice with joy unspeakable, but it is generally the reverse. The Lord seldom exposes his warriors to the perils of exultation over victory; he knows that few of them can endure such a test, and therefore dashes their cup with bitterness. See Elijah[20] after the fire has fallen from heaven, after Baal’s priests have been slaughtered and the rain has deluged the barren land! For him no notes of self-complacent music, no strutting like a conqueror in robes of triumph; he flees from Jezebel, and feeling the revulsion of his intense excitement, he prays that he may die. He who must never see death, yearns after the rest of the grave, even as Caesar, the world’s monarch, in his moments of pain cried like a sick girl. Poor human nature cannot bear such strains as heavenly triumphs bring to it; there must come a reaction.

Excess of joy or excitement must be paid for by subsequent depressions.

While the trial lasts, the strength is equal to the emergency; but when it is over, natural weakness claims the right to show itself. Secretly sustained, Jacob can wrestle all night, but he must limp in the morning when the contest is over, lest he boast himself beyond measure. Paul may be caught up to the third heaven, and hear unspeakable things, but a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, must be the inevitable sequel.

Men cannot bear unalloyed happiness; even good men are not yet fit to have “their brows with laurel and with myrtle bound,”[21] without enduring secret humiliation to keep them in their proper place. Whirled from off our feet by a revival, carried aloft by popularity, exalted by success in soul winning, we should be as the chaff which the wind drives away, were it not that the gracious discipline of mercy breaks the ships of our great pride[22] with a strong east wind, and casts us shipwrecked, naked and forlorn, upon the Rock of Ages. Before any great achievement, some measure of the same depression is very usual. Surveying the difficulties before us, our hearts sink within us.

The sons of Anak stalk before us, and we are as grasshoppers in our own sight in their presence. The cities of Canaan are walled up to heaven, and who are we that we should hope to capture them? We are ready to cast down our weapons and take to our heels. Nineveh is a great city, and we would flee unto Tarshish sooner than encounter its noisy crowds. Already we look for a ship which may bear us quietly away from the terrible scene, and only a dread of tempest restrains our recreant footsteps. Such was my experience when I first became a pastor in London. My success appalled me; and the thought of the career which it seemed to open up, so far from elating me, cast me into the lowest depth, out of which I uttered my miserery and found no room for a gloria in excelsis.[23] Who was I that I should continue to lead so great a multitude? I would betake me to my village obscurity, or emigrate to America, and find a solitary nest in the backwoods, where I might be sufficient for the things which would be demanded of me. It was just then that the curtain was rising upon my lifework, and I dreaded what it might reveal. I hope I was not faithless, but I was timorous and filled with a sense of my own unfitness. I dreaded the work which a gracious providence had prepared for me. I felt myself a mere child, and trembled as I heard the voice which said, “Arise, and thresh the mountains, and make them as chaff.” This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer blessing.[24]

So have far better men found it. The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master’s use. Immersion in suffering has preceded the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Fasting gives an appetite for the banquet. The Lord is revealed in the backside of the desert, while his servant keeps the sheep and waits in solitary awe. The wilderness is the way to Canaan. The low valley leads to the towering mountain. Defeat prepares for victory. The raven is sent forth before the dove. The darkest hour of the night precedes the dawn.[25]

 

The mariners go down to the depths, but the next wave makes them mount to the heavens: their soul is melted because of trouble before he brings them to their desired haven. In the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labor, the same affliction may be looked for. The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking.

Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. Our Sabbaths are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we. Hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when he said to his disciples, “Let us go into the desert and rest awhile.” What! When the people are fainting? When the multitudes are like sheep upon the mountains without a shepherd? Does Jesus talk of rest? When Scribes and Pharisees, like grievous wolves, are rending the flock, does he take his followers on an excursion into a quiet resting place? Does some red-hot zealot denounce such atrocious forgetfulness of present and pressing demands? Let him rave in his folly. The Master knows better than to exhaust his servants and quench the light of Israel. Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength. Look at the mower in the summer’s day, with so much to cut down before the sun sets. He pauses in his labor – is he a sluggard? He looks for his stone, and begins to draw it up and down his scythe, with “rink-a-tink – rink-a-tink – rink-a-tink.”[26] Is that idle music — is he wasting precious moments? How much he might have mown while he has been ringing out those notes on his scythe! But he is sharpening his tool, and he will do far more when once again he gives his strength to those long sweeps which lay the grass prostrate in rows before him. Even thus a little pause prepares the mind for greater service in the good cause. Fishermen must mend their nets, and we must every now and then repair our mental waste and set our machinery in order for future service. To tug the oar from day to day, like a galley-slave who knows no holidays, suits not mortal man. Mill-streams go on and on forever, but we must have our pauses and our intervals. Who can help being out of breath when the race is continued without intermission? Even beasts of burden must be turned out to grass occasionally; the very sea pauses at ebb and flood; earth keeps the Sabbath of the wintry months; and man, even when exalted to be God’s ambassador, must rest or faint; must trim his lamp or let it burn low; must recruit his vigor or grow prematurely old. It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less. On, on, on forever, without recreation, may suit spirits emancipated from this “heavy clay,” but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure. Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for awhile, but learn from the experience of others the necessity and duty of taking timely rest. One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor. Judas lifts up his heel against the man who trusted him, and the preacher’s heart for the moment fails him. We are all too apt to look to an arm of flesh, and from that propensity many of our sorrows arise. Equally overwhelming is the blow when an honored and beloved member yields to temptation, and disgraces the holy name with which he was named. Anything is better than this. This makes the preacher long for a lodge in some vast wilderness, where he may hide his head for ever, and hear no more the blasphemous jeers of the ungodly. Ten years of toil do not take so much life out of us as we lose in a few hours by Ahithophel the traitor, or Demas the apostate. Strife, also, and division, and slander, and foolish censures, have often laid holy men prostrate, and made them go “as with a sword in their bones.”[27] Hard words wound some delicate minds very keenly. Many of the best of ministers, from the very spirituality of their character, are exceedingly sensitive — too sensitive for such a world as this.

A kick that scarce would move a horse
would kill a sound divine.[28]

By experience the soul is hardened to the rough blows which are inevitable in our warfare; but at first these things utterly stagger us, and send us to our homes wrapped in a horror of great darkness. The trials of a true minister are not few, and such as are caused by ungrateful professors are harder to bear than the coarsest attacks of avowed enemies.

Let no man who looks for ease of mind and seeks the quietude of life enter the ministry; if he does so he will flee from it in disgust.

To the lot of few does it fall to pass through such a horror of great darkness as that which fell upon me after the deplorable accident at the Surrey Music Hall. I was pressed beyond measure and out of bounds with an enormous weight of misery. The tumult, the panic, the deaths, were day and night before me, and made life a burden. Then I sang in my sorrow

The tumult of my thoughts
Doth but increase my woe,
My spirit languishes,
my heart is desolate and low.[29]

From that dream of horror I was awakened in a moment by the gracious application to my soul of the text, “Him has God the Father exalted.” The fact that Jesus is still great, let his servants suffer as they may, piloted me back to calm reason and peace. Should so terrible a calamity overtake any of my brethren, let them both patiently hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God. When troubles multiply, and discouragements follow each other in long succession, like Job’s messengers, then, too, amid the perturbation of soul occasioned by evil tidings, despondency despoils the heart of all its peace.

Constant dropping wears away stones, and the bravest minds feel the fret of repeated afflictions. If a scanty cupboard is rendered a severer trial by the sickness of a wife or the loss of a child, and if ungenerous remarks of hearers are followed by the opposition of deacons and the coolness of members, then, like Jacob, we are apt to cry, “All these things are against me.” When David returned to Ziklag and found the city burned, goods stolen, wives carried off, and his troops ready to stone him, we read, “he encouraged himself in his God;” and well was it for him that he could do so, for he would then have fainted if he had not believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Accumulated distresses increase each other’s weight; they play into each other’s hands, and, like bands of robbers, ruthlessly destroy our comfort. Wave upon wave is severe work for the strongest swimmer. The place where two seas meet strains the most seaworthy keel. If there were a regulated pause between the buffetings of adversity, the spirit would stand prepared; but when they come suddenly and heavily, like the battering of great hailstones, the pilgrim may well be amazed. The last ounce breaks the camel’s back, and when that last ounce is laid upon us, what wonder if we for awhile are ready to give up the ghost! This evil will also come upon us, we know not why, and then it is all the more difficult to drive it away. Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings. As well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet, all-beclouding hopelessness. One affords himself no pity when in this case, because it seems so unreasonable, and even sinful to be troubled without manifest cause; and yet troubled the man is, even in the very depths of his spirit. If those who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion. Resolution might, perhaps, shake it off, but where are we to find the resolution, when the whole man is unstrung? The physician and the divine may unite their skill in such cases, and both find their hands full, and more than full. The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back; and when that hand is seen we cry with the apostle, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”[30] It is the God of all consolation who can

With sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse our poor bosoms of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart.[31]

Simon sinks till Jesus takes him by the hand. The devil within rends and tears the poor child till the word of authority commands him to come out of him. When we are ridden with horrible fears, and weighed down with an intolerable incubus, we need but the Sun of Righteousness to rise, and the evils generated of our darkness are driven away; but nothing short of this will chase away the nightmare of the soul. Timothy Rogers, the author of a treatise on Melancholy, and Simon Browne, the writer of some remarkably sweet hymns, proved in their own cases how unavailing is the help of man if the Lord withdraw the light from the soul.

If it be inquired why the Valley of the Shadow of Death must so often be traversed by the servants of King Jesus, the answer is not far to find. All this is promoting[32] the Lord’s mode of working, which is summed up in these words — “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” Instruments shall be used, but their intrinsic weakness shall be clearly manifested; there shall be no division of the glory, no diminishing the honor due to the Great Worker. The man shall be emptied of self, and then filled with the Holy Ghost. In his own apprehension he shall be like a sere leaf driven of the tempest, and then shall be strengthened into a brazen wall against the enemies of truth. To hide pride from the worker is the great difficulty. Uninterrupted success and unfading joy in it would be more than our weak heads could bear. Our wine must needs be mixed with water, lest it turn our brains. My witness is, that those who are honored of their Lord in public, have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil. How constantly the Lord calls Ezekiel “Son of man!”

Amid his soarings into the superlative splendors, just when with eye undimmed is strengthened to gaze into the excellent glory, the word “Son of man” falls on his ears, sobering the heart which else might have been intoxicated with the honor conferred upon it. Such humbling but salutary messages our depressions whisper in our ears; they tell us in a manner not to be mistaken that we are but men, frail, feeble, apt to faint.

 

By all the castings down of his servants God is glorified, for they are led to magnify him when again he sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields him praise. They speak all the more sweetly of his faithfulness, and are the more firmly established in his love.

Such mature men as some elderly preachers are, could scarcely have been produced if they had not been emptied from vessel to vessel, and made to see their own emptiness and the vanity of all things round about them.

Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below, and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity.

The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it has great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsakes not his saints. Live by the day — ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world. Never count upon immutability in man: inconstancy you may reckon upon without fear of disappointment. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers: as they were not your all when with you, all is not gone from you with their departure. Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Set small store by present rewards; be grateful for earnests by the way, but look for the recompensing joy hereafter. Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head. In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watch-tower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust UNDER THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS.



[1] Original: “waxed faint.”

[2] Original: “therewith.”

[3] Original: “thereon.”

[4] Original: “compassed.”

[5] Ecclesiasticus 40:1-8.

[6] Original “were.”

[7] Original: “awhile.”

[8] Thomas Gray, from “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1750).

[9] Original: “withal.”

[10] Lachrimae means “tears” in Latin. An instrumental composed by John Dowland in 1596, it is also known as “Flow My Tears” – which interestingly, Philip K. Dick used as a title for one of his novels.

[11] See The Vine Wasted, pg. 93, in The Poems of Thomas Washbourne, edited by Alexander B. Grosart, 1868.

[12] Original: “reverend.”

[13] Original: “Lord’s-day.”

[14] Original: “sore.”

[15] Original: “quill.”

[16] Tennyson, “The Vision of Sin.”

[17] Original: “warders of a gaol.”

[18] Thomas Toke Lynch, The Rivulet: A Contribution to Sacred Song, 5th edition (1883), pg. 38.

[19] The female form of the flower on the hops plant.

[20] Original: “Elias.”

[21] William Parsons, On the Pleasures of Poetry, 1785.

[22] Original: “vainglory.”

[23] Latin, Gloria in excelsis Deo means “Glory to God in the highest.”

[24] Original: “benison.”

[25] Original: “daydawn.”

[26] Mary Elizabeth Townsend, Heart and Home Songs, Original and Selected (1876), pg. 112.

[27] John Flavel, “A Treatise of the Soul of Man,” in the Whole Works of the Reverend Mr. John Flavel, Late Minister at Dartmouth in Devon, Volume 1, 1740, pg. 484.

[28] William Cowper, The Works of Cowper and Thompson (1832), pg. 112.

[29] Isaac Watts, The Psalms and Hymns of Dr. Watts (1827), pg. 372, “(Psalm 25. ver. 15-22. 3d Part. S.M.) Distress of Soul; or, Backsliding and Desertion.”

[30] 2 Corinthians 1:3,4.

[31] William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 3, Lines 45-48.

[32] Original: “promotive.”

Fisher Wallace – Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation – Day 2.4

Conflating Variables

  • I rode my recumbent bike in two separate sessions a total of 3.5 hrs.
  • I forgot to wear my Zeo headband, so I have no ZQ for last night.

Results

  • The FitBit again rated my sleep efficiency at 96% (same as Thursday, 1/09).
    • It took me 6 min. to fall asleep (1 min. shorter than previously).
    • I awoke 12 times during the night – this was less than 13 yesterday and much less than the 35 two nights prior.
    • I was “in bed” for 7 hrs. 53 min. and “actually sleeping” for 7 hrs. 27 mins. In other words, I spent less time in bed, but around the same amount overall actually sleeping as the previous day.
      • It is worth noting that I took three naps today. One after my 5 pm cut-off time (as it usually makes it difficult for me to sleep at bed time) b/c I was so sleepy.
  • I used the CES device around 11 pm on Thursday (1/9).
  • I did not use the CES device on Friday morning (10/10).
  • My Ivan Goldberg Depression Screening Test result came back at 38 (Moderate/Severe Depression) – but that is four points less than my initial baseline on 1/8.
  • My David Burns Anxiety Test came back at 45 (Severe Anxiety), which was nine points higher than on 1/8.
    • Subjectively, I felt more anxious at the original baseline test than I do now.

I Am An Existential Crisis.

An existential crisis is supposed to be something you go through. A dark night of the soul, a confrontation with the absurdities of reality. It is a crisis that is, ‘a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.’[1] It is a time - that is, something limited in duration.

Thanks to mark roy (electricnerve) for making this image available for reuse under the creativecommons.

Thanks to mark roy (electricnerve) for making this image available for reuse under the creativecommons.

Unfortunately, I find myself to be in a timeless existential crisis.

think this has a close relationship to my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I do not remember always being in an existential crisis – but I do remember being obsessive-compulsive in my earliest childhood memories.

I don’t know exactly when I moved from ‘normal’ or ‘simple’ OCD to existential OCD, only that it was full-blown by the end of my first semester at college. That was 12 years ago.

The presence of existential OCD has not replaced the normal OCD. Rather, to me, the normal OCD seems like a nuisance in comparison to the existential OCD.[2]

Medication has helped significantly with the normal OCD, but has largely failed in treating the existential aspects.

The existential OCD varies in depth (how severely it disrupts my life), but it rarely (ever?) goes away.

OCD goes something like this:

  • “Did you check that the door was locked?”
    • “Yes, I did.”
  • “Are you sure?”
    • “Well, maybe I didn’t. I’ll go do it again.”
  • “Did you check that the door was locked?”
    • “Yes, we just went over this. I’ve checked it twice now!”
  • “But are you sure the door is locked?”
    • “Yes, I’m sure!”
  • “But you could have forgotten to lock it when you went to the door, right?”
    • “I don’t think so, but I’ll go check…just in case.”
  • “Did you check that the door was locked?”
  • ad infinitum[3]

Some might object that a timeless existential crisis does not exist or that it should not be classified as OCD, and I am open to discussion on this point, but would note the similarities between ‘normal’ OCD and ‘existential’ OCD at the fundamental level. A conversation with ‘existential’ OCD might go something like:

  • “Are you sure you are doing what God wants you to do with your life?”
    • (insert long, difficult, painful process of self-examination)
      • “Yes, I’m sure.”
  • “But are you really, really, really sure?”
    • (insert long, difficult, painful process of self-examination)
      • “Yes, I’m sure.”
  • “But, if you are where you are supposed to be why isn’t God where He is supposed to be? Why is there evil in the world?”
    • (insert long, difficult, painful process of wrestling with the problem of evil)
      • “I cannot explain, but I trust in the God of the cross – the self-sacrificing God.”
  • “If there is a God, and the Scriptures are His Word, you are a horrible Christian. You fail His desires for you drastically!”
    • (insert long, difficult, painful process of wrestling with acceptance of God’s grace and a realistic perspective on self’s qualities and weaknesses)
      • “Are you sure you are doing what God wants you to do with your life?” (hey remember that one, we started with it…insert long, difficult, ad infinitum)
  • ad infinitum

I see these two processes as identical at the core. The existential form differentiates itself in presentation in a few subtle ways, namely: (1) it pertains to philosophical/theological questions (abstract) rather than concrete, (2) it tends to morph more than other forms (e.g. one might check a lock thirty or forty times…but one is likely to move from one question to the next when experiencing existential), and (3) it is not as obviously susceptible to compulsions as normal OCD (e.g. I have an underlying pattern in my life of hungering to know everything…I believe this is partially a healthy desire to grow and learn, but part of it is pathological – the compulsion to match my obsession…perhaps, if I can gain enough knowledge, if I can experience enough, if I can know enough, I will arrive at the certainty I desire).

So, there you have it. I am an existential crisis. It sucks.

How does one cope with existential crises? Well, first off, cope is the right word, b/c I haven’t found any way to overcome one. I’ve only found ways to hold onto my sanity a little while longer…and a little while longer…and a little while longer…ad infinitum?

I don’t feel like talking about coping right now. Goodbye.

Okay, I lied…I’ll talk briefly, just to not leave you hopeless if you are also experiencing this frustrating form of OCD:[4]

  1. Look for normal OCD and fight it. – For example, I struggle with pulling out my eyelashes. This is “normal” OCD[5] and as such I find easier to combat than more existential/philosophical/scrupulous forms. I hypothesize (though cannot claim with certainty) that reducing obsessions/compulsions in one area will weaken them in other areas. Thus rather than trying to fight something that is intangible, fight the tangible, and let this undermine the intangible.
  2. Give up on certainty. – I used to have a fear as a child – what if my entire life up to this point was just a dream in my head and I was going to wake up and realize I was just an infant and that I still had to live my entire life all over again![6]
  3. Escape it. – Run away! Run away! Friends, movies, video games, anything to distract the mind. (For those who are friends of individuals with OCD, one thing that it is important to recognize is that the individual with OCD needs passive escape – e.g. it can’t be something which involves significant effort on their part – this is why we (or at least I) isolate myself when going through a crisis.)
  1. [1] Google’s Definition.
  2. [2] I don’t suggest that ‘normal’ OCD is less painful than ‘existential’ OCD. My subjective, personal experience is that the existential aspects are more painful to me personally than the normal aspects.
  3. [3] Google defines this as “again and again in the same way; forever.”
  4. [4] I’ve never heard this officially classified as a form of OCD. There is talk of “Pure-O” which is OCD without compulsions – just obsessions, a Google search will return numerous results of individuals seeking information about existential OCD – so I am not the only one to utilize the term.
  5. [5] Well, technically, it may be trichotillomania, but we are working with practicalities, not academics.
  6. [6] Yes, I was an abnormal child…and yes, my thoughts on the ‘funness’ of life are probably well-represented by my childhood fear of having to live life over again.