Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Prayer In the Night

I felt awful. It was after midnight, and I couldn’t sleep. I stared at the ceiling, as I had been doing for the last hour or two. I hid under the blankets. I wished that I wasn’t alone. I wished that I could call someone. Therapy and psychiatry weren’t doing it for me. I wished that I was loved, that someone, anyone, was there to hold me.

Life had taken its twists and turns and I had found myself in Tokyo, staring at the ceiling, gripped by severe depression, incredibly alone. Longing, needing help, needing someone, anyone, to look after me. So I decided to pray.

Despite the fact that I’ve never seen any reasons to believe god exists, the childhood indoctrination I received has never entirely gone away. While I swear like a sailor at times, I basically never blaspheme.

Some part of me still believes in the notion that god is out there somewhere and wants to look after us, that non-Christian religions are somehow malign, and that there is a heaven and hell that we get sent to after we die. That we really do have souls, despite a lack of any good reason to think so.

So I sat up, pushed the blankets back, got on my knees and prayed. Said that I needed help. That if god would talk to me, give me some sign that he was real, I would believe. That if there was any time when I was open to being changed, it was now. And I waited. And waited some more. And received the answer I had expected. Silence.

I flopped back into bed, and eventually managed to get to sleep. I got through the next day. And the day after that. And so on until the present day. I’ve been up and down, and have managed to reach some level of stability through learning to deal with my depression and learning to be more accepting of myself, and of others. I am very far from perfect, but I am also very far from the person who first fell into prolonged depression four years ago.

It is irrational, but even now there is some small part of me that feels vaguely guilty, that maybe I didn’t pray hard enough, that maybe I am being tested somehow. That I need to have “faith” and then I will see the light and be shown the path to salvation.

But the only light that ever comes is that of the morning sun, as another day dawns. Any path I find will be my own, but will not be to salvation or damnation. But it might just be to a better tomorrow.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

There Is No Finish Line

I had an attempt at a post on god, life, and the meaning of the universe, but it didn't come together very well. I think I need to bounce some ideas around in my head a little bit longer before they come together properly. So instead, I thought I might steal a title from Nike's admen and talk about running instead.

It is after midnight here in Tokyo. I just went out for a night run. It was cold and there was some light rain, but there wasn't any wind, so it wasn't too bad. I had to push myself a bit to do it, but I got my running gear on, my sneakers, running tights, t-shirt, hoodie, beanie and gloves. I put on my headphones, hit play on the iPod, and ran off into the night to the sound of AC/DC's Highway to Hell - that got me moving!

I probably ran for about 12 kilometers or so. I stopped and walked at some points, sometimes for a minute or two, sometimes for a song or two. Then I picked up the pace and started running again. Not pushing myself too much, but not slacking off too much either. A nice middle ground.

The 2011 Tokyo marathon is coming up in about a month, and I am not ready for it. I wasn't ready for it when I did it in 2007 either, but I managed to get through it, despite it being an agonizing experience. And despite not really being ready this year either, I am a little older and wiser than back in 2007.

My physical fitness is a bit better than it was in 2007, and my depression is not as bad either. Also, I have finally realized that I don't need to run like a kamikaze intent on obliterating myself, the way I used to in the past. It is okay to go slow. It is okay to walk for a time. The important thing is just to keep moving - and to do so sustainably.

I think when I do the marathon a month from now I will most likely do some version of running for ten minutes, walking for two. I have tried it out at shorter distances, and it really does seem to make the run easier. Back in November I did a half marathon where I stubbornly ran the whole distance, despite the fact that alternating walking and running would have probably made me a bit faster. This was pointed out to me while I was doing it. But I wasn't capable of not forcing myself to "run" at that race.

I had quite a lot of pain after that run, and that combined with a few conversations with other runners led me to finally become a bit more reasonable, a bit more flexible in my approach. I think I needed both the pain, plus the advice from others who had been down the same road before me, to help me realize that the way I was doing things were damaging me.

It took a long time, but I finally made the realization. Many things seem to be like this. But life is long. I have time to figure these things out. And I'm beginning to think that I will, one of these days.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Well-meaning Christians

CID recently posted about a guy he used to know when he was a born-again Christian stalking him on facebook. CID talked a little about how this guy would target people who were lonely and vulnerable and use their weaknesses to pull them into the flock. I found this interesting because in recent times I had a couple of well-meaning Christians effectively try to tell me that Jesus was the only way to really recover from depression. The same old story that I am sure many of us have heard in varying forms before.

I know where these people are coming from. And on a certain level I have more respect for the bible-thumping fundamentalist than for the vague Christian whose beliefs don't boil down to much of anything. And don't even get me started on the "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual" crowd whose beliefs seem to add up to the wonderfully enlightened "I believe there is something out there..."

When it comes to Christianity, the bible is ultimately the big book of multiple choice, which can be used to justify anything from pacifism to slavery and genocide. And Christianity is a dualistic religion in which there is good and bad, and if you aren't going to heaven, you're going to hell. And if this is the case, any good Christian must do all within their power to prevent that from happening. Even saving one soul from eternal damnation is worth a lifetime of work. I get it.

I get it, but I don't buy it. I went to church until I was about 15. I found it to be a terribly boring place to be. As many of the churches in Australia are, it was in the process of dying, and the vast majority of the congregation were aged 60 or above. My main memories of it are simply of being bored on the hard bucket chairs. At some point when I was around 15 I started actually paying attention to the words of the hymns, and I was appalled. They were full of toadying towards god, terrible self-loathing, and an incredible amount of fear.

They showed a world in which there was a god who created the universe and everything in it, who had unlimited power and knowledge. Yet they also showed a god so insecure that he needed his tiny creations to worship and praise him, to accept him as the most important thing in their lives. For all these creations were wretched sinners, so loathsome and defiled that god had found it necessary to sacrifice himself to himself on the cross to forgive the punishment that he himself had meted out to their ancestors for disobeying him and eating from the tree that gave knowledge of good and evil. A talking snake was involved, and it was never quite clear how Adam and Eve knew that disobeying god was wrong before they had knowledge of god and evil.

The story didn't make a huge amount of sense. But the thing that struck me most powerfully was that even if all of these things were somehow true, the god depicted in this story was far from being worthy of worship. He was petty and spiteful, and prepared to punish forever those who decided not to believe in him. And the way everything he did was justified simply by the fact he was god never seemed really satisfying. A mob boss has power, and can compel obedience. But that doesn't mean he is worthy of respect. It just means he is a mob boss who can compel obedience.

I don't wish this to turn into too much of a rant. But I think that life is a very tricky thing, full of challenges, setbacks, and problems. People are flawed and selfish, lazy and illogical. But we are not damned. And despite being a depressive who has thought pretty of terrible things about myself, I fail to see how viewing myself as an evil wretch who can only be redeemed by the grace of the god who cursed my ancestors for theft of a piece of fruit is a step in the right direction.

I don't think there are any saviors. No angels. No demons. Just us. And that is more than enough.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Living Vicariously

The last week has not been much fun. There have been no major changes that prompted my mood to drop, although there have been a few stressors. I get better, I get worse. Life goes on. I don’t think that I’m ever going to get really clear of this damned black dog. But after a certain amount of trips around the merry-go-round of depression I manage to endure it as best I can.

One way I do this is by living vicariously via quality TV. A number of shows have been a huge comfort and welcome distraction during my lower times – mostly American cable TV series. The Wire, The Shield, Rome, Six Feet Under, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, among others, have helped me through some rough times. I can’t tolerate idiotic television anymore, but watching something of substance is a great help to me.

Most recently I’ve been living vicariously in the 1870s, rewatching the second season of Deadwood. Despite being Australian, I grew up watching reruns of Westerns on weekend afternoons, watching John Wayne charge with the cavalry and gun down Indians. Later I appreciated Clint Eastwood’s Westerns – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven almost seem like a trilogy to me, marking the evolution of Eastwood and the genre.

But I hadn’t watched Westerns for some years when Deadwood came around. A HBO series that ran from 2004 to 2006, it was based around the true story of Deadwood, South Dakota, a small mining settlement illegally founded on Indian territory after gold is discovered. All sorts of people are drawn there in search of their fortune, some to find gold, others to make their fortune by fleecing the miners.

Many of the characters were based on real people, and the most memorable of them would have to be Al Swearengen. A foul-mouthed, woman-beating, murderer, pimp and saloon owner, he nevertheless comes across as being human, believable, and even vulnerable, thanks to a superb performance by Ian McShane.

Swearengen, despite being a real bastard who earned the unpleasant death he received in real life, was apparently quite a smooth operator. And in the series as well, he dominates practically every scene he is in. Despite his many faults, he has the odd word of wisdom to dispense. One short scene that has kept me going several times is viewable below.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lessons learned

2010 was quite a year. I began it feeling relatively okay, then over the next few months I gradually deteriorated to the point where I was in the deepest despair I have ever been in. I reached the point where I basically wanted to die, where not waking up would have been perfectly okay by me. How did I get to that point?

It was a combination of things. Loneliness, lack of purpose, feeling like a failure, self-loathing, a bunch of other stuff, plus the minor issue of having a giant hole at the core of my being that nothing could fill. Living in a country where I have never really felt comfortable didn’t help either – but then again, I was never that comfortable back in Australia either.

I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve, alone at home as the minutes tick closer to midnight. Last year I also spent New Year’s Eve at home, but then I felt so utterly lonely and abandoned. I desperately needed company, but at the same time, I know now that if I had received that company, it wouldn’t have really have done what I wanted it to. No one can save us except for ourselves.

Over the course of this year I did so many things to try and improve my state of mind. I started reaching out to people more, and came to realize that other people I know have fought – and are still fighting – the same battles against depression that I face. This helped me feel a bit less alone in my misery. And I also finally realized that only people who have been down these roads can really understand. Demanding understanding and help from those who have not been there themselves can end with incomprehension and frustration on both sides.

Blogging definitely helped. I am a creature of habit, and having a self-imposed deadline to write something of significance once a week was good, and it bought me into contact with so many people online that I have learned many things from – Wendy, Takashi, CID, Susan, Jen, Snowbrush, 4-Lorn, In The Pink, and many more.

I also started forcing myself to get out of the house and start taking part in more social activities and exercise. These started to give me a little more of a social outlet, and also provided a sense of purpose, a way to connect with the world around me.

I began to realize that my struggles paled into insignificance when compared to some of the larger issues out there. And while ignoring my own state is not useful, taking part in other struggles, working on other projects to help people other than myself was good for me and somewhat beneficial for the world around me.

As for the self-loathing and feelings of being a failure, they are still there. But the realization that choice is largely illusory, and that we are all doing the best we can, has done a lot to dispose of the feelings of “should” that has beaten me into the ground for a long time.

Things are not perfect. They never will be. But I have come a long way in the last year. So bring it on 2011. I’m ready for you!