It’s Thursday morning. Coffee is steaming in the mug next to me. Sunlight is streaming into my office. The makings of a To-Do list are staring me down. And I am determined to cross off every item on my list today. My determination comes from the past few days’ failure. You see, Tuesday and Wednesday were marked by self-gratification and self-indulgence. And the guilt of not being productive, not exercising, and not saying ‘No’ to that last batch of cookies is weighing on my soul.
We’ve all been here before. Disappointment with our self is channeled into the resolve to change. So we make a new plan, start a new diet, vow to finish our never-ending To-Do lists. But inevitably, our moral determination gives out. Our strength and stamina just can’t stand up to sickness, stress, and the desires of self. And we find ourselves in a recurring cycle of willpower, accomplishment, breakdown, and disappointment. We just can’t do it all.
I’ve often read that depression is anger turned inward. That definition didn’t sit well with me when I first started experiencing symptoms of Depression. I’ve never considered myself to be an angry person. But when the storm of Depression overflowed the rivers of my mind, it broke the dams that were holding all my anger at bay – anger I had towards myself, anger I had towards others, anger I had at God, and anger I had at the injustices of the world. You don’t have to have Depression to be depressed. The truth is, most of us are pots of rage kept at just below boiling, prevented from violent outbursts only by the grace of God. Most of us are living in depressed states of mind because of the anger we have turned inward. But where does this anger, this rage, come from?
From a young age, it is impressed upon us to be successful. As children, we dreamt about our futures. We fashioned in our minds what type of life we would have and what type of person we would be. Whether it was to be a mother, have a career, or manage both – we all had a vision. We wanted happy, successful, fulfilled lives and we were told that education, behavior, and hard work would get us there.
Unfortunately, life has a way of smacking you in the face. Education doesn’t guarantee you a job. Beauty doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage. Hard work doesn’t guarantee health. Suddenly, we find ourselves lost because we had done everything required of us and yet the world had not upheld its end of the bargain. So we tell ourselves that the problem is us. Instead of accepting the world as an unfair and unjust place, we turn our anger inward. We chastise ourselves for not being enough, for not being more than enough. This leads to unrealistic expectations.
The Expectations of the Self
It starts with the unspoken To-Do lists. Maybe you’re not a physical list-maker, but we all write them in our minds. When we are not successful in life, when we are not fulfilled by our children, when we are not happy, we begin to blame ourselves.
Jobs become elusive, spouses don’t live up to our standards, sickness destroys our hope – the list goes on. And suddenly we find ourselves not as thin as we had imagined, not as wealthy as we had envisioned, not as successful as we had hoped. So we breakdown. We belittle ourselves for not being strong enough, capable enough, or just plain enough. We’re not the team mom or the one in the happy marriage or the vice president of sales. And we chastise ourselves for not being able to do all those things. That’s when the anger turns inward.
“We suddenly find ourselves not as thin as we had imagined, not as wealthy as we had envisioned, not as successful as we had hoped.”
We begin to martyr ourselves for the cause – the cause of reaching the ideal self. We deny ourselves food, rest, friends, life in order to be pretty enough, praised enough, prized enough. We place unrealistic demands on ourselves and when we don’t attain them, guilt creeps in. Guilt turns into shame. Shame turns into anger. We become angry with ourselves for not meeting our own expectations. We become angry with ourselves for not reaching an impossible sainthood. Depression is anger turned inward.
The Expectations We Have of Others
We do it nearly every day, every time we meet someone. We sign unwritten and unspoken contracts in our brains delineating the expectations we have of other people. With a spouse, it’s the love and fulfillment we want to receive from them. With a boss, it’s the acknowledgement and praise we want to receive from them. With a friend, it’s the promise of love and never being hurt by them.
But time and time again, we find ourselves hurt, disappointed, and even despairing over the actions of others. A spouse leaves us. A boss ignores us. A friend gossips about us. Our unwritten, unspoken contracts have been broken, even violated! We are appalled. We are angry. But its not acceptable in society to lash out in anger. We can’t approach our boss for fear that we will get fired. We can’t afford to burn the bridge of a friendship. So we turn our anger inward. It adds to the already boiling pot.
“Depression is anger turned inward.”
The Injustices of the World
There’s a problem with this world. People get sick and die. The less qualified, but more beautiful person gets the job. Things get stolen. Children go missing. Loved ones hurt us. There is an injustice to this world. And people want to know why all the time. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does the person who has never had candy in her life get cancer? Why does the drunk driver walk away without a scratch and the victim loses his legs? Why do children die and pedafiles live? The problem with this world is sin.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
Sin came into the world and with sin came death. The blind man isn’t born blind because his parents sinned. The blind man is born blind because sin exists in the world. And with sin came an injustice that the world was never supposed to know. But when a man came and restored to the blind man his sight, he knew a joy that he would never have known had he been born with sight. He had faith in a Healer that he would have never experienced had he been born with sight. He experienced a grace and mercy that he would never have known had he been born with sight.
Yes, this world stinks. It slaps us in the face time and time again. And its during those times that we get mad at God and mad at ourselves. We get mad at God for allowing such injustices. We get mad at ourselves for not being able to control such injustices. We blame God when we should be blaming the sin all around us. We blame God when we really just don’t understand what He is doing. But He is there waiting for us, to relieve our anger, to heal us and to help us along the way.
So when we can’t do it all, where do we turn? When others disappoint us and anger seethes within us, where do we turn? When the world disappoints and gives us a bad hand, where do we turn?
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Our moral determination will breakdown. Our friends and family will disappoint. The world will deliver us injustice. But for those of us who have been made alive in Christ, there is a Helper. We are not left to ourselves as orphans to figure out this life. God has given us His Spirit. Most of us forget this. We write our To-Do lists and our expectations of ourselves and others. And we set out about our day. But God wants us to come to Him DAILY in surrender. We breathe out that we can’t do it all. We exhale that we are incapable of being, doing, caring enough. And we inhale the Spirit of God. “Apart from me you can do nothing” Jesus says. We put our dependence on Christ. We become instruments of righteousness guided and motivated by the Spirit.
Its Thursday morning. My coffee is empty. Some words have made it onto paper. My To-Do list isn’t screaming so loud at me to get it all done. My motivation is no longer the past day’s failures, but the Spirit’s filling my being. I work, I write, I do, I be because He has called me to work, write, do be. Whatever I get done today or don’t get done today doesn’t matter. I don’t have to go to bed angry at myself and sink into Depression. I am enough before God. I do enough as I walk in His Spirit. Myself, others, the world will disappoint, but God will never disappoint.