Lately I’ve been considering quitting. Quitting writing, yes, but also quitting my teaching job, quitting organizing closets, quitting trying to make deposits to the savings account. I’ve considered tucking a lasagna into the fridge, starting a roast in the crockpot, and walking away for a week or two, or three.
One dark afternoon, while my husband and children were at a birthday party, I spent some time researching the benefits of death by carbon monoxide (peaceful passing; preserved body). It’s been a thorough consideration.
Every time I write about being depressed, I include a ledger of the good things in my life: my faithful husband, my healthy children, meaningful work and sufficient food. Partly, the list is a genetic impulse to be a good hostess: I want to round out the conversation, to keep things from getting too heavy or too focused for inclusion. Somehow, even as I choke, I don’t want anyone to feel burdened or unwelcome.
Though repeating the ledger has yet to balance my accounts, the positive entries are valid. The guilt that comes with feeling so bad while having a life that’s so good is one of the more difficult parts of being depressed.
In the lows, I lose perspective but not dimension and so manage to feel hopeless and simultaneously guilty about my hopelessness. This might manage to be comic, except that social conscientiousness and guilt are not the only dimensions depression manages to preserve.
Depression shifts, wheels the lenses of proportion; rather than displacing perfectionism, exhaustion or self-condemnation, it amplifies them. Any salve needs to be more potent; any salvation infinite.
Growing up, I had the idea that Christian was a superlative— an only child, an adjective that disallowed compound modifiers. Calling something Christian simplified, shook out the shadows of facets. In grade school, if I told my parents that a friend was Christian, they granted slumber party approval without asking if her parents smoked. Every Christian wedding was beautiful. A Christian novel was quickly purchased even at the cost of hardcover.
When I got to college, the paramount question in my writing courses seemed a little dense. “What does it mean to be a Christian writer?” was like asking “What does it mean to be a Christian?” At what point, I wondered, might the writer part overshadow the Christian part and ever possibly win? What was in my childhood a singular sign of good grace has now become a foghorn. I understand a Christian novel to be somehow unworthy of being called “brilliant,” “fascinating,” or “compulsively readable.” Single friends grimace when offered an introduction to a “good Christian guy” – who’s likely to be boring, Bible-thumping, or both.
I now think of Christian as more reductive than redeeming. Nevertheless, the term remains superlative. Christian supplants. In the least, it’s enough to render other description unnecessary. At most, it’s enough to depose a thing’s nature. The descriptors that disappear tend to be the nuanced and artistic. The Christian painter’s work isn’t “vibrant,” “symbolist” or “steeped in social criticism,” it’s “Christian.” The Christian novelist isn’t hailed for being postmodern, lyric, or feminist. Christian has replaced parts of her.
But can I complain about this? Isn’t that displacement partly what my soul depends on? So how, then, is it possible to be a Christian depressive?
The ledger begins:
1) I have a rich faith with a long, deep legacy.
2) I worship in a community learning to support the arts.
3) I believe God, in his great goodness, loves and dances over me.
Since Christian is capable of unseating so many things, why not depressive? My affiliation with Christ unseats my race, gender, bondage or freedom. It trumps my philosophy, habits, style and talent. Why can I be a Christian and hopeless? Why doesn’t Christian displace suicidal? Because faithful doesn’t mean infinite.
It has taken a trip to my limits to learn this. A Christian mother is not an infinite mother. A redeemed body is not a limitless body. A saved soul is not a tireless soul.
Calling myself a Christian writer is nearly meaningless. A Christian is a little Christ—one who mimics. Jesus wasn’t a writer. He didn’t have a style of sentence structure I can strive to imitate. But I can call myself a faithful writer—one who, even in the pit, is full of faith in connection, language, and the tenacious Other. My body is not a Christian body; it’s a body that belongs to Christ. My art is not Christian art; it’s art placed in the hands of Christ. My spirit, in the shadow and in the light, is not a Christian spirit—just as it’s not a depressive spirit.
My spirit—exhausted, hopeless—is not replaced but, instead, redeemed. I may go into the depths, but I never go unaccompanied.
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