When Existence Becomes Seemingly Impossible
The easiest thing in the world is to live… most of the time. It doesn’t take much from us at all. Just wake up. Wake up and your life will take care of the rest. Eat. Email. Work. School. Shopping. Kids. Exercise. Bible. Netflix. Hygiene. Bed. It’s not just that you live an active life symbolized by a full calendar — it’s that every single second between each appointment, chore, or activity is just as packed as that calendar. Between waking up and eating breakfast you’ve written two emails and checked Facebook and Twitter, or read the news, or written out an impossible to-do list, or just sat with your coffee anxiously deciding which deadline to postpone this week. For most of us, life is like that every single day, non-stop. We’re pulled downstream by the 21st century’s electronic buzz and hum.
I didn’t say it was the most enjoyable thing in the world to live, but it is easy. Most of the time, there’s so much inertia to being alive in the 21st century western world. All we have to do is not put up too much resistance and we’ll find ourselves fed and clothed and housed and bred and entertained before we’ve even thought much about it.
But it’s not always easy. Some days, waking up isn’t enough. If you’re anything like most well-adjusted and healthy American people, there are periods in your life where your existence will be repugnant and seemingly impossible. During those, the most courageous thing you’ll ever do is to get out of bed anyway. And eat. And work. And read to your kids. And lie near to your loved one, though you may not recall what that means. During these times you may be so tired, disgusted, or horrified at living that all you can do is the next thing: I need to feed my dog now. I will feed my dog now. I need to get dressed now. I will walk upstairs and get dressed.
The strange thing about these times is that there’s really no warning. And almost any story you’ve read about this kind of deep weariness of life will find some way to make the suffering dramatic, to — ironically — make a weariness of life life-affirming in its dramatization.
It’s hard for us to even try to share these experiences with one another, and I think for the most part we don’t want to. Get to know someone for a few years and you might get to see glimpses of the sorrows they face: the deep marital strife, the anguish over a lost child, the crippling addiction. If we do try, the safest approach is to talk about our “mental health” or maybe a “mental illness” or “disorder” we have. And of course, these things are real and significant and should be respected and addressed rather than dismissed and stigmatized as they too often are among evangelicals. But for all the value of speaking in this kind of professional health language, it can have the effect of alienating us from our own experience. Paradoxically, by identifying “clinical depression,” it’s possible that we can dismiss the person’s real experience of terrible anxiety and hopelessness. Labels have a funny way of simultaneously validating and trivializing. But then again, when you come to feel that daily existence is far too great a burden to bear, then almost any articulation of that suffering is trivializing in some way. Even after the fact, when you begin to feel life’s joys again, you find that your memories can’t do it justice. Unless you’re in that state, there’s really no way to conceive of it.
But there it is. One day, at least one day, each of us will find that life takes a lot of courage, really — courage to get up and live, to drag one foot after the other towards tomorrow.
I didn’t know Robin Williams, not really. Certainly not enough to say anything insightful about what brought him to that place where suicide was preferable to life. And I won’t speculate on the influence addiction or his comedy or celebrity might have had; I’m not equipped to do so. I know he was a beautiful person, and that’s enough.
His tragic death woke me from the stupor of modern life yesterday. Living ceased to be easy, for a moment at least, because he reminded me of the many dear friends I know who have suffered or continue to suffer so profoundly, but who rise each morning by the Grace of God.
What I want to say is that life is harder than most of us will let on, and probably the deepest struggles we’ll face will be silent and petty — things like choosing to get out of bed and get dressed. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof, but so too is Christ’s Grace. So, get up, when you can, and carry on. Rest your burdens on He who loves you, and turn to the pilgrims alongside you. Some days, rising out of bed is a great act of worship. And when you can’t get up, let those around you bear you up as Christ’s body, always remembering that you are loved. And then, carry that mercy and grace to your neighbor, who needs it no less.
I was going to try to write a really long, eloquent post about mental health, addiction, and depression. As I started to type it out it felt lacking. I’ll simply say this:
I appreciate Robin for how honest, transparent, and joyful he seemed to be as he shared where he was at. I know some of the weight of addiction, and depression. The tides that can shift on a moments notice want you dead. Hope can seem like an illusion, and a noose, not a welcomed end, but the logical one. I, as many others are as well, am trying to fight these lies and rest, be it sitting, standing, or laying down in God’s grace. And for me personally, I have only been able to make some progress by God’s grace and his gift of marriage, which at times has seemed to compound my despair, but has more greatly buoyed me, and been a great source of comfort, perspective, and partnership as I fight this battle, or learn to rest in a war that is won, and feel the pain, and sorrows, and let them be real, but not my ultimate reality.
I think an equally condemning aspect is how one can feel when one feels this way. Especially for the believer. “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”. That’s a hard pill. Now there is shame and disappointment on top of the hopelessness, and despair that you’re already feeling.
Thank you for writing this. I ended up writing more than I intended, I guess that happens sometimes.
Robin Williams had “highs” as well as “lows” and that was reflected in his frenetic, comic impersonations. So many of our great, creative geniuses have suffered from bipolar disorder–including maybe the writer of some of the Psalms, David the harpist.
Some of those who suffer from Bipolar disorder will “unexpectedly” commit suicide because they have flipped quickly from mania to depression. Also, they often self-medicate with illegal and not-so-illegal drugs.
This made me cry. In a good way.
Best reflection on suicide I’ve read in the wake of Robin Williams’ death.
After being asked to and finally reading that OTHER christian blogger’s article (I bet you know who) about Robin’s bad “choice” and re-reading this I am profoundly grateful for your handling of this tragedy on this post. I don’t have anything profound to add as much as I just wanted to say that I appreciate this article, very much. Thanks for writing this, Alan.
If you’re referring to Matt Walsh, I honestly don’t know why people are demonizing him so much over his piece. Why is he being condemned for daring to point out that suicide is not something to sentimentalize or romanticize, but an infinitely dark cloud with no silver lining?
Nice post, Alan. I appreciated the sensitivity and clarity, and the way you offered hope in a way that doesn’t sound sentimental. And I appreciated the way you did not sentimentalize suicide. In that, I agree with Matt Walsh’s post: http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/08/12/robin-williams-didnt-die-disease-died-choice/.
For what it’s worth, Allie Brosh’s couple of posts on depression are the best I’ve ever seen. Here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.cz/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html and here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.cz/2013/05/depression-part-two.html. I’ve had loved ones who have struggled with severe depression, and Allie’s perspective rings true. It also makes the issue of “suicide as choice” problematic. It doesn’t erase the issue, but it does problematize it. (There’s also a free-to-play game called “Actual Sunlight” that simulates depression. Haven’t played it, but it’s gotten great reviews). In either case, hope is needed.
Anyway, just to say thanks.
Comments are now closed for this article.