“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
This is one of the hardest subjects to write about for myself… partly because of my personal experience with anxiety and depression, but also because I tend to use humour as a coping mechanism. I have often quoted the old proverb “laughter does good like a medicine”... so spending time in a darker subject is not something that is comfortable.
Anxiety when combined with ADHD can make one feel alone in a crowded room... Constantly questioning every response, every interaction and overthinking and analyzing every conversation... all rather needlessly.
I used to think that everyone struggled with these "voices" inside their heads… that everyone had three or more versions of the current conversation going on in their mind when they were talking to someone. I thought I was the only one who struggled to find joy consistently. It is only in the last 5-6 years that I've realized that many people struggle with anxiety, depression, adhd or other emotionally exhausting conditions where the mind struggles to find rest.
Anxiety and depression are both growing problems in todays technology soaked culture. This is at least partly fueled by social media which channels a constant stream of new ideas that are algorithmically customized to inflate our greatest fears. All of this creates in our soul a greenhouse with perfect conditions for anxiety and depression to take root and flourish.
Before I began to at least partially understand my "mind war"... I thought that my problem was simply a lack of focus. I would work hard to try to get appreciation and respect. I would hide the fact that my mind functioned in multiple channels simultaneously. No one needed to know the various storylines that surrounded each success and failure... or for that matter each conversation. Relationally, I tended to get to deep to quickly with people and often I think scared them off. It was like "oh I thought I said that in my inside voice"... I would like to think I am more nuanced today!
I want to take time to establish the foundation that that feelings are not a bad thing. Feelings are like a vehicle that CAN take us a bad place - if they are left to run wild and unchecked, however... when we manage them in the same manner in which we manage the accelerator and brake system in a car, the feelings can help us navigate and grow.
We cannot go through life at just one speed… sometimes we need to brake hard, steer hard, and accelerate. We need to take time to let our feelings just "be" in a safe place. We need channels to scream - to cry - to yell - even to swear if needed. We need to process the feelings. In a sense, we need to let the engine noise happen so we can determine what conditions caused the "mind war"...
I have also discovered joy in the midst of the chaos. This is not joy like euphoria… it is just a sense of peace about myself. I’m okay with the imperfections… not like a prideful way... it's not like I’m planning to stay in my messy state. I have realized I am on a journey and should not judge myself for the fact I'm not "there" yet. As I write this I think about road trips I've taken.... I NEVER beat myself up that I'm not at my destination when I'm on a road trip... so why do I do that in life? On a road trip, I take the time to enjoy the scenery and the moment I'm in. I realize that the journey will have its ups and downs. So in my life I’m working on chiseling away the sharp edges of me and at the same I’m comfortable with where I am now… especially in relation to who I have been!
The ADHD… that short attention span that I felt was a curse… it has allowed me to tackle dozens of projects at once… yes it takes longer to get them done… yes it’s messy for a bit longer… but I’ve learned that’s just part of how i function. This has allowed me to become versed in multiple trades and manage numerous projects at the same time. I remember what my Mother-in-law said to my wife once (in low German)… “he is a jack of all trades and a master of none”.
At home it’s a bit more of a challenge… but with some understanding of my own as well as my wife’s limitations I am learning when not to take on another project… something my wife appreciates as projects get done faster. Part of the peace can come from listening to those who are closest to us.
There are benefits to feeling deeply - we become deep thinkers. I wonder if the writers of many Bible laments struggled with anxiety and adhd. I am certain we are not nearly the first ones to experience the depths of pain within the human condition. I see in the Psalms many deep laments about injustice and sadness. No one is calling out Job or David for crying out in deep sadness... or judging them for it.... and nor should we call out or shame those who are struggling to find joy. The feelings are all together part of the journey. Sometimes we need to feel to heal.
Of course that doesn’t mean we remove the Governor - or shall I say the accelerator and brake system of our brains and let these feelings take over and run things. We need to make time to sit in a safe space to just feel. We need to allow the crucible of the feelings to refine us and help us deepen our faith and our capacity.
Those who feel deep… who think deep… they grow to inspire others deeply as well. Many…. And I do mean MANY of the greatest philosophers, thinkers and faith leaders throughout the history of the human race have struggled... broken through darkness and emerged out of the years of darkness with incredible faith and resolve! Our current Church culture… buried in “word-faith” teaching and soaked in rigid legalism or even worse… in the weeds of Gnosticism… has lost the art of Lament. I think it's time we create space for the broken... for the ones who need healing of the mind!
What I share here is my own thoughts… there are many great resources on this which I hope to share in the future.
The beginning of healing is to understand that the feelings - whatever they are - are not the enemy. They are like engine lights trying to tell you something. The anxiety - the voices - they are saying “something is wrong”… so when they start we begin diagnostics… we have to allow the feelings to happen so we can discover true and lasting healing.
Not everything we feel is right…. But everything we feel has value. It is a paradox… a great example is a car that loses traction… feelings would have us panic and oversteer… the feelings are overwhelming… but if we train ourself to understand that oversteering will make the car completely lose control we can develop skills to pull out of our skid and regain some control. We have to react apart from the feelings… while allowing the feelings to happen so the we can control the slide using disciplined reason to regain control again. It may not happen overnight... and like myself may take years.
Lastly, Jesus Himself embraced lament. The prophets said he was a man “acquainted with sorrow”… the one who was perfect in every way allowed sorrow and anxiety to do its work in him…. Sweating drops of blood as he carrying the weight of all that is wrong with this world within his soul.
Let’s just start heading the right direction with talking about this topic with this quote:
“There is no such thing as a lament-free life...To love is to lament, to let your heart be broken by something. If you don’t lament over the broken things in your world, then your heart shuts down. Your living, vital relationship with God dies a slow death because you open the door to unseen doubt and become quietly cynical. Cynicism moves you away from God; laments push you into his presence. So, oddly enough, not lamenting leads to unbelief. Reality wins, and hope dies. Put another way, the reality of a broken world triumphs over the new reality of a redeemed world. You miss resurrection and get stuck in death.”
-Paul Miller, A Praying Life
Stay strong and be the change!