Whatever, or something.

I guess it’s time to admit that I’m not just feeling weird, I’m experiencing a serious depressive episode. No, it’s not about politics. No, it’s not busy season anxiety. It’s more like I was sitting in a little boat looking at the scenery around me as I floated down the river and the scene change was so gradual that I didn’t even notice the landscape getting darker and more twisted. Now I don’t recognize my surroundings and I don’t know how to get back to where I was.

So what does this feel like? It feels an awful lot like nothing. I don’t feel anything. I’m not sad or mad or angry – when I reach down into the pit of my being there is literally nothing between me and the bottom, and the bottom feels much loser than it out to. It’s a frighteningly shallow emptiness. I WANT to care about things, but I don’t. I can’t. I don’t remember what caring about things feels like. It’s just an endless sea of empty feelings muddy puddle of meh.

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Depression is a funny thing. Not ha-ha funny, more like, “Wow, that’s weird and unfortunate, and I wish it would stop.” I’m on medication and I see a therapist, but sometimes the chemicals in my brain overpower my efforts and I just wake up with the worst case of IDGAF, but because I’m an adult, a professional, and a parent, I have to pretend I give a shit, but I’m constantly questioning my ability to pretend so most of my day ends up with an internal conversation like this:

Ugh, I have a meeting today. I don’t want to go, and I certainly don’t want to talk to anyone. But I can’t back out of this because I’m supposed to be leading the meeting. I hope no one figures out that I can barely muster the energy to shower, much less come to work. Oh god, did I remember deodorant? Normal people wear deodorant, right? Crap. No, wait, I think I remember deodorant this morning. Oh, but I forgot to wash my face. Oh well. No one will be watching my face. Wait no, everyone will. Crap. I’ll just walk to the store on my lunchbreak. Wait, is that weird? No, it’s normal to forget stuff. I’m sure it is. I mean it probably is. Does everyone realize I forgot to wash my face? I’m sure they do. Maybe I should wear makeup more often. No, then people would realize something had changed about me and the jig would be up. Shit, do I look like I’m talking to myself? I think people are starting to realize something is up. Oh god, someone is coming over to talk to me. Stay cool, man. Pretend you still know what feelings are like and you’re not currently a soul-less robot wading uncomfortably in a sea of feelings pretending you know how to experience life.

Most people think that you talk to someone, you take some meds, get a good night’s sleep, and then everything is hunky dory. That’s not how brain chemistry works apparently, and it’s frustration. I really want to be able to psych myself out and be well and cure my depression through forced happiness and magical thinking. But that doesn’t work either. It’s a struggle – sometimes you coast along feeling great, and sometimes you hit gravel on the track and you have to figure out a new plan. I mean, I SHOULD figure something out, but I’m having a hard time finding the mental and emotional wherewithal to do that.

So, you know, I reached out and told my friends what I’m going through because I think you’re supposed to do that kind of thing, and then I called my psychiatrist. So I guess, you know, whatever. Or something.

When your soul feels like a stranger

I’ve been struggling with spiritual issues and faith for as long as I can remember. I came from a mixed-denomination household–dad was Coptic Orthodox, mom was Southern Baptist–so developing a coherent theology was difficult. There were few Coptic churches around growing up, so I was distanced from the theology of the Coptic church, but I never felt connected to the Baptist church. It’s hard to feel connected to a church that tells you you’re a sinner and automatically have an extra hurdle because of the perception that your parents don’t believe in the same God. Worse, it’s hard to feel connected to God, Jesus, and Scripture. Growing up, it felt as though nothing I did mattered in a spiritual sense – I was a sinner, God didn’t love or notice me, and my prayers would go unnoticed, because I wasn’t ever going to be a “real” Christian.

We went to several different kinds of churches growing up – we went to special holiday services at the Coptic church in New Orleans and in Houston, but most of the weekly services were at a Baptist church until I was in Jr. High, then we went to a Quaker (or Friends) church for a while, we went to a Lutheran church once or twice, and for a while as an undergrad I went to an Episcopal church. When I got to grad school, I was attending University of St. Thomas here in Houston, so I started hanging out at the Chapel of St. Basil. I hung around Campus Ministry, and eventually one of the FSE sisters talked me into attending RCIA. It was life-changing for me – a church that encouraged and had a history of theological research? that encouraged asking questions? that didn’t tell you you were going to Hell because your parents weren’t from the same ethnic group? I was shocked. (Also, it was kind of awkward because it was also the church of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, a church that believes condoms and birth control is a sin, and for all the work Cool Pope has done to change the image of the church, it was also the church that appointed a former Hitler Youth as Pope. But I digress.)

So I’m a gung-ho Christian now, right? Church every Sunday, Bible study every day, can’t get enough of Jesus and the Rosary, right? Yeah. No. Not exactly. It’s not that easy to overcome 20+ years of predestination, believing that you’re a sinner in the hands of an angry God, and being a bright, intelligent woman in a community of people who believe that women in the workplace are what crashed the economy and ruined the American Dream for everyone. Hell, some of them even believed that allowing women to vote was what ruined the economy, and a smaller even older subset believed it was freeing the slaves and letting them work with the white folk that ruined America. (Yes, I grew up in the South. No, not everyone at church was like that, but y’all know if you grew up here you met people like that.) And then there was the feel-good non-denominationalists who believed that if you just smiled a lot and said Praise Jesus! often and put an Ichthus (not that they call it that – it’s the Jesus fish) on the back of your minivan that you’d get to heaven (see anything regarding Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church for evidence).

True Story – I had a Sunday School teacher for a 20-somethings class at a small Baptist church tell us that if you wronged someone and they wanted an apology, you should tell them that Jesus had already forgiven you and they should too. I asked for Biblical support and was labeled the class liberal and laughed at. True Believers don’t ask questions and don’t need facts or evidence – you know because you have faith. If you believe Jesus forgave you, then he did.

So I have a strained relationship with Christianity and religion. I’ve been living teetering on the edge of atheism and agnosticism most of my life, but with one foot still in the bucket of theological research and the occasional spark of faith (fun fact: Faith is my middle name). You know how sometimes you see a natural wonder so beautiful it blooms wonderment in you so powerful that it takes your breath away? That’s how I feel when I think about space, or when I look at photos of Old Faithful, or I hike up to a view at Elephant Rock State Park. The natural world is a huge source of spiritual wonderment and fulfillment for me, and I’m a natural skeptic, so yeah I’m naturally drawn to scientific thought. But there’s still that inclination of curiosity about What Comes Next, and that occasional fleeting spark of faith that keeps drawing me back to theological and theosophical questions. Marrying the skeptical, scientific part of my soul to the religious part of my soul has proven to be one of the most challenging parts of my life, and the result is that I often feel like a stranger to myself.

I don’t go to church, because I’m afraid of the rejection that happens, of the bias and questions people ask. I’m not a social person by nature, so I want to go in, get my fulfillment, and run before people can start crowding me with questions and introductions and Let’s Hang Out, or Do You Wanna Go To Bible Study, or Come To The Contemporary Service (No thanks. Contemporary services are for feel-good nondenominationalists who want God to fit into their pop culture box instead of trying to expand their brain to reach outside of their comfort zone). (Let’s not even talk about where I differ from most Christians on topics like gay marriage and other LGBTQ issues, birth control and abortion, and other hot-button topics.)

I want to believe. Mostly. But that feeling of being someone who would never be good enough for God so I should just stop trying is really hard to overcome. I’ve got shelves full of religious study books but you probably won’t see me in church, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.