D is for Despondency

Despondency: "depression of spirits from loss of courage or hope; dejection."

Despondency is a killer. It kills dreams and ideas, leaves unrealised potential unrealised, and holds you back from doing things you used to love. It's the part of depression that stops you fighting back. You don't have the energy or the will, so you let it win because it has stolen your ability to do anything else. It's why it's such a shocker - you can't imagine it until you're in it. From the outside it looks ridiculous for those who are not experiencing it. 'Why don't you get out of the cycle? Go do something else? Stop looking at what you can't do and get on with what you can?'

Last year despondency got its claws into me real deep. A combination of things happened all at once that together felt cataclysmic. I put down lots of responsibilities because I felt like it was the right thing to do, but it left me feeling bereft of purpose and feeling like so many of those things had been left incomplete (which in a negative mindset equals failure - admitting to yourself you're never going to finish the things you've invested a lot of yourself into). A lot of relationships changed last year. Some were gradual and necessary, just a gentle withdrawal of closeness in readiness for the next season. But there were some that were blown apart in the space of a few days and left me reeling. It felt like it was happening in every sphere of life and not just in one area or for one reason. Things shifted around me in ways I could never have predicted, and because my core group of church was one of those big changes, I wasn't sure who or what to grab hold of. 

Then I found myself beautifully bundled up and dropped safely into a new space by the end of the year, which has been amazing, but with a complete lack of oomph inside of me. No willingness to do anything at all. Weary of investing into people, weary of beginning anything that might make me happy. Silently resisting any offering from God or anyone else that might require an ounce of energy or commitment from me. 

Even retreating to my constant place of refuge - the bible - felt too much. I had always held that sacred space dear and although it has never been my only space to retreat to (I spend far too long in other spaces that help me escape from the reality of my own world), it has always been my default position in every season so far. This time, I didn't want to hear anything God had to say to me. I was so disappointed in what He had allowed to happen, and the repayment I felt I'd received from my life's investments so far, that I quietly avoided being in any situation where I might have to have that conversation with Him. I was embarrassed to be feeling that way, but not ready yet to move on from it.

No man's land.

After a few months of this, with the house move and Christmas in-between, I couldn't bear the thought of the new year being like the old year. But neither could I do any of the things I used to do. I didn't want to listen to a podcast or study a commentary or even draw in my journaling bible which I'd come to love so much. My brain was too tired to think about anything. I could only find enjoyment in passive activities that required zero attention or thought from me. I was secretly glad that because we got a puppy at Christmas we were required to stay in most of the time as he hadn't had all his injections yet. My places of refuge became TV, the internet, audio books (I didn't even have the mental energy to fully focus on words on the page) and the occasional board game so long as everyone was in a good mood and I didn't have to parent everyone through it. And many many too-long naps, at any time of the day.

But alongside this, I did begin to open my bible again. I had no plan for it, not even a pencil in my hand to mark anything I might see. Honestly, my main motivation was the children. I have always wanted them to see that reading God's Word is part of my every day life in the hope they will one day choose to make it a normal part of theirs too. My other fear was that without it, I may spiral even further downwards, and I didn't know where we'd all end up if I did. 

So I plonked it open at Genesis and began reading. Reading is actually too involved a word for it. I skimmed over the contents of each page, sometimes registering what it was saying, sometimes not, like a stroppy child obeying a parent with as least enthusiasm as possible. I didn't really expect to get anything out of it, but I reasoned that at least if it was open I stood more chance of allowing it to help me out than if it was entirely shut. 

And that's all I did for the next few weeks. I didn't set myself goals of much or how often to do it, I just picked it up in the middle of whatever else the kids were doing in the lounge, and I did it. 

And unsurprisingly, because God is far more gracious that I am, it began to work. I began to thaw in the inside. Sometimes I would stop and pause and think about what I'd just read. I began to look forward to reading it a little bit. I walked alongside all these other characters in the bible who had had their world turned upside down and faced their own shares of disappointment. I noticed again how long it was between God promising something and people seeing the fulfilment of that promise. It was a really long time, but He always fulfilled it. I remembered stories I had forgotten and saw people make stupid decisions and have bad attitudes like my own bad attitude, but God worked in their life anyway. 

By the time I got to Judges, curiosity got the better of me. I began lingering over the stories and talking to God about them, saying "What the heck? Why did they behave that way? Why did you allow that to happen? What was the plan here God?" and soon I had my laptop out, watching sermon series on Judges and taking notes in my journal and filling my bible with colour and different fonts again because my happy place became my happy place again. 

It's an amazing experience when you feel like parts of you that have died off begin to come back to life. The contrast is huge and feels like a small victory in the middle of a battlefield of defeat. Even with all the other slain parts of yourself still motionless, you have some movement, proving to you that it's not all over. From those singular areas, other things around them have begun to grow. 

My solution for the last half of 2017 was to let go of everything and put it all in one big box labelled "POINTLESS". Don't think, don't feel, and don't try again.Wasn't worth it. Humanly, that seemed the only other response to the one I'd already tried, which was giving it everything you've got.

But I know that somewhere above that there is another way, where things do not crush me with the pressure of their incompleteness, but neither do they lose their value. Where purpose is neither something I gorge myself on or starve myself of. Where the outcome doesn't result in smug pride or self-loathing. The process can just be enjoyed and the outcome does not rest on our shoulders. I feel like there's some stuff to shrug off if you go that way because it doesn't belong there and I don't yet know what that is. But I have decided that I do want to go that way, and that's a big improvement. 

D is for Daring to hope again.


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