I can’t hear the words “Heavenly Father” and not stop in my tracks.
My belief in God died long before I stopped going to church. I was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church. I grew up in Minnesota, being Lutheran was pretty much the standard form there. We had a community at our church. My parents were married there, my siblings and I went through everything there from being baptized, sunday school, summer camp, confirmation. The whole she-bang and we were apart of something outside of ourselves. We weren’t just in this community of a church, but we were apart of a wider family. We had a heavenly father watching over us. That was enough to get through life, we had someone watching our backs.
I remember going to church on Christmas Eve, I have no idea what year it is, but I can’t be any older than 10. I remember the way the church looked with the candles and the wreaths spread around the chapels. I remember feeling warm. Not just warm like from a giant fire, but a warmth that spread from my belly throughout my veins. I still don’t really know how to fully describe it, or even name it. Maybe it was feeling awe, or a connection to something bigger than myself. Or maybe it was just really fricking warm in the church that night. My memory starts to get fuzzy around the edges as I grow further away from that time. But I distinctly remember looking up at the lanterns, and remembering how the colored glass in it looked, staring at the bright red glass, and remembering that’s how I felt. I felt warm like that shade of red. I haven’t felt like that since.
This was a period in my life when I wasn’t aware of anything beyond my life. I wasn’t in the depression yet. My chatterbox brain hadn’t started rambling. I could still look at things with a sense of awe. I could look at the stars and feel apart of things. I didn’t feel isolated from the world. I didn’t spout out hate at myself. It was a lot easier to feel the good things. Because they weren’t so distant, they were still tangible for me. I don’t know if it’s just being a kid, and still having eyes that are wide open to everything. But I miss it. I miss being able to feel good and not have to work so hard at it. To be able to just be. Not have to work so hard at trying to enjoy things, and not having to plan and be proactive. I could just do what I did, and be good with it. Not wanting to be somewhere else, and not wanting to be someone else. I was good, genuinely happy and I felt loved and protected by that Heavenly Father. It was never really something that I walked around spouting out, that I believed in God and trying to convince others that I was special because of it. I think it was just something that I accepted as part of my life and never gave it a second thought. I think there was a safety with it. That no matter what happened to me or what I chose to do. I knew that I had something to catch me if I fell. That makes life a hell of a lot less scary.
I was confirmed when I was 13, and I remember walking down the aisle after pledging myself to God, and thinking “I don’t believe in this.” I felt like a fraud. I think that was the first time that I felt that way. It was definitely the strongest impression that feeling ever left. I felt like such a liar, that I could stand up and say one thing, and really feel another way. I think the scariest part of all of that was losing that sense of security. I didn’t have my safety net anymore. This was just the cherry on the top of a shit cake. Life for me seemed to fall apart that year I became a teenager. I was scared of falling and never getting back up, but what was worse then that, was how scared I was of jumping. As the depression got worse, I felt like jumping sometimes. Just to see what would happen. How far I could fall. Where the bottom was. It seemed like there wasn’t a bottom, it was endless. Knowing that I even that the smallest urge to jump, even now, is overwhelmingly terrifying. That you know you hit a point in your life where you just don’t care. It doesn’t matter what happens to you. All you see is how horrible things are for you. The tunnel vision kicks in, and you can’t even see what it’s doing to you. How it consumes you inside out. How it takes control and everything else becomes meaningless. You become your darkness, and it becomes you. It’s everything for you. Comfort and fear to love and hate. It makes decisions for you, and you are no longer yourself. You are a shell of what you were. Depression is a trickster. It plans ideas in your head, and you believe that they are from your mind, but they’re not. You think that those who love you, don’t anymore. You think that your life is meaningless and pointless. You lose hope for everything.
You are out on a ledge overlooking the Grand Canyon. You look down and see the fall. How far down it goes, that you can’t even see the bottom. While the wind whips your hair back and forth, you feel it whisper in your ear. “Do it. Jump.” It seduces you with the idea that the jump would be a good thing for you. That maybe then you’d get some peace of mind.
You don’t get peace of mind. You just get on a carousel that will take you around and around the same cycles for years. For however long it takes you to realize what has been going on. It’s not a ride that you’re meant to get off of. You can, and it’s possible, but it’s difficult. The depression probably has it’s claws in you, very deeply by the point you see what’s going on. Getting off of it and back on solid ground is made much easier when you’re surrounded by some kind of support. Whether it’s strength you draw on from yourself, or if it’s external. You can’t do it without that support. You can try, but even with support, you will likely end back up on the carousel at some point. The rides may be shorter and easier to end, but it’s not something that gets cured and goes away. It will cling to you, and come to you in the most inopportune moments in your life. You can have everything you need and want, but it doesn’t care. Depression will find a way in and find a way to light your insides on fire. It will burn your life if given the chance.
Writing about depression and what goes on in my brain has made it both easier and harder for me to let go of it. I can see patterns and can be more aware of what I do when in the clutches of depression. It makes it harder for me to distance myself from it. I’ve been doing it for so long that it almost seems easier to just stay on my carousel and keep going around and around in my cycles. They’ve matched up with other cycles to a point where I have a blueprint for what will most likely happen. You can gauge what probably will happen in those situations. I don’t know if it’s really a way to live a life. I certainly don’t live mine anymore. I’ve been stuck in neutral for so long that trying to get momentum again is just something I don’t have words for how terrifying it is. And trying to explain what I’ve experienced to others isn’t always something that goes over well. There’s still such misunderstanding that goes on with mental illness that some people will automatically assume that I should be in a psychiatric hospital, and the fact that I’m not is almost unnerving to them. Or you get the opposite where people think that you can just shake it off and it fades away. It’s not something that I can just sleep off, and it’s gone forever. It’s isolating. I already isolate because of the thoughts I have, and what goes on in my brain, but when trying to share that with people and when that doesn’t go over well, you just stop trying. You give up. You keep it inside and pray for it to go away. But then there’s a problem when you don’t believe in a higher power, and your Heavenly Father is gone. You just send words up in the air like smoke to fade away into nothing.
There have been many nights when I wished I was still that kid who felt that warmth. Who could feel that love so readily and so easily. Who could send those words up into the atmosphere and they wouldn’t fade. I could watch them fade into the clouds and I just knew they were heard. I could know with all my heart that someone was watching out for me. That I could get out of neutral and be ok. That I didn’t have to plan my life out to the tiniest detail, that I could just be, I could be alive and be okay.
There were nights that I prayed and prayed so hard for that Heavenly Father to come back. Even for the night, just for a moment of reprieve from this all-consuming thing inside myself. I wanted, even for a moment, to feel that love again. That love without judgments or strings or anything. I could just show this monster I felt I was turning into to something and be loved regardless of it. I still trick myself into thinking that it doesn’t exist. That love like that is something saved for fairytales.
When I went to church Christmas Eve 2003, when I was still in residential treatment for depression, I knew almost immediately that I wasn’t going to feel that warmth I had felt so many years earlier. I was just angry on the outside, and a mess on the inside. I hadn’t done much of the therapy there, and I was so resistant to any kind of change. I wasn’t willing to see any other side to what was going on. All I cared about was what I felt. The service was pretty typical. Then we got to the prayers, I used to love the Apostle’s Creed. I was so proud when I had memorized it. I knew the Lord’s prayer pretty early on. The Apostle’s creed was one I always had trouble with. When the service reached both of those, I lost it when hearing the word Father. I was having difficulties with my own dad at the time and wasn’t in a position to even think about my relationship with the Heavenly Father I once had. I had to leave the chapel, and I just bawled in the lobby of the church.
Within a decade I had come from awe and love to anger and hurt at those words. Things will always change, and sometimes for the worse, and sometimes for the better. I made peace for the most part with my father. I suppose at some point maybe I should make some peace with that Heavenly Father.