This morning something weird happened. It will sound extremely normal, probably boring, to anyone who has never suffered with mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, shame, fear, and guilt. But my three ‘things’ in life are Jesus, politics, and mental health, as you’ll note from the web site, so if you’re interested, you’re going to get quite a bit of all of this.
What happened this morning? I noticed that an artist I liked had a new album on Spotify. This artist’s music got me through some very miserable times, where I was so locked up in misery that I couldn’t put words to it. It was just an unusually strong season of mental and emotional pain.
Over the past few years, I’ve become a bit of an amateur psychologist as I’ve studied myself, trying to figure out all the things that are wrong with me. It’s been my second full-time job. So I tried a little experiment. I knew as soon as I turned on this artist’s music, that I would hear her voice and all of the shame and misery would come back. It would trigger all of that nonsense and I would be miserable. Maybe it’s a little sadistic of me, but I just knew that it would happen, and I did it anyway.
And then nothing happened.
I was expecting to feel that crushing weight of regret and shame, such as I have felt for many years, and that I would need to step partially out of the shower and change to something happier.
Instead, I stood there and let the beautiful, soaring vocals filter through the noise of the shower, amazed at what just didn’t happen.
Over the years, I have come through the fire of the worst of Charismatic, evangelical, megachurch, extroverted, five-points-will-fix-your-life religion. It didn’t help me. In fact, it made things worse.
The most surprising changes have come when I didn’t expect them, such as this morning.
Want to know the five-point method I used to make this breakthrough happen? Sorry, because I didn’t make it happen.
There was no reason this kind of thing should happen. I woke up feeling cranky and miserable because of a sinus infection or something that has been plaguing me for over a month now. My diet is still a disaster. My hair is…ehh, well, my hair’s OK. I need a haircut and beard trim, but that part is all right.
There are only two noticeable changes I have made to my life recently, and I hate even enumerating these, because I don’t want some high-powered idiot to toss these into his five-point sermon. But they’re so subjective that they wouldn’t satisfy any modern megachurch-goer, so I think I’m safe here.
The first change: I’ve been able to listen to a nonfiction audiobook, something which is normally very difficult for me. I read and listen to a lot of science fiction and superhero novels, because I find the escape necessary from the pain of normal existence. (The pain is gradually dissipating, which is nice.)
For some reason I was able to pick up this excellent book about introverts named Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I have to listen to it in shifts with music, because my brain either gets tired, rushes off in creative mode, or things start ‘clicking’ and I have to meditate on something the author just said. The rush-rush-gotta-finish-this-book part of my head protests when I hit pause, but I’ve learned that when my brain is overwhelmed, I don’t learn anything, so there’s no point in keeping an audiobook going for background noise.
The book is excellent if you’re the introverted, quiet type, and has really been giving me a lot of ‘aha!’ moments on a daily basis: so that’s why I act that way! So that’s why I think that way! I thought I was weird or fundamentally broken. Turns out that, like many others, I’m just wired a certain way. Oh.
The other change: I decided to put my foot down and tell the part of my brain that insists upon productivity, “No, dammit, if I feel like listening to music, I’m gonna listen to music, so shut up about it.”
I listen to this Imogen Heap album a lot. It’s very comforting, and puts my mind in touch with God for some reason. It helps me open up spiritually. I have no logical explanation why, and it probably wouldn’t work for anyone else, but it does for me. Go figure.
I have a long commute to work, and while sometimes it bugs me, I use it as a sort of prayer and meditation time. When I say ‘sort of’, I mean ‘not really that sort of thing at all’, because ‘prayer and meditation’ imply productivity. I’m just listening to music and spending time in the presence of God. Even that phrase ‘spending time’ makes me cringe, because it still implies creativity and productivity, something modern Christians have been taught to be obsessed with.
Spending time in the presence of God for me is not an exact science. In fact, it’s become a rather mystical, ethereal thing, something an angry evangelical might call ‘New Agey’, something nearly divorced from logical thinking. I put on some music and let my mind go, let my spirit just kind of roam, let that comfort that comes from the presence of God address my fears and doubts and hurts that I am dealing with. (I’m more stable now than I’ve ever been, but I’m still kind of a mess most of the time.)
The love of God washes over me and counters a lot of the fears I deal with, whether it’s something specific I am afraid of, such as a tense conversation I might need to have with a customer, or something nonspecific, just a bad feeling I am dealing with. I get a lot of both of those. I take anxiety medication to deal with the worst of it, so I can function in everyday life, but the meds don’t take care of all of it. I don’t really want them to, though, because I don’t want to be so doped up that I don’t care. I want to deal with whatever’s wrong so that I can get better, and so that when I get better, I can help other people get better.
I’ve gone on a lot of wandering here to just tell you about one weird thing that happened. I turned on music. I expected shame and regret to trigger. It didn’t. It made me a bit perplexed, but also happy. And hopefully I’ve explained a little about why.
Jesus is mental health. When you start to learn about who he really is, when you experience his presence, sometimes things will just suddenly seem to fix themselves. You’ll wake up and something is different, and you didn’t have to read a book, attend a conference, acquire a new mental discipline, change your diet, or do anything. I’m not saying that this will always happen. no, no, no, this doesn’t always happen. It’s a once-in-a-blue-moon type thing, a nice surprise when it happens. But I can’t make it happen or really tell you how it happened. I can point to who made it happen. But I can’t say ‘Jesus healed me because I did this.’ I can say, ‘Jesus somehow fixed this because of hanging out in his presence and I can’t explain that at all and I know it sounds weird but oh well.’ The nice thing about this web site is that it’s my web site, and that I can say messy things like that. 🙂