A few times each year, it happens. I go into a funk. What I’m talking about is that first, initial feeling of depression. I’ve been depressed before, maybe ten years ago and then again about twenty years ago. It’s a terrible feeling, of course. Essentially, the feeling is that life is meaningless and there’s no reason to contribute anything.
I’ve learned from experience the funk, for me, only lasts a few days but it’s ugly when it happens. I’m not talking about depression, now, I’m talking about those dark days that occasionally come for a visit.
Of course, my normal brain would never get tripped by the thought that life is meaningless. I know it isn’t. My faith attributes great meaning to every moment, and so it’s strange that the same truth can sometimes miss me that most often seems obvious. Of course the work we do matters. And all that we say and do matter, too. If one thing matters, everything matters. The problem is, though, my brain isn’t working right.
Most of the depression we experience isn’t rational. It’s just that our brains are too tired to think accurately about life. (Tweet This)
The brain is complicated, and when it’s tired or not functioning at its best, we begin to believe things, feel things, subscribe to ideas that make no sense. But they can take you down all the same.
But I’ve come a long way. The existential funk doesn’t threaten me as much as it used to. For starters, they are few and far between, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to predict them.
Here’s what I mean: I go into this funk, almost mechanically, after a long trip in which I’ve spoken more than once and lost at least one night of sleep. If this happens, I can count on being in a funk for at least three days after returning home.
So here’s what I do during the funk:
1. I get some rest. I literally sleep as much as possible. The real problem isn’t that nothing in life matters, the real problem is my brain, which is a muscle, is fatigued and not functioning very well.
2. I don’t work. I give myself at least one, if not two days in which I don’t work. That’s a tough one for me because I get great joy out of my work. But when the brain needs rest, the brain needs rest.
3. I tell myself the things I’m thinking about the nature of life simply aren’t true, no matter how true they feel. Certainly there are existential dilemmas in life, but the issue isn’t life itself, the issue is control. I want to know everything and yet God has not given me all the information. I just have to trust Him, and I have to trust that the work I do somehow matters to Him in the way it mattered to God that Adam named the animals. Futility in life, then, is a lie. I may not know why it’s a lie, but I know it is.
4. I start working again. About three days in, I can come back to life a little bit. It’s hard at first, but about two or three hours into the work, those old feelings of life being futile fade away and I get lost, once again, in the puzzle that is my work, my marriage and my community.
Of course, not everybody’s brain comes back to life so easily.
Some people need more than just sleep. My aching sympathies go out to you if you’re reading this and these solutions seem too simple. I’m so sorry. I know there’s help in other areas and I hope and pray you’re seeking that help. Lies are powerful and deceptive.
For the rest of us, sometimes the best thing to do is hunker down and weather the storm until it passes. I hope this gives you something to think about as the feelings of futility mount up. May they wash over you and somehow feed the crops, producing humility, faith, trust and an iron discipline to press on when the sun is shining.