“To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.”
– Yiddish Proverb, or perhaps Malcolm Gladwell
There were (at least) two points I had hoped to get across in my last post. The first was that we are good at lying to ourselves. As Jodi Picoult put it in her novel Vanishing Acts, “You can fool yourself, you know. You’d think it’s impossible, but it turns out it’s the easiest thing of all.” We want to think we are honest and objective to our own minds, and incapable of being otherwise, but this itself is another lie. Dostoyevski said that lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others. Who am I to disagree? (If you want proof, just consider the fact that everyone believes they are an above-average driver.) The second point was that we must believe we can accomplish something – flukes of discovery aside – before we can accomplish it. Henry Ford said it this way: “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can’t are both right. Which one are you?”
I don’t know if it’s the cause or the effect of depression to give up self-belief, or to see it as a lie. Do I think my life will amount to nothing and therefore I am depressed? Or am I depressed and therefore my life will amount to nothing? This is a much more intimate version of the chicken-and-egg argument. And whatever the case, the result is the same: a person hogtied by sadness, drugged by self-pity, choking on the prophesy that nothing good will come of their life. And so they become preoccupied by their own mortality. Aaron Weiss captures the feeling well in “Carousels,” saying, “Counting the plates of cars from out of state, how I could jump in their paths as they hurry along.”
And here’s the rub. Whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first, the depressed person is probably correct in their beliefs. As noted in the New York Times, unfounded optimism cannot put up a fight against depressive realism: “several studies have found that people with depression have a more accurate view of reality and are better at predicting future outcomes.” From a cognitive-therapeutic perspective, this means that correcting errors in thinking (known as “false cognitions”) can sometimes be a matter of convincing a person to once again start lying to himself, to start believing — in the face of a storehouse of evidence — that things could yet turn around.
I have come to think that this is the wrong approach. Perhaps, when I hit that moment of melancholy, when I completely set aside my self-belief, I can finally entrust my fate and my future into the hands of God. Maybe the solution or the cure isn’t to replenish my ability to lie to myself, but to give in fully to that fact, and then put my trust instead in my Creator. I don’t remember who said it, but I once heard someone say to believe and have no hope is to thirst beside a fountain. It could even be that what we tend to call a mental illness could be the pathway to right thinking, and that the encouragement to return to a belief in myself is like turning around just shy of my destination. What is required is a replacement of belief, to trade the idea that I can bring bright, beautiful things into my future for the certainty that God will use me and place me as He sees fit. I don’t know how that will work. But I would rather trust in God than trust in myself.
All that’s left is to commit myself to taking this lesson from The Sing Team:
Let my sighs give way to songs that sing about Your faithfulness
Let my pain reveal Your glory as my only real rest
Let my losses show me all I truly have is You