Musings on Faith and Existential Depression
“I’m going where there’s no depression – to a better land that’s free from care”
The ending of this famous lyric of “No Depression In Heaven”, a song attributed to AP Carter of the Carter Family, has the chorus finishing with “I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble, my home’s in heaven – I’m going there.”
Carter was definitely inferring about The Great Depression of the U.S. Economy in the 1930’s as well as the standard God-fearing man in a world of sin, yet I always like to look at it from another more modern take as well – from the mental illness perspective only without the cloudy utopia of angels and harps.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2009 but I’ve pretty much been in a depressive state since my mid-teens so, really, the better part of the last 30 years.
I went to weekly talk therapy sessions that seemed to help me compartmentalize my emotions and behaviors a little more and my primary care physician put me on Citalopram for a few months after I scored high on some “checklist” for mental illness but I was one of those side-effect outliers who actually became MORE depressed while I was on them and had very little energy and will to do much of anything at all besides go to my job (because I needed to make money to pay bills and live) and then come home, crawl into bed or lie the couch and watch TV or sleep or both and grew increasingly suicidal after months of already having suicidal thoughts.
I threw those pills away after 4 months. I hated the feeling of NOT FEELING and not caring.
That’s when I went deeper into my brain and came to terms with the fact that perhaps I am most likely a soul with existential depression and not clinical depression.
As a creative personality, I embrace the variety of all types of moods and being content and happy is as fleeting an emotion as I know. Perhaps due to genetic make-up, I generally see things through a cynical eye first and I have an attraction to the melancholy that’s surrounding all of us. As I’ve grown older I find I’ve leaned towards having and projecting a more positive outlook and made great strides in the last few years but even now that would still make me lean towards to cynicism side of things but definitely in a better balance than in the past.
I was a happy little kid growing up but once I got into first grade, I was separated from my peers and was placed into advanced classes and spending only part of my day with kids in my grade or age range.
The kids in my grade made fun of me because I got special treatment or got to leave class to attend seminars or classes for “gifted” kids and I was typically studying and learning with kids two to three grades above me – by the time I was in third grade I was studying sixth grade English and fifth grade science. Math, on the other hand, was where I was still with my peers and maybe even behind – I never did catch on to that terrible truth of the universe.
So as early as 8 or 9 years of age, I was ostracized and made fun of for being smart and I took that deeply as a flaw and, sadly, not as an advantage in life. By the time I graduated high school, I was in ZERO advanced classes and I almost didn’t graduate on time holding a middle ground GPA (B- or C+ for those keeping score) but needing to pass the remainder of my senior year’s credits with almost failing a class – all that potential.
I still fixate on ALL THAT POTENTIAL.
I grew up in a moderately religious nuclear family and by the time I was in high school that became even more strident than ever. Church was seemingly mandatory for Bible school in elementary age, then church activities and lock-ins in junior high and eventually that lead to spiritual retreats and leadership roles in my church’s teen youth groups which was definitely my choice.
I always felt like an outsider there as well since I still had lustful thoughts, listened to Devil-fueled heavy metal and hip-hop, I had rage issues and I swore like a sailor’s son. It was an all-or-nothing mindset for me with faith in the church and God. I idealized the “purity of the lamb” way of living a “faith walk” but, ultimately, I knew I was flawed and the older I got, the more I saw how the money of the church (wealthier families/couples) controlled the pulpit and the person behind the pulpit.
One church that I went to had 4 pastors over the course of maybe 6 or 7 years and not one of them died – all left or ousted. Power struggles and seeing how self-proclaimed Christians did just the opposite of what was being instilled and taught by the Jesus that I was trying to believe in shook me just a bit and I started pulling away and thinking outside the church’s history and philosophy.
My church actually took away my membership since I didn’t tithe or give a traceable offering (or attend once I was in my early 20s) – that was the final straw for me after seeing the televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Baker come clean as sinners and crooks and just all-around shitty actions committed by so-called Christians – all out hypocrisy.
My thought was how could a God allow people like this represent him – especially the ones on TV asking for money from people to save themselves and promising that God will heal these Earthly things that we all face like sickness, illness, financial troubles, relationship issues, abuse of all kinds, etc.
What a crock of shit.
I became more interested in Buddhism and Native American spirituality growing into my 20’s but still couldn’t see myself adhering to one or any of them on a committed level. I liked the spiritual ideas and the sanctity of land and sun and wind and internal change – yet nothing to stake a claim in or ground myself to as an anchor of faith.
I’ve always felt that, spiritually, I’ve been flying in the wind for the last 25 years.
As a photographer my favorite subject to shoot is landscapes or nature. I get them.
I understand and fear and LOVE nature.
On my annual grouse hunts in northern Minnesota I always take a few minutes to just sit in the forest and shut the fuck up in my constantly swirling brains and listen to the wind, the leaves rattling and the birds and squirrels chatter. This is my church now – one of many churches that includes beaches, lakefronts and hilltops and farm fields.
My connection to out-of-body spirituality is based on nature and the sun and the winds.
Getting back to depression and looking at the absence of traditional faith.
There are many people that just pray by themselves or in prayer circles that their troubles will be lifted from them by God or Jesus or Mohammed or the Flying Spaghetti Monster and I don’t have that. I have found that the only person or spirit that I can rely on is myself because everyone else is pretty much in the same boat yet have different ideas of who the Captain happens to be and that maybe…just maybe that captain can save them or get them to shore. I AM my Captain.
With religious extremism being on the nightly news since I can remember (re: Iran hostage crisis 1979) – I have really grown to detest religion of all types and flavors and wish that more people would be more critical thinkers or at least do right by the gods they follow. Being that I don’t believe in heaven or hell, I simply shake my head about martyrs attaining their heavenly riches, killing other people that don’t follow their “god” or the “sin” of gay people actually trying to love the way any of us want someone to love and love them back. It’s fucking normal to want to love someone yet this dogma perpetuates hate and not love.
There are articles strewn across the internets on how most of the world’s major religions have common threads or even the same origins like creation stories and vengeful gods and messiahs going back to the Pagans, Sumerians, Egyptians and even some North American native tribes like the Hopi. There are so many commonalities in the world’s religions – it’s almost like some sort of spiritual shell game or Ponzi scheme.
Sometimes I think that my depressive state comes from an empathy as a kid that has grown into an apathy as an adult. The power struggles ever-present in global politics (based around religion and money), the way uber-rich people control governments, banking institutions and make laws that benefit themselves, a corporate-controlled media, of which one wing (Fox News) has the fucking gall to call the rest of it “mainstream” when they actually hold the highest ratings and viewership in America. IT’S ALL MAINSTREAM since that spin is corporate control and legitimate news and journalism gets buried and people who hold the fire to the powers that be end up dying.
Change-makers get assassinated or imprisoned.
Laws are made by the Government to infringe the freedoms of American citizens.
Banks can create and bet against the house on suspect and junk financial packages that cripple an already fragile economy without little repercussion.
Wars are created to profit the already wealthy by using the poor to kill the other poor in another land to obtain resources under the guise of freedom to people who don’t share our same views of much of anything that matters like money and religion.
Health care is a major profit leader in the U.S, while other industrialized nations use their citizens’ taxes for that instead of going to countless wars or giving tax breaks to Wal-Mart and the banks and oil companies.
Cops kill first and ask questions later dressed in military armor.
Where is God in all of this? Where is Jesus? Allah? Moses? Abraham? Spaghetti Freddy?
So, “Existential Depression” is what I’ve labeled myself as having to deal with. I don’t know why I’m here, I don’t understand the world I live in – even with insight.
I can’t come to terms with how money rules everything almost everywhere and I’m not the type to destroy or harm people in my methods of how to obtain money.
From what I’ve seen and experienced most of those really uber-rich people got that money off the backs of poor folks (or once rich folks that fucked up and trusted the wrong person) or they exploited a system built for them by them.
Churches make billions of non-taxed income and have a history of sexual abuse and murder and make empty promises of absolution while essentially stealing money from people who have little to give and everything to lose.
You want a tangible notion of Satan?
it’s in your bank accounts and literally says “In God We Trust” right on the bills.
Granted, there are good people out there who make up for the horrible shit, but it’s so few and far between and it always seems like a feel-good story and not a commonplace action when you do hear about it.
I don’t know where we go when we die and I’ve been close to death via health issues a few times and debated a few times by my own hand – yet I am no longer in a rush to find out what does happen when that last bit of air leaves our lungs.
It’s very hard to be a positive person with all this horrible shit that’s been going since the dawn of man. Humans are assholes. We truly are. But every day I try to take a few minutes to process things and know that all I can do is try to be a decent person as much as possible and to live life by what my moral compass tilts to – which is essentially the “Golden Rule” of “Don’t be a dick.”
There’s no amount of therapy or “happy pills” that can cure how I feel. I know I will always have some really dark times and avoid people or social situations but I now know when it’s gone long enough and then I break out some Van Halen and crack a beer and remind myself that it’s not worth agonizing over in the big picture.
Sometimes that little picture is SO immense and intense that you can’t see beyond it – but there’s always a beyond.
I hang in here because I believe in love – even though I’ve never been in love – I just want to experience that feeling at some stage of life and I’m not sure if it’s stupid or romantic. Probably both.
Seek help if you do have thoughts of hurting yourself or others. There’s no shame in getting help or having a mental illness.
We all go through shit and all crises pass.
It’s just exponentially harder when you don’t have a faith system – so make your own if need be – just don’t be a dick about it.