I’ll admit it.
Since childhood I have suffered from brain chemistry that can provoke slips into depression and anxiety. It’s very clear that some of it I have no control over. You combine both sides of my family exhibiting mental illness (a paternal, mentally brilliant aunt who still sees demons where there aren’t any and from the maternal bloodline, an aunt who oscillated manic and depressive) and I am not sure I could have escaped some manifestation.
It was my dad, that told me that even Winston Churchill suffered the Black Dog. Dad knew the value of being aware that you are not alone in whatever you are enduring. Dad was also the one who taught me various coping strategies. Sometimes it helped to consider what might have triggered the episode. Sometimes you needed to just accept it for a time. He was very hopeful I would not seek the route he did, which was lots of alcohol and a smaller amount of drugs.
There but by the Grace of God I did not go.
The thing is that mental illness (which I suspect is a much more general infirmary than people admit to) pushes the boundaries of what we believe we have control over and what we don’t. For instance, one would never blame someone for having a cold or developing a brain tumor. But you might find fault with someone who is schizophrenic and yet mean. (That would be that paternal aunt I mentioned.)
We cannot be too quick to assign blame, either way. I know this. Because having admitted to you what I have, I can tell you that indeed, sometimes we can pull ourselves up by the bootstrap and sometimes we can’t.
I was lucky.Along with all the things that Dad taught me, he taught the one thing that saved him from his own bad brain chemistry and alcoholism. He traded up in the spirit category.
When finally he gave up, he turned to a higher power. (In Baptist terms, that means God.) Everyday he prayed he would not drink that day. One day at a time.
I was thirteen when this started and from then until I turned twenty five, Dad took me on his journey. Two days out from heaven and he was surprised that on his death bed, the Devil would tempt him with drink. (He hadn’t actually drank, he couldn’t even get out of bed, but he dreamed he had.) You would have to understand how valuable, how important, how miraculous Dad’s sobriety was to him. He didn’t want to meet his Father, the one who saved him, having failed Him. I know what you are thinking. This all kind of falls into that realm where one might blame his lack of discipline or bad genetics. Exactly my point.
I’m much older now than my Dad was when he died. But what I know is that you never stop learning about ways that God can teach you about that divide between reason and faith.
A couple of weeks ago my favorite Bible teacher mentioned a question he had been asked. Sometimes he does public speaking in venues that can be antagonistic or filled with import and he’d been asked if he was scared or anxious. This is what he said:
“I know that I am where God wants me to be and doing what God wants me to do.”
Well, let me tell you, that statement has been running around with the chemicals in my brain since I heard him say it.
It is quite powerful. For a lot of reasons.
I have seen the power of my Creator in others (my father’s sobriety the one example I have told you about) and in my own life. Even early in my science life, atheists I ran into could not deny me the miracles of a father’s sobriety. But, and that’s a big but, today’s climate puts faith and it’s object as unmeasurable therefore less valuable. I don’t think that is fair. Not only do I think it unfair, I think it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous to our understanding of who we are as beings who are more than just brain chemistry. As scientists, we spend intellectual time and effort trying to define life, biochemically, metabolically and any other way we can measure. I have been in conferences where the best minds have tried to do this. We get close and I hope we get closer, but its very difficult. And we have over a trillion, billion visible examples from which to draw. Now try to do that with something totally invisible and without reason, like ‘love’; the love of a father, son, brother, mother, friend, a soldier or the Creator of all that we see. You see the issue? I believe in love as surely as I believe in life’s origins. Do we become wiser by dismissing some of the most valuable characteristics that we humans give witness to because they don’t fall under the realm of science?
How about let’s reason from a bit more practical standpoint, although we still get into the bridge that spans the space between science and faith. A lot of what we worry about, or are anxious for or sometimes even suffer depression for, is the recognition that we aren’t in control. We humans like to be in control. We love knowing that things always work out according to rules (for Heaven’s sake, that’s why we LOVE science. That’s why science is so valuable). But here we areagain, back to trying to figure out , how do you handle hate, ego, evil, conscious, chance, misfortune, and sacrifice. I, like the rest of the human race, can suffer anxiety, afraid that life will throw something at us we can’t handle.
Earlier I said it was dangerous to deny the side of us that science can’t describe. I think we are seeing the evidence of this when children commit mass murder then suicide or when children seek to join terrorists groups that require they sacrifice themselves. This is a phenomenon that America has not seen in previous generations. Mind you I am not saying something political here. I am saying something from my heart. Something is wrong. I have a feeling that the answer does not lie in banning guns or having a closet full of them. You are not going to change the core problem if you believe adamantly that Islam is a religion of violence or that it isn’t. The prevailing winds of human enlightenment that deny the spiritual side of man are doing so to our detriment. Granted I have given the most spectacular cases, ones that wrench your guts. But that doesn’t discount them as harbingers, the worst outcome of something that is fundamentally wrong with where we are placing all of our hope. The hope bound up in experiments and science laws only satisfies us to a point.
Along with knowing how we got here, it seems quite obvious to me, we need more as humans. We must also know why we are here.
On several mornings these last few weeks, just as the light of day breaks through the window of our bedroom, I begin praying for those people I love and care about and know thrive on divine intervention. Right at the end, I consider this: today I want to be where God wants me to be and doing what He wants me to do.
It’s a powerfully satisfying, fully guaranteed way to structure my day that answers the “why” I am here.
I read this this morning and more than a dozen times since. Weighing it, rolling it around in my chemical brain – that no man’s land between reason and faith. The “why” we are here and the convoluted mess created when even our reasoning is damaged by genetics through no fault of our own. You are absolutely correct, dear friend. There is something fundamentally wrong in that an entire generation seems to have lost its way to the real hope; true hope. Depression and anxiety are very real and far more prevalent than most admit (bless you for doing so). It is your eloquent answer that helps us all – be what God wants us to be and do what He wants us to do. The forever anchor.
Wow, Janet! That was incredibly honest, vulnerable, and powerful. You have enriched my life with your wisdom, your science, and your heart, as I know you have many others. Thank you, precious friend.
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