Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Depression and Atheism

I promised this topic a while back. Sorry it's taken me a while. Actually, I don't know if I should apologize at all. It seems kind of silly of me to think that any of you wake up day after day thinking, 'is this that day that Ray will finally tell us about his atheism?' then being disappointed when I don't. Beyond silly, it's arrogant.

Nevertheless, I've been promising and not delivering for so long because this is something that never even occurred to me and I never really think about. I'm not really sure how to go about addressing the two topics as they relate to each other because, in my mind, they don't. Both things are deeply personal to me and have grown roots that are so old and deep that removing either depression or atheism from the earth of me would be, to say the least, disturbing. I'm willing to do so with depression; I'm not with atheism.

Let me start by saying that I believe I understand theists, specifically their perspective of atheists. I spent most of the first two decades of life as one. It seems hopeless to live without the belief in god. If no one created us, if there is no externally designed plan for my life, and, most importantly, if nothing happens when I die, if there's no reward for the good and no punishment for the bad, then what's point of it all? How can one live in a universe so empty of meaning, purpose and hope?

It's easy to understand why theists can believe that atheism and depression go neatly hand in hand.

I was depressed well before I became an atheist. The first time I seriously considered suicide was when I was around twelve. I had no reason to feel bad but I did. I felt so bad about myself, so unloved, so worthless, so invisible, that I went down into the basement where my dad kept his guns. I spent a long time sitting with a loaded rifle in my lap, bawling and blowing snot bubbles. I never could work up the nerve and when I heard the garage door opening - I had been home alone - I quickly unloaded the gun, put it back on the rack and went to hide in my room until I could calm down.

So, now, I've told that story. Didn't plan to but there it is. My point is that my atheism didn't lead to my depression. Clearly, I've struggled with some pretty classic symptoms of depression for most of my life and well before my, um, conversion.

Even though that's the right word I hate to use it. For me, at least, conversion carries a lot of baggage. When I think of conversion, I think of the scene in the New Testament when Saul is strolling to Damascus and has a massive, singular revelation that causes him to completely change the course of his life and, for some reason, his name.

My crossover from theism to atheism took longer than an afternoon walk. It was probably a very long time coming but, as a process of which I was aware, lasted about 6 months. I won't go into the gory details. I'd reached that time in life when one starts to consider his place in the world and I'd been exposed to enough of the church to understand that it was a very human creation instead of the holy, unquestionable institution that I'd been raised to believe in. These two things gave me the courage to actually consider the possibility that the faith I'd been raised in wasn't necessarily the truth.

I spent a very weird summer living in a crap apartment downtown, working the night-shift at a local factory and reading. I read everything I could about faith, theism and religion. By the end of that summer, I was settling a little uncomfortably into atheism. I still had those questions I mentioned above except without the hopelessness. In fact, as I look back now, I count this time as easily within the top five happiest points of my life.

In time, I've answered those questions for myself. Theistically speaking, I am incredibly comfortable in my skin. In fact, as I struggle with my expanding and contracting emotions, my professional life, and all the relationships in my life that I seem to subconsciously destroy one by one, my atheism is one of the most solid things about me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not an evangelical atheist. I'm not crazy about my tax dollars going to blatant theism but I'm never participated in a lawsuit about it. If the mayor of my town wants to put one of those cheesy lighted nativity scenes in front of City Hall in December, go right ahead. I'm just saying that, of all those things that all of us struggle with internally, the theology thing is settled for me.

I don't know if I've covered this at all. As usual, I just cracked my head open a little and tried to give you a look. So, lurking and not so lurking theists, if you have any questions or comments, have at it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Folic acid update and some thoughts about obligation

So, it's been roughly three weeks, I think. I ran out of pills yesterday so right now I'm at about 18 hours since I took the last one. More are coming but I didn't plan well.

Again, I don't have much to report. I suppose I do feel a little more up these days. I'm feeling generally optimistic about the future. I don't know. Trying to get a bead on how I'm feeling, or more precisely, if I'm really feeling better than I did is like trying to trying to see a distant star in the night sky. When you look directly at the fainter stars they disappear and when you look just to the side of them they reappear. How can I describe something that disappears when I try to focus on it? This is going to take time.

In a previous post, I said something along the lines of owing you guys an update. In a few of the comments and emails that you sent me, you guys made it clear that I don't owe you anything. Strictly speaking, you're right. I am the king of this little blog and I can do whatever the hell I want.

When I started this blog, I just wanted a quiet little corner of the interwebs where I could go and whine about my problems. I didn't really much plan for readers. Publishing it publicly was part of the reason that it was therapeutic for me. I was shouting into the universe and not exactly expecting it to answer.

Then it did. A readership, a very vocal one, started paying attention to me. I blog on a number of websites, a couple that are much bigger than this one. One of my sites gets thousands of visitors a day but this blog with 60-90 hits a day produces almost as much reader feedback. My reward for cutting myself open and bleeding a little on the web has been an unexpected support network in you. Faceless and often nameless but support none the less.

It's very gratifying to get notes of sympathy and support when I'm have a tough time. Knowing that I've touched you or even helped a little, as some of you have told me that I did, helps me immeasurably. I'm getting way more out of this than you are.

So, yes, I do owe you.

Listen to this

For the first time since I started this blog, I have a whole stack of things that I want to say. In the past, my intent when I came here has been very singular and it was usually just to scream into the darkness. But, lately for some reason I've felt a new level of engagement with the blog and you guys.

Right now, though, I'm going to talk about podcasts. (Bare with me, this really is going somewhere.) When I first learned what podcasts were a few years ago, I didn't think that they were for me. That's really kinda silly because I've always enjoyed spoken word entertainment from listening to my Dad's Bill Cosby records when I was a kid to political talk radio to a whole host of NPR shows. It took me a while to warm up to podcasts but once I did I found a handful that, now, I listen to regularly: WTF with Marc Maron, Savage Love with Dan Savage, The Moth, The Smartest Man in the World with Greg Proops, and Judge John Hodgman.

Of those, the two that I never miss are WTF and Savage Love. All of them are entertaining and most make me laugh but I get something more out of WTF and Savage. Both men are intelligent, articulate, funny and bring a view of the world that's outside of the normal for me.

Now, here's why I'm telling you about this. In an episode of WTF from early June, Maron interviewed a man named Todd Hanson. Most of you probably don't know who Hanson is; I didn't. He's a veteran writer as The Onion. That alone makes him incredibly interesting to listen to. He's also suffered from long bouts of major depression most of his life. In his conversation with Maron he breaks himself open and gives us all a good look at what he's gone through. I won't say it's fun to listen to but it's certainly cathartic. If you get anything out of my little blog here, you definitely should listen to this episode. Go here to listen.

A few notes: First, I suddenly find that I have a christian readership. I'm sure that there have been a few of you lurking out there all along but lately, well, you know who you are and you know what's been going on. I bring this up because if you have delicate ears when it comes to language and adult topics, you might not want to put this show in them. For the same reason, this probably isn't something you want to listen to on speakers at work. Second, Maron's shows' free availability expires so if you think you might want to listen this sometime but not just now, you should go ahead and download it. It might not be available when to you come back to it later. Third, if you're a weepy kind of person, don't listen to this in a place where you shouldn't produce a tear or two because you probably will.

That's it for now. Go, listen, you'll definitely get something out of it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A quick question

I'm worn out. It's been a long week and I've made some progress on that professional problem I alluded to in my last post. I plan to spend this Friday afternoon playing WoW.

So, the question: Is it wrong that I washed down my lunchtime dose of folic acid with a couple of ounces of whiskey? It didn't feel wrong.

Now, I'm off to kill some evil orcs and dragons!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two and a half weeks update

Yes, Anonymous, I suppose I owe you an update.

I'm writing this later in the afternoon when I tend to be at my grumpiest so do take that into account.

I don't have much to report. Since we last spoke, I've had one pretty big life change - one that's greatly affecting my sleep schedule - and one professional slap. I don't really feel like getting too much into either of these except to say that both are leaving me feeling rather down on myself and in general.

Vague enough?

Anyway, I only say that as something of a way of giving folic acid the benefit of a doubt. I haven't noticed any improvement beyond what I described earlier and I find that I'm sleeping in again. However, I have real life reasons to be a bit depressed, not just the usual unbalance. Perhaps I'd be feeling worse than I do if it weren't for the supplement. It's impossible to say.

So, I'm down but only a little and certainly not out. And, most importantly I suppose, I still have hope.

There's your update. We'll see what time brings.

And, if you're on the edge of you seat about the atheism thing, sorry I haven't done that yet. As you can see, life has me a little distracted just now and since this is a largely non-paying gig, I have to prioritize my keyboard time. I'll get to it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First week on folic acid

Although it is supposed to take anywhere from a few weeks to four months, I thought I'd weigh in weekly so here's the first installment.

I don't discuss my depression much with my wife because it worries her quite a lot. When she was in her early twenties a boyfriend killed himself and blamed her in his note. She doesn't talk about it much but I'm sure it comes to mind when I bring up my depression. I hate reminding her of such a terrible time. But, I felt I needed to warn her that I was trying a new supplement. Other things that I've tried, most specifically St. John's Wort, initially make all my emotions rawer. It takes a week or two for me to stabilize. I suppose this is because they address the mood directly. Whatever the reason, it's not fun for me and even less fun, I'm sure, to be around me.

"I'm not going to come home one day and find you hanging from the rafters, am I?" she asked.

I told her that's what I'm trying to prevent.

Anyway, the mood shock never came. The up and down swings I was expecting never happened. In fact, I really felt nothing.

Then I noticed two things. First, I'm waking up earlier. Being unable to get out of bed is one of the markers of depression and I've become the king of staying in bed. Some days I don't get out of bed until 9a, one of the dangerous side effects of working at home! But, starting a couple of days after I started FA I've been getting up between 6 and 7, even when I don't get that good of a night's sleep.

Another completely unexpected development has been an increased sex drive. I've never had a problem in this area but for the past week or so I've really not had a problem with it. Odd.

So, that's my folic acid update for week one.

A couple of other things have been going on. Melanie, the blogger who suggest FA to me, and I have been corresponding. She's an interesting person although I think if I knew her in person her enthusiasm would overwhelm me. She blogged about me, focusing on my atheism as much as my depression or this blog. Her emails have come pretty close to witnessing which doesn't really bother me, I just find it a little curious.

I'd never really thought about it but I suppose that there might be a few people out there who would be similarly interested in my atheism and how it does or does not affect my depression. I've been turning a potential blog entry about that over in my head for a few days so look for that.

A couple of other people have also emailed. One is a kid with depression who's headed for college this fall. He wants help and is willing to seek out a pro. But, he's reluctant to tell his mom, which kinda breaks my heart for both him and her. This creates a big obstacle for him since he's on her insurance. I suggested that he look see if there's a Community Counseling Center nearby that might be willing to work with him on payments or he can check with the school nurse when he gets to college.

What a burden to take with you to college, that time when the world is supposed to be bright, shiny and full of possibilities. I really hope he finds a way through. If you want to check out his blog it's here.

Finally, another reader emailed. She is working through depression like the rest of us with the added bonus of a dear friend who actually loved life recently having died. He was healthy, in his early thirties and had a fantastic outlook on life. I didn't know what to offer her except commiseration.

We're a raggedy lot, aren't we?