This guest post is brought to us by my brother, Andrew C.
I tell a story about my grandparents that may be completely made up.
They were looking forward to a fireside about marriage, and the morning before the presentation, their bishop told everyone in the congregation that, if they didn’t have a perfect marriage, he wanted them to attend.
Grandma and Grandpa looked at each other, and they didn’t go.
I saw Grandma after Grandpa died. “Getting old is not for wimps,” she said, and she looked very sad, gray hair, gray skin, a droop to her like she couldn’t think of a reason to sit up straight. Half of her was missing, and because I saw my grandma in that state, I think the story I just told you might actually be true. It is possible that it could be.
I desperately want it to be.
When I’m honest about the when the signs began, and when I’m honest about how many of the signs are still there, I have to say that I am a survivor of seventeen years of serious depression. It’s much better now than it was. I have a full-time job, interact with my wife and children daily, attend more social gatherings than I would like (I’m looking at you, Family Dinner!) and only face debilitating anxiety on an occasional basis.
And here is one thing my depression taught me: emotions lie.
My emotions told me all sorts of things during my depression. They said I was a failure as a student, which led to pulling out of law school twice. They said I was a failure as a husband, those pesky emotions, and that my wife’s sadness for any reason was my fault. (Apparently I was supposed to be able to fix a challenging relationship with her father, though my emotions never explained how.) They said I was a failure as an employee (often true), as a writer (also fairly accurate), as a human being. Even beyond that, they said that everyone else thought of me as a failure as well, and that I would never become anything else. I was too far behind The Schedule, had too many sins, too many flaws for Heaven and just enough selfishness for Hell.
My failure was all my fault.
I looked at myself, flunking out of graduate school, performing badly in my work, and thought, “You’re failing at everything, can’t do any worse, you might as well do what you like.” So I started to write. I wrote a short story, and it won a local contest of sorts, and then my niece convinced me to make it into a novel, and I did. And then I wrote another novel, and two more since then, and suddenly I had accomplished a thing I knew I would never do, and I had done it four times over.
My emotions had told me, as sure as white bread on a Sunday, that I would never, ever finish a novel. And then I did, and I started to wonder what else my emotions might be wrong about.
My emotions also told me that God is real.
Every week, the eagle comes and eats my liver. I don’t make a fuss, since I was raised to believe that screaming in agony in the middle of sacrament meeting is not appropriate. (Also frowned upon for Sunday school and elders’ quorum, if you were wondering.)
The eagle eats my liver, and I look around at the others sitting there, and I wonder: Don’t you feel this? It’s quite uncomfortable, having an organ ripped out, but you all seem so calm. I know my emotions are telling me a lie again when I imagine the congregation as a single protoplasmic mass, occasionally extruding a prehensile human to speak forth the corporate viewpoint of scriptural literalism, prophetic infallibility, and emotion as the true teacher of truth.
That last one is the biggest problem. I was taught that I could know what is real if it made me feel good. No, no! Not the way drugs or sex make you feel good, you silly. We mean peace, calm and joy, those are real, and the recipe is simple: study, pray, want it really, really desperately, and when you feel that calm warmth, all the rest is certainly true as well. (And if you don’t feel those things, well, you must be doing something wrong.)
But I’m no longer able to trust my emotions. It’s a matter of survival: my emotions were literally killing me, destroying my health and everything I valued in my life. I had to give them up as a guide for what is real, and every Sabbath day I’m reminded that the culture I was raised in values emotion above all else. We call it ‘the Spirit,’ and we say that it speaks to your heart and your head, but I have never heard a sermon in praise of reason and logic.
Peace. Joy. Shame. Despair. Don’t they see that these are all the same thing?
Prometheus had a liver that grew back every day. My eagle is moving faster than I can heal, picking new organs as he needs, taking a sample of ribs, gnawing on my pelvis. It leaves me hollow.
I expect something will grow back. I don’t know what it will be, but I have hope in me somewhere, I think. My emotions do tell me some truth: they tell me who I love, what is beautiful to me, maybe even what is holy.
They tell me that the story about my grandparents is lovely, and that even if it isn’t true, it should be.
Andrew C spent three very long minutes trying to come up with a serious bio for himself. Discovering he can’t take himself seriously, he started writing things like: Andrew C spends most of every day not saying what he thinks, because he wants to keep the friends he has. About every month or so, he tries to play survival-horror games, freaks out after twenty minutes, shuts them off and wonders what he was thinking. He’s written four novels that are too funny to be published, too meaningful to hold an agent’s interest, and too poetic to make any money. He’d love to tell you how he can be reached, but since he’s an introvert with social anxiety issues, that’s a terrible idea, isn’t it.