Finding My Pooh Zen
I’ve been slowly working my way off depression meds and, let me tell you, it’s been a trip. I’ve been on them for five years or so and they smooth out my moods, essentially calming down the technicolor filter of intensely negative emotion so I can see things logically and clearly. To say it in a way the kids might understand, they keep me from both my manic Tigger tendencies and my nihilistic and irritable Eeyore the donkey tendencies, leaving me at a manageable Pooh-with-honey medium. (Perhaps it’s worth mentioning the theory that each character in the 100-acre wood represents some variety of mental illness. Supposedly it’s like the original Inside Out. I suppose that would make Christopher Robin schizophrenic. There’s a thought to ruin your day.)
You could say I’ve gotten used to who I am while on the meds and, coming off them, I’m seeing flashes of a different me. Every month or two, along with a doctor’s help, I lessen my daily dose. My brain, though, is used to a certain amount of dopamine, or whatever chemical it is, coming into its receptors from the outside and when I take away a little bit of it my brain panics and I go into severe mood swings.
It’s pretty troubling. I’m like a pendulum that gets pushed once and hits its peaks before slowly swinging lower and lower and finally coming to rest again. I suppose that’s why they call them mood “swings” (I’m not proud of that pun but I couldn’t not make it). It normally takes a couple weeks for me to level out again and find a new normal.
This summer my wife and I took a vacation to Hilton Head (I mean we are middle class white people, after all) and the timing worked out in such a way that the first day of travel was the first day of a lower dose. This was unfortunate. We took a day trip to the historic part of Savannah about halfway through the week and, God bless her, my poor wife had to put up with me alternating between a deep love and a deep hate for the place about every five minutes. Every time she opened her mouth to talk to me she didn’t know if she would be getting a response from Mr. Rogers or Voldemort.
During these adjustment weeks I feel like a passenger in my body. It’s all brought up a bit of an identity crisis. I watch myself from a distance as I get really upset about things that shouldn’t upset me or get really depressed about things I kind of know are irrational or untrue.
Most of humanity’s problems, in my opinion, seem to stem from identity issues. We go to great lengths to be perceived a certain way or, get this, to continue seeing ourselves as the people we want to keep thinking we are. People ignore obvious evidence of their own wickedness or weakness so they can continue with the illusion that they are an overall good, strong person. It’s where we get phrases like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” — it’s the need we feel to never let others see us sweat.
I’ve always thought of myself as a calm, gentle, understanding person, as generally in control. But I’m not that in the weeks after changing my dose. It’s caused disheartening dissonance in which I’m questioning if I’m really the person I like to think I am or if I’m somebody else entirely, somebody I don’t like all that much.
I’ve never been able to track down the original source, but I think Carl Jung was right on the nose when he proposed that “There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul.”
That’s the story of humanity, isn’t it? We live in denial because it’s painful to own up to what we really are. And I get that now. It would be easier for me to dismiss it, to ignore any evidence that suggests I’m not quite the saint I think I am. But I think Jung was too right to ignore. He goes on to theorize that “one does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
I take a slight issue with this second part because there’s a tricky balance there. I don’t want to (A) build my identity solely on what I do and am deep inside (making the darkness conscious) or (B) ignore the things I do and choose to believe what I want to believe in a wonderful but made up version of myself (imagining figures of light). Both options would land me in a white padded room.
The happy truth is Jung is proposing a false dichotomy here. There’s a third option for defining myself. The solution to these two traps is to have an identity that transcends me. If that’s the case, I can actively pursue both options Jung is suggesting. I can simultaneously dredge up the dark parts of my conscious and at the same time focus on “figures of light,” the key difference being my figures of light aren’t imagined but are truer than anything I can see.
Follow me here: those in Christ have two selves. We are who we are in the flesh, in the darkest, yet-to-be-sanctified parts. But in a deeper, truer way, we are who Christ says we are. Our lives are hidden with Him, we are a new creation, we can take part in the divine nature, and we are the righteousness of Christ (Colossians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:15–21; 2 Peter 1).
This is good news because in Christ there’s freedom from the trap of being defined by what I do or what I’ve done. This doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for what I do, but it does mean that my truer identity is secure and unaffected by me.
This frees me up to actually deal with my crap because I don’t have to be delicate with my fleshly identity. The Spirit can start rooting around and cleaning up in the mineshaft of my heart because it’s no longer what’s holding the ceiling up; there’s a structure from the outside that’s keeping me from cave ins. Or, at least, when He pokes at my foundational sins and it does cave in, that’s not where my truest self lives anymore.
I can acknowledge the darkest truths of my soul because my fleshly self isn’t the truest me. If I don’t have an unshakeable identity in Christ to cling to, then mortifying, being sanctified, killing my sin by facing up to the truth of who I am, whatever you want to call it, would be existentially fatal. But in Christ it doesn’t have to be. I’m free to face the unsanctified emotions I didn’t think I had anymore because they don’t define the truest me.
I’m not sure who the original me is — a calm Pooh Bear or some sort of angry, angsty, and anxious hybrid of Roo, Eeyore, and Piglet — but really it doesn’t matter as much as the truth of who I am as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). My focus is free to rest on the realest version of me: the clothing of Jesus’ righteousness that He’s draped around my shoulders. It’s still too big for me, but I’m growing into it.
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Danny Nathan grew up at Grace participating in the music and worship ministry. He’s currently a worship leader, leading people into worship in a variety of venues, including our modern worship service and student ministry gatherings. Danny is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a degree in English. In June 2016, Danny married his high school sweetheart Alli.