Sunday, April 15, 2007

Doubt and perceptual problems

“It is hard to live as an Easter people in what feels like a Good Friday world.” Pastor said in a sermon that held fond sympathy for dear Thomas. That particular disciple is known for his doubt more than his faith, I suppose. That people – their full, complex lives – are often reduced to a single lesson is sad. I’m sure there were all sorts of reasons Thomas refused to believe without seeing. I know not what they were, but I found myself feeling badly for him too.

It is difficult – when faced with a reality that is often characterized by sheer misery – to hope and expect good things and understand your worth. To live as a grateful and joyful people is freaking hard. But I do appreciate the chance to try. And found that today was a lot easier than yesterday. The relief that the tiny pill would ease some of the suffering made me feel lighter today. I’m more stable, less sad, more like me.

Friend and I entered the service after the sounding of the hour. When we walked in, we were greeted and Jackie – the woman who gave me my welcome gift weeks ago – said that I should have my picture taken for the new directory under the heading of 'regular attenders.'

“Oh.” I said, thinking it was a nice offer. “I guess I could do that.” I don’t want to nudge my way in, I thought further. It’s rather mortifying to hear that you’re not so wanted, so it’s better if you just hang around the edges and hope nobody notices you.

“Do you mind?” She said, hand on her arm as she nudged me toward the 2 chairs in the hall – currently filled by a young couple who were very concerned that their picture reflect their true beauty. Jackie walked away, having instructed me to wait a moment.

“I could do this later.” I said to Friend, feeling uncomfortable standing in the lobby when I could hear the music starting. She shrugged, looking much more at ease than I, and I looked around. The couple rose and I was preparing to flee when Jackie came up again and nudged me forward.

“Right over here.” She insisted. “This is Jennifer. Jennifer, this is Katie. We need a picture of her.” I shook Jennifer’s hand and felt a pang when the twin chair was moved aside. There won’t be a companion in my photo – not for a pretty long time, if ever, I think.

She took two and I thanked her as she showed me both. “You don’t care which we use?” She asked, her youthful face expressing confusion over my attitude. I, my friends, am not particularly pretty of late. I’ve gained some weight, am wearing baggy clothes because the pretty ones are a bit tight, don’t take much care with my makeup, just plucked my eyebrows before church for the first time in several weeks. I look how I look though – changing a camera angle isn’t going to make that big of a difference. But peering into the small screen, I thought I looked friendly. I had smiled and my eyes squinted behind my glasses. The yellow sweater looked happy rather than dull, and I wasn’t altogether horrified by the image that confronted me.

I very much appreciated the sense of belonging that someone wanted me in their directory. I’m profoundly grateful for that place and those people, most of whom I do not know. I’m also glad that Friend happens to be here most Sunday mornings, giving me a touch of motivation to get ready and make it to 10:00 services.

Though the church was relatively empty (“Low Sunday.” Pastor reported of the drastic drop in attendance from the week before.), I chose seats in the second row of the back section. I sang and affirmed and prayed and listened, and while Pastor was in the middle of her sermon, a man took a seat in the row ahead of me. He blocked my view of Pastor and I tend to be more attentive when I can see the person speaking, so I leaned a bit to the side so I could see her.

When I did, my line of sight was such that my right eye could see her and my left eye could not. The disparity in their images left them a bit confused and my brain decided to process the result so that it looked as though Pastor was speaking from the middle of a man’s shaved head. Confused? I’ll elaborate. So there was the head that the right eye saw – a curve of skull and skin and a bit of stubble. Then the left eye – blocked from focusing as far away as the right eye could – thought that his head was farther over. So it superimposed its version of his stubbly skin in the position where right eye believed Pastor should be. (That made it more confusing, didn't it?)

There’s some Physicsy explanation for this that I certainly learned in Optics, but don’t feel like looking up. The point is that it looked as though she was speaking from inside his head. I was aware that my perception was off, but couldn’t fix it. If I wanted to see her, I had to deal with this view. It didn’t freak me out – I was distracted by it, of course, trying to open and close each eye individually to change how things looked. I’m rather fascinated by the visual system. But I was paying attention for most of the sermon and started to wonder about Thomas.

I am stuck with what I perceive to be true. I tend to think badly of myself – it seems safer when someone might be less than impressed with me. I also cling to people and situations to a strong degree. I continue to wear Grandma’s engagement ring on the middle finger of my right hand. She died when I was in high school. Her picture is also up in several places in my house. When I encounter items that belonged to Winnie, I store them. I don’t know why, but getting rid of all of it upsets me a great deal, so I just put stuff away. I still have a couple of toys and a treat tin from my childhood dog. She died 3 years ago. I don’t like moving on. I’m not even sure I know how. Of course it gets easier to not have someone around, but… I don’t know what my point is. Other than I suck at letting people go.

The other part of the problem is the depression, of course. I understand that my view becomes painfully skewed. That I can’t see out of the pain and sadness and misery. I don’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to take pills or go to therapy or require these things to be functional. It’s not that I think they are bad or speak badly of me – I’d just rather not deal with it. Likewise, I wish I never got headaches. It’d be easier and less painful without them. But I do have both afflictions. I get depressed. And headachey. Refusing to treat those problems is not a good option at this point. And that’s OK.

There are times when it is hard. Whether Thomas was scared or grieving or just freaking tired from all the turmoil he faced, he wasn’t able to believe without seeing. It’s a different problem to see and wonder if the resulting belief is accurate. The comfort is that Jesus presented himself to Thomas. I’ve always thought he must be a bit annoyed to have to go out of his way to let someone poke at his wounds, but that might be doing Christ a disservice. What we need somehow arrives.

The fact is that when I’m medicated, I seem to see things more clearly. Life doesn’t seem to miserably hard or frustrating and sad. Bad things still happen and I’m still bothered, but it’s less impossible to cope. I thought that if I was aware of the problem – if I knew I wasn’t seeing things clearly – I could talk myself out of the worst of the moods. And I did – for most days, I was doing reasonably well. But I was starting to sleep too much, withdraw from people whenever possible and I really did feel physically awful for a lot of those days. I don’t want to be dependent on Celexa to function normally. But it seems that I am for now.

Church was good. I didn’t go to work, but I have ideas on how to fix the last of the problems with the work I brought home. I don’t want to update Matlab, but I’ll do it tomorrow. I very much appreciate the support, especially as I put myself in a vulnerable situation by ceasing medication without any reasonable plan. I can’t say I feel chipper and wonderful, but I do feel more stable and settled. Control of my moods is more easily achieved when I have a bit of help. That’s OK for now, I suppose. And as far as whining goes, I'm glad it doesn't bother some of you. I'm sure I'll continue to do it.

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