Finding Our True Selves While Battling Depression
In her compelling memoir Still Life, author Gillian Marchenko recounts her struggles with depression. In this excerpt, Marchenko describes one of the many paradoxes that come with depression: how to be yourself.
Be true to yourself—and all those other inspirational memes float around social media every day. But if we are honest, finding our true selves is as difficult as catching a fly with chopsticks. We are many things. At best, we can admit it. With depression, though, fragments of a person no longer exist. Your personality stagnates and fuzzes like a compact disk that skips at the best part of your favorite song and then later lets it vanish altogether. It is a heavy fog that burns off midmorning. People assume depression is about emotions: a person is sad; a person is down.
But I’ve come to realize that depression is about disappearing. You become nothing. Feelings fly away. There is no future. No past. Your body becomes a shell with nothing inside. And the deeper you fall into depression, the more you become a shadow of yourself and the harder it is to pretend that you are still you, that you are okay, because even you forget who you are. One of the biggest tragedies of depression is myopia. You cannot see beyond your own nose. You no longer live. The various yous are snuffed out like candles.
How To Express Authenticity
How is genuineness expressed? Not in words. What you say to your partner is far less important than how you say it—with a smile, a shrug, a frown, or a glare. Consider this: nonverbal communication accounts for 58 percent of the total message. Tone of voice makes up 35 percent of the message. The actual words you say account for only 7 percent of the total message.
Hypocrisy or Authenticity?
Erik Thoennes, professor at Biola University and elder at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, California, sees the authenticity trend in the undergrads he teaches. At the beginning of each class he asks his students to write down two things they love and two things they hate.
Consistently, one of the things they say they hate is “fake people.” But the Christian life involves a whole lot of “fakin’ it” on the path to becoming more like Christ, Thoennes says. “There’s this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that’s a wrong definition of hypocrisy,” Thoennes says. “To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy.
To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn’t hypocrisy; it’s integrity.” Thoennes hopes his students understand that sanctification involves living in a way that often conflicts with what feels authentic. Still, he gets why younger evangelicals have such a radar for phoniness. They grew up in an evangelical culture that produced more than a few noteworthy cases of fallen leaders and high – profile hypocrisy.
Their cynicism reflects a church culture that often hid its imperfections beneath a facade of legalism and self-righteousness. As one young evangelical wrote for Relevant in 2007, “Authentic community, authentic faith, and authentic Jesus are the cry of the new generation…We don’t want to be fooled anymore. We don’t want to be gullible anymore…We want flawed. We want imperfect. We want real.”
The Origin of the Word “Sincere”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always enjoyed hearing stories about the origins of certain words. One of these words is the “sincere.” While there are some questions about the history’s authenticity (ironic, given the word in question) nevertheless it makes for a good illustration.
As you may remember from your old Western Civilization courses, the Romans were especially fond of Greek culture (especially after their conquests of much of modern-day Greece) and Greek imports became all the rage among Upper Class Romans. Greek marble sculpture in particular was one of the most highly sought-after treasures of Greek society. Because many of the sculptures were already a few hundred years old, many were damaged.
Traders discovered that if they placed wax in the damaged parts of the sculptures, they looked like new. But of course, over time, the wax would harden and change color to an ugly yellow, thereby exposing the inauthentic parts of the sculptures. Thus, after a while, vendors needed to differentiate their complete works from those held together with wax. To do this they would mark the undamaged statues as being sine, the Latin word for “without” and then cera, the Latin word for “wax”. Sine cera, without wax.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
The Root of Hypocrisy
The ancient Greek word for actor was hypocritēs (ὑποκρῐτής), which, at first, only implied someone who explained or interpreted something. But by New Testament times, it was more negative. It suggested someone who was untrustworthy. They pretended to be one thing while underneath being something else; they presented a good front to mask their reality. Of course, it needs to be recognized that this is not always negative. Temporary masks have their place, and nearly all of us make use of them.
On occasion, it may even be right to use them. We really shouldn’t blurt out every thought that pops into our heads. That usually does more harm than good. Self-control is an important virtue, and so this type of mask is as much for others’ protection as anything else. At other times, it is neither appropriate nor necessary for those around us to be aware of every vulnerability or anxiety.
A mask is thus a form of protection, necessary to shield emotional wounds from being aggravated, or from being exposed at an inappropriate moment. It is an act, in some ways – ‘I’m fine,’ we say – a pretence that all is well. That is not a lie as such, but an act of self-defence. As one good friend remarked to me, ‘fine’ can actually serve as an acronym, standing for ‘Feelings Inside Not Expressed!’. It is an understandable mask, and if we never made use of it, we would probably never escape those after-church conversations that already seem interminable enough.
Showing People Louis
In his excellent book, Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World, Mike Cosper shares a short story about the comedian Louis C.K.*
Louis CK tells fans he meets in public that he won’t take a picture with them, but he will talk to them. Some people are satisfied, but many walk away angry and frustrated. I suspect that it’s because they weren’t after the opportunity to meet Louis—they wanted to be able to show people they met Louis.
*Editor’s Note: The comedian Louis C.K has become a source of controversy during the #MEtoo movement. While his alleged actions were reprehensible, from the editor’s view, the insight created by this illustration made it worth placing on the site.
Taken from Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Copyright (c) 2017, pp.75-76. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Authenticity. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!