Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I had a roommate who had depression. Sometimes, it was so bad, he would just hit a wall. He would literally hit a wall, he was so wound up. Sometimes, he would feel washed out, as if he'd just gotten over a 24 hour stomach bug. His mom ran a gym, so she knew some things about health, I guess. She recommended that he try Red Bull, because it has a lot of vitamin B, which, she says, gets burned off by depression. My roommate let me try a Red Bull, and it made me feel better, too. I'd had problems with anxiety for a year at that point, and the vitamin B might have rounded off some of the jitters. This might sound counter-intuitive, it might not even be right, but the caffeine helped me with the anxiety because it helped me focus, to get a grip on reality.

My anxiety was worst while I was sleeping. I would wake up in the middle of the night in panic. I would look out the window, just in case something was coming. I only ever saw the tree, the parking lot, and the dumpster.

Red Bull is pretty expensive, but I found Red Thunder at Aldi for 75 cents a can, so I drank a lot of that. I would pop a Red Thunder first thing in the morning. Sometimes I'd mix it with orange juice, a Red Thunder screwdriver. The caffeine would jolt me awake. You know how, when you wake up in the morning, and you've been dreaming, you sometimes think that parts of the dream are real? The Red Thunder would help me wake up past that.

The first times that I went to Orthodox services, I was mostly confused. I started going to Vespers services regularly, and I found them therapeutic; I could feel the anxiety dripping off my elbows and down through my shoes. My favorite words in the service were in this part that was a call-and-response for intercession. The priest would sing, "For travelers, by sea, by land, and by air," and "For this city and all the people who dwell therein" and "Help us; save us; have mercy on us; and keep us, O God, by thy grace", and we would sing, "Lord have mercy".

That line, "Lord have mercy" is peppered throughout the prayers and songs. To some people, at first, it sounds like the Orthodox are perpetually afraid of a bloodthirsty God, that they need always to be asking obsequiously for a stay of execution. That's not how the "Lord have mercy"'s felt to me, though. Whenever I sang, "Lord have mercy", it wasn't with an attitude that I needed to plead God for mercy, that he would give it to me begrudgingly, but with the faith that that was exactly what he wanted to give me, and that I was praying the prayer he wanted me to pray. There is a prayer, the Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I had a prayer rope, and I would count knots on it, one for each prayer; I was encouraged to pray the Jesus prayer a lot. In this praying for mercy I felt safe; the discipline was apt.

I started fasting, too, which wasn't too difficult for me. Fasting, for the Orthodox, means being vegan on Wednesdays and Fridays and during a few fasting seasons. I was already vegetarian, so being vegan a couple of days a week didn't seem difficult. In the protestant church, I had only ever fasted for the 30 Hour Famine, as a sort of publicity stunt for world hunger. There was one time when I had a crisis and needed divine insight, so I fasted, but I got very hungry, so I took a break and went to KFC, and then got back to fasting. Fasting was the sort of thing that was done as a last resort, or I knew some guys who fasted before they proposed to their girlfriends.

I think it's good that we have to sleep, and that we get colds sometimes. We're limited, but we're so used to being limited, that we don't notice it. Fasting dropped the ceiling on me, and it made me feel my human limitation more deeply and I felt ready to be filled by God.

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