67. The Great Jigsaw Puzzle

5 Aug 2018

The words have taken a long time to come out recently, due to the pain. I’ve been struggling, not just because of internal issues, but external as well. Someone close to me said things they didn’t mean, and it broke me for a while. Then someone else close did something I took the wrong way. And someone I respected said something that I wasn’t able to process well.

But this post isn’t about all that. This post is about something that bubbled up of my broken mind and heart about all this. About God, about my condition, about life itself… And I invite you to come along with me on this post, to try to get inside my mind a little.

Imagine, if you will, life as a huge jigsaw puzzle. Have you tried to fix up a 1000 piece puzzle before? Life is bigger than that. Many more pieces – millions of them. From the time that we’re babies, we start putting pieces together. And naturally, since the puzzle is so big, in certain areas, all the colours look the same, and we put the pieces in wrong. Sometimes, it’s because someone else put the pieces for us, and the pieces were hammered together. Sometimes it’s because we ourselves put the pieces wrong, and we knew they were not supposed to be put together that way, but we still put them together because they seemed right at the time. Or because we just wanted to, anyway.

So when we zoom out to look at the puzzle that is our life, it’s always in the process of being put together. One day, when we die, it’ll be a final piece of work, but as we live, as we breathe, pieces are being assembled, across multiple areas of the large board. And as the pieces are being put together, gaps filled, we zoom in on some areas we want to pay more attention to, and we focus on getting those areas put together better than others. 

Until one day, somehow, somewhere, the whole board gets jarred. Hit. Dropped.

For some of us, that jarring only loosens some of the pieces. Life still goes on. Nothing is too much out of place, so we can still continue to build on whatever is there. Or just quickly fix the areas that are perhaps a little loose. And then carry on. 

For some of us, that jarring is more catastrophic. More repair work is needed. It could be due to a single huge hit. It could be multiple little hits that loosens things up, and before we can fix enough pieces another hit comes, like aftershocks of a mild earthquake. But with enough hits…

The whole board comes apart. And pieces are everywhere.

Suicide in depression is something that most people don’t understand. With the jigsaw analogy, it’s basically looking at the whole jigsaw that is now a complete mess which looks irreparable. Sometimes, it’s because giving up is easier than to have to pick up all those pieces and try and figure out where they go. Sometimes…

It’s because we have to revisit every little area that hurt so much to build, and while we re-experience that pain, or even amplify that pain with all that we now know, we have to sort through all the little pieces, some torn and needing tape to repair before we can place them back on the board in a way that makes sense.

Millions of pieces, scattered all over. 

It’s not just the scope of the task that stops us, though it’s daunting. Those of us that fight through the suicidal thoughts can attest to that. And can we blame those who do give up, because the task is just too huge? On top of that, there’s so much pain that’s involved in the task. Sometimes we sit in the pieces and cry because we don’t even know what is broken. We only know that the pieces are scattered and every piece looks the same. No piece makes sense. We can fix the pockets that don’t hurt to fix, no problem. 

But what do we do with the pockets that hurt to even touch?

Medical treatment can involve many forms. Medicine helps us to at least be ready to sit down to start sorting through the pieces. Without medicine, we would just stare at the board and not even wring our hands, just stare, because the chemical imbalances don’t allow us to do more than that. With medicine, we can at least focus on a pocket, and sit down amongst the pieces to collect them. 

Medicine doesn’t help us to put the pieces back together.

Sometimes though, medicine is enough. Or ECT (Electric Convulsive Therapy). Or rTMS (Repeated Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). What these do is to help us physically to be able to refocus on the board. For some of us, that’s enough to then start putting pieces together. When the board gets jarred, sometimes, it’s the physical person who gets hit, so that handling the board becomes impossible. So we fix the physical person with these methods, and then for some, it becomes easier to fix the board. For some, there isn’t much fixing to be done. 

But for those whose pieces have been scattered like a tornado hit the living room, none of these treatments are enough. We’ve got to settle down to start piecing things back. The treatments just help us to be ready to do so.

Therapy is the only form of treatment that remains that can help us to put the pieces back together.

Therapy isn’t miraculous. Therapists don’t ever put their hands on the board to move things around. That’s not therapy, that’s mind manipulation. No, therapists teach, guide, instruct. The one putting things back is still the person in the midst of the pieces. Ourselves. 

So what happens in therapy? We get taught new ways to look at pieces. We get taught how to soothe the pain even as we sort, each piece exposing old wounds we didn’t know existed, each breath hurting more than the last. We get taught new patterns of how to assemble pieces that we never knew existed, even as we get taught how to let go of old patterns that used to work, but aren’t helpful when the pieces are all scattered, rather than when new pieces are being placed on the board. 

So therapy helps us to re-assemble the whole board, pocket by pocket, piece by piece, and as new pieces appear alongside the mess, we learn anew, like little children have to, how to deal with the new pieces as well. In ways that are healthier. The ways we learnt worked, back when the board was still fresher. But they aren’t helpful now, and we need to unlearn them, even as our minds are still wounded, even as we’re trying to staunch the flow of blood from the heart.

That’s where God is amazing. God guides us through all the treatment. By His grace and mercy, sometimes, the pieces move of their own accord and drop into place. But not always. We still need to do a lot of the work by ourselves, but with His Spirit guiding our hands and hearts. Sometimes, through the therapy methods we learn. Sometimes we get breakthroughs that we don’t expect because of a nudge here and there from Him. Most times, in fact. Could He wave His wand and fix the whole board? He could – but He has never worked like that in the history of mankind. History according to the Bible, in fact, ended up with one of the most impossible stories ever, with a weak king dying on a cross, insulted and rejected even by His closest friends, to strike an ultimate blow against the Enemy, to win the ultimate battle and a complete victory in the long-drawn war.

Just as importantly, God heals the heart. He comforts when we need it the most, on days where the puzzle threatens to overwhelm. But the work that is needed to be done still needs to be done. We still need to sit among the pieces and sift.

And run crying into His arms when it all becomes too much again. And again. Until the work is done. 

Sometimes His arms take the form of pets. Sometimes, the form of loved ones. Very rarely, sometimes, it’s a computer game. More often (and more healthily) it’s a sport, or a park, or just the scent of rain after a storm. 

And sometimes, it’s blessed sleep, after a bout of screaming and crying and kicking one’s feet at the world.

No puzzle is ever complete. We must know this, and recognise this. The puzzle is ever growing, and for some, we can ignore the parts that are messed up and broken. For the depressed though, too much is broken to ignore. We just want to fix up just enough, and that just enough is different for different people. In God’s good timing and knowledge, by His grace, we may come to know where just enough ends, and too much begins. But we need to fix things up to the just enough level, in order not to have the dark cloud of all the scattered pieces hovering over our consciousness all the time.

That is where we seek understanding. That as we sort, others know that we are sorting, not on our own, but with the love and support of those around us. The sorting isn’t ending so soon, but we’re hard at work, with whatever little progress we can. Perhaps that work isn’t visible at all times. But whatever is put together again, with the right approaches, actually works even better than before. We’ll still make some mistakes – many mistakes – and fall back into old patterns and those pockets where the mistakes are made will come apart again because everything is loose now. That’s where we take a deep breath and have to start yet again. With patience, forgiveness, and compassion for ourselves.

Which are also in short supply, for most depressives. We have to be trained to allow those things in our hearts. We don’t even have the ability to do these things. Not because we’re stubborn, or unsubmissive. But because we simply… Don’t have it. And don’t know how to start.

And in the meantime, please don’t ask us to smile. We smile when we feel ready for it, when jokes are made, but the cloud is still there, too big to ignore once the levity ends. Please don’t ask us to push harder. We’re among the pieces, and as with any such puzzle, walking away to rest sometimes works better than sitting and sitting and crying and sitting some more, stubbornly trying to piece together pieces that don’t even belong in the same pocket.

So please be patient with us. One day we’ll get just enough right.

Hopefully before the puzzle overwhelms us. Or consumes us.

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2 thoughts on “67. The Great Jigsaw Puzzle

  1. The metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle opened my eyes a little wider whilst my eyelids cemented in a downcast of gloom.

    Many have written about 1st-hand depression experiences, but this article & author pulled me back on the “full moon” of hope. Alas, I cannot feel hope. For now, I can only know it is there.

    Thank you for being a hand offered. I may not have the strength to pull myself up this bar tonight, . . . which means some day I would . . . again.

    Praise my Lord.

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