The Week I Heard God’s Voice
By Matthew Commings
A state wherein features unique to both depression and mania occur either simultaneously or in very short succession.
Mixed episodes could defy even the best writer’s description. The waves of elation and despair can crash so close together that at moments you are unsure which is currently flowing over you.
I came into this mixed episode cold. Very cold. My diagnosis was still new to me, and I wore it like a scarlet letter.
Even worse, I was still tip-toeing away from a nasty relationship. She was as depressed as I was manic, and the relationship was never balanced. She was always more in love with me than I was with her. So I’d tried to… rip the band-aid off slowly. If you ever want to ruin your nice-guy self image, there is no better way than stringing along your depressed girlfriend. It really makes you think: Wow, I’m a special kind of jerk.
Despite the icy start, this was the week I heard God’s voice.
My statistics professor had convinced me to apply for the Barry Goldwater scholarship. You probably haven’t heard of it, but it’s a big deal. The kind of big deal I still put on my resume even though I didn’t win. Just being allowed to apply by the university was noteworthy.
But I was behind schedule. The application was due on Thursday, and I had to write a substantial essay on the kind of statistics research I would like to perform. My attempt to focus on writing my essay quickly threw me into an anxious spiral, and I started a Youtube marathon in an attempt to numb the panic— which was what gave me my idea.
My heart was still drooping, but I managed to squeak out a decent essay. What if you could create a computer program that would track media consumption and predict mental illness? I had watched my dad use TV to numb his depression, and here I was doing the same thing.
In class, my mind was simultaneously working out the best statistical model to us in my computer program whilst punishing me for stringing along my almost-ex-girlfriend:
Bayes distribution with a uniform prior.
You’re a special kind of scum. You’re the excrement of scum.
A neural net would have greater accuracy.
When scum need a pick-me-up, it remembers it’s still less disgusting than you.
The thought was coupled with a rush of instant peace. I could feel tears coming to my eyes. It was the voice of God speaking to me.
Why now? I asked back. I’d never felt more unworthy and ungodly.
This is the most important week of your life.
And then it was gone.
It had to be the Barry Goldwater Scholarship. That was the only thing that made sense. I perfected my idea and my essay. Twenty years from now, I’d look back at my illustrious career as a statistician and point to this week. I contacted a computer science professor. I knew I would need help from a programmer to get this off the ground. He’d done research on social networks and media usage before, but not in mental illness.
I was ultra prepared for the meeting. In the last two days I’d read all the relevant papers on the subject, and I was ready for any question. He was intrigued and excited. We set up a meeting for the next week that would include some of his other researchers.
This was God’s plan.
I submitted my scholarship application and waited. I thought that was it, that all that remained was for me to win the scholarship and be catapulted upwards into the academic elite. Little did I know what Thursday held.
I had a meeting with a biology professor I was doing research with, another one of my billion extracurriculars. In this meeting I met a new freshman who would be joining our research group. She was quiet, and I thought she had something against me. I hated meeting new people, and I was convinced she knew I was crazy. But I had to shake this off. God had told me I was special, he had told me this week was special. I couldn’t let some girl ruin my focus. I was over at one of my friend’s apartments that night when his sister stopped by. I had never met her before, but again, an amazing feeling purged any negativity from me.
She’s the one.
The one? The one?? She was studying statistics too, but somehow we’d just missed being in classes together. But I was sure it was her. The one. God had told me.
“I’m going to take a couple years off school to live in Peru,” she said.
It was too much. I left to wander back to my apartment. God, why would you do this to me? Why would you show me my wife and then take her away?
This time, there was no answer.
I wandered a little longer until I found myself standing outside a very familiar apartment. My ex girlfriend’s.
I once heard a Vietnam vet describe what it was like to get shot. “I was a little disappointed,” he explained. “There is only so much pain you can feel before your body goes into shock.” I think people with depression can relate to that. There comes a point where your emotions could be better described as “in shock” than they could as “sad” or “depressed.” When I awoke the next morning, however, I had found that special place right before shock. I was shaking and coughing from the moment I awoke. “Wracked with guilt,” as God might have told me.
To be clear, we’d only kissed, but when she told me that she loved me, it struck me all over again. That boy you dated who was all wrong for you? The one your mom brings up ten years from now? That was me.
How It All Turned Out
I didn’t get the scholarship.
I didn’t get the girl.
I didn’t even end up doing the research. My classes became so overwhelming that I blew off the professor.
I haven’t thought about this in a long time. Yesterday, I got an alumni magazine from my university in the mail. This was the headline:
“Professor Uses Social Media to Prevent Suicide”
When I blew that professor off, apparently he kept going on the research. The story had been featured in USA Today. He’d opened up a whole area of research to help those with mental illness get help using social media data. Before I walked into his office, none of his research had anything to do with mental health. I guess you could call my mixed episode his muse.
As for the girl, I secretly held that I was going to marry her for over a year. I think I wasn’t ready to date, and she was an excuse to tap out. By the time I was ready to date, I’d learned that that freshman girl I’d met through my biology professor wasn’t all that bad. I found her so tolerable, in fact, that I married her.
I’m a religious person, and I think that if God wanted to talk to me, he could. Does that mean he did, or was I just having a first-rate Bipolar episode?
Does it matter?