Building Blocks

My name is Phil Martin, and I am depressed.

Last week, I had a breakthrough in the treatment of my depression, and I’d like to share that with you.

I did not have an entirely happy childhood, and someday when either my family is dead or is ok with it, I will share more details about that. In the unhappiness, fear, and pain, I did have some pleasant experiences. I loved to play with LEGOs, those brightly colored plastic bricks that allow anyone to build to the limits of their imagination. My brother and I would spend endless hours in the afternoons, mornings, evenings, and any other time we could, building with our LEGO bricks. We would coordinate on buildings, starships, and sculptures, or we would have contests to see who could build the best model. We tested the structural integrity by dropping them from the top bunk of our bunkbeds onto the hard wood floor below. Whichever brother’s masterpiece exploded into fewer pieces won. And then we would rebuild the broken bits.

This all lasted until my brother moved out to go to college. The LEGOs were then left to me, and I played on by myself. Then my parents decided to become missionaries and move to Papua New Guinea. Not wanting to lose any bricks along the way, I packed most of them up and they were kept by a friend of the family’s, along with many other belongings.

It wasn’t until I graduated from college, got married, and lived for a few years that I ever got the LEGOs back. In the meantime, of course, I had started to collect my own sets and continued to build, but I still remembered and longed to regain what I had from my childhood. At the same time, my depression intensified and I finally sought treatment. I never thought these two parts of my life would intersect in a way that would radically shift my thinking about everything.

My mother visited the family friend, and collected everything that was stored in their attic. She mailed me my boxes, and with abundant joy, I unpacked the LEGOs. I immediately gathered my old instruction booklets, sorted all the bricks, and started to build. I started with my very favorite set, a small red biplane.

Eagle Stunt Flyer
Eagle Stunt Flyer

Alas, I only made it a few pages through the build before I realized that I was missing quite a few pieces. I was heartbroken. My favorite set, all my pieces, and I couldn’t complete the construction. It remained a broken pile of pieces that couldn’t be put back together.

This is where my brother comes back into the story. A year or so prior to my mother retrieving my things, he went on his own to where our belongings were kept and removed one container that held what he believed were his LEGOs from back in the day. I thought that he should have contacted me to ask and make sure before he did, but ultimately he did nothing wrong. But I thought he did and I blamed him for my missing pieces. Not realizing what was really going on inside my heart and my head, I villainized my brother. I started a crusade against him, with the LEGOs between us, until he got so fed up with my anger and persistence that he sent me what he had taken.

Again, I was overjoyed. I finally was going to be able to complete construction on what I once had, and find the joy and happiness that was once mine. This time, I left my little red biplane until last. I built everything else I could find first, but it didn’t make any difference. I did have a few more pieces, but once again lacked everything I needed to make it whole again. I was livid. In a rage I called my brother and let him have the full brunt of my disappointment and bitterness. I accused him of holding back, of stealing, of being an instrument of my pain. Only, he wasn’t, and he really had nothing to do with what was really going on. Hurt by what I said, and upset at seeing our friendship destroyed over a pile of plastic blocks, my brother started to try to remind me of all the good times we shared. Suddenly, in the middle of it all, listening to him, and staring at my incomplete model, surrounded by piles of bricks, I realized what was really going on. In an instant, I knew.

This wasn’t about LEGOs, my brother, or a little red biplane. This was about my pain and my broken childhood. This was me trying to put my life back together. I’d fixated on a physical symbol of my joy, my happiness, and the best parts of being a kid. I thought that if I could just manage to put that little red biplane back together, and set it on my dresser, then not only would a little LEGO model that I loved be reclaimed, but my childhood would somehow be fixed. In my mind, my healing was dependent upon a few LEGOs. My past could be fixed with a few pieces of plastic and a simple instruction book.

But what my brother was telling me was that could not be true, that it is not true, and that life works differently. My brother lived through much of the same pain, the same family trouble, the same unhappiness I did, but what he knew was that by choosing to remember to better parts of a shadowy past, and by actively choosing to make better decisions every day, he could make a better future. For him, it wasn’t about the past, and its pain, it is about the future, and its hope.

In that moment, hearing his voice, and staring at the avatar of my brokenness, I knew that while I cannot rebuild the broken past, I can construct a brand new future.

Crying, I told him what I had just realized. I told my brother that I loved him, and that I was sorry for blaming him for my brokenness. We reconciled and we said our goodbyes. In a week, I’ll see him for the first time in two years. That will be a great time.

And the little red LEGO biplane? The irony is that I could have rebuilt it anytime I wanted. That was a fairly popular set back in the day, and at any given moment there are five for sale on eBay. Any time I wanted to, I could have bought one and had all the parts I lacked. So after I finished the call with my brother, that is exactly what I did. Yesterday, someone else’s little red biplane arrived in my mailbox. Using the old pieces of my past and the new parts of my present, I built a brand new model for the future.

I am a little more complete because I chose to incorporate the good from yesterday and integrate in the good from today to make a new tomorrow.

I am still depressed, that is a medical condition and a psychological reality, but I am now seeing things in a whole new way, and my road to healing is a little more certain. Things are not so black as they used to be. I have found peace that I have lacked, and a weight is gone from my shoulders.

I can fly a little higher.

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I'm just a simple man, trying to make my way in the universe. I write about what interests me.

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