Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Depression Is Not Always "Sadness"

Anybody who knows me well enough would not be surprised to learn that I'm struggling with a bit of depression in these recent weeks. It's enough to note that September has come again with its daylight and weather changes and its new routines (which are especially challenging this year). Various circumstances are piling up, making me defensive, withdrawn, and a bit more reclusive.

And there's more self-doubt. Always self-doubt, now growing in new directions as I get older and see so much of my life behind me.

What a waste it all seems to have been.

For so many years I prepared and prepared for... what? I don't really know what. I have all this knowledge and professional skill, as well as lots of experience and the capacity to express myself. It just doesn't seem worth all that much. All the time burned away by vanity. I never expected to be overtaken so soon in life by weakness of health and the passage of time.

How did I get broken? I wanted to work with young people, students, to listen to them and mentor them, to be a teacher. Now my son is at the college that I helped to build -- the place I loved so hard that it really almost killed me -- and I feel more disconnected and confused than ever. It's like, "Why am I not there?"

I'm not saying I want to be there now. I don't know (although I have so much to offer, but then again, maybe I'm not able to give in that way any longer).

So where am I? Here mostly at home, with my wife and children, and helping on the edges of my wife's work and some other projects. I am writing often, but even a part time regular commitment to my column in Magnificat stretches me. Everything is intense; everything requires a personal preparation and an entire engagement, followed by exhaustion and a slow recovery.

People my age are doing all sorts of things! I can only do a few things, and I barely have a grip on them. And then I have these "waves" of moderate depression that I have to ride out. Not exactly a confidence booster for when I do take something on.

Depression is not always about "sadness." Sometimes it feels like you're just fading into invisibility, like you're losing your substance, your energies, your spark, your connection. You might be able to drive yourself by willpower, but then you end up frustrated with so many obstacles and you get angry. You lash out at petty things, or you make yourself rigid or stoic or resigned.

So what does one do? One suffers. It helps ward off discouragement to remember that suffering has meaning, and to draw close to the sources that nurture that memory.

Our suffering is, I believe, more important in the shaping of our destiny than any of our accomplishments or any of the success of our plans.

Still, while we live we must work. I don't think I can really push myself anymore, but I do hope to be drawn by Love, and to be patient with its small steps and its silence.


Anonymous said...

Sending prayers John but I have to say i am not sure my prayers have any value--My husband suffers as you do --lyme is a monster and illness is such a deceptive suffocating "thing"--I will tell you what you already know-you are not alone and many love you...sometimes to sit back and listen to peaceful music helps--we turn to that alot--husband is Cole ON AN ANGEL's WING--PEACE

Jeannie Ewing said...

Hi John, I have been reading your writing in the Magnificat for years and recently read your book. I now follow your blog and what you post on social media. Much of what you write - nearly all of it - resonates very personally with me. In fact, I would like to talk to you about something that may seem odd to you but that the Holy Spirit has had on my heart for a while. Maybe that is where God is nudging you next?

On another note, I am only 34, and my health has steadily declined since I've become a full time caregiver for two girls with special needs. Their needs are so intense that we have doctor's or therapy appointments nearly every day. My youngest daughter, Sarah, was born with a rare genetic condition that requires numerous surgeries over the course of her lifetime. She is only two and has already had five major surgeries with another one scheduled in six weeks.

So your book and your writings very much shed light on the darkness in my own health journey. Most days, I feel so frail and wonder how I could have a body that feels 85 when I am only 34. I have multiple diagnoses but suspect autoimmunity that has not yet been confirmed. And I am weary from the numerous lab and diagnostic tests that only offer small clues as to what is going on with my brain fog, fatigue, loss of coordination, etc.

If you feel compelled, my email is jeannie.ewing07@gmail, and I can tell you about my idea that the Holy Spirit placed on my heart a while ago to talk to you about.

Christian LeBlanc said...

Wow- you sound just like me.

Anonymous said...


You give a very honest account, and I can relate to it. In fact, most of my relationships in life have been ruined by similar emotional challenges. The advice of so many people I knew stung me like a bitter herb for years:

Take an antidepressant, they said.

Well, I had done that for ten years through my twenties! The whole fiasco ended with my being put on a low dosage of Abilify (an antipsychotic), which made me gain 70 lbs, shuffle around, dumb, and suicidal. I got so bad that I just stopped taking it, and my life began to return to me. I felt betrayed by western medicine, the doctors I had trusted at the clinic, academe, and the 18 years of therapy that had me a jobless, homeless, and a suicidal alcoholic. Having given it a couple tries this time around, I'm taking an atypical SSRI named Paxil at only 10mg, and it really is wonderful.

Why is it wonderful? It's not the drug. It's who labored gently through my friends, Jesuit priests at St. Mary's, my own prayer and research, and the musings of my conscience. Oh, he even worked through my psychiatrist. Who was this? Our Lord.

Active parish life, improved diet, daily exercise, reduced commitments, healthy prayer life, communication with friends, volunteering, yoga, and almost three years of continuous sobriety were not enough. I tried St. John's Wort, which was gentle and helped a lot. But the Paxil is really doing the job, finally. I didn't even understand how depressed I really was.

I finally decided that if I'm really surrendering to Christ, then I would be able to try all the options he provides me and that his servants assure me are safe and okay. So I did. I'm glad I did. Even though it's temporary, the drugs can help us recover and meet some short term goals that just stall out while we were in our malaise.

Maybe it could help you, with similar steps. It's definitely worth praying about. I hope this helps. Thank you for sharing with us.

Peace and love of Christ,

TOm C.