Saturday, October 10, 2015

Living With Depression

I'm trying my best to be "cheerful." And, though it takes some energy, I have been succeeding. Sort of....

This is the thing: I am doing "fine" on a certain level. It has been a busy and fun weekend. It's good to be involved with different activities and see people. Really, I enjoy it. I don't need to put on some great act of deception.

Still, this is coping. This is "getting along." Sometimes we do this to hide from ourselves the fact that we need help. That's not good. Often, however, we find ways to "get along" because this is the best we can do in a situation.

This is coping. It does not mean that Depression has gone away. It means we are living with it. 

How strange it is to be a human being. We can stay on the surface of our own psychological awareness. We can even choose to do this, and sometimes we have to in order to survive... in order to live.

Living with Depression.

When you see us, we may be "fine," but we are "walking on the surface" and the surface is an eggshell already full of cracks and always in danger of breaking under our feet. We have developed our survival skills, however, so that we have our eyes on the nearest secure spots and we have learned how to jump to them before the next crack sucks us down.

You don't see any of this.

Often we're not conscious of it ourselves, especially if we've gotten good at it from years of practice. We notice it only in the "in-between times" when the fatigue comes and we try to rest (or sleep) but we feel like ghosts in a world of ghosts. Everything we've been doing with so much exhausting effort shrinks and dissolves. All the words are just noise that fades.

We look at the present moment and our loved ones and the tasks of the day, and everything is evanescent, beyond our reach, lacking solidity. Or perhaps we are the ones who are fading? In my book I described it as "like watching a video of the place where I used to be alive."

Standing sharp, cutting us, however, are all the memories of the things we've screwed up. We fear that this is what defines us. But this is not the same thing as a temptation in the moral sphere. It is more like the overwhelming nature of physical pain. It doesn't present itself as an option of free choice, but as a suffering to be endured.

It is possible, in Depression, to know--objectively--that the distortion of perception and emotion do not represent reality. They are a suffering caused by a complex disease, exacerbated by factors that are beyond our control. It is a great benefit to know this. But it doesn't make Depression go away.

Depression is not a sin. It is not our fault. Let us be clear: Depression, in itself, does not belong to the category of ethics; or perhaps I should say it is essentially no more of an ethical problem than heart disease or kidney disease or Parkinson's.

It is a problem of suffering.

Suffering, of course, presents moral challenges. It is inevitably accompanied by various temptations to discouragement, self-pity, resentment, denial, envy, and despair.

Depression appears to provide a conducive environment to moral temptations to choose discouragement, to choose to give up. The tempter, as we know, takes advantage of available opportunities, as do the inclinations of our broken humanity. Our freedom, however diminished our responsibility may be, does not always do well in the midst of these storms. But freedom, especially through the mysterious working of grace, can choose well, or rise up through sorrow and try again. We can choose to live for truth, goodness, and beauty in reality, to trust in God, to move foward in our journey, even when we are suffering from Depression.

But we cannot cure Depression or make it go away through an act of free choice. Let me repeat that: We cannot cure Depression or make it go away through an act of free choice.

It is not a freely chosen condition, nor is it the consequence of evil choices. It is an affliction. It is an impairment that we have not chosen. That means that we can choose well, even in the darkness, even seemingly against the pain.

It is possible to endure this affliction of darkness and remember that we have value, that we matter. It is possible to grow with understanding and solidarity, to cope through medication and therapy, and even to find healing (or some measure of healing) and to thrive through a mysterious patience and an enlarged compassion.

There is hope. Never give up.


José Tomás said...

One of the most liberating moments in my life was when God made me understand that:

(1) Depression is a disease, a chronic one, like diabetes;

(2) Even in the midst of it, I can "detach" myself and become self-aware, and say to myself "I am feeling bad because I am depressed, just like the guy with diabetes without insuline";

(3) Just like any other ill person, this is a cross God gave me to carry, and

(4) Carry this cross is somewhat easy, following to the letter the tips given by Father Caussade in his "Abandonment to Divine Providence": just do your duty, if you can, since God does not require the impossible, and suffer patiently the crosses God sends. Just this.

God bless you, brother!

Amanda said...

Do you have any tips for how to pray when you're so severely depressed that you can't bear to be alone with yourself? I mean, when one can't bear to be around others, but must also keep one's mind distracted to keep from being overwhelmed by the dark feelings. It is like balancing on a log, having to keep running or I'll fall off into the watery depths. I can "pray" Liturgy of the Hours by reading them and having no idea what words I read, I can "pray" the Rosary by stumbling along the beads, losing my place, mind wandering constantly. I can't sit in silence with God. At least not for more than a brief moment.Can one continue the practice of mental prayer during this worst time?

Regina said...

Amanda, It's okay that your mind wanders when praying, mine does too. God loves your effort so very much. St. Francis de Sales said, "One single act done with aridity of spirit is worth more than many done with feelings of devotion."

I don't have any special tips for you other than to say that if it's too uncomfortable to sit in silence, then don't do it. God does not require you to torture yourself. Continue with the Divine Office, and other prayer books if you find them helpful, and the rosary. God knows your heart and your intention. God bless you and I'll keep you in my prayers.

Roseanna Hatke said...

Thank you, John. For those of us suffering from depression you so often say the things we can't express for ourselves. You did that again in this essay. It helps so much to know that the thoughts and feelings we have in our depression are shared by others....not just something we feel all by ourselves.