You Can Recover From Depression

I am 57 years old. I am a lawyer. And I struggle with depression.

I was diagnosed when I turned forty.  I didn’t know what was happening to me. But I knew something was wrong. I was crying quite a bit.  My sleep became disrupted. It became difficult to concentrate.  I felt no joy in my life.

Ultimately, my family doctor diagnosed me with major depression and provided me with the help I needed. I started going to therapy and was put on anti-depressants. This saved my life.

Since being diagnosed all those years ago, I have learned to live with depression as have many of the 20 million people who are living with this illness right now in this country.

Travels With George: Depression Takes a Backseat

A year ago, I started to volunteer at a Church on the East Side of Buffalo, the poorest and most segregated section of town rife with a high crime rate, violence, drug trafficking, and prostitution. And right in the middle of it all is St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy.

St. Luke’s was an abandoned Catholic Church twenty-five years ago that had become empty and useless after the Polish immigrants who built it in 1930 left for the suburbs.  Into this void cam Amy Betros, a big woman, with an even bigger smile and hug, who owned a restaurant where college students hung out.  Amy decided, moved by something deep inside her, to chuck it all and do something for the poorest of the poor.

So, she sold her restaurant and together with a guy named Norm Paolini, bought the broken-down church. It quickly became a place where people could go to sleep on the church’s floor to get out of the elements and get some hot food.  But just as important, that got some food for their souls. They got big servings of hope and seconds if they wished.

St. Luke’s has since grown into a huge community with an elementary school, a food and clothing shelter, and one of two “code blue” places where desperate street people can go to find warmth and a cot to sleep in the transformed for the emergency school cafeteria.

Dan’s Tips for Weaving Together A Recovery Plan to Heal Your Depression

What will make the pain of depression stop?

Sometimes the ache is dull, other times sharp. It can last a few hours, days, or weeks.

This is ground zero for depression sufferers. What can I do to feel better?

The answer is often elusive.  Many don’t know where to get help, let alone walk the path of healing. Recovery starts and sputters for others: they feel better on a med, then it stops working. Or, they start a bold new exercise regimen, only to see it fizzle.

What to do?

There is no one-size-fits-all cure for depression. That what makes it so exasperating.  It isn’t like having a bad cold where Nyquil will do the trick for most.  Rather, depression is an illness of the body, mind, and soul that doesn’t lend itself to simple fixes.  Because we’re all humans with bodies and brains, some things will generally work for everyone; exercise comes to mind.  But because we’re also unique, we need a tailored recovery plan to get and stay better.

We need a quilt of healing.

Depression and Suicide: A Catholic Perspective

As a psychiatrist, I had been aware, prior to his death, that Robin Williams struggled with a severe mood disorder – major depression and bipolar disorder, depending on the source of the reporting – along with related problems and drug dependence.

The vast majority of suicides are associated with some form of clinical depression, which in its more serious forms can be a sort of madness that drives people to despair – leading to a profound and painful sense of hopelessness and even delusional thinking about oneself, the world and the future.

I knew all of this, and yet this death still shocked and surprised me, as it shocked and surprised so many others. Williams seemed to be the consummate humorist, the funny man who would be just so much fun to be around. Unlike some comedians who trade only on irony and cutting humor, Williams appeared to us as a warm, big-hearted, endlessly fun, brilliantly quick, incredibly talented man. Though he was a celebrity, he was the kind of person that people felt like they knew – like the cousin, everyone just adores and hopes will show up at the family reunion.  Williams was the kind of guy that people wanted to be friends with, the kind of person that one wanted to invite to the party.

This is not the typical stereotype of mental illness, which why the typical stereotype must be relinquished: Quite simply, it is false.

Mental illness can afflict anyone, of any temperament and personality. In the wake of his death, the strange truth gradually began to sink in: In spite of outward appearances, Williams’ mind was afflicted by a devastating disorder that proved every bit as deadly as a heart attack or cancer. He suffered in ways that are difficult for most people to imagine.

Why couldn’t Williams see himself as other saw him – as a person of immense gifts and talents, a man who stood at the pinnacle of achievement in the world of comedy and entertainment?

Why couldn’t he see himself as God saw him – as a beloved child, a human soul of immense worth, a person for whom Christ died?

This is the tragedy of depression, which is so often misunderstood by those who have not suffered its effects.

Novelist William Styron – whose memoir Darkness Visible represents one of the best first-person attempts to describe the experience of depression – complains that the very word “depression” is a pale and inadequate term for such a terrible affliction.  It is a pedestrian noun that typically represents a dip in the road or an economic downtown. Styron prefers the older term “melancholia,” which conjures images of a thick, black fog that descends on the mind and saps the body of all vitality.

Indeed, the title of his book – Darkness Visible – comes from John Milton’s description of hell in Paradise Lost. We’re not talking about hitting a rough patch in life or the everyday blues that we all experience from time to time. We are talking about a serious, potentially fatal, disorder of mind and brain.

Fortunately, in most cases, depression is amenable to treatment. Because the illness is complex – involving biological, psychological, social, relational and, in some cases, behavioral and spiritual factors – the treatment likewise can be complex. Medications may have a very important role, but so do psychotherapy, behavioral approaches, social support and spiritual direction.

In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary, especially when an afflicted individual is in the throes of suicidal thinking or when one’s functioning is so impaired from the illness that he or she has difficulty getting out of bed or engaging in daily activities. For the severely depressed, even brushing one’s teeth can seem like an almost impossibly difficult chore.

This level of impairment is often puzzling to outsiders – to the spouse or parent who is trying to help the loved one. Unlike cancer or a broken bone, the illness here is hidden from sight. But the functional impairments can be every bit as severe.

I recall one patient, a married Catholic woman with several children and grandchildren, who had suffered from both life-threatening breast cancer and from severe depression. She once told me that, if given the choice, she would choose cancer over the depression, since the depression caused her far more intense suffering. Though she had been cured of cancer, she tragically died by suicide a few years after she stopped seeing me for treatment.

Depression is neither laziness nor weakness of will, nor a manifestation of a character defect. It needs to be distinguished from spiritual states, such as what St. Ignatius described as spiritual desolation and what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul.

Tragically, even with good efforts aimed at treatment, some cases of depression still lead to suicide – leaving devastated family members who struggle with loss, guilt, and confusion.

The Church teaches that suicide is a sin against love of God, love of oneself and love of neighbor.  On the other hand, the Church recognizes that an individual’s moral culpability for the act of suicide can be diminished by mental illness, as described in the Catechism: “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish or grave fear of hardship, suffering or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.”

The Catechism goes on to say: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”

Robin Williams’ death – like the death of so many others by suicide who have suffered from severe mental illness – issued from an unsound mind afflicted by a devastating disorder. Depression affects not just a person’s moods and emotions; it also constricts a person’s thinking – often to the point where the person feels entirely trapped and cannot see any way out of his mental suffering. Depression can destroy a person’s capacity to reason clearly; it can severely impair his sound judgment, such that a person suffering in this way is liable to do things, which, when not depressed, he would never consider. Our Lord’s ministry was a ministry of healing, in imitation of Christ, we are called to be healers as well. Those who suffer from mental-health problems should not bear this cross alone. As Christians, we need to encounter them, to understand them and to bear their burdens with them.

We should begin with the premise that science and religion, reason and faith are in harmony. Our task is to integrate insights from all these sources – medicine, psychology, the Bible, and theology – in order to understand mental illness and to help others to recover from it. In cases where recovery proves difficult or impossible, we pray for the departed and never abandon those who still struggle.

Aaron Kheriaty, M.D., is associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine. He is the co-author with Msgr. John Cihak of The Catholic Guide to Depression.

Depression and Faith: An Interview with Rabbi Mark Gellman

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Today’s guest on our show is Rabbi Mark Gellman.

Rabbi Gellman is the Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Beth Torah in Melville, New York where he has served since 1981.  He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Northwestern University in 1981 where he also completed doctoral work in the History and Literature of Religions specializing in Buddhism and Judaism. He is the recipient of many honorary degrees.

Rabbi Gellman writes a weekly column, “The Spiritual State,” for Newsweek magazine and the syndicated column,“The God Squad,” read by readers around the world.

Welcome to our show Rabbi Gellman.

Dan: 

Rabbi, during your time that you’ve been a Rabbi, and I understand that’s been decades now, have you counseled people with depression?

Rabbi Gellman:

Yes, I have.  Although my general orientation, and I hope it’s the orientation of most clergy, is to refer people to professional psychiatrist or psychologists who specialize in this. It’s not something that clergy should enter, in general, because they’re not trained for it.

Dan:    

Once you’ve referred those people and they are treating with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or both, do the clergy have some role in comforting the people with spiritual support with this kind of condition?

Rabbi Gellman:

Yes, I think we serve two roles.

One is what I would call “psychiatric first responders.”

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We’re the ones who first alert people to the fact that they are depressed and that they need some kind of professional treatment in order to get back to some level of functioning life. The second purpose which we serve as clergy, if we are doing our jobs well, and our calling well is to provide to the community a message of hope. The antidote to depression, of course, is hope. And in a communal sense, Rabbis can provide that hope. In fact, it is my view that the search for hope that is the primary motivator for people to affiliate with religious denominations and to seek personally their own way to God.  It is the search for hope, ultimately.

Dan:    

Many people who I speak to around the country, and myself included, I am a practicing Catholic, and so often in the throes of depression, or maybe even at the beginning, I would often ask God, “Why me?” I think that so many people, and maybe it’s true for any kind of suffering that afflicts people, ask that seminal question.  In your faith, and in your experiences, how do you respond to that?

Rabbi Gellman:

Well, I have a rather unconventional view of many things. And I have an unconventional view of that question. First of all, I don’t think it’s a common question. People say it is, but I don’t believe it. I’ve never heard it. Most people are not really consumed by the question of why this has happened to them.

There’s two reasons for that. First, they can think of a lot of reasons it’s happened to them. So, they know the reasons it’s happened to them. Second, the question, “why me,” presumes a kind of spiritual and ethical arrogance that most people are mature enough not to have.  By that, I mean the question, “Why me?” if you sort of unpack it a little, means, “I am so righteous, I am so good, I’ve done so much for the world, and for my family, and for my community, that my virtue is so enormous, that it should protect me against all evil.

Now, no one really believes that.

No one believes, in their right mind, in the list of the greatest human beings that have ever lived, Gandhi and Mother Teresa, that they should be No. 3.  I honestly don’t think people ask the question, “Why me?”

My approach has always been on two levels. One on a level of personal counseling to try to get people to find some resources to find some reasons to hope and I have some techniques that are very effective in that way.

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Second, in my teaching, to explain to people that there are two reasons why bad things happen to them.  The first is that they caused them to happen. People who have lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking really have no right to say, “Why me?” They did it to themselves. People who have neglected their physical fitness and have developed different pathologies that come from obesity or inactivity have done it to themselves.  So, much of what happens to us, that is evil, is self-produced.

The second reason why bad things happen is because of what Aristotle called, “natural evil”. That is just the way the world works. A Rabbi said a phrase, “Olam K’minhago nohgge,” which means the world goes according to its own order. It means if you’re walking along the street and a brick falls from a scaffolding and you’re underneath, it’s bad luck on you. But, that’s just the way the world works. If you happen to be in a place where a tornado hits, or a hurricane hits, it’s the way the world works and this natural order of the world is not evil.  It’s just the natural working of the laws of the world. A Tsunami is not evil. If a wave crashes over an uninhabited island it’s not evil. It’s only if people are there. Well, people choose to be there.  The point is there are things we do to ourselves and there are things that happen to us because the world is the way it is.

Dan:

With respect to “the way the world is, would that include our bodies, our brains, and our genetics? There are now studies which show that many, many people, especially with the more severe forms of depression, have a strong genetic vulnerability to depression. Or, other people grow up in neglectful homes where they are neglected or physically abused.  Those people have high rates of adult-onset depression.  Can you follow-up on this?

Rabbi Gellman:

Sure, I mean, sometimes you draw some bad cards. You draw environmental bad cards, you grow up in an abusive, deprived upbringing, and, in some cases, you draw a bad genetic card. But, I would say to both those things that there are ways that people overcome those inheritances.

For example, there are people who grow up in very, very difficult circumstances.  And for some reason, they are disciplined and hopeful, and they are able to move out into better circumstances for the rest of their life.   Other people surrender to the difficulties of their environment.  How do you distinguish between one and the other? Why is someone able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and someone else isn’t from the same deprived neighborhood? So, something else is at work here.

As far as the genetic inheritance, it may be true, it probably, certainly is true, studies in schizophrenia certainly seem to indicate it is true, that there’s a strong genetic component to depression.  However, there’s a problem with focusing on that medical fact and the problem is that it gives people an excuse to wallow in their depression, to surrender to their depression.  Hey, look, I’ve known people who are obese, who say, “Look, I can’t lose weight because I’m genetically fat.”

You know, that’s ridiculous.

You may have a genetic predilection to obesity, you my have a genetic predilection to depression, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fight it.  And if you believe that this was your inheritance, it’s just another reason to surrender. And depression requires vigilance, and it requires very strong emotional dedication to becoming well again.

Dan:

Can you give us some insights into how the Jewish faith, the Jewish religion, views depression, and, specifically, do you give examples from the Old Testament that you believe are insightful into how people can see their depression and overcome their depression?  You minister and you preach. Can you give us a little insight on that?

Rabbi Gellman:

The first is a personal understanding. I think it comes out of scripture, but not directly.

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It’s a technique that I developed which I call, “spiritual balancing.” The history of this is that my wife and I, Betty, were living in Evanston near Northwestern University. We were remodeling an old house and the fellow that was helping us do some spakling was carrying two big containers of this spakle up the stairs and I said to him, “Why don’t you just carry one bucket up? Why carry two at once?” And he said, “Well, if I carry one it throws me off and it hurts my back.  If I carry two, it keeps me in balance and I can carry twice as much.”

For some reason, it was an epiphany for me.  It was a life-changing moment, just watching this guy carry spakle up the stairs. What I realized at that moment, and developed it as a counseling technique, and have spoken to psychiatric associations about it, is this technique of spiritual balancing.

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So it works this way. Someone comes to me and they’re depressed, they’re in grief, they’re in a bad place.  So I say, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do five minutes of you telling me, in as much excruciating detail as you can, why your life is miserable. Five minutes.

And then, for the next five minutes, I want you to tell me why your life is wonderful. What are the wonderful things in your life. But it has to be for the same amount of time.

I do this often with people in grief.  “Give me five minutes of how sad you are, and how broken you are that you’re loved one died and how unfair it is and how awful it is, and how it’s breaking you, and then five minutes what you loved about the person.  And what was great about the person.”

What I discovered quickly, using this technique, is that in the end, people felt much better, at the end of the counseling session. The reason they felt better was not that anything had changed, but that they had balanced the miserable, depressive thinking that they had, that had imbedded itself in their brain because of their trauma, with positive, endorphin producing, hopeful thoughts that were also in their brain, but they weren’t accessing them because they weren’t thinking about it.  They were obsessed with the loss.  That’s the purpose of the Psalms, of many different passages in the Bible which is to get you at the moment you are most depressed to thing about the goodness that is still in your life and to overcome that natural tendency to focus on your burdens by turning in a conscious way to a meditation on your blessings.

Then you will discover when you do this that there is not a single day in which you wake up where your blessings do not exceed your burdens – not one single day.

 

Hope Counts: Rising Up from Depression

Depression corrodes our sense of hope.

Elizabeth Wurtzel, in her her best-selling book Prozac Nation, wrote:

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”  

We can’t imagine a future without depression. When we’re in the thick of its slimy grasp, our deadened and bleak state seems to go on and on and on. Days become more about survival and meeting our most basic obligations. And nothing more because we don’t have anything left to give. Our life becomes smaller. We’re treading water because there doesn’t seem an end in sight. We’re hit by the stun gun of depression.

Our most urgent hope is . . . the absence of depression.

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But the absence of pain isn’t the presence of joy and all that makes life worth living. As Richard O’Connor, Ph.D. wrote in his book Undoing Depression:

“We confuse depression, sadness, and grief.  However, the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality – the ability to experience the full range of emotions, including happiness, excitement, sadness, and grief.  It’s not sadness or grief, it’s an illness.”

Amanda Knapp writes eloquently of her own experience:

“Depression, for me, is a miles deep crater that I believe I will never crawl out of.  It’s disillusionment born of an unfulfilled longing for peace.  It’s fear that hope will raise me up just to drop me even further down.  It’s a cocoon of despair snuggled all around me doing its best to keep me from breaking when the inevitable fall comes. The irony in all of that is that it precludes me from living and dreaming and hoping and praying. But I hold on to it so strongly at times, as if my life depends on it.  Because sometimes it feels like it does. But I sit here today, decently removed from the worst of those moments of despair, and I feel myself longing for hope.”

It’s critical that we deliberately nurture a hope better than just relief from our melancholy. We need to rise up out of the dust of our suffering. It’s not enough to exist. Our existence must matter. Living a life with meaning and purpose give us hope because it brings out the best in us – even with depression. And it’s a heroic journey.

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I once wrote:

“In my view, folks with depression are not so much hapless, as they are heroes.What’s a hero after all? Someone who has a great challenge to confront? Check. Someone who must confront great adversity? Check. Someone who must get up every day and do battle with a formidable foe? Check. You see, for those of you who are struggling with depression right now, YOU ARE THAT PERSON. You’re the person who has to get up every day and cope with your depression. Others can help and support you, but it’s ultimately your walk to walk. And what a courageous walk it is; every single step of it.

Some of the best people that I’ve been privileged to know struggle with depression. While they don’t have shiny medals pinned on their lapels, there is an unmistakable strength in them – even if they don’t see it. I know it’s real because I see and feel it – just like when I am in a grove of giant and majestic pines during a walk in the forest.”

Dr. Anthony Scioli, author of Hope in the Age of Anxiety, writes that one of the things needed to build up our hope muscles is faith and a spiritual foundation (whether it be in God, nature or a higher power) to experience a more open attitude for developing faith in others as well as the universe.

Pope John Paul II once said,

“Do not abandon yourself to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our hope.”

So, nourish hope in your heart. Surround yourself with hopeful people, places and books.

And resolve to be hopeful.

Copyright, 2016 by Daniel T. Lukasik

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Breaststroke to Black Float: Dealing with Depression

One description of depression is that it is like the shapeless sagging of a rubber band that has been kept tight and taunt for too long. When feelings have been strong, stressed, unprocessed, or held captive over a period of time, we just stop feeling altogether. Persons and events no longer have the power to enliven us; we operate on a low level cruise control. Usually we keep functioning, but there is no positive or creative affect toward persons and things, and even less toward ourselves. We basically stop living our only life.

Many lawyers operate at this level, without even knowing that it is a kind of death. They have learned to take it as normative and unchangeable. Life is no longer enjoyable, and almost everything becomes another excuse to be upset, angry, aggressive, afraid or defensive. We all know many people who live at this level.

But I would also like to describe another common source of depression that is less often addressed: basic meaninglessness. Religion, philosophy, and culture are supposed to address that foundational need. But when religion or spirituality is largely in the head, mostly fear based, or merely moralistic, there is a huge vacuum in most people. The soul and the spirit are not fed at this level. I am afraid that it is the most common form of religion we now have in the West. Such people, often very smart, have no beginning, middle or end to their life story, unless they totally create it for themselves like some kind of Nietzschean “ubermensch”. This is inherently too big a task for one autonomous individual.

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The “Is that all there is?” feeling overcomes most people in our culture somewhere in their mid to late forties, if they are at all typical. If you are riding a fast track of upward mobility, external success, and lots of control, you might be able to put it off for another decade. But it is hardly worth it, because then the patterns of avoidance, depression, splitting off, a basic non-intimacy with one’s deepest life, are so entrenched, that it is very hard to emotionally and intellectually change without a lot of grace – – and a lot of “grit your teeth” and try to bear it. We are largely unteachable at that point.

The grace, of course, will always be available, but often we have lost the recognition of it, the desire for it, the trust in it, and the ability to cooperate with it. We do not even know there is such a thing as grace (Acts 19:3), and it is indeed an “it” instead of a Presence, a power and a possibility. In fact, for an ego that has been in overdrive for forty years, the reception of grace will actually feel like a defeat, a humiliation, and a failure. If “I” have been doing it all along, any “we” experience of union and cooperation with Another will actually feel like a loss of control and a loss of self-importance. It will be like switching from an eager breast stroke to a back float, and still having to assume that I can still get there. That would be hard for any successful lawyer, and actually for any of us.

At this point, one’s overdeveloped faculties (rational mind, willpower and Yankee can do!) will have to give way to those that were left underdeveloped for the sake of what we call in men’s work “building our tower”. What do I mean by those “underdeveloped faculties”? Well, first of all, I should state that they are not just underdeveloped; they are actively rejected and denied as values at all. I think that is why religion tended to speak at this process as “conversion”. Because if it is authentic, it is a rather complete reversal (“convertere” in Latin) of previously held virtues and values. Probably also why authentic religious conversion is rather rare.

Okay, here goes. This is what changes. Things like admitted powerlessness begin to be admired over claims to power, unknowing over knowing, living without resolution over demanding closure, giving instead of taking, waiting instead of performing, listening instead of talking, letting go instead of collecting and hoarding, empathy with instead of domination over. The more traditional words that were used for these values were three: “Faith”, “hope”, and “charity”. What St. Paul says, “are the only things that last” (1 Corinthians 13:13). I am sure he is right. But, mind you, these are virtues that are only learned by many trials and many errors by the second half of life, at best. In the first half, they actually do not make sense. The trouble is that many lawyers in our secular world are not moving to the second half of life. They are becoming elderly but they are not elders.

We all know that one part of each of these equations had to be developed to be lawyers at all. You would not have built any kind of tower unless you were powerful in some sense, had your facts, moved towards closure, and were normally much better at talking than listening. You lived in one way, but you died in another. Eventually that unintended death catches up with you. There is a huge hole in the soul of manglers and it gnaws and longs to be filled. It is another form of depression, but potentially a life changing one. Please trust me when I say that this hole has immense energy and possibility hidden within it. Maybe it is even the necessary vacuum to hold a new Infilling.

At first you will not know where to turn, especially if you have a good mind, and you are used to explaining everything and determining your own direction. You have no practice at this different set of virtues. To be honest, only God can lead at this point. You had best give up, because all of your previous tools are useless and even counter- productive. This is exactly why Bill Wilson made the first necessary step of Alcoholics Anonymous the absolute admission of “powerlessness”. This is about as counter intuitive as you can get, or even seemingly non-rational (not irrational!).

So what am I proposing that you do? Really, not that much. I am first of all trusting in your ability to hear some of what I just tried to say. If you have persisted in reading this far, you are hearing me at some non-resistant level. We call this the “contemplative mind”, where you turn off the need to be right or wrong, agree or disagree, and just let something work on you at whatever level of truth there is. (Everything Belongs, Crossroad Press, 1999). The Eastern religions would call it non-dual thinking.

Secondly, I would encourage you not to try too hard, no self-assertion because that will only deepen your addiction to your own way of doing life. You will try to “convert” yourself by yourself, which is actually a oxymoron. If you try to be heroic and superior, you will only get more of the same, but now disguised with a religious or moral sugarcoating. Please trust me on this one, all great spirituality is about letting go. YOU cannot do it. IT is done unto you.” (Luke 1:38 and 28:43). You are always the allowing. Someone else is winning at this point, and you are getting your first lesson in creative losing.

Thirdly, I would like you to forgive yourself for your life’s mistakes. God never leads by guilt or by shaming people. Take that as an absolute. God always leads the soul by loving it at ever deeper levels, and if you want to be led, you absolutely must allow such unearned love. Like all grace, it will feel like losing, not gaining, surrendering not taking, trusting not achieving, allowing instead of “making the case.” Like all authentic conversion it will feel like dying (See John 12:24 or Old Adams’ Return, Crossroad, 2005), but it will really be living. Fully, for the first time. God does not love you if you change; God loves you so that you can change. God is not the rewarder and the punisher. God is the energy itself; more of a verb than a noun, according to the great mystics.

This is one case you are not going to be able to win. In fact, I am convinced that the Gospel of Jesus really is the hope of the world precisely because it totally levels the human playing field. Now we win by losing, and if we are honest, we all have lost, failed, and been untrue at some levels (Romans 5:12). That humiliating recognition is the hole in the soul that allows God to get in – – and ourselves to get out – – of ourselves. Don’t miss such an entrance or exit. It is the Big One.

Fr. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest in New Mexico Province and author of several books including Hope Against Darkness and From Wild Men to Wise Men: Reflections on Male Spirituality. He is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

 

 

 

 

 

God and Depression

“Does God care about me?”

“Why do I suffer so, Jesus?”

“Please help me, God”

“Where are you? Do you even exist?”

People suffering from depression ask these questions in the silence of their hearts. They cry out to God just as others have for millennia when faced with great sorrow:

“My tears have been my food day and night.” Psalm 42:3.

Beyond therapeutic and psychopharmacological bromides, we all seek loving comfort. Sometimes we get it from others – – sometimes we don’t.

We’ve reached our limit to cope, to keep it all together. We’re worn out by the battle.

We’re searching for answers: “Why me?”we ask. Even when we get answers (e.g. it’s “biochemical” or too much negative thinking) from others, the pain may not abate. And so we ask more existential questions about the nature of our suffering.

Barbara Crafton, an Episcopalian Minister and depression sufferer, writes in her book, When Jesus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet, about this mystery:

“In several ways, above and beyond the genetics, family upbringing and “slings and arrows” of our existence that has brought us to this point in our lives, there is a real mystery to suffering. Why do some people suffer tremendously while others not so much? Why do some people with a certain makeup come down with depression while someone with a similar history do not? It’s a mystery. Often, while people who get treatment and help come to find out some of the reasons that they’re depressed, it often isn’t enough. The answers don’t always heal us.”

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Abraham Lincoln, who struggled with depression his entire life, was quoted in the book Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled his Greatness:

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction     that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

Much like Lincoln, we can feel powerless to stop our depression. It is BIG and we are small. Anything other than the crushing experience of depression feels unreal. We’re not in the normal stream of life that everyone else is swimming in: we’re drowning.

I had never encountered any pain greater than depression. Other types of pain I could deal with and recover from: a burst appendix in college and blown out ligaments in my knee years ago. But depression? There wasn’t any surgery I could have, no caste that could be fitted. I felt like I was dying. In the book Unholy Ghosts: Writers on Depression, writer Susanna Kaysen captures this experience:

“The worst thing about depression – the thing that makes people phobic about it – is that it’s a foretaste of death. It’s a trip to the country of nothingness. Reality loses its substance and becomes ghostly, transparent, unbearable. This perception of what’s outside affects the perception of the self, which explains why depressed people feel they aren’t ‘there.’”

So in the face of so much pain, we look for power outside of ourselves. We place our hope in Someone bigger than our depression – – God.

It’s tough to pray when we’re depressed

Praying when in the throes of depression is a challenge. We might not be able to muster the energy, feel like it isn’t making a dent in our depression; or, worse yet, our faith falters and we stop believing.

We grow despondent.

We give up hope.

We give up on God.

We want salve on our wounds, but depression just keeps throwing salt in them. We yearn so badly for God’s direction (“Show me the way out of this darkness”), but it always doesn’t come.

Barbara Crafton writes:

“It makes every bit of sense for a person to whom faith is a matter of importance – even one who doesn’t think that all human sorrow can be magically prayed out the window – to hope that it will somehow illuminate the darkness of depression. We understand that nobody ever promised us a rose garden, but could we perhaps have a little light?”

Depression is a terrible liar

In a sense, depression is a temptation. It calls us. It whispers in our ear that all is lost and that we’ll never find our way back home. It’s a terrible liar, really.  It spins the yarn that we’re worthless and there’s no point in living.  And these messages repeat themselves over and over again in our minds and souls.  And they all seem so true and unchangeable.

John Piper wrote in When Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God – And Joy:

“…We should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

Who do You say I am?

One of the most powerful scenes in the Bible is when Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Who do you say I am?”

I like to imagine Jesus standing across from me. He’s looking directly into my eyes. I reach out to Him. and say, “Lord, who do You say I am?” It clearly isn’t what my depression judges me to be. Jesus is always affirming, always loving, always telling us just how precious we are. THAT is the voice we need to listen to and embrace.

A Light in the Darkness

Mother Teresa once wrote:

“If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness,’” After her death, Many suggest that she suffered from clinical depression and long periods where she sought to understand God’s absence in the face of so much inner pain.

motherteresa

Therese Borchard writes:

“I spent a week with Mother Teresa and her Sisters the winter of 1994. I stood beside her for about two hours as we distributed Christmas gifts to orphaned children. I sensed sadness in her. But her light overshadowed it. Unlike a person wrapped in severe depression, wearing the expression of despair, she exuded light and hope. When she prayed, her deep love for God was visible, even contagious.

This saint of darkness has much to teach me about how to live with inner anguish.

First of all, I should stop referring to my depression and anxiety as the “Black Hole,” (singular and capitalized), and call it, as Mother Teresa described her difficult places, the “dark holes.” Because the darkness is never black, or without any light at all. Her legacy is proof that hope and faith and love prevail, even in the dark night.”

A few years ago, I composed this prayer.

Dear God,
I am on my knees, because I don’t have the strength to stand up.
My strength is gone. I can’t deal with my depression by myself any longer.
I am lonely.
I call on You.
I have faith that Your strength is bigger than my depression,
that Your mercy and healing white light will show me the path home.
I am not alone.
You’re rod and staff comfort me as I walk through the valley of the shadow of depression
and there is nothing I shall fear.

Amen

So don’t lose hope. Don’t lose God. He’s working somewhere in the pain to heal you.

As Pope John Paul, II wrote:

“Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

By Daniel T. Lukasik, Copyright 2015

 

 

 

 

Seeds of Hope

Reverand, Susan Gregg-Schroeder writes, “I now know that depression affects all aspects of life, including our spiritual well-being.  It strikes at our very soul, making us feel cut off from ourselves, from others, and from our understanding of God.”  Read the Blog

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