It’s easier to talk about depression and acedia than it is to live with either; and it’s a whole lot easier to talk about both than to free oneself from either. At the heart of dealing with acedia is to know it and to name it and to admit it. Kathleen Norris’s Acedia & Me: Marriage, Monks and the Writer’s Life opens her heart to us as she reveals her struggles. Chp 2, called “Tedium,” deals with acedia in her teenage years.
Question: For those who suffer from acedia, or depression, how much does the grace of repetition anchor your days or point the way out of acedia or depression?
In high school, with life and her future before her, she writes: “The bracing thought of adulthood as opportunity, as terra incognita that I might be glad to explore, was swept away by a burgeoning sense of helplessness, self-pity, and terror” (8). She avoided the normal and wanted to live outside the routine tediums of life. She learned to despise repetition while her mother was pushing upon her the meaningfulness of daily routines — like making her bed. But she had to learn: “Showering, shampooing, brushing the teeth, taking a multi-vitamin, going for a daily walk, as unremarkable as they seem, are acts of self-respect” (14).
She relates how she can escape into mindless reading: “My days are not lived so much as wasted in compulsive reading” (16). So she concludes: “It amazes me how quickly acedia can deaden what has long been a pleasure for me …If my torpor is left unchecked, I lose the ability to savor not only reading, but life itself” (16).
Something that helps Kathleen Norris: “I need help to learn to see again, and to reclaim my life through ordinary acts: washing my hair, as well as the dishes in the sink, and walking out of doors to enjoy the breeze on my neck” (17).
Which leads her to the good repetitions of the monastic life. “It took me years to discover,” she admits, “in the curious history of acedia a key to understanding myself and my work as a writer” (19).