“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild wind can rage through your life leaving you much like the lyrics of a country song: without a wife, […]
I was so moved by this essay on faith and depression composed by an anonymous Beyond Blue reader. I hope you find as much hope in it as I did.
There is a dark smudge on my forehead. I am acutely aware of it. It feels kinda slimy. And people notice. This year, I’m not sure I want them to.
In the last three years, that has changed. Most psychiatrists would probably tell you that I’ve suffered from some form of clinical depression and anxiety for a very long time. They’re probably right. But it’s only in the last three or four years that the disorder has struck a blow so hard that I can’t even articulate my thoughts about faith. A glance at my journals will tell you that my spiritual burn-out began during a very difficult work experience. But what is happening now is something much, much deeper than that.
But what I’m experiencing is deeper than doubt. It’s a living death, terror, and sheer exhaustion rolled into one. “I’m tired…” I attempt to tell people, “so…tired.” “Of course you’re tired,” well meaning friends respond, “you’re in law school and you don’t get enough sleep.” But that’s not it, I want to scream…I’m tired of life. Living is exhausting for me. But I’ve stopped trying to explain. It requires too much energy. Energy I just don’t have.
So does thinking about God. Somewhere I lost my conception of what God is. I don’t doubt that God exists. I’ve always known God exists, as much as I know I exist. It’s just what is. I know Something is there. But in my current state of depression, I don’t have any connection to that Thing. All I can feel is numb. All I can hear is the terror raging in my head. It hasn’t always been this way. At various points in my depression; most of my life, I’ve been able to participate in my faith. Not now.
I know I’m sick (in theory). I know that the depression makes it harder for me to process thoughts. It’s physical. The days I spend prying myself out of bed, rushing to school even though I can barely stand remind me of that. The hours I spend trying to form a sentence on a page when my cognitions have slowed, remind me of that. And the times I cannot sit still through an entire class, because of the anxiety that rages through my body and mind remind me of that. If I was my own pastor, I’d tell myself that I was ill, that this illness was a sign of my brokenness, and my humanity, but that the love of God transcends that even when I can’t feel it. But I’m not my own pastor. And all I hear is the static of my own brain torturing me.
But I’m not going to find the love of God, not going to find faith, not going to find anything by avoidance. I’m a bit of a pluralist (or really, maybe I’m an outright Universalist). God, to me, can be found a lot of places. And when you can’t think of the notion of Divinity at all…the whole Jesus story is completely beyond my grasp. The story is nice and powerful, but the reality of it lacks when you’re not sure there’s anything out there anywhere. It lacks meaning when you just want to shut out the world and sleep.
Faith is not going to fix my depression. But I’m not going to find God under the covers either. Maybe I’ll find Her in yoga class. But I think I’m most likely to find Him in the traditions, the symbols, and the words I grew up around. I have to make space for grace. For now, I’m incapable of doing this with others…other than to sit in a church. And prayer, aside from a rote, repeated phrase is also impossible. But the rote, repeated phrase calms my anxious brain. The candles at the Thursday student services lull my soul. And today, as I listened to my friend deliver the Ash Wednesday homily, I felt for a moment, only a moment a glimmer of hope There was a break in the lethargy of my brain, a connection to the Something.