Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Sudden Flash of Light

For the past two months, possibly more, I've been struggling with a resurgence of clinical depression. Calling it "clinical" makes it sound more 'official', doesn't it? Part of that is to ameliorate the effect of breaking taboos around talking about mental health. Particularly for a person seeking to be a pastor. Everyone knows that pastors never experience depression, right? Because they are...I don't know...special in some way.

I've made opportunities to contend with this problem in my life, and I've also been offered a number of opportunities in my CPE program. I've also started on medication a few weeks ago. The reason for this was that I saw, and got a lot of feedback from other people around me, that my depression was having a lot of impact on the quality of my work and of my life.

Its been really interesting working with the inpatient and outpatient behavioral health groups at the hospital during this ongoing struggle in my own life and heart/mind. The obvious questions come up, like why am I in the position I'm in while they are labeled "patient" and in many cases they are in the hospital by court mandate.

What I've noticed in the past couple of days is that I'm feeling a bit better.

If you haven't experienced depression, I've found it hard to explain it so that I feel like its understood. It might just be one of those things. It feels like grief sometimes, except you're not grieving anything specific. But it has that crushing sensation in the chest, the sinking feeling in the stomach, the lack of energy and motivation, morbid thinking, flashes of anger - the things I associate with grief. Its also very individual. I don't want to out anyone, but I know a number of people who also struggle with depression, and we're all unique snowflakes as it were.

I've taken it as a sort of spiritual discipline, in the category of becoming more genuine and honest and direct, and in also being first in putting my neck out there when I feel strongly about something. I've been talking to my family (even the ones I don't like, or don't know that well) and friends and coworkers about what's going on with me. It has led me to reflect a lot about honesty, and I had a couple of things to share:

The experience this time, compared to the last time years ago when I went on meds for depression, has been more positive in every way - and you can perhaps imagine the irony there. I've found that either people are pretty accepting of what's going on with me because they care about me, or they aren't supportive, and that reveals to me how much they care. I have found people around me to be supportive in ways I hadn't even thought of.

I have found that this kind of sometimes-radical-seeming honesty has changed me. Its exciting and strange to find that I'm changing something about myself. I have consistently gotten feedback that I have never been more present and engaged with my colleagues and I have noticed that my interactions with patients and staff have suddenly changed in quality. I've said things I'd have hesitated to say in the past, and I trust my instincts more than I have.

Really, I trust myself more. Perhaps this is becomes I am working hard to be more honest, and an honest person is more trustworthy.

There's a lot here that is far beyond the scope of this blog post. But in feeling better, I feel like I have a little energy to do things beyond barely getting through day after day, which is how I've felt for a while now. And I suppose that this post counts as part of my spiritual practice of honesty.

What I've experienced, in theological terms, is grace. Not the sometimes-contrived grace of reading a prayer of confession from a bulletin and receiving a pre-prepared assurance of pardon, or the self-absorbed grace of silently confessing and pretending that is all that is needed. I've been forced by this practice to own up to things I realized I was doing that were damaging, and I examine my life a little differently now.

I've connected this with my love of Good Friday. Without Good Friday, the God of Easter has nothing to say to me. I have come to know God most fully through God's wounds, and my experiments in demonstrating this in my own life, by being more open about my wounds, has been like a sudden flash of light. By his stripes we are healed. Now I have a much better sense of what this means in my own life.

If this is what I was meant to learn here, then amen. Keep it coming.

But I don't think I'll drop the meds just yet.


Steve Schuler said...

I have been taking Paxil (generic name Paroxetine) for about 8 years after experiencing recurring bouts of depression for most of my teenage and adult life. About 20 years ago I experienced a pretty severe depressive episode triggered by the dissolution of a romantic relationship. At that time I tried Prozac, which for me resulted in a nightmarish experience brought on by the wrong drug being in the wrong body, which I did not want to ever repeat. About 8 years ago I had reached a point of what could fairly be called desperation which opened me, out of necessity, to try another drug. Fortunately I was offered a prescription for Paxil and it works for me. I still have my struggles in life and it is not a "happy pill" that removes all shadow of doubt or the discomfort inherent in living. I still have brighter and darker days, but consider myself very fortunate to have this "wonder drug" available to me. Although I do not have medical insurance (or a job at present) this drug is available at Walmart for $8.00/month as compared to $120.00/month at the pharmacy I used to get it from when I still had insurance. Being open about our experiences in life, including things like depression, will hopefully help others make their way through life a little bit easier.

Aric Clark said...

It's been said of me, before, that I am not in touch with my emotions. Which is ironic, because I am one of very few guys I know who openly cries at the theatre, or to music, or just whenever. Not that this is a badge or anything, but I've usually thought of myself as a pretty emotional person - at the same time it is true that I don't understand my emotions very well. I'm often at a loss to explain why I feel any particular thing (which infuriates Stacia).

I guess the point of my ramble is that I find it even more difficult to understand other people's emotions. Perhaps it shows the depth of my naivete that I even think of this in terms of emotions. It aggravates me because I want to understand. Desperately. And I accept that your experience is your experience and we're all unique and all of that, but in a way that just reinforces how vast the gap is and how difficult empathy is. It reminds me that no matter how passionately I feel I love someone (and this applies to many people, but in this case I'm talking about you, Doug) in a fundamental way they are alone in their journey and there is little I can do about that.

But I don't want to be a downer on what was really a very uplifting post.