Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Dancing with Depression

I taste the sweetness of sacramental grace every morning I have the blessing of waking up.  When my alarm goes off, I stretch my achy joints, put on my glasses, and make my way to the bathroom.  In my medicine cabinet, next to my shaving cream and razor blades, sits a small, unassuming medicine bottle.  Unscrewing it, I take out one of the little while pills and put my head under the faucet to get a mouthful of water. I place the pill on my tongue and swallow it down, trusting that it will help me stay sane for the day.

Clinical depression never goes away, but it can be ameliorated by anti-depressants. I thank God for this, and believe that something of the divine is experienced when I take my Lexapro.  It is indeed sacramental grace in a little brown bottle.

Every day for the last 6 years, I’ve taken 20mg of Celexa, a fairly common SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). But recently, I began to notice a tendency towards despondence more frequently than I was used to.  Even when medicated, depression is still there, still pressing itself upon me. The depressive thoughts are not always overwhelming.  Some days, they’re like a little annoying whisper that I can’t quite make out.  Other days, however, they come with a vengeance, reducing me to tears, with thoughts of unworthiness and insignificance being the only thoughts that make sense.

You’re a terrible husband, a terrible father, a terrible priest.

Why do you keep going on as if you matter?

You are wasting the world’s time.

Sleep, good sleep at least, became elusive. And when good sleep is elusive, you begin the next day already struggling with mental fitness.  Add to that the imbalanced brain chemicals swirling around, what I was sometimes left with was a kind of mental haze of uncertainty and existential dizziness.

I made an appointment with my doctor, who listened to my concerns with grace and care.  Without any sense of judgment, he simply said, “You rode one horse for 6 years.  It did a great job.  Now you need another one.” He doubled my dosage and switched me to a newer medicine.  I’m on day 4 of Lexapro.  While I don’t know quite what the outcome will be, I remain hopeful that it too will serve me as well as Celexa did.

Depression, like other illnesses, has causes.  Brain chemicals firing off incorrectly, stressful environments, the list goes on.  So I can rationally understand that depression doesn’t mean I actually am an unworthy, broken mess beyond all hope of redemption. But reason doesn’t always prevail.

Clinical depression can really suck.  And contrary to what some people believe, it isn’t something that you can just snap out of, like a bad mood brought on by a terrible film adaptation of your favorite book. Sometimes it feels as if you are wrestling for the truth of who you are, but you can only believe the lie.  That’s what depression is, for me at least.  A lie about who I am, what I am, and how much I deserve love.  But sometimes, when you are mentally beaten down, all you have the strength to do is believe the lie.

Reconciling myself with my depression has been like walking a winding dirt road through a forest. It’s only been in the last year or so that I have felt comfortable claiming my depression as a part of who I am.  As something that isn’t foreign to me in need of exorcism.  And because it is a part of me, I don’t need to fear it, be ashamed of it, or castigate it.

Yes, I have depression.  Yes, I will probably be on medication for the rest of my life.  But because of the miracles of modern science, these little white pills which I have come to believe are sacraments of a different sort…because of this, depression doesn’t have me.

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