This might be my most important podcast interview. I sat down with Karen Edmisten to talk about how parents can find healing after a miscarriage and also what we as friends and loved ones can do to help those whom we love when they suffer what is often an invisible grief. Take a listen and please do share.
My last piece on depression as a cold reboot brought a lot of new readers to this little blog, which I am glad for and it always surprises me how much people engage on this topic.
What you may not know is that I have a day job and that’s why my blogging is oh so uneven. One of those things I do is run a podcast at Catholic Exchange. It is a great way to get to know some of the best writers out there. We have fun, we also get to hear amazing stories such as in my interview with Dawn Eden, that is one of the most popular.
The latest is an interview with Jessica Archuleta, a writer and blogger at Every Home a Monastery. She is a fantastic woman who has gone through a lot and still comes out with such an unimaginable strength and warmth. On top of that, she has a bunch of beautiful kids whom she homeschools. I honestly don’t know how she gets it all done.
Thomas L. McDonald always impresses me. He is a bright and sharp writer who has a way to cut through some of the less helpful things out there and get to the heart of what it is to be a Catholic whose mind often features “Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed” pits and mountains. In a way, he captures both the darkness and the strange, hidden graces that comes with being a man of depression and faith.
His latest musings on depression are especially interesting. In “The Cold Reboot of the Soul,” he begins by explaining what depression is not and delves into one the better short explanations I’ve ever read,
Depression isn’t sadness. It’s not even in the same emotional class. Depression is like a vice on your brain. It can sometimes squeeze so tightly that the sufferer hallucinates. It’s like mental suffocation. And it comes on for no reason, even in the midst of happiness.
He does mention that drugs help, which is indeed my experience. I am, after years of avoiding them, back on medication and the difference is something impressive. Not everyone has positive experiences of medication, and I certainly had a rather negative reaction to one form of medication and swore off of them for years. However, like all forms of therapy, just one form is not a cure but should act as a full mosaic in treatment. Like exercise, proper diet, seeing a therapist regularly, and finding fulfilling hobbies, medication is a long-haul process that will not bring relief overnight. Rather, it corrects one particular short-coming in the body to give the mind a floor for how deep the depression can sink. But it does still sink. Oh boy, does it ever!
I have written on this subject quite a bit, I still feel uncomfortable telling people about this in person. Most folks, in their tender hearts, want to help and fix it and, well, this is a lifetime condition. There is no “fixing” it and thus they either feel like I’m not even trying or they assume I have abandoned hope because their usual treatments for sadness (which, remember is distinct from depression) are not necessarily going to work on me. It’s not their fault, but often times I will tell people about my periods of absolute melancholy where my mind seems to refuse to listen to my demands to open up to the light and then I end up having to comfort them. Believe me, it’s even worse when I confess to the bark of the black dog telling me to end it all. I can still remember having to give one friend a hug and assuring them I had no real plans, but that was a lie. However, the guilt of it, even if it’s nothing either party did wrong, is sometimes one more stress I don’t need.
So, I respect Tom, Dawn Eden, and host of other great writers who are willing to be honest about their afflictions of the mind and to, ultimately, provide hope to all of us. There is hope that we are not alone. And in our little fellowship, we find hope that the God who raised the dead and brought light to the world can illuminate us enough to keep going.
Tom offers one particular idea that I think is exploring. In thinking upon his depression and all the problems it brings, he suggests there might be a better way to think about depression, which I quote at length:
As Christians, we need to think differently. Perhaps that pit is not despair, which after all is a sin. Perhaps it’s not even a pit. Perhaps it’s an invitation, a blank slate, a clean white sheet of paper.
When a computer starts to malfunction, what do you do?
You turn it off.
When you power it all the way down and then restart it, it’s called a cold reboot. A cold reboot interrupts the power and clears the memory leaks that may be causing a system to run poorly. Most everyday computer problems can be solved by simply restarting the system a couple of times.
Perhaps depression functions like a cold reboot of the soul. What does depression feel like? Paradoxically, it’s both a weight and an emptiness. Paradox is sometimes a cue that we’re dealing with the transcendent.
For a Christian, every weight is a cross.
For a Christian, every emptiness is a desert.
The cross is our participation in the divine work of Christ. The desert is the place where we empty ourselves so we may be filled with the Spirit.
In America, where the prosperity gospel vexes us all, we sometimes think that ill fortune and things like mental illness can’t be part of our Christian life. They are though, because Christ did not rise from the dead to make us rich, content suburbanites. He came that the dead may live again and that we may find Easter joy even on Good Friday. God has entered the world and united Himself to it so deeply, that we can think of it as a merging. Not only that, but we find in Him our total reason for being, but we must be willing to participate in both Good Friday and Easter.
Depression is not a curse, though it often feels that way. It is a cross and a desert that is, in many ways, a way of participating in the life of Christ. It will feel heavy, burdensome, and no doubt our prayers will be for this cross to pass us up, just for a little while. Still, it can be an invitation to delve deeply into uniting ourselves with our Christ. As Ven Francis Libermann once wrote,“I never cross a bridge without the thought of throwing myself over the parapet, to put an end to these afflictions. But the sight of my Jesus sustains me and gives me patience.”
This, then, is a Cross that calls us to a fuller participation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this makes it easier. However, if Tom is right, then at least it gives us a purpose and a meaning to our pain. I can say this from experience: There is no pain like that which is suffered without a reason. While I anticipate I will learn and grow from my depression all my life, perhaps there is also a way to turn it towards the light.
All of you, my friends and comrades in these afflictions of the mind, will remain in our prayers. Please leave me a comment to tell me your thoughts or use the “About Me” header above to contact me.
My latest article is over at Catholic Exchange where I talk about the St. Joseph Novena. This is my most Catholic article to date and thus may not appeal to all of you, but you are welcome to read it (of course). I have a strong devotion to the Husband of Mary and he is certainly one of the types I try to conform myself to, and probably fail to live up to. But, hey, anything good is worth making a poor attempt at. If you are the prayerful type, I can’t recommend the St. Joseph novena enough to you. I’m not going to bs you and call it magical, but it’s a great way to contemplate St. Joseph and Christ in just a few minutes. Enjoy.
O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.
O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
O Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. Amen
O Saint Joseph, hear my prayers and obtain my petitions. O Saint Joseph, pray for me. (Mention your intention)
Alright folks, time for one of my Big Mama Lichens moments:
Friends, I am Michael Lichens. I write and I edit. Catholic media has been a gift for me in that I get to do what I love and pay most of my bills. However, I would have nothing to do with it if it weren’t for my love of the Church.
Now, there are rumblings on the blogospere right now. In many ways, I don’t want to step in because I am aware I’ve started my share of flame wars and also because any attempt at dialog makes me sound like a mother who is tired of hearing her kids argue.
I won’t get into specifics. If you read past the first paragraph then you already know what I’m talking about. However, so many blogs seem to be like what my friend Kevin Tierney describes as tribal warfare. All among Catholic. Not just Catholics, but what might be called “conservative” Catholics who love the faith and try their best to heed all the teachings and proclamations of our Holy Mother Church. Yet, they act like someone has come in and stolen their jelly beans.
Let’s make it clear: we are judged by how we love one another. Really. No Kidding. Is it love to call people out and then insult their masculinity? Or to assume that they are some kind of secret liberal because they didn’t vote for your favourite statesmen? Perhaps some think it’s love to tell authors to kill themselves or to find some way of insulting their station (whether it’s single, celibate, married, gay, whatever).
Not just no, but frak no.
Don’t get me wrong, I hold some positions that are controversial. I’m anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-torture, pro-doctors, pro-vaccines, and love to eat gluten even though I’m trying to avoid it. Never did it occur to me that someone is a bad person for being in disagreement with me. Wrong? Yeah, maybe even a tad naive.
I wasn’t always this way. I used to pick fights and start little wars all the time. If you search this blog hard enough, you can see where I’ve been downright insulting. But I grew up, and that’s what I’m calling us all to do. Ladies and gents of the Catholic blogging world: It’s time to grow up.
Also, a wise priest chided me. He told me something that made me realize how ineffective anger is. He also asked me, when I was in the midst of a flame war, “Suppose your non-Catholic friends come over and saw you calling that guy an a-hole? Would they think that this religion held the truth?”
As Catholics we’re not called to merely write clever lines about the news and hold our fundraisers. These are not bad, but if we don’t help people to see the truth, beauty, and love in our faith, then just what in the-literal-hell are we doing?
So, what I’d like to offer is a challenge. From here on in, before you write about another person, try to remember that they are a person with pain, suffering, and struggles. Perhaps what they need is less arguing and someone to take them out to coffee and listen to them. If you can’t write anything without turning it into a scene from Glengarry Glen Ross then it’s probably time to take a breather and go play with your kids or say a rosary.
Oh, and don’t compare yourself with St. Catherine of Siena or St. Jerome. You are not them. Trust me. St. Catherine cleaned the wounds of lepers and those afflicted with disease and felt a call to such compassion that she drank the water she used to clean them. St Jerome lived in a cave and did great work for the Church. They didn’t make their whole career at taking potshots at people; and that is why they’re remembered.
I have read the biographies of many saints and have been to many chapels. I have yet to see a celebration to someone whose job was to be angry on the internet. If you aspire to be St. Catherine or St. Jerome, awesome! Just know that you have a lot more work to do than just being cranky.
I still love what I do, but let’s try to remember what we are called to be. No matter how well I write, I have a feeling that when I’m before the judgement seat of Christ he isn’t going to ask me how many flame wars I started or how many debates I’ve won. Rather, he’s probably wondering how many widows I comforted, how many hungry I fed, and how I showed love to the people who needed it most.
That is all. I’m out.
*drops the mic*
Today on the CE Podcast I sit down with Dale Ahlquist to discuss GK Chesterton and his influence on Michael Collins, Gandhi, and the many Catholic converts. Take a listen here.
As well, make sure to register for the 34th Annual Chesterton Conference in San Antonio, Texas. I’ll be there with Sophia Institute Press and it’d be awesome to meet all of you who read this blog.
Heck, I’ll buy coffee for all three of you.*
*Coffee is only dependent on folks who arrive to the conference and under the assumption that this blog isn’t read. If it is, then, oh boy. Forgive me for being broke or donate to my cause.
My latest piece is over at Catholic World Report, focusing on the poetry of GK Chesterton. It is surprising how good of a poet the man was, given that he’s mostly known for his quotable phrases. However, as I hope I demonstrate, his poetry really is worth learning.
With the renewed interest in Chesterton and his work, we should not neglect the contribution he made to English verse, which is at times child-like as it explores the deep mysteries of faith and existence with the very heart of a child he was so praised for possessing. While his poetry might have seemed archaic compared to the great modernist poets of the twentieth century, his desire to express beauty and truth within a traditional rhyming and sometimes iambic form left a legacy of good and unforgettable poems that are worthy of study and memorization.