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Depression: A Cold Reboot?

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.

Edvard_Munch_-_Melancholy_(1893)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.

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23 responses

  1. David Naas

    It doesn’t go away. It often doesn’t get better. It can be hell for family and friends.
    Tried drugs, prescription and “non”-“. Tried escape. Tried thoughts of suicide (which actually got me through many a dark night.) Tried various forms of therapy, meditation, and religions.
    May not work for some, but the Liturgy of the Hours, prayed five times daily (the whole thing) comes closest to bringing calmness. Plus daily Bible reading, daily Rosary, and Mass as often as I can get there, Confession/Reconciliation once a month, in other words, working at being a practicing Catholic has done me more good than anything. May not work for everyone to the same extent. But for me, being mildly bipolar also, it’s the best way to go.
    Yup, my religion is a crutch. Thank God, because I’m crippled otherwise.
    Only — it took so long to figure out!

    Liked by 1 person

    24 April, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      I hear you, David! Thank you for your comments and story. Yes, prayer and meditation works wonders for me, along with my therapy and being more active. However, yes, everyone is different and we shouldn’t necessarily reject what doesn’t work for everyone. I tell folks all the time that prayer is probably the only thing that keeps me going, and when I didn’t have faith it was quite a bit harder.

      I’ll be adding you to my prayers and I hope you continue to feel peace. I’ll give a shot at the divine office. I tried once but I am not alway the best at remembering things. Just out of curiousity, how did you make it a habit? Was it rather easy? Curious to know.

      Like

      25 April, 2015 at 7:35 pm

      • David Naas

        Not easy at all. It took around ten years, with many setbacks/backsliding to get consistently rolling. One major help is to do it in community, which our small parish does, as Morning Prayer, on Thursdays before Mass. There’s a good online site which does all the hard work for you — http://divineoffice.org/ — that helped loads.

        I suppose for me, the hardest thing to realize is that it isn’t my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong (other than the normal sins), and people don’t despise me for my failures. Which has been marvelously liberating. Being free to make a fool of myself in public lessens the black-dog attacks. But others may have different results, as noted.

        In my elative phase, I approach what seems normal for the rest of humanity. They don’t know what a good thing they’ve got. 🙂 This cycle has been going good for quite a while, with one bobble, and my presumption is concentrating on faith rather than feeling works for me. (And results may vary.)

        Even as I write this, the niggling at the back of the brain is trying to worry me into a funk. But not today (at least).

        Pax vobiscum.

        Like

        25 April, 2015 at 8:09 pm

  2. Thanks for such insights into this journey, especially as relates to our faith. Also, I too have found it helpful to address the physical symptoms with anti-depressant medication as one part of the puzzle towards managing this, and am resigned to it being a lifetime journey. It’s very humbling but also exactly what I needed perhaps to lean more on God and be kinder to myself and others.

    Like

    25 April, 2015 at 7:12 am

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      Thank you for your comments, as well as sharing your story. I’m always nervous when I share posts like this but it’s been encouraging to hear the so many varied experiences from folks. God love you!

      Like

      25 April, 2015 at 7:37 pm

  3. David

    The cold reboot idea interests me. But I’m not sure if I fully understand it. Does it mean that when the mind is being “squeezed,” or overburdened, we need to “turn off” our current train of thought and bring our attention back to Christ’s presence? If that’s the idea, I can see how that would turn depression into an opportunity to grow in holiness.

    Like

    25 April, 2015 at 9:53 am

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      David,

      I’m still trying to grasp it. Tom has proposed it and I’ll certainly be working through it (finally get to use my divinity degree! Woot!) but I think I can say, based on my understanding, that it is more of a cold reboot where your sentimental or extra parts of your faith are taken away and you have to see where your faith really is. It’s scary, to be sure, but also good.

      I’ll have to look it up, but I find some of the thinking is similar to Pascal’s notion of “ennui” and melancholy, where it is a blessing because we realize how fleeting the world is and have only the eternal things to grasp on to. Again, though, I’ll have to do some digging.

      Another article that may be of interest is one by my friend, Br. Benjamin Mann, called “The Blessings of Religious Burnout” which you can read here: http://catholicexchange.com/blessings-religious-burnout

      One great passage:

      <>

      I’ll certainly go over this and I apologize if my answer isn’t helpful. Thank you for reading and your comments!

      Like

      25 April, 2015 at 7:43 pm

  4. This was a very interesting piece. As someone who has struggled with depression for over four years, though not to the suicidal degree, I can personally vouch for how the illness can be an effective (but painful) learning experience if we maintain faith in God. I learned that my obsession with good grades and work was ultimately meaningless, and I learned that I should be more willing to depend on others, especially my loving parents. I’ve also learned what it means to remain faithful to God during both the good times and the bad. I sure wish it would go into remission, but I have gotten something out of the grave condition.

    Like

    25 April, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      I appreciate your tenacity and faith, Bobby. I will be praying for you. Thank you for reading and your comments.

      Like

      25 April, 2015 at 7:44 pm

  5. Mark Miller

    Thank you for the insight and confirmation. I have learned to embrace my depression and in that embrace i find relief, solace, even joy. In that embrace i join Christ as He embraced His cross. Redemptive suffering gives meaning where there otherwise would be none.
    Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever!!

    Like

    25 April, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      Amen, Mark. There is nothing wrong with seeking relief from suffering, for that’s natural. However, it amazes me that the every-day folks are able to do this. As you know, sometimes it feels like we’re all going about this alone, but I’m learning more and more that there are so many good folks like you out there who are full of great insights. Thanks for your great comment!

      Like

      25 April, 2015 at 7:45 pm

  6. This makes a whole lot of sense to me.

    Please pray for my son Vanya, who lies inside of a huge emotional knot, and who does not know, or want to know, or believe in Christ.

    I will pray for you and your dear ones.

    Like

    25 April, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      Thank you, Julianne. My prayers are with you, too, and I thank you for yours.

      Like

      25 April, 2015 at 7:46 pm

  7. this is an exact example of my life. I am now 71 and trying to fix things as I did all my life, seek a break now and then, knowing it won’t come,andkeep praying to join with Jesus in prayer dailM.J.y. But, it is tougher as I age. I know I will not change but pray for help to continue.J.M.J.

    Like

    25 April, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      Thank you for your comment, Richard Paul. I hope you find peace soon and are able to also find some joy.

      Like

      25 April, 2015 at 7:47 pm

  8. cahermuckee

    Very enlightening. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the salvific value of depression and sadness. I find it difficult to bear with those well-intentioned souls who push the ‘to be a Christian is to be joyful’ illusion. That doesn’t wash and it doesn’t help when the implication is that you are a failure as a Christian when you don’t wax ecstatic all the time.
    Oddly, and to keep my perspective, I am consoled by two passages from the New Testament:
    Mark 14:34 “And he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch.” Jesus desires for us to accompany Him in His sorrows.
    John 11:35 ” And Jesus wept.”
    Jesus was burdened with immense sorrow and isolation for our sake and our salvation.
    Keep up the fine work, Michael.

    Like

    25 April, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      Thank you, and I love those passages. Even Christ wanted his friends to be there for him, so there should be no shame when we need some company. Unfortunately, you are right in that many would rather be Job’s companions. Cheers to you!

      Like

      25 April, 2015 at 7:49 pm

      • cahermuckee

        “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.…”The Suffering Servant” Isaiah 53:2-4

        Like

        26 April, 2015 at 7:26 am

  9. Sue Korlan

    I’ve never suffered from depression, but I was in such grief at what people had felt free to do to me when I was a child that I was suicidal until I had finished dealing with the worst of the memories. Luckily, my therapist was willing to see me every day for 3 weeks, and by the end of that time I was able to accept the past at least enough to want to go on living despite my past. And now the sorrow is gone. So if you’ve had a horrible past you may be suffering from severe grief that could lead to suicide, even though you don’t suffer, and never have suffered, from depression.

    Like

    26 April, 2015 at 5:31 am

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      Absolutely, Sue. In my interview with Dawn Eden, she mentioned that she had suffered great suicidal tendencies throughout her 20’s that was a result of PTSD relating to abuse she suffered as a child. As it were, medication was no help but she was able to finally overcome them when she faced the PTSD with the help of counseling and the saints. I also am friends and work with veterans who, though they don’t have depression, have great mental anguish.

      You are right that grief takes many forms, though I write rather narrowly about it. All the same, I do know and pray for all, because grief is difficult no matter how it comes.

      Thanks for sharing your story!

      Like

      26 April, 2015 at 11:35 am

  10. Yes! We need more on the distinction between despair and depression because “Hold them cheap / may who ne’er hung there.”

    Like

    26 April, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    • M. Jordan Lichens

      First, woot for the GMH reference! As you can tell, I love the guy.

      Second, that distinction is quite a fine one that is hard to do, but we’re on it.

      Liked by 1 person

      27 April, 2015 at 11:44 am

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