Mental Health Monday: He’s Back
He’s such a creep. My old enemy, acedia. And his first cousin, depression. That dark, oppressive, heaviness that comes over me unexpectedly at times. Like Sunday morning. It was cold and rainy and I didn’t want to go to church. But I hadn’t been there since December 30, and I’ll be out of town for another week starting Saturday, so I made the effort. I put on nice clothes. Even makeup and jewelry. And I showed up. Because someone once told me that showing up is half the battle.
My (almost) ten-year-old Goddaughter, Sophie, found me right away and came to sit with me during the Liturgy. Her Mom has been out of town for a week, caring for her father, who’s in the hospital in Atlanta. Sophie was needing some mother-love, and so she asked me what I was doing after church. I felt selfish when I told her that I needed to take down our Christmas decorations, pay bills and do laundry. That I had been out of town for 8 days caring for my mother, who had been in the hospital in Jackson. I could see such longing in her beautiful eyes, and I almost gave in and said, “Let’s go do lunch.” But I didn’t have the energy—emotionally or spiritually. I was empty.
I tried to pray and be joyful during the church service. I tried to find encouragement from the prayers and the music and the homily (sermon) but somehow it all felt like a drain on my energy, rather than nourishment. I was hoping to hear about God’s comfort and grace, but it seemed to be a day for hearing about repentance and laziness. Don’t get me wrong—I am a big sinner. But laziness just doesn’t happen to be one of my main vices.
After Liturgy I went downstairs to coffee hour, but the bombardment of so many people all talking at once felt overwhelming, and I didn’t want to be there. As I slipped out the door into the rain, a friend who was also leaving caught me and said, “You’re weird.” He had seen my Facebook cover photo—where the little girls are whispering and pointing and one is saying, “She’s a writer” and the other one says, “Oh, I thought she was just weird.” I smiled and said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He smiled back. And that helped. For about five minutes.
Driving home from church I recognized what was happening. It was depression. On top of physical and emotional exhaustion. It felt like a big monster was climbing on my back, suffocating me. Even though Mom seems to be doing “better” back at her nursing home—the speech pathologist and physical therapist are working with her—the whole situation has taken a toll on me. I just wanted to crawl in bed and sleep.
When I told my husband how I was feeling (through tears when he got home from church) he said, “Then just do it. Go to bed. Get some sleep.”
“But I don’t want to. When I wake up, all this stuff will still need to be done—the Christmas decorations and the laundry and the bills. I’ll feel better if I can get some of it done today.”
Without a word he went to the garage and started bringing in the boxes that I pack the Christmas decorations in and setting them down in the living room for me. We warmed up leftover pizza and while we ate we talked about the coming days and weeks in our busy lives. After lunch I packed away the decorations and started the laundry while he opened mail and started working on his own “to do” stacks. I didn’t fall apart—that takes way too much energy.
I picked up my copy of Acedia and Me and opened to the bookmark to see where I left off about nine months ago. Norris’ words always seem to help. Interesting where I picked up yesterday, right where she was talking about going to church on Sunday mornings:
“Sometimes I persuade myself to go because I know I’ll receive a blessing, or because I need to listen to the words of Scripture and give them a chance to work on me. I may desire to sing hymns with others, or be cheered by the sight of children perched on their favorite ‘climbing tree’ before and after services. If I go to church feeling depressed, a congregation, by its very nature, reminds me that I am not in the struggle alone.”
All of those were thoughts I had as I went to church yesterday morning. And I’m sure it was my own sinfulness and not the failings of the community that kept me from receiving a blessing.
I read further in Norris’ book:
“When I detect acedia beginning in myself, I do well to muster my resistance, even if it is only to let John Cassian remind me where I am headed if I do not. ‘From acedia,’ he writes, [are born] idleness, somnolence, rudeness, restlessness, wandering about, instability of mind and body, chattering, [and] inquisitiveness.’ If I allow myself to reach this stage I will be a distracted tourist rather than a pilgrim, and am likely to turn away from the very things that might bring me to my senses. I have learned that nothing will erase my susceptibility to acedia, for it is a part of who I am. But this does not mean that I am helpless. I can look for the seed of hope in my despair, and pray with the psalmist: ‘Bring my soul out of this prison and I shall praise your name.” (Psalm 142:8)”
I remembered Ann Lamott’s wonderful little book, Help, Thanks, Wow, and so I prayed. Just Help. I’m hoping the Thanks and Wow will come later. Or sooner.
My daughter called from Denver and put my nine-month-old granddaughter, Gabby, on Face Time so we could make silly faces at each other. Now that helped more than anything. I’m going to need lots of energy to keep up with her when I return to Denver for a week on Saturday, so I’d better start getting ready. Time to get some exercise and eat something healthy. And to WRITE. Maybe I can’t kick depression’s ass, but I can do my part to minimize his power.
*shoots bird at invisible enemy*