depressed but not despairing

Going to be straight up honest here today: I’m struggling with clinical depression. Also warning: this is about prayer.

If you know me in my off-line life, this probably is no surprise — in the last week I have received a message with a self-care worksheet from my mom, a text from a wonderful friend that she is having cloistered Dominicans pray for me, and a bunch of unsolicited hugs and encouragement.

This isn’t a new path for me. I’ve been down it before. It took me a while to acknowledge it this time, but I have a doctor’s appointment scheduled, have been working out to keep those endorphins pumping, and have been saying no to things that feel overwhelming. I’ve been managing well — getting sleep, getting my work done, meeting deadlines — just all with an underlying level of suckiness and bad vibes.

This fall has felt different than other times I have had this monkey on my back. In the past when I’ve been hit with the waves of inadequacy, lethargy, and numbness that characterize depression for me, they’ve been accompanied by a level of hopelessness that kept me mired down deep.

But that isn’t the case this time. I don’t feel the unabating despair this time. Sure, I have a host of other shitty feelings most of the time: the aforementioned inadequacy, dullness, loneliness, stupidity, you know — the normal feelings of daily failings but just all together and all the time. Let me be clear: Intellectually, I know that these are not the reality I’m living. There are a lot of people who love me, support me, and pray for me. I’m still good at my job. My mental function is not suddenly falling off a cliff. I did step in a hole and sprain my ankle on Saturday, but I had a friend to stick me in an Uber and lovely offers of help on Sunday. Also, it’s basically better now anyway.

What’s different this year than my junior year of high school, freshman year of college, or when I was a fresh post-grad? To be honest, I think it’s prayer.

My own rote prayer tethers me back to my day. Going to confession forces me to actually face my real vs. imagined failings. The Mass reminds me I am not out here in the universe all by myself. Unsurprisingly, my prayer right now is pretty low-energy and low-input.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one praying for me.  I know my dad prays for me every morning when he prays the Rosary, I know I have friends in my community praying for me, and now some nuns, which is great. Just knowing that people are reaching out to God for me goes such a long way to bolstering me every day. And I think to myself, if I know these many people are already praying for me, I bet I have some secret pray-ers out in the world and up in Heaven interceding on my behalf.

When I was in high school, my mom put a little print out of this text on my mirror. (I can’t believe I was just able to find that online. I love the Internet.) It moved houses and hangs inside a cupboard in my sister’s bathroom. Remembering that there are people in the world that love me was really important for me when I was muddling through high school. But real prayer underpins all of my struggles now. It’s the kind of surface tension that helps us walk on water when it feels like we might drown if we stop treading.

So, that’s that. I’m trudging along and, really, I AM FINEI just also have clinical depression. Well, I don’t have the official diagnosis yet, but, like, I know.

Why write this now? Well, first off, there’s like 6 other things I should be doing right now, but I don’t feel like it. That’s the main reason I do anything when I do it. But I also have been watching this great show called You’re The Worst that has featured the best media portrayal I have ever seen in a character this season. It’s a raunchy, sassy, adult show, but Gretchen’s depression has been highlighted in a way that feels so real to me. That reminded me that people sometimes need to hear about depression from people who are staring it down and figuring it out. So hey, if that’s you, come sit by me.

Sorry if this was too real for the casual blog visitor who is coming over from my Blessed Is She devotion that I just remembered goes up tomorrow morning, but if you got this far — HEY! Stay a while.

Also, Mom, can I use this as an excuse to avoid the party and go to bed early on Thanksgiving? Let me know…

By the way, there is a reason I said “have clinical depression” rather than “am clinically depressed”: I am a lot of things (messy, incredible, a procrastinator), but I have depression. That can be treated without losing any of myself to it. At work, we call this stigmatizing language, but here, it’s just how I like to talk about things.

Let me know if I can pray for you — comment or email me at hogan.brigid@gmail.com or tweet me or whatever floats your boat. You can even email me and I will give you my phone number. Seriously.

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17 thoughts on “depressed but not despairing

  1. I’ve been really struggling with prayer and depression lately. It seems like god so often chooses not to heal us or change anything. God calls us to live joyful and content lives, while simultaneously having presumably created us in a way that makes that impossible and refusing to change that. I’m not really sure what to do with that.

    1. Joy doesn’t have to be the same as happiness — having depression isn’t a failure! And please seek help. Like any illness, God doesn’t ask us to heal ourselves without health care resources, and there are a wide array of treatment options.

      1. Joy and happiness are definitely different, but something they have in common is that they are incompatible with the depressed mind. Or at least that’s the way it seems to me…

    2. Wondering if today’s reading – Isaiah 35:1-10 might be helpful to you. Thinking of myself as being “on the Holy Way” to entering Zion joyfully has been helpful. We aren’t at the destination yet — joy is at the destination. And I’ve been thinking about what you said regarding being called to contentedness and joy. I think we get a lot of fuzzy warm around that in the modern conversation, but not much in our saints. Willingness to bear the cross is the real way we are called to be content, right?

  2. Hi Brigid,

    I am a newbie on your blog- I clicked on the link from the BIS email. I just wanted to say I really admire your honesty and the way you write about your struggles and your faith. I will say a special prayer for you over this holiday weekend. Blessings, Lise

  3. Brigid–I am here after your last BIS post a month or so ago, and I want to thank you for your honesty and for reaching out to others during a dark time. I have experienced a similar type of depression since adolescence, and I have to say that enduring the dark times has become so much more bearable since returning to the church about 8 years ago, and strengthening my relationship with God through prayer, reading scripture, and attending weekly Mass and occasional reconciliation. I highly recommend to anyone in a depressed place to go talk to your priest! Or even to a priest you have never met who won’t recognize you 🙂 I tend to turn away from Jesus during my dark times, and have found so much strength by emptying myself in the confessional. It draws me back to Jesus, who had been there all along. Oh, and reading St. Therese of Lisieux’s accounts of her dark periods always reminds me how human it is to experience depression!

    I do not wish to ramble on, but it took me a long time to realize that although we are called to be joyous and loving people, we live in a fallen existence. Depression, at least in my experience, comes and goes. I read just last night in “Blessings of Christmas” by Pope Benedict XVI: “…illness seems meaningless. But it is not in the least meaningless! In the structure of human life as a whole, it is profoundly meaningful. It can be a moment in our life that belongs to God, a time when we are open to him and thus learn to rediscover our own selves.” What I took from this is when I am ill or depressed, stop and be still. Talk to God. Revisit that you are good and that although you may be down and out right now…you will get back on your feet and resume life as usual 🙂 Also *importantly* forgive yourself for turning from God. That is something that I struggled with for a long time. He wants you back. So when you return, praise him for never turning away from you. I just thought I’d share. Sounds like we’re on the same page 🙂 You are in my prayers!

  4. same story, different girl. I feel ya. And amen on “having clinical depression” and not “being depressed.” One of the most powerful moments in my lifelong struggle with depression was receiving a note from my (now) husband with a JPII quote, something to the effect of “you are not your illness, it afflicts you, but it does not define you.”

    Praying for light.

  5. Brigid,
    Thanks for being so honest about your experience. I’ve struggled on and off with depression/anxiety, to varying degrees and usually intertwined with other health issues, although I’ve never sought medication (at least not yet). I’m always encouraged when others are up front about going through similar struggles, and it’s good to hear that you seem to have a healthy mindset about acknowledging and dealing with the problem, and that you can still feel an underlying sense of hope. I’m praying for you!

  6. Hi Brigid~I happened to see you here, so very cool to me! The last recollection I have of you is so cheerfully working hard to help set up my daughter’s wedding in Canandaigua! I can picture your mama in her rubber boots! ❤ ❤ My partner has a blog on here, and he passed along a suggested read to me. I recognized your name on one of the replies! I really love your writing, so many varied topics, life experiences~I was very engaged with all. I (we) would be honored to have you pray for our family, I promise to do so for you and yours as well <3. I am in NYC with Lindsey and fam through next Tuesday. I hope this finds you very well, and safe from this upcoming storm. Warmly, Tessa

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