Friday, September 20, 2013

The Connection Between Spirituality and Depression

In FreeThinker, Barry Dukes reports on a study that suggests that religion/spirituality could be the cause of depression.  There are plenty of comments on the page and here's the link if you like:

I didn't want to get lost in the sea of comments and I really didn't want to weigh in on the angry debating that went on in those comments, but I did want to cogitate a bit on the content of the article, as one who is steeped in religion and spirituality and has also struggled with a depression so deep that I often wonder how I'm still alive. 

I'm not trying to brag--but I have tried very hard to be a faithful Christian. I've proven my faith and pressed on when I saw nothing to confirm that faith is valid.  I've tried to pull away from those areas of religion that really are unhealthy, even evil, and tried for a benevolent spirituality.  I'm not ready to chunk it all, like some of my atheist friends have, but while it may or may not be the cause of my depression, it sure hasn't helped it.  

But there is a flaw the logic of the article.  

Depression is linked to a lot of qualities but none of them are necessarily a direct cause. A large number of creative people suffer depression.  Does creativity cause the depression or is it linked some other way? If you told the painter to stop painting would that cure his depression? Would a depressed writer feel better if she quit writing? Would you tell the musician to stay away from music? 

There is strong evidence to suggest that depression is caused by chemical imbalance in the brain, and in fact, many have been helped considerably with medication (I'm one of them). 

I think people turn to music, artistry, and faith to assuage their desperation. I know I have. It doesn't always work and yes, it can make depression much worse. Anything that has a power to do good can also be warped to do evil, including and probably especially religion.

My sense of spirituality makes me reach past what I can see for something less tangible... something that may help me make sense of things and make me feel better.  I like that quality about myself--reaching for the unknown, searching for that mysterious Presence, hoping it is benevolent.  

But does it make me happier? 

Well... no.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

So This is My Angel?

"You look like the kind of angel they'd send me...." 

Bill appeared to me in a dream last night. I saw his truck stopped in front of a railroad crossing. I was so happy to see him. He got out and I looked him over. He looked good, the same Bill I remember who smiled all the time He was still kind of stout, a little younger and stronger looking than I remembered. He didn’t speak. Just smiled that delighted smile of his. I hugged him and noted past how massive his shoulders were, just like they always had been even when he was an old man.

He used to come by my office everyday, laughing, then crying, then laughing again. He thought I was so smart. “Old School,” he called me.  

They said he was very different after his stroke. More talkative, more jovial, emotionally fragile, and not as capable. They said he was touchy, that you had to be careful not to hurt his feelings.  But the only time he ever got upset with me is when I was slow to let him help me fix my car. I was overwhelmed at the task and I wanted to put it off. He remembered that he once could work on cars. He couldn’t anymore, but he found a mechanic and pushed me to get it dealt with.  Ultimately, I was grateful for his meddling.

People thought I was a great guy for spending time with him. I did watch over him a bit when I could. I took him to the doctor and the hospital. He loved food and so did I, and I treated him to dinner as often as I could.  

He always said he was watching over me, and that he came to the office to check on me and cheer me up. Bill was alone and he was sort of a community project where everyone looked after him.  I always humored him by agreeing with him that he was taking care of me.  

However, I wonder now if that wasn’t the truth. It has been a few years since I did his funeral, but I still miss him.  And last night when I went to sleep, I felt lonely, as I often do. These days, I feel the isolation more and more.   It was so good to see him in my dream, appearing long enough to show me he was still there.   

Is he an angel? Has he been watching over me all this time?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How Do I Keep Doing This?

I remember a friend of mine who was once a very good minister. One of the best I've ever known, who loved his people and responded quickly to their crises, knew how to run the business of a church, and had fresh ideas.

If I had problems, I went to him for advice, like everyone else did. 

But things would get to him. He once told me that people had been in and out of his office all day—some in crisis, some throwing fits, and some having anxiety fests.  The pace became so frantic that by the end of the day, he literally got out of his chair and hid under his desk for just a few minutes of peace. 

Since that time, I have often felt like doing that myself.

When he was at the top of his game, just when his church was about to take off into the next gear, he quit. There was no scandal, no awful personal problem. He had just had enough, and he walked away and took a fundraising job.

I feel that “enough” line coming. It’s coming when I can see that our church could hit a new level of success, even as I hit a new wall of resistance. It’s coming even though at my age, when I should be at the top of my game, I want to run away and hide. I’ve watched other ministers get to this point and I swore I wouldn’t be this way, but here I am. 

I think the only way I can stay is to restructure my life. People whom I trust, people who have good judgment, people who don’t necessarily care about my church, all say that I have to learn to take time off and to relax while I’m off. 

Even my massage therapist tells me to learn to relax. “You really don’t do that well,” she whispered to me once.  She’s right. I often have panic attacks just as I’m starting to relax on the table. I go from relaxed to all my muscles locking up while I hyperventilate. She coaches my breathing to get me back to a state of calm.  BTW, I think I’m in love with her.

I’m kidding. Really.

For the first time in my life, I have some people who are looking out me. People on the leadership committee, especially the chair, fussed at me yet again about not taking enough time off. They don’t even listen to my pompous diatribes about how indispensable I am.   I love them so much for caring for me—I really haven’t had that before, and it’s wonderful.

But it has brought to the surface a lot of turbulence, some of it dating back a lot of years. Old wounds, failures, frustrations. And fatigue. God I feel so tired. I can’t remember what it felt like to be rested. And I find myself wondering how I will go on like this. 

And I do want to go on. I love this community and I would like to be able to stay here a long time, the rest of my career, taking care of these people.  

But how do I find that longevity?