To say the least, 2012 has not been the kindest to me healthwise. The bleak depression which haunted me from January through to the Spring, has hung around in a milder form, off and on, as the months have gone on, and it has been frustratingly debilitating. Add to that a double hernia op in August, and you get the picture.
Mental illness, such as depression, is greatly misunderstood, and is most difficult to live with, both for the sufferer and those close to them. Ask the RW about that! However, it's something which many in the Church find almost distasteful, and there is an almost judgemental attitude towards it.
A priest, a man or woman of prayer, it seems, should be able to rise above it. Whatever happened to having Joy in The Lord? The lives of many people I touch have great cause to be depressive and yet in the midst of great pain and consternation they are able to smile and get on with things. Something chemically wrong in my brain obviously disallows that positive response!
Not that I have much to be depressed about! I have a wonderful wife, a beautiful grandchild, a super parish, and enjoy holidays that others can only dream of. I am in employment, live in a nice house, surrounded by everything I need, and enjoy the company of faithful pets. What is there to be depressed about? (Apart from the weather, but, hey, it doesn't just rain on me!)
There is no obvious reason to feel the way I have felt for most of the year. A fairly brave face is put on for the world, and at worst, most folk just think I could be in a better mood! Sermons are just as passionate, I preach to myself constantly, and things tick along because I've set them up over the years to do just that! What is not widely known is the great effort it takes to simply get up and out of bed in the morning.
And yet the 'Black Dog' still haunts me!
Being part of a Forum in West Dunbartonshire, I'm sometimes asked to fill in questionnaires designed to catch the attitudes of the populace on many issues. I was stopped short on yesterday's questions. They were asking me how I would feel if one of my family wanted to marry someone gay, or of another faith, or a cross-dresser, etc etc, and then at the end, how would I feel if my child was marrying someone who suffered from bouts of depression? That certainly made me stop and think. As a sufferer, how do people view me? Am I in some kind of minority that the Council see as problematic, or even a little odd or different? I guess they were trying to gauge attitudes to depression, but it gave me a wee shiver down my spine.
Certainly, there is little doubt that an employer may have doubts about taking on a depressive, and I know that many have been turned down for churchy jobs when it has become clear that they sometimes suffer from depression. I know of a number of priests in the Scottish Episcopal Church who have been in touch with me seeking advice, who would never in a million years tell their Bishop that they were taking anti-depressants. (Same as those with a wee drink problem, but that's another matter!)
At the moment, thankfully, the fog has lifted for me and I have some energy back. It enables me to think a bit more clearly, especially about mental illness, the Church, and other employers. When I'm down I often wish my illness was more visible, and that if I had a big stookie or bandage, I might get a bit more sympathy or understanding! Recently, someone who suffers dreadfully from ME has come into my life, and I have a lot of empathy for their inability to function as society expects us to.
Meanwhile, depression, like alcoholism amongst clergy, is whispered about in corners, and like alcoholism, is perceived as a weakness.
Perhaps my weaknesses are my strengths after all! I understand the struggles and can sit in solidarity with those in the darkest of pits. And even in the midst of it, in St Augustine's at least, I can always manage a crazed laugh about it all!
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