Friday, 5 October 2012

Emerging from the Fog

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!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Cats Corner said...

A wonderful post, Fr K, and it's your ability to share stuff like this that makes you the great priest that you are. You know how much you've helped me and I know you will continue to do so for many years to come. Love and hugs x

Fr Kenny said...

The thing is that the depressed probably can't be assed to read it!

Fr Kenny said...

Oh! And my curate is now silently planning her escape!

Fr Kenny said...

Just heard today that a super guy, a well-respected lawyer in Dumbarton committed suicide this week through depression. Aged 62. It's that serious.

Cats Corner said...

And still people don't "get it".... which is why so many folk with depression put on the mask that "all is alright". Society demands that we be normal and when you can't maintain the mask of normality anymore and your world falls apart.... that's when you find out who your true friends are.

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Christine McIntosh said...

Depression is hard for the sufferer and for the people who love him/her - but until people are able to talk about it as you have and be open about the fact that it's a chemical imbalance and they take pills to rectify it the condition will remain taboo for everyone else who's never had to deal with it. I take pills to control cholesterol, not because I eat unhealthily but because of a genetic disposition; another person will take pills to balance their serotonin levels not because they are "fed up" but because they don't make enough in their brains. People have to be helped to get the advice they need and, if need be, the medication - or the CBT or whatever. And I always include people who suffer from depression in the Intercessions when I do them in church. I'm glad you're coming out of it for now. xx

Rhea Flanery said...

As someone who has had some *very* serious battles with mental health, I absolutely love this post. Thank you for being brave enough to share what I know that many people have thought and felt throughout the years.