Posted on January 24, 2108 by Jenn Zatopek
It would seem that I am depressed. There, I said it. No one has died. No one has freaked out. Not me at the very least and I’m certain not you either. We have all been down and out at one time or another. I believe Prince was right when he announced “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together for this thing called life.” Life is part joy and struggle, trauma and freedom. I wish it were not that way but it is.
Is it wrong to for a therapist to admit she struggles with depression? I don’t have an answer for you. Many counseling programs now openly welcome so-called “peers” in their programs, provide a safe place for them, offer counseling and encouragement. (A “peer” is someone who has dealt with episodes of mental illness and is upfront about it with their counseling clients.)
This is not a theoretical post but a real, hands down, dirty, bloody post about the struggles of living a real life in the midst of episodes of despair. I struggle with bouts of depression with a fair helping of agoraphobia for good measure. (Agoraphobia means “fear of the marketplace” and usually involves me being irrationally terrified to leave the house. I’m fully aware that nothing bad will happen, but my feelings haven’t figured that out yet. The urge to hide today is strong.)
This one has been one of the worst in a long while. I struggle to get out of bed, to believe that God loves me, to trust in the basic goodness which resides, I’m sure of it, in all of us, including myself.
Is this post naval gazing? Is it me just going on about how difficult life is sometimes? I am tempted to say it is, but I think this post gets to a more difficult question which is this: where do the helpers go when they are exhausted and reached their limits of providing services? Is it okay for a helper to admit exhaustion and fatigue?
For the past few days, I have struggled to leave the house. It’s after one o’clock today and I haven’t left, haven’t posted on social media, haven’t returned calls to friends. I know what I need to do and yet I continue to do what I know I should not do, which is to hide and hide and hide from life.
St. Paul wrote about this problem of resistance to the good, which is suffering, when he penned “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.” (The Message Romans 7:15 )
Do I despise myself? Nope. What I struggle to understand is how difficult it is to do the things I need to do to function, how exhausting I am at the end of the day, how sleep is an avoidant lover and comes only sometimes despite all my best efforts, and how much I know things from counseling that help others that do not work for me.
Can a counselor heal herself? Henri Nouwen, the famous writer/counselor/teacher/preacher, struggled his whole life with depression but freely sought out counseling, prayer, and support. It would seem I have a role model in him.
The key for me is to do the next right thing, which is to put on my exercise clothes and go for a walk, then shower, then eat lunch. It is simple day-to-day things that come naturally for many. But when you are in the midst of a depressive funk, these things take extra time, energy, and perseverance. Let’s be honest: it takes a lot of freaking work to live well.
In her book Furiously Happy, blogger and writer Jenny Lawson hits the nail on the head of the struggle of mental health and illness when she writes “when depression sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark . . . ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness. . . afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.”
I know this will pass, that spring will come and thaw out the wintry silence inside my heart. I know I will get through this with rest, prayer, meditation, baths, massages, time spent with beloved family and friends, playing with my cats, and work that brings me hope, but for now, I am just admitting that life (for today) is hard, no matter how many affirmations I say, no matter how many miles I walk, no matter what I do to fix myself.
Perhaps a counselor can’t fix herself but fix her eyes on the Someone who is always there, as Frederick Buechner writes in Whistling in the Dark, “who unimaginably transcends the worst things as he also unimaginably transcends the best.”
I’ll leave you with another passage from Furiously Happy because, well, it’s just that good. From “Note from the Author”:
When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, and weaker . . . but as survivors. Survivors don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. (page xix-xx)
I thank you for being here with me while we journey in this life together. I hope that you will celebrate your own victories over despair and fear and shame and remember to look for the good including the good you find inside your own beautiful self. You are worth all the work and prayer and energies it takes to fight to see those things, to live a good and truly authentic life, and so, by God, am I.