Monthly Archives: May 2011

One of the things I hate most about depression is not knowing what it means. Of course, it doesn’t have to mean anything: I’ve been short on sleep, my back hurts most of the time, and that means I can’t exercise, either. That’s a recipe for feeling crummy.

The problem with being melancholy and overanalytical, of course, is that you’ve always got to figure it out. It would be good for my humility to post some of the absurd thoughts that passed through my mind as possible explanations for my latest bout with the black dog, but I’m not prepared to be that humble, even anonymously. Maybe not even posthumously.1

A surprising amount of the ideas were religious. Well, it’s not that surprising. Apparently the whole martyrdom-complex thing is pretty common among committed Christians with SSA.2 I know this is the kind of thing that atheists love to point to as what is wrong with Christianity, why it’s the scourge of the world, torturing people with needless, neurotic guilt.

The thing is, though, this kind of self-torture has nothing in common with Christianity. This is one of those truths that I have learn over and over again. God does not want me to be miserable. He doesn’t like it when I’m miserable. He probably wants to smack me around a little bit when I come into the chapel with that pious, long-suffering look on my face. Yech.

Anyway, I’m doing better now. After getting some work done and some espresso in me, I went to the chapel for my daily visit and was surprised to find out that Jesus seemed perfectly willing to take the pain away, if I was willing to let go of it.3 Tomorrow, an anniversary dinner with old friends; the day after that, a barbecue with family; the day after that, I get to see another old friend go from postulant to novice at a convent not far away.

Blessing upon blessing, really, when you think about it.

Oh geez, now I am going to have to do something about that size of the ‘depression’ tag in the cloud over there…seriously, people are going to get the idea that being a Christian is hard.

1 Cribbed from Thomas Sowell: “There are only two ways of telling the complete truth: anonymously and posthumously.”
2 Fr. T is fond of saying: “Get down from the cross. We could use the wood.” Then he chuckles like he made it up himself and I haven’t already heard him say it 70 x 7 times.
3 I was surprised to find this out yesterday, too. See what I mean about relearning?

But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save…

Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?1

“Faith without a hope.” Ugh. Sometimes that’s exactly what’s necessary. Whenever the liar’s lies start sounding plausible, my first instinct is to fight back — counter his arguments with my own, untie the knots he keeps tying.

I always lose, though. The enemy I’m fighting is either myself or some devil. If it’s myself — well, I’m clearly in a weakened condition, and so at the moment I’m much stronger than me. I’ll never defeat myself like this. If it’s some devil, his intellect dwarfs mine; he cuts off every escape route, smashes through all my strongest defenses. I lose again.

The better thing to do is something a good friend told me years ago: Fold the wings of your intellect. My mind is a caged bird, beating her wings against the bars; so I’ll let her stop flapping. All of my thoughts have become weapons that the enemy turns against me; so then I’ll take away his weapons. Does the pain persist? Let it persist. I’ll think of a loved one worse off than me, and offer my pain to God for them. God doesn’t waste suffering.

And if there’s a chapel only 10 minutes away where I can sit at the feet of my Shepherd and fold my wings2 there — even better.

When I don’t respond to the arguments, they subside. The pain gets worse, then better. Do I feel great? Not really. But tomorrow I’ll feel better. Tomorrow, in all probability, I won’t be able to remember what was bothering me.

Tomorrow, too, I’ll get off my ass and finally (ugh) see what hoops I have to jump through to find a therapist again.

1 GKC again. From The Ballad of the White Horse.
2 So okay, it’s a mixed metaphor. Haven’t you ever seen a sheep with wings? Pretty pathetic sight, actually. You thought the bird metaphor was maudlin? Try imagining it with a sheep.

“Part of chastity is not being too attached.”

That was Father T during our most recently bi-weekly (supposedly) phone call. “Supposedly” because, as with the doctor, I usually wait until things are pretty bad until I give him a call. And, as with the doctor, if I just talked to him regularly then things probably wouldn’t get so bad. But I’m a man and men are stupid about going to the doctor, spiritual or medical. I will probably die of prostate cancer.

Things weren’t bad at all this time, actually, but it had been a while, and we needed to catch up. I got to talking about Sal, naturally, and said I missed him. That’s when Fr. T said the above.

This isn’t the wisdom of the world. It’s an unusual thing to say, at least from a secularist1 perspective, and for at least two reasons.

(1) The typical Hollywood narrative, I think, is that you meet the one person in the universe who is absolutely perfect for you and who you will always feel rapturous passion for, at every second (even when they smell bad), and then you sink your claws into each other a mile deep and never let go, and just generally forget about the rest of the world because he/she is all you’ll ever need.

That is not Christian love. A little closer to the Christian ideal is the popular wisdom that, unless you’re okay by yourself, you won’t be okay with anyone else either. There’s a bit in High Fidelity where the narrator talks about how, when he’s not dating someone, he goes “fuzzy around the edges.” Pretty insightful for Nick Hornby, who seems to be writing mostly novel-length Lifetime movies for Manchildren2 these days.

That brings us to (2): What has this got to do with chastity? The word, in popular culture, usually means “not having sex.”3

This is not the meaning of the word as Christians understand it, and as Fr. T. meant it. Chesterton says it better than I could:

Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.4

When I first read this several years ago I frankly had no idea what he was talking about. I’m still not sure I do. What I am getting, though, is this: the chaste man is the independent man, the man who stands up on his own. When the chaste man loves deeply, he gives his beloved himself — but he does not become emotionally dependent on her. Or, for that matter, him. The chaste man does not mistake his beloved, or anyone else, for God.

Chastity, in other words, has something to do with wholeness; or at least with not trying to fill our gaps with another human being, when really only God will do.

1 I keep on typing “sexularist.” How ’bout that.
2 Menchildren? Man-childs?
3 It also carries a connotation of “being repressed, fanatical, and generally miserable,” which is of course what will become of you if you don’t have sex. Also I hear your balls swell up and you die.
4 From Tremendous Trifles.

“I’m attracted to men too,” said Fr. S. in the confessional when I told him about my problem. He wasn’t fooling me. He’s not the kind of man you would even wonder about. Not that men with SSA are never virile; I’m plenty virile. (And if you disagree I’ll punch you in the head.) But he was clearly making some kind of Point.

“If I see a man who’s confident and strong,” he said, “I want to be around him. I want to be with him and be like him.” Yeah, but you don’t want to jump in bed with him, I wanted to say. But I took the point. It’s easy for a man with SSA to think that he’s completely different from other men, different all the way down to the core. But it’s not true.

Telling Sal about my SSA a few days ago was a strange experience, and I’m still processing it. A small part of me1 was hoping that he’d say, “Me too.” It’s a good thing he didn’t. But the reason I thought he might was because he, clearly, is a lover of men — forms deep bonds with men, like I do, and expresses his love with words and touch.

My suspicions, though, are telling. When I was a teenager and still coming to terms with the whole thing, I remember seeing two of my friends with their arms around each other’s shoulders, and wondering if they might be gay. In my mind, affection between men (especially physical affection) meant there was something sexual.2 I guess I still haven’t shaken the idea.

Knowing that it’s not true in Sal’s case, though, is a help. If he can feel as strongly as he does about me without wanting anything besides friendship, then there’s nothing wrong with the way I feel about him, either, and I don’t have to give it up.

Although, judging by the size of his name in the tag cloud, which isn’t even his real name for Pete’s sake, I might have to post about something else once in a while.

1 No, I’m not planning on making that joke.
2 With exceptions for professional athletes, who are allowed to pat each other on the butt without anybody looking twice.

I just dropped Sal off at the bus station. He’s moving on up north, to see his cousin and maybe get his old job back. My heart aches to see him go, and I know the apartment will be lonelier for a while, but it was time, and it was one heck of a visit.

We didn’t do much while he was here. Watched a bunch of movies, drank a bunch of beer. Went to adoration, went to Mass, hung out with mutual friends. Talked a lot, occasionally about things that mattered, but mostly not. Talked about writing and hacking, theology and martial arts, traded lines from Star Wars and Kung Pow.

A couple of Saturdays ago, we were sitting in the car after going to Confession. In a moment of courage born of prayer, I let him know about my SSA. His response was to put his head on my shoulder for a second, and then say regretfully that he wished he could reciprocate by telling me some dreadful secret of his own, but he didn’t have any that I didn’t already know.

And that was pretty much it. We talked about it a little more, then moved on. It seemed to make so little difference to him that I almost wondered if he had heard me right. But he did.

That is how Sal is. I talk and think a lot about how having SSA doesn’t put you in a separate category from other men, doesn’t make any difference to who you are. For me, though, sometimes it’s just talk, and sometimes I’m talking to convince myself.

Sal, for the hundredth time, showed me what these things really look like — to love unconditionally, to love without reservation. I could never deserve a friend like that.

But God doesn’t always give us what we deserve. Maybe never.