Note: Occasionally, as below, I lift a post from an email to a reader. I never do this without the reader’s explicit permission. Thank you for writing, B., and for being willing to share this.
I know what you mean about depression. I think we always expect suffering to be different from the way it actually is, whether that suffering is interior (like depression) or exterior (like betrayal, or physical disease, or somebody’s death). When we’re inside it, it’s no longer obvious that it’s a Trial, or a Test, or a Purging, or whatever: it’s just something that hurts, and all of our usual defenses seem to be gone.
There was a point during one of my darkest times — a time when I went through an intense 9-month depression — when I had what I think is a very important realization: that if God is allowing me to pass through something, then I don’t have to understand it in order for his purpose to be accomplished by it.
To be clearer: I used to feel like I always had to be looking for the “meaning” behind my depression, or looking really hard to see what “lesson” God was trying to teach me through it. And I felt like, if I didn’t find that “lesson”, then the depression would be wasted and I wouldn’t learn anything.
But I don’t think that’s how it works. If I was capable of understanding what the lesson was trying to teach me, then I wouldn’t need the lesson at all. And if God allowed me to go through the pain, but didn’t allow me to see what I was supposed to be getting out of it, it’s because he knew that the pain itself would be a kind of teacher for me.
The crucial thing in all of this is to maintain contact with God in whatever ways you can. This means being faithful to daily prayer, weekly Mass, and confession as often as you can (within reason). This way, we keep the lines open, even if we don’t understand why, and even if we no longer feel that we’re “doing it right” or “getting something out of it” or any of that stuff. The important thing is to stay the course. My spiritual director has frequently told me that some of the time, or maybe most of the time, the only thing God asks of us is that we keep showing up — even when our heart isn’t in it.
I’m just writing to say hi. I hope you’re well. Sorry it’s been a while. I don’t have any grand themes to expound upon, so maybe writing this post like a letter makes the most sense.
I just got back from an extended weekend trip with my Kung Fu school, who I keep referring to as my “Kung Fu family”, because that is how I keep feeling about them. You know that Decemberists song, I think it’s off Picaresque: “Here in our hovel / We fused like a family”? I kept thinking of that, although the beach house we rented was no hovel. We trained hard all three days, and when we weren’t training, we were cooking, eating, playing video games, or soaking in the hot tub. We even jumped in the ocean, which even in Virginia was the worst February idea ever.
So that’s why I didn’t write to you last week.
I’m on the bus now to visit a good friend and fellow blogger in Maryland. My social life seems to be feast-or-fast; either I’m on the go several weekends in a row, or I’m up in my room, plugged in and sealed off, watching Netflix while other people do exciting things.
I haven’t been on a bus in a long time. It makes me think of earlier days: I used to enjoy thinking of myself as a rootless vagabond, and would jaunt off every summer I could, to visit people around the country. Once I spent two days on an Amtrak, heading for Dallas. I chatted with a metal musician who was in mid-detox and haunted by visions of demons — I gave him a miraculous medal to wear — and drank bad, expensive beer with a lawyer named Cain.
It’s harder to pretend I’m a vagabond now, what with the cell phone and kindle and laptop and all; and, whether because I’m more closed in on myself now or just because I’m older and a little less romantic, I’m keeping to myself. Besides, I have writing to do.
You ask me how come I’m not so lonesome and desperate anymore, and why depression isn’t such a big part of my life, barely a part at all. I wish I had a simple answer for you. Father T always used to tell me that there was no magic pill, no moment when you suddenly Find Yourself. You never find yourself, he insisted: you build yourself. Molecule by molecule, like stalactites.
Never give up, I guess. Find somebody to talk to, and keep talking as long as they’ll let you. Find your fears and confront them, but take it slow and be merciful to yourself.
Pray, pray, pray. Go to the Blessed Sacrament over and over; soak in His rays like you’re sunbathing, and never stop. The nice thing about being in front of the Blessed Sacrament: there’s no wrong way to do it. There are better ways and worse ways, but spending time at the feet of Jesus is never going to hurt you.
Find yourself a good therapist, and meanwhile fire the bad ones quickly, because they’re assholes and they don’t deserve your money or your time or your secrets. Consider getting some good meds. Write to me if I can help.
I heard a nice idea from my sister: every time something happens that you’re really thankful for, you write it on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. Then, at the end of the year, you read the pieces of paper, to remember all the good things.
I think I missed some big ones — I guess I forgot to keep putting stuff in the jar — and some of the things are on a whole nother level than others (like apparently I was really excited about my new car), but here are my 2013 scraps, not in chronological order but just in the order that I happened to take them out of the jar. They are only slightly expurgated.
I got a Jetta.
It feels a little silly that this is the top of the list, but it is a cool car, and it’s bright red besides.
I told [x] I was attracted to him. He still wanted to be friends.
This was a first for me. As with so, so many other things, it was much less of a big deal in real life than it had been in my mind. Months later, the attraction isn’t really an issue, and we’re still friends. So.
[x] visited me, and we talked more deeply than we’ve ever talked before.
[x] and I have been friends for sixteen years. Somehow we had never rolled up our sleeves and compared scars before.
I came out publicly, and received a tremendous outpouring of love and support.
Yayuh. I’m not sorry that I waited so long, because my right time was my right time. But it’s awfully nice out here in the breeze and sunshine.
I am attracted to women, and some more than others.
Still true, but nothing to really write home about.
Our school goes: white, yellow, green, purple, blue, brown, black. I currently stand at purple-with-a-blue-stripe, or “purple-and-a-half”, but that’s not nearly as close to black as it sounds. Long road ahead of me, and I plan to see it through.
I entered the Wu Dao tournament — my first. Placed first in forms, second in sparring.
To be fair, there were only two other guys in my sparring division.
[x] was going to leave but decided to stay.
[x] is a coworker who became an unexpectedly big part of my life. If he had quit, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but still, phew!
I sat and talked with [x] and [x] about porn and masturbation and homosexuality for hours. Till 2 in the morning. They understood it all.
More scar-sharing, and it’s always cool when straight guys have scars in the same spots as me.
After I had quit smoking for a week, everybody at the kwoon clapped for me.
Now I’m at seven months and counting. Dare I say that the hard part is over?
I became friends with Ryan Gooseling.
Unexpected blessings are the best kind.
I went contact-improv dancing with [x].
Okay, okay, it was fun, but it did have more flailing than I am comfortable with, and I still don’t like hipsters.
2013 saw, oddly, an apparent ending to the kind of misery that I used to think was a permanent fixture in my life. I’m sure the Black Dog will pay me a visit or two in the future, but depression is no longer a defining characteristic in my life.
Can I just say: holy shit, you guys, for somebody who was depressed pretty much every day for about fifteen years, that’s kind of a big deal. Do you even know how good it feels to go whole weeks or even months without wanting to die? Did you even know that could happen? It’s neat!
In 2014, I plan to discover what kind of adventures are possible when your primary goal is no longer just to keep the agony down to a dull roar. I’m excited.
It’s been a long time since I was depressed, and that’s amazing. The odd thing is how not-sad is not exactly the same as happy. When I was habitually miserable, I always figured that being free from the constant oppressive darkness was all I could ever ask for. Turns out, nope, my appetite for bliss is infinite, just like CSL said (somewhere [probably]), so I am probably just getting started.
Truth be told, I am feeling a little empty. Unfortunately, it’s not the Dark Night of the Soul. That is when you are so so so wonderful that God has decided that the only way to make you MORE wonderful is to withdraw the sense of His presence for a while so that your inner wonderfulness can grow. Anyway that’s what the saints say.
I wouldn’t know, because the reason I feel empty is that I am selfish and vain and I don’t pray enough and I’d rather look at my triceps in the mirror than pour out the love of Christ on my fellow wounded immortals. So I assume.
2 – Baby’s Black Balloon
Speaking of emptiness, Zen Pencils has done a curiously affecting illustration of a C. S. Lewis quotation that I had forgotten I ever read:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.
The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
3 – The Perils Of Being Awesome
That bit about the hobbies and luxuries stung a little, because I had just been congratulating myself on having this chastity thing pretty well down — I mean, not that the old habits of solitary vice1 don’t occasionally reassert themselves, just that I’m not lonely and brokenhearted and stuck wandering the echoing hallways of solitude, wondering how to fill all that TIME; which is what, in my early days as a consciously gay Catholic, I assumed I’d be doing around now.
Because why? Because I do fill my time, with the things I always go on about: tattoos (I’ve got an appointment in two weeks) and Kung Fu (ranking coming up this December!) and motorcycles (there’s got to be one more perfect day before the snow comes) and writing (which I pretend I do a lot more of than I do) and working out (see biceps, above).
Which, ruh roh, none of those things are bad and in fact all of them are good, but they do sort of smack of a rich single guy spending his time entertaining himself. That’s not chastity. The point is not to distract yourself from the fact that you aren’t settling down with a mate. The point is to spend yourself on something, lap strength, steal joy, laugh, cheer.2
4 – Cheer Whom, Though?
Not that the two are mutually exclusive. Whatever we do, even if it’s something for ourselves, there are always opportunities to pour ourselves out.
I walked into Kung Fu on Wednesday feeling like I had somehow forgotten how to be in touch with human beings, so Oh well I better resign myself to just sort of drifting until I remember where my heart is.
Then I remembered that, during that year of now done darkness,3 when the Kwoon became the closest thing I had to an inviolably safe place, somehow the classes when I was most gregarious and most able to pour out love were those classes when I started out feeling the most depleted.
I don’t know what that means. Is it that, when I’m empty, I’m more easily filled by love, which, let’s be ontologically honest, never originates from me in the first place anyway? Regardless, it worked. Step inside the magical door with a quick prayer to my Dad to look out for me, and pretty soon I am scattering brightness.
Or that’s how it feels. Maybe I am just scattering annoyingness. I’ll never know, will I?
5 – The Achieve Of; The Mastery Of the Thing4
What makes me not terribly worried that my hobbies are somehow slowly turning me into a self-absorbed emotional miser is the knowledge that when you do things that are awesome and that you love doing, you can’t help glowing, and the glow can’t help lighting up other people. It’s like capitalism! Except it works.5
Which must be why this video makes me happy beyond all reason.
I don’t care that it’s a commercial, or that Enya is lazy music for gooey people, or that there wasn’t any real danger, or that after all he’s just an actor. Maybe it’s that JCVD has passed from goofy sincerity, through postmodern irony, and has come out on the other side as sincere again. I dunno. The video inspires me because it’s beautiful, so there you go. My heart in hiding stirred for a split.
6 – Gweenbrick
I have been waiting to tell you officially about Gweenbrick ever since I mentioned him. I wanted to make a whole post about him. But if I wait till I do that, I’ll wait a long time.
Anyway, I can’t decide which his posts are more: hilarious, symphonic, Zen, or Hambledonian.6 I wish I could write like this man, and I am proud of knowing about him before the whole entire internet descends on him with shouts of adulation. Get in on the ground floor of loving Gweenbrick. Today’s post is called Slow Yoga With Denene.
7 – Clap Your Tiny Hands For Joy
As long as we are talking about beauty, thanks to Simo7 for posting this. Oh my gosh. Go out and give thanks. Happy Friday.
1I <3 euphemisms. 2Hopkins, obvi. 3Hopkins again. Same poem. 4The Windhover, this time, which was clearly written about JCVD, whatever else it may have been written about. 5It is fun to be snarky about capitalism from the comfort of my coffee shop. I do believe that it’s probably the worst possible system, except for all the others. 6Cf. Douglas Adams’ The Meaning of Liff, in which he defines Hambledon as “The sound of a single-engined aircraft flying by, heard whilst lying in a summer field in England, which somehow concentrates the silence and sense of space and timelessness and leaves one with a profound feeling of something or other.” That’s Gweenbrick. 7That’s “teacher’s wife” for you nonkungfuers.
1—It’s my writing day, and that’s a good day, but frankly, I’m in a lot of pain. These road bumps come and go, and I know better than to try reinterpreting my whole life in the light of how I happen to feel today, but today I happen to feel really awful. It’s like those days when you lie in bed shaking with the flu and you just think, “Gosh, I’d like this to over, but it keeps going instead.” Just waiting for the upswing, and in the meantime finding comfort where I can.
2—On the bright side, Pope Francis has released a new encyclical today: Lumen Fidei, the light of faith. You can get it on the Vatican’s website, of course. I’m working my way through it now.
3—I’m super psyched for Matt Jones’ coming out post today. He’s one of the best gay Christian writers I know on the interwebz, and a great human being besides. If you haven’t already read his stuff (as “Jordan”) on Gay Subtlety, there’s a lot of wisdom and entertainment (wisdertainment?) there too.
4—This and other events have me rethinking my own stance towards anonymity. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if I followed suit before too long — partly it’s just a matter of bowing to the inevitable, since my voice is already out there on the net, and soon my face very likely will be too (more on that as that story develops), so maybe my name won’t be that big of a step. But I wanna have some fanfare! I want a party! And also I just want to bide my time and make sure I’m doing it right.
5—Today I needed Confession, like bad, and I actually left my writing spot at the coffee shop in the middle of the day to hunt down the priest after the 12:15 Mass at the Cathedral. Turns out this is the one day he couldn’t make it. That didn’t help my day any. It’s like, you know the Lord isn’t actually telling you “I don’t want to see you” or “I don’t forgive you,” but it’s hard not to feel that way anyway. Catholic Guilt, I know.
6—On the plus side, on my way back to the coffee shop, as I’m processing this and reminding myself of everything I really do know about the Lord, how he’s actually not mean and would actually not rather see me burst into tears in traffic, if it could be avoided, I see this bumper sticker: “Esfuérzate y sé valiente”, be strong and courageous; which is not only relevant but contains a little personal nod, because for me (thanks to my stay in Peru), Spanish is the language of the Lord and of the heart.
Then I look up the full verse and just kind of go, Huh. Well.
7—I’m not nearly as big into Signs as I used to be, but whenever I see something like that, I think of that bit in Lewis’ The Silver Chair:
“Don’t you mind him,” said Puddleglum. “There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan; and he was there when the giant King caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.”
I know that doesn’t do a great job of explaining this moment, but if you’ve read the book you’ll get it, and if you haven’t, you should!
On my 17th visit to my therapist, marking nearly a year with her, she asks me, What do you think has changed?
I could truthfully answer:
No longer frantic and empty
Like a cat
Tied to a stick
That’s driven into
Frozen winter sh★t1
But I don’t listen to Radiohead very often anymore, and that’s part of the point. The question doesn’t really have to do with the ways in which I feel differently, but with what I’ve been doing differently. So I answer that I live my life now as if living my life were a skill, something that has to be learned and practiced consciously.
Because it is. It would be absurd to imagine that playing the piano, or doing Kung Fu, or coding in PHP, was supposed to be automatic. It would be ridiculous to tell yourself that, because you weren’t born knowing differential calculus, there must be something wrong with you.
But that’s exactly what I’m sometimes tempted to tell myself about living life and being happy, even though living life — a balancing act between action and passivity, relationship and independence, grieving and celebrating, surviving and enjoying, all requiring billions of on-the-fly adjustments and split-second decisions and, probably most importantly, failure after failure — is exponentially more complicated than any of those other things.
It’s true that some people do seem to have a natural talent for living, the way some people have a natural talent for dancing: while we’re mouthing a frantic onetwothreeonetwothree and focusing on not stepping on our partner’s feet, they’re the ones grooving along like they were on living rails, whirling off into arabesques and syncopations without seeming to think about anything at all.
Maybe it’s because they worked very, very hard for very, very long. Or maybe it’s because they were born with rhythm. Or maybe they grew up listening to Bach and Strauss and Glenn Miller and the Beach Boys, so it all seeped into their blood. Or maybe they are on some damn good rhythm-enhancing drugs.
But I can’t know those things. All I can know is what I do and how well it works, or doesn’t, for me. So I make a point of things like:
Planning out my Sunday morning so I don’t get to Sunday night without talking to at least one or two people that I love
Switching the radio if I’m feeling raw and something too melancholy comes on
Calling a friend before I start feeling abandoned and lonesome
Working out on a regular schedule, whether I want to or not
And so on. I do this stuff because I’ve found out that nothing else does the trick, and with the knowledge that I have friends who can spend seven hours by themselves watching The X-Files, fall asleep on the courch eating fried pork rinds, sleep for ten hours, and wake up not feeling substantially worse about themselves; whereas if I did those things, it’d take a week of recovery before I could stop feeling like crying.
That’s just how it is. I dunno if it’ll always be that way, and I’m certain that it’s better than it used to be. Some of these things do become second nature. You build momentum and it carries you; when you’re moving along at a good clip, you keep doing what you’re doing; when you come to a screeching halt, you look at how you got there, and you start methodically doing the opposite.
1It’s from Fitter, Happier, off OK Computer, which yeah, is the best album of its decade, but definitely isn’t suitable for one’s daily bread.
The other day, because I’m not used to dealing with life without tobacco (12 days so far, whee!) and because I ran out of my meds accidentally that morning (I’ve got some more now) and because sometimes things are just a lot to take, I found myself sitting in my cubicle and looking at my screen through a blur of tears.
Sometimes an attack like that can be dodged by refocusing, but this wasn’t that kind. It was a real will-sapper. I felt like limp lettuce. Limp lettuce that was suddenly very sad for no reason.
I dragged myself out of my chair and pulled my friend and coworker M. outside with me for a non-smoking break — we are quitting together — and proceeded to burst into tears in front of him. There wasn’t anything he could do, because the attack wasn’t because of anything in particular. But, strange to tell, it helped immensely. I think I know why.
At one point I would have dealt with an episode like this by heading to the bathroom, locking the door, and collapsing in a corner for a while. I’d fantasize about turning to this or that person for help, but talk myself out of it for various reasons: that it wouldn’t do any good, or that they’ve got their own problems, or that I didn’t want to feed my own self-pity. Then I’d clean myself up, check my eyes for redness as if I’d been smoking dope, and get back to work.
But it’s a very lonely feeling to be desperately sad and to have nobody know about it. It’s one more way to reinforce the idea that you are irrevocably different, and that your problems are somehow invalid, not allowable.
Doing it all in front of somebody, on the other hand, is a very different experience. It’s a question of being seen; and this, all by itself, helps makes you feel like a part of the human race after all, instead of someone invisibly locked in a bathroom somewhere, having his private problems that nobody knows about and nobody can solve.
It gives you the chance to see that your friends can see you at your worst and take it in their stride, without being surprised (because they will have been there, too) or weirded out (because being sad isn’t weird). It also honors the friend — says to him, See, I trust you enough to fall apart in front of you. It gives him a chance to say all the fairly meaningless but surprisingly helpful things that can be said in such a situation: talk to me, hang in there, I’m here for you.
Remember, it’s a mitzvah to let somebody else do a mitzvah for you.
1. Misery is not necessarily an indication that you are not doing the will of God.
Sometimes we suffer because we are doing the wrong thing and going in the wrong direction. On the other hand, sometimes suffering is a sign that the devil is displeased and wants to make you hurt: a good thing. Or sometimes suffering is a sign that God is pleased and wants to make you even more alive: a good thing.
2. Misery is not necessarily an indication that you are doing the will of God.
On the other hand, sometimes we suffer because we have done stupid, bad things, and stupid, bad things always end up hurting us. So sometimes you have to just take your punishment and say, Yup, I deserve this. Sometimes it isn’t even a punishment, but just a natural consequence of the stupid, bad thing you’ve done. If you drink fifteen beers and are hung over the next morning, it’s not because God is punishing you or testing you and it’s not a Dark Night Of the Soul. It’s because you are an idiot.
3. Contentment is not necessarily an indication that you are doing the will of God.
Lots of people are content. Saints, I suppose, are perfectly content at least some of the time. Sinners who have gotten very good at ignoring their consciences, I suppose, are perfectly content at least some of the time. Maybe you are content because everything really is going all right. On the other hand, maybe you are content because you have been lulled to sleep, when you should be wakeful.
4. Contentment is not necessarily an indication that you are not doing the will of God.
Skip this one if it makes no sense to you. If, however, you are the sort of person who starts to worry when he starts to feel good — because you’re not quite sure what to do with yourself when you don’t have some terrible agony to offer up — maybe just try being content with being content. Enjoy it while it lasts; maybe the Lord’s giving you a break. You probably need it!
To sum up: feeling are a pretty unreliable way to tell how well you’re doing.
If not feelings, what then?
Prayer, I suppose, charity, a steadfast heart. Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, and you won’t have to worry about any of this. Or, as Padre Pio said: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.
That God exists and that He is good, I have no doubt. But I don’t know what His goodness means.
Some time ago, my old friend R. left the Church. She left because, she said, the pressure of trying to make her everyday experience, all things manifold and strange and painful and joyful and contradictory, fit within the structure of Catholicism, was making her crazy. So she stopped trying to make it fit. I don’t know if she’s happier now, but I suspect she’s closer to sanity than she was before.
That’s not a recommendation for leaving the Church. I don’t think that the thing she left behind was Catholicism, per se; I think it was neurotic guilt over Catholicism. Somebody said1 that whoever runs away from what is hateful is running towards Christ, even if the thing they are running away from is (apparently) Christ too.
So the girl who leaves Catholicism because the only Catholicism she knows is her father’s ultra-conservative, more-Catholic-than-the-Magisterium brand, a Catholicism that is only a mask for misogyny, puritanism, sexual confusion, and the desire for control2 — isn’t she right to run? Won’t she be more likely to find Christ elsewhere, at least for a time; a Christ that won’t call her a whore for wearing pants?3
But isn’t it possible to do what R. did — to run away from what is hateful, untenable, crazy-making — but without leaving? It is good to run from what is toxic. But it is better still to run away from toxic people and toxic ideas while remaining connected to the lifelines of the Church, those streams of cool, healing water that flow ceaselessly from the Sacraments. Healing water that, better than anything else, can wash all the toxicity away.
Towards the end of my four-month ordeal of intense, 24/7 depression, I stopped trying to make sense of it. I stopped asking why God allowed me to experience such pain, and what it meant — whether he was inflicting it on me somehow (whom God loves, he also disciplines) or just allowing it, whether it was a punishment or a purgation or just an inevitability, whether it was my fault or somebody else’s; what I was meant to learn from it, and whether I was failing or succeeding in learning that lesson.
When I stopped trying to figure it out, it wasn’t a decision so much as a submission. I suppose I could have decided to set my teeth and keep wrestling, to try to wring some answer from the Lord. I could have devised some theorem as to how my daily experience — from waking up crying, to choking out the words of a Rosary on the way home from work, to collapsing exhausted by sadness but still unable to sleep at the end of the day — fit with the God of Psalm 23, the God who provides rest and cool water and oil, the God who restores and comforts.
But I couldn’t do it. Whenever I piously told myself that God rescues us from all our troubles, I knew I was lying. Where was God in Auschwitz? Where was God for the 5th-grader who, when I was a teacher, showed me the bruises on legs and throat that his father had given him — showed me casually and with a strange smile, because he didn’t know that normal fathers don’t do this? Where was God for me?
I couldn’t make it fit. And this was a mercy: because belief in a God who never lets his children suffer is belief in a lie. If we believe in such a God, the atheists are right to mock us for it.
The overthrow of a tyrant is a great and dangerous time in the life of a nation. Great, because there is a chance that the next regime will be better than the last. Dangerous, because there is a chance that the next regime will be much, much worse. As with a tyrant, so with an idea or an idol; as with a nation, so with a man.
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walks through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, I will return unto my house from which I came out. And when he comes, he finds it swept and in order. Then he goes, and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.4
I am grateful that my false god is dead. I was tired of being disappointed in him, making excuses for him, calling it mercy when all I felt was abandonment, calling it presence when all I felt was absence.
But for the moment I find myself in a power vacuum. I am cautious of all my ideas of God, for fear of setting up another false idol. I want no more tyrants. I want the King to return…
Show me, Lord, finally:
Who are you?
What are you like?
So I cling to the Sacraments, to the Mass, to the word of God, to the wise and holy men and women in my life. I read, and I pray, and I seek counsel, and I wait.
1Anyone know what quotation I’m thinking of, or who said it? 2I’m not talking about my R.’s father here. Unfortunately, I am talking about several other real people. 3Yeah, no joke. That isn’t Catholicism, that’s insanity. 4Matthew 12:43-45.
I’m at my friend C.’s lakeside cabin in Maine. We have done nothing the past three days besides eat, sleep, talk, and swim a little. He is here on a sort of retreat from his life, and my situation is similar. Good place for it. Sitting on the deck, we hear the sounds of water, birdsong, insects, the occasional powerboat, the cry of a loon.
I am here on my motorcycle, breaking in the beautiful new machine — my old bike died two weeks ago, and in a burst of extravagance I bought a 2010 model. Unheard of, to have a vehicle so new! (My last one was as old as I am.) She doesn’t have a name yet, but she is already covered in dust from the dirt road between here and civilization. Tomorrow I continue on to Vermont, a ride of at least four hours, to spend the rest of my week off with Sal. It will be ninety degrees, a beautiful day for riding through a beautiful part of the country.
Things are nearly as quiet inside my head as they are outside of it. I credit the pills. They have given me relief from the old vicious cycles. Is it my imagination, or have they also created a kind of shallowness of mind, a distance from contemplation as well as from pain? During prayer time I have been disinterested, distracted; the rest of the day my mind is content to bounce around on the surfaces of things. Is this unusual, or is it just part of my normal cycle? I won’t worry about it yet. The doc and the priest and the shrink and I will sort it all out later, after vacation.
I am still adjusting to the idea of depression as a chemical problem, something solveable, something exterior and undeserved. Last weekend, staying at my parents’ house before the trip, I admitted to my mother that I had always thought of my depression as a moral failing, a character flaw, something that I had more or less brought on myself. She was surprised to hear it, and I was almost surprised at her surprise. I suppose these things are more obvious from the outside: from the inside, depression always feels like a judgment.
I’ve never wholly believed that, but maybe I’d let the idea get more purchase than I should. To friends and family, it is obvious that my depression is something inflicted, something suffered — not, as they say, a part of Who I Am.
Enough. I’m out of cigarettes. Time to take the bike into town.