Depression and the Church

Yesterday, I read this article how church can help the depressed on how the church can love those in its’ congregation who suffer from depression.  While the points made in the article were good (educate yourself, listen, and pray), I felt the article barely scratched the surface of what the church can do to help those in need.  I’d like to add a few more points for consideration:

  1.  Eliminate Christian-ese and platitudes when talking with someone who’s depressed.  Comments like “you just need to get out more” or “if you just exercise, you’ll feel better” or “you’re not praying enough” or even “you have a demon inside you” are not helpful at all.  The depressed person wants to get better, no doubt about it, but simply has no resources within themselves to do so. Certain types of depression are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
  2. Cultivate ties with Christian counsellors experienced in treating depression. Have a list ready of psychologists  (including contact information) to provide the individual who is coping with depression.  If a person comes for pastoral counselling, something a pastor can do (since pastors are not necessarily trained as therapists) is to help the individual set up an appointment with a Christian therapist.
  3. If you are a friend to someone who is suffering with depression, know that while this may be a difficult time for you to be their friend due to their depressed state, try not to “dump” them (this happened to me…which hardly made my depression better).
  4. Have a guest speaker come in, such as a Christian counsellor, to talk about mental illness.
  5. Keep  a list of emergency phone numbers handy such as the local Suicide Prevention hotline. Take any talk of suicide seriously.
  6. Acknowledge the need for lament. Perhaps a sermon or two on lamenting would be helpful.
  7. Anyone else notice there seems to be a lack of authenticity in church; we all put on a plastic grin? Not only depression is hidden but all wounds, scars, shame, and flaws.   (If you really knew me would you still love me?)   This song by Casting Crowns says it much better than this post.

If everything is objective and there is no room for subjectivity (not relativity, but subjectivity), there is no room for true human experience. And so we are left denying our experiences, which are not always good ones, in the face of the hard objective truth that God is good. We’re often not really given the permission to do otherwise.

Quote From – Need For Lament

 

A Message to Pastors on Father’s Day

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Dear Church,

As my Facebook feed starts to fill up with Father’s Day messages, posts, memes and the like, a message of my own:

This Father’s Day, please don’t preach about all the wonderful Godly fathers out there and praise and acknowledge them. Having a Godly, life-affirming, confidence-building, loving, supportive, or even living father is not part of all of your congregants’ reality.  To those of us whom this scenario isn’t our truth, such messages serve as a trigger to remind us of what we did not/do not have.

Having a living child to be a father to is not every father’s reality either.

This Father’s Day, get real. First, recognize the fatherless.  Second, agree that sometimes, fathers suck.  Everywhere we turn, we are reminded, thanks to the retailers who bombard us with advertising, about Father’s Day.  This can be a trigger for some of us.  Acknowledge the many, many children who grew up never knowing their father, whose father abandoned them, whose father abused them, whose father was completely absent from their life as children – either through abandonment, addiction, death, etc.

There will be times when hearing the words “God is father to the fatherless” and “God is your father” will not bring comfort to those who never had a father. Acknowledge this.

Mention those who have lost their children. Losing a child means being a father in spirit only. Grief fills their heart every anniversary, Father’s day, Mother’s day, Christmas, special event, their child’s birthday, etc.

This Father’s Day, I won’t be going to church.  I don’t have much hope that the sermon will change.

But, maybe someday the messages will, church:  because it’s high time they did.

Dream Fulfillment

At the Chicago "Bean" 2012
At the Chicago “Bean” 2012

With the uploading of the final assignment for the final course in my University Certificate Program (Professional Writing in Public Relations and Marketing) I have realized the life-long dream – a dream at times I didn’t even know I had – of attending University.  This is a moment worth savoring.  This is an accomplishment worth celebrating. My heart is full.  This dream fulfillment has been two years of hard work towards this moment, utilizing, enhancing, improving upon and fully embracing a passion (writing) I have had for years.  Not for nothing, I accomplished this while doing/dealing with:  chronic pain; migraines; sleep apnea; arthritis; anxiety; the death of my father and the death of our beloved pets in 2013 (and the byproduct of loss – grief); keeping our home running; writing articles for magazines; developing inventory for two photography shows, etc.

I will actually receive my formal Certificate in the fall due to missing the deadline this spring because of course timings.  The University also has certificate graduation ceremonies however I will not be eligible to participate in this year’s ceremony due to the application deadline. I’ve submitted my name for next year’s graduation ceremony. I was eligible, based on academic standing and the program I was taking, an endowment award of $500 and applied for the same. I will know at the end of May whether I was selected.

Obtaining this Certificate would not have been possible, on so many levels, without the love and support of my husband. Honey, you rock! Thank you so much. “I’m not a parasite, I’m a tax deduction!”

I was asked for my thoughts on what comes next.  I’m curious about our culture that creates this. This seemingly pushing along of life.   It occurs in various forms: once one is engaged, one is asked “when’s the wedding”, as if the engagement itself was not  a moment to cherish, celebrate, savor.  When one is married, the question changes to “when are you having kids?”  Same thing: Is the stage one is at not a stage to enjoy for it’s own sake? And, when one graduates, it is “what will you do now?”  Well, now I am savoring my accomplishment.  I am patting myself on the back, tooting my own horn, and making merry over what I have achieved. This is a big deal to me; huge!  I’m also going to catch up on my sleep. As to the future? In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll “worry about that tomorrow.”

Skipping Christmas

I basically grew up in foster homes. I had no family of my own .  After my mother died, my father remarried and abandoned me to an institution and the foster home system.

I think I spent one Christmas with my father and his second wife before being institutionalized.

I don’t remember much about my childhood or teen Christmases.  It’s unlikely they were of the story-book, fantasy kind, however.  In Canada, we celebrate Boxing Day as well, which is the day after Christmas.  I remember one singular visit from my father on Boxing Day when I was in the FHFH (“foster home from hell”). That being said, he could have visited more and I just don’t remember. I don’t even remember Christmases at the foster homes.

In early adulthood, after my first marriage fell apart and I was single, at Christmas I’d “borrow” another family to spend Christmas Day with. No-one should be alone at Christmastime. Other than that, I didn’t put up a tree or acknowledge it in any way. I didn’t really even have anyone to buy gifts for.

Eventually Christmas got a bit easier and I started celebrating it in small ways. A tree, some decorations, like Mr. and Mrs. Claus, antiques I inherited from my mother.

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One year, a guy I was dating took it upon himself to meet with my father. I guess he was appalled at “my story.”  My father gave him a token gift to give to me, I forget what it was.  My boyfriend gave it to me Christmas morning and I burst into tears. Overwhelmed and in shock, I said to him: “You shouldn’t have done that, you shouldn’t have done that.”  [I just remembered this and it happened years ago; seems like I’m pretty good at forgetting anything to do with my father.]

Still, I don’t get too attached to Christmas. More like, I go through the motions of it.  The shopping, putting up a tree and other decorations, celebrations, and attending church services where there’s the usual mundane skit about “How many times can we re-tell the Christmas story in new, fresh & exciting ways.”

I spend Christmas and Boxing Day with my second husband’s family.  I get a bit worn out by all the visiting.  Typically on Christmas morning, the Christmas story from the Bible is read. One year instead I read a chapter from a Brennan Manning book.  The chapter was called “Shipwrecked at the Stable”:

The world does not understand vulnerability.  Neediness is rejected as incompetence and compassion is dismissed as unprofitable.  The great deception of television advertising is that being poor, vulnerable, and weak is unattractive.  A fat monk named “Brother Dominic” is cute and cool because he conquers vulnerability and helplessness by buying into the competitive world with a Xerox machine.

The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant savior and a prosperity Gospel.  The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can exactly say where.  His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt-poor shepherds.  But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God. ~ Shipwrecked at the Stable, from “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus” by Brennan Manning. You can read the full chapter here:  http://thevalueofsparrows.com/2012/12/20/advent-meditation-shipwrecked-at-the-stable-by-brennan-manning/

One year at Christmas we stayed home because it was held a province away and we didn’t want to drive in unpredictable winter weather. Staying home that year was such a relief.

Mostly I’d just like to skip Christmas.  Our massage therapist suggested to my husband we create new traditions of our own like attending the Nutcracker.  Yeah, no.  Ballet? Not a fan.

A tradition of Christmas I’d like to create is the one where I pull the covers over my head on December 24 and take them off on December 26.  Especially this year.  That’d be okay, right?

Dear Dad

handmixer

Well, I used the only thing you ever bought me the other day.  The hand mixer I purchased with the gift card you sent me for Christmas a few years ago. That mixer’s my inheritance, your legacy to me, and pretty much the only good thing you ever gave me.

Oh wait – when you gave me up to the government, you “gave” me a lot of things, but none of them were beneficial.

You got out of a lot in your life – supporting your daughter financially, emotionally, and otherwise – when you surrendered me.   What’s interesting is, shortly thereafter, you traded me in for two new models when you adopted two children with your second wife.  Like a do-over? I never truly realized the significance of that until after your death. I also did not realize you had separated from Mom, perhaps because her illness became too much for you to handle.  I only realized that after re-reading the synopsis of my life I’d received from social services.  Mom and I were living with her mother until my mother went into the hospital because of  colitis.  My aunt told me she was in there for a year.  During that year, you screwed around on her.  What a winner you were Dad. Cut and run when it gets to be too much.  Sometimes I wonder if I inherited that urge from you – I, too, want to run when life gets to be too much. But I don’t.

Too bad you couldn’t have manned up and done the same.

Your daughter

Grief is Inconvenient

A bit of preamble: My husband and I have started grief counselling. Our first appointment was last month.

neverargue

People never cease to amaze me, and not necessarily in good ways. We are scheduled for grief counselling Thursday afternoon. A co-worker of hubby’s who wanted to have a meeting with him at that same time was being a real jerk about this yesterday, and got all huffy: “you should go to that in the evenings.”

I’m sorry our grief is so fucking inconvenient for your schedule.

Insensitive asshole.

Seriously.

Who acts like that when told someone’s going for grief counselling? Grief counselling in the evenings are difficult to do; they don’t have many evening appointments.

Since I just got diagnosed last night with pink eye we are re-scheduling anyways.

Of course this co-worker will think the re-scheduling is because of him and that he won.

Not that I’d wish this on anyone, but God forbid this co-worker would ever need to have time off during work hours for dealing with tragedy and grief.

Of course the real tragedy is his lack of sensitivity.   And that is grievous.

 

Our Summer of Hard Things

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photo credit – author’s own

In her book, Carry On Warrior:  Thoughts on Living Life Unarmed, Glennon Doyle Melton reveals the following mottos:

  1. We Can Do Hard Things.
  2. Love Wins.
  3. We Belong to Each Other.

I don’t mind telling you, I am damn tired of doing hard things.  This was the summer of hard things, tears and grief.

Finding out my father passed away and grieving what now will never be (a relationship with him) is an ongoing process of hard things.

Going out to Victoria, BC to do a private memorial for my father was a damn hard thing.

Returning from vacation in July to nurse a very ill cat only to have to have him put to sleep about two weeks later was a very, very hard thing.  The hyper vigilant state I was in for Dexter’s care – is he eating, is he drinking – nearly did me in.  Not knowing if I’d wake up to he still being alive was difficult beyond words. Grieving his death, even though we know we ended his suffering, is still a hard thing.

Our decision to give Oreo (our other cat) to the  Humane Society (we dropped her off this past Saturday) was also a hard thing.  Despite knowing it is necessary for various reasons, including the fact that my husband’s allergies and asthma are getting worse, I nonetheless felt like a horrible heartless bitch leaving her there.   I’m praying she goes to a good home.

Today, I am still in tears over these losses.

We donated to the Humane Society any and all cat “stuff” they would accept and recycled the rest to the thrift store.  Even though there are now no visible reminders, the memories of our cats – Snoops, Punkin, Dexter and Oreo – will always be imprinted on our hearts.

I have had pets since I was in my 20’s.  It will be a major adjustment to not have pets.

That being said, In 12 years we have put down three pets.  We cannot do this anymore: love a pet only to put them down a few years later.

It’s too much.

I don’t even want a plant to look after.  It’ll just die too.

A Grace Disguised

The accident set off a silent scream of pain inside my soul.  That scream was so loud that I could hardly hear another sound, not for a long time, and I could not imagine that I would hear any sound but that scream of pain for the rest of my life.  ~ Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss

Sittser wrote this book three years after his wife, young daughter and mother were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver.  The book was recommended to me by our pastor after our friends lost their son suddenly last July to help me understand a fraction of what they were going through.  I was sorrowfully adrift at that time, not knowing how to help them.  Little did I know how much this book would also help me with my own losses.

Sittser’s passages are at times raw, honest, dark and bleak, and, at others, hopeful, quiet, and even joyful.  He tries several things to escape dealing with the pain of his loss – anger, bargaining, indulging, and denial. As he would soon learn, however

 … the pain of loss is unrelenting. It stalks and chases until it catches us. It is as persistent as wind on the prairies, as constant as cold in the Antarctic, as erosive as a spring flood. It will not be denied and there is no escape from it. … Pain will have its day because loss is undeniably, devastatingly real.

He speaks of living in the tension of ambivalence

in those of us who believe in the resurrection. We doubt, yet we try to believe; we suffer, yet long for real healing; we inch hesitantly toward death, yet see death as the door to the resurrection.

This illustrates, he says, the duality of life.

Or, as one Puritan put it:

Now life will be a little less sweet, death a little less bitter.

Sittser says that love and loss are inexorably linked; that one cannot exist without the other.  This reminds me of a passage by CS Lewis:

 To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly 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 only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers . . . of love is Hell. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sittser chronicles his journey from raw suffering, dark depression, grief and pain to a life that was transformed by grace.

If you let it, your sorrow will increase your capacity to live life, and to experience joy, not after the darkness, but even in the midst of it.

More than a memoir, this is a beautiful handbook for both those who have both suffered loss and those who walk alongside them.

Lessons From the Bereaved

As our friends grieve, it strikes me that there are parallels between looking after yourself while grief-stricken and self-care for someone newly diagnosed with an illness, or other live-changing events.

 

  1. Initially, after you are diagnosed, take a break from “life.”   Get out of as many commitments as possible.
  2. Gather your family close. You won’t be up to dealing with too many other people but having family support is critical.
  3. If able to financially, and your employer offers short term disability, take a leave from work.
  4. Do only what’s essential.
  5. Decide how much of your story you want to tell, and whom to tell it to.  You may choose to tell some people all of the narrative, and others a scaled down version.
  6. Don’t stuff your emotions; allow the tears to flow and the anger to rage.
  7. Seek professional help with number #6 if necessary.
  8. Pace yourself.
  9. Look after your sleep – medicate if necessary.
  10. Don’t over commit, even once the initial stages of the gong show of actually getting a diagnosis, and the reactions within post-diagnosis, have settled a bit, watch your obligation levels.
  11. Later, as you are feeling more up to rejoining “life” again, play it by ear when considering what you want to do.  See how you feel in the moments before considering an activity so as not to put too much pressure on yourself.
  12. Don’t isolate; hang out with “safe” people who know and love all those parts of yourself.
  13. Cut yourself some slack.  I remind our friends “grief has no timetable.”