Tag Archives: depression

I Don’t Have the Answers but You Might as Well Live: Thoughts on Suicide

Suicide-Hotline

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is a hard article to write because it takes me back to points in my life after my return from Iraq that all I wanted to do was die and even had plans of how I would kill myself. The worst period was between 2010 and 2013 when I was stationed away from my wife Judy on an unaccompanied assignment at Camp LeJeune North Carolina. But I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to subject my dog Molly to me not coming home, she helped save my life, as did thoughts of Judy and the friends I had at a local bar who cared for me during that time.

It wasn’t my faith or for that matter most of the people I knew in the Chaplain Corps or my former Church that kept me from it, it was a dog, my wife, and regular guys that I ate and drank with regularly: Mike and New York Mike, Walt, Eddie, Felicia, Bill, “Judge Ito”, Billy, and other regulars at Rucker Johns in Emerald Isle made sure that I lived. So did friends at Granger Stadium in Kinston North Carolina where I would drive an hour to and back to watch minor league baseball games two or three times a week: Toni and Jerry, Anne, Cara, and Negro League Hall of Fame player Carl Long. Sadly, New York Mike, Judge Ito, Walt, Cara, and Carl have all passed away since I came back to Virginia.

During those dark times I had friends including men and women that I had served with in the military or their family members kill themselves. I can visualize their faces as I write this. They ranged in age from barely twenty years old to nearly sixty, all at different stages of life and their career. Quite a few were combat vets of multiple deployments and in one case both the Vietnam and the Iraq wars. They were real heroes but they defeat the figurative demons within them. I also have had a great grandfather and great uncle who afflicted with terminal cancer killed themselves.

I still struggle with the effects of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Moral Injury. I still suffer from depression and anxiety, thankfully not nearly as bad as it used to be. I still avoid most crowded places unless they are very familiar to me. I am still hyper-vigilant and on guard. I plot escape routes or have memorized what I as an unarmed person would do to neutralize a threat in a public place because I don’t plan on going down without a fight or let innocent people get killed.  I also suffer from frequent flashbacks and terrible nightmares and night terrors. I threw myself off the bed in the middle of one again Thursday night. Thankfully I didn’t get a concussion or break my nose leading to emergency room visits like happened in 2014 and 2016.

Suicide is something I try not even to think about because it takes me back to very bad times that I don’t want to experience again. At the same time when I have to deal with suicides at work or read about high profile suicides, such as those of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade I feel all of the anguish that I went through during the worst times, but without any desire to kill myself, I think that is a good thing.

At the same time when I deal with or hear about a suicide my mind starts playing the them song from M*A*S*H; Suicide is Painless, which was written for the movie by the fourteen year old son of director Robert Altman. Altman wanted the song for a specific scene in the film and he wanted it to be named Suicide is Painless, he also wanted it to be the stupidest song ever written. He couldn’t wrap himself around that and his son wrote it in about 15 minutes. It’s a strange song for me. I grew up with the movie and the TV show and I started my career as a commissioned office as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army. The song was the official song of the Army Medical Department and the instrumental version was played at every graduation or function that we had. Two decades later in the trauma hall of a Navy Trauma platoon in Iraq I felt like Father Mulcahy

I have a deep sense of empathy for those who suffer from deep depression and feel that sense of hopelessness, abandonment, and god-forsakenness that often lead to suicide. When I see people who complete a suicide condemned as weak, selfish, or even worse as deserving of God’s wrath and judgment I do get angry, especially when the accusers are Christians. I believe than nobody is outside the mercy and love of God, even those who commit suicide. At the same time it is hard for me to know what to say anymore without sounding trite because I know how deeply someone has to be hurting to consider suicide, and words cannot go there, there is a profound hollowness to them. The last verse of Suicide is Painless note something that I feel when dealing with a suicide situation because I just don’t have the answers:

A brave man once requested me
To answer questions that are key
Is it to be or not to be
And I replied oh why ask me…

That being said I do believe that help can be found and that even in the midst of struggle people can get help and find meaning in life, and I want them to find whatever they need to help them live, thrive, and survive. I don’t believe that life is without struggle, many of my personal heroes dealt with terrible depression at various times of their lives. Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Gouverneur Warren, and T.E. Lawrence among them.

As opposed to the thought that suicide is painless, I think that the great American poet and satirist Dorothy Parker said it well, suicide is not painless, she wrote:

“Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful,
Nooses give,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.”

So please, if you or someone that you know are struggling with issues in life that are so bad that suicide has become an option, please reach out and get help. Getting help is worth it, I know, I wouldn’t still be here without it. As Seneca said: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Long Road: Nine Years of Padre Steve’s World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight a short pause to reflect on the 9th anniversary of Padre Steve’s World, especially for my new readers who might not know how this blog came about.

The blog came out of a question my first shrink asked me as I was beginning to melt down with PTSD and TBI after my tour in Iraq which ended in February 2008. His question, “Well chaplain, what are you going to do with your your experience?” forced me to think, and get outside of myself.

iraq-2007

bedouin

I certainly wasn’t in great shape, in fact I was falling apart. Chronic insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, fear of everyday activities, all took their and my doctors trying different combinations of medicines, each with their own side effects, even while I was undergoing different psychiatric and neurological test. I was a total wreck and often impossible to be around. I was always on edge and prone to anger. I threw myself into work in the ICU sixty to one hundred hours a week depending on my call schedule. That didn’t help, and I got worse. It would take years to see measurable improvement, and even then, with periodic crashes, often connected to the deaths of friends, including those who suffered from what I suffered.

In contemplating my therapist’s question I knew that I wanted to share what I was going through, even while I was in the middle of it.

But there was a risk, and he pointed it out, and I had seen it before; anyone who opens up and talks of their brokenness when they themselves are supposed to be one of the “healers” often ends up ostracized by their community. Their fellow professionals frequently withdraw from them, old friends distance themselves, and sometimes their family lives fall apart. This happens to physicians, nurses, hospital corpsmen, mental health providers, law enforcement officers, as well as highly trained Special Forces, EOD, and other military professionals. It also happens to Chaplains.

Henri Nouwen wrote: “But human withdrawal is a very painful and lonely process, because it forces us to face directly our own condition in all its beauty as well as misery.” That happened to me, and I am better for it.  In the depths of my struggle I found a strange solace in the words of T.E. Lawrence who toward the end of his life wrote a friend: “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”

So that’s how things began. I wrote about what was going on with me. That included my spiritual struggles, as well as writing about baseball which is as much a part of my spirituality as anything. As I continued to write I began to address social and political issues, and then on to my real love about writing history.  I completed my second Master’s degree in military history a year after I started this blog.

My historical writings have been both educational because of the vast amount of research required, as well as therapeutic. In my reading, research, and writing, I discovered fellow travelers from history whose stories helped me find myself again, men with feet of clay, doubts, depression, often masked by triumph. My examples included T.E. Lawrence, Gouveneur Warren, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Ulysses Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman. I found a measure of comfort as well as solace in their lives, experience, and writings.

My immersion in history was further motivated by being able to teach and lead the Gettysburg Staff Ride at the Staff College for three and a half years. That is unusual for a chaplain, but I am an unusual chaplain, as one of my fellow professors said, “You’re a historian masquerading as a chaplain, not that there is anything wrong with that.” 

So that’s how, some 3,225 posts, and three draft books later I got to this point. Hopefully my first book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Politics, and Ideology in the Civil War Era get published sometime in the next year.

While I still suffer symptoms of PTSD I have stabilized for the most part, much of it I attribute to a decent combination of meds, a renewed love and friendship with my wife, and my Papillons Izzy and Pierre who are both therapy dogs in every sense of the word. Likewise there have been a few people who stood by me through thick and thin. I have expressed to them how much I appreciate them and because of them I really began to appreciate the words of William Tecumseh Sherman who noted: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy. I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.” Since I have been both at times, I find that such camaraderie is more important than about anything else.

I still suffer from a lot of crazy dreams, nightmares, and occasional night terrors which are so physically violent that I trash around or even throw myself out of bed. Thankfully I haven’t physically hurt myself lately, or had to go to the emergency room as a result as I have on two occasions. I also remain somewhat hyper-vigilant, get anxious in crowded or confined spaces, and there are just some places that I avoid if at all possible. But that is life with PTSD.

I appreciate all the people who subscribe to this blog, those who follow it through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and who take the time to comment, as well as to provide words of encouragement. For that I thank all of you.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under mental health, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Papillion Therapy


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dean Koontz wrote: “Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as a deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”

I do believe that Mr. Koonz is correct. We don’t have kids, not that we didn’t try, but we have always had dogs. Our first two dogs were Dachshunds, Frieda, a Wire Hair that we got in Germany, and Greta a smooth hair that we got in Texas. They were both great dogs and we still have a soft spot for Wiener Dogs. 


But today we are blessed to have the three best dogs in the world, Minnie Scule, Izzy Bella, and Pierre. They are all Papillons, a small breed of Spaniels from France. The breed is ranked in the top ten most intelligent breeds and they are in my view scary smart. But they are also incredibly sweet, sensitive, playful, decidedly quirky and sometimes obnoxious, in a good way.


I love spending Saturday and Sunday morning with Judy and our babies. Sometimes we sleep late and then after they have gone out to do their business just lay in bed with them, and let them play or cuddle. It is one of the most therapeutic things in the world for both of us since we both suffer from PTSD and have struggled with depression. They are so therapeutic that I often stay off the internet and social media just to enjoy them. 


Our Papillon experience began with Molly, a half-Papillon and half-Dachshund mix that we got as a rescue in September of 2001. We lost her at age 14 in May of 2015, but she was an amazing dog. Exceptionally sensitive and sweet, Judy nicknamed her “Nurse Molly” because if we were physically sick or depressed she would be there doing whatever she could to comfort us. In 2011 Molly decided that she wanted to live with me when I was stationed in North Carolina as our home in Virginia with Judy couldn’t compete with chasing deer off my lawn or running on the beach. So a few months later we got Minnie.



Now Minnie was only two and a half pounds when we got her and she became Judy’s baby. Until she got too big she would sit on Judy’s shoulder like a Parrot. Minnie is funny. She’s very smart, and sweet, but very quirky. She talks like Scooby Doo and has something to say about everything. She’s now five years old, when I walk her in the neighborhood she likes to chase the ducks, geese, and rabbits occasionally diving into the water after a duck. She’s also my drinking buddy. She loves to steal my beer and is an incorrigible thief, but we love her. She can be aloof at times and acts like she’s the Queen of the manor. Minnie grew up a bit. We thought she would be about 7-8 pounds but she topped out at 12 pounds, sometimes a bit more. She has the light bone structure of a classic Papillon and is a Black and White with the black ticking that looks like freckles and a crooked blaze that makes her almost look like a dwarf Australian Shepherd.


A couple of months before we lost Molly we got Izzy. Izzy is fascinating. She like Molly is our nurse and once when we had a friend over and he was mourning the loss of his parents, she glued herself to him trying to make him feel better. In fact it is my plan to get her certified as a therapy dog. We got Izzy at the same age we got Minnie but she was already four pounds and built like a tank. The first time our vet met her he picked her up during the examination and said “My, she’s sturdy!” Sturdy is not a word commonly associated with the breed, but Izzy is just that. Slightly smaller in height and length than Minnie she outweighs Minnie by a pound or a pound and a half. She’s built like a tank, not an ounce of fat on her, just solid muscle and bone. When she jumps on you, especially if you’re not expecting it can take the wind out of you, it’s like being blindsided by a linebacker. Izzy is a very distinctive looking Tricolor who is also incredible agile and loves to dance doing pirouettes when she wants attention.



Izzy and Minnie have been together now a bit over two years and in February we ended up getting our little boy Pierre unexpectedly. Some friends found that his owner could not afford surgery for a luxating patella. They helped arrange for us to get him and he is a joy. He’s a year old and at 4.5 pounds is about as big as he is going to get. He’s incredibly sweet, has a bit of a grumpy side when he doesn’t want to do something, and like Minnie he is talkative, and like Izzy he is incredibly playful. Despite their size difference he and Izzy play constantly and when they wrestle they grapple like MMA fighters with Pierre fighting a bit out of his weight category, but he gives as good as he gets. Sometimes when we go to bed it is time for them to launch their evening Pappy War.


Our life is better for having our puppies, they are amazing therapy. So I guess when I get home from work I’ll get greeted by the three pups and when we get back from our time out with friends we’ll have our evening play and snuggle time with Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre.

Life is good. Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under dogs, papillons, PTSD

The Lenten Mendoza Line and a Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It looks like we’re about halfway through the season of Lent, my least favorite season of the liturgical year and I am doing pretty. Good. I’m going to celebrate my 57th birthday a day early and that causes me to reflect on life. Thankfully I am doing much better than I was this time last year when I was off my anti-depressants for 9 days and dealing with the deaths of two friends and a rainy Easter birthday. I was in a nasty funk, all my PTSD stuff, reflections on my own mortality and upset about the loss of friends. I never want to experience an Easter, or a birthday like that ever again.

This year I am happy. I seem to be doing life a bit above the Mendoza Line over the past year and that is good. For those that don’t know what the Mendoza Line is, it is named after Mario Mendoza who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit for a career batting average of .215 and the Mendoza Line is considered to be a .200 average which is the line below which players can pretty much be assured that they will not remain in the Major Leagues.

But anyway, as I was thinking about perspective this year with all the craziness in the world and the antics of our President which scare the Bejeezus out of me, I am reminded of the words of former pitcher Bill “Spaceman Lee” to put things in perspective. Lee noted:

“I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.” 

Anyway, that’s just a thought that oddly comforts me when I don’t well as I should in life or anything else. Let’s face it, in spite of everything we have to be able to put things in perspective and appreciate what life we have no matter how bad things get. Hopefully, we get to wait a few million years for the cosmic snowball to do its thing without the President or anyone else in the world blowing it up.

That being said I have so much to be thankful for in life, my wonderful wife, my family back in California, my three great Papillon dogs, my friends, my readers here, and getting to do what I love doing. Hopefully, this year is good for me, as well as all of you. Thanks so much for being a part of my life.

So, have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, Loose thoughts and musings

Padre Steve’s World at Eight Years: I’m Still Standing

img_3414

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight a short pause to reflect. I was reminded by my WordPress, the company that hosts my site that I began this blog eight years ago today.

The blog came out of a question my first shrink asked me as I was beginning to melt down with PTSD and TBI after my tour in Iraq which ended in February 2008. His question, “Well chaplain, what are you going to do with your your experience?” forced me to think, and get outside of myself.

iraq-2007

bedouin

I certainly wasn’t in great shape, in fact I was falling apart. Chronic insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, fear of everyday activities, all took their and my doctors trying different combinations of medicines, each with their own side effects, even while I was undergoing different psychiatric and neurological test. I was a total wreck and often impossible to be around. I was always on edge and prone to anger. I threw myself into work in the ICU sixty to one hundred hours a week depending on my call schedule. That didn’t help, and I got worse. It would take years to see measurable improvement, and even then, with periodic crashes, often connected to the deaths of friends, including those who suffered from what I suffered.

In contemplating my therapist’s question I knew that I wanted to share what I was going through, even while I was in the middle of it. But there was a risk, and he pointed it out, and I had seen it before; anyone who opens up and talks of their brokenness when they themselves are supposed to be one of the “healers” often ends up ostracized by their community. Their fellow professionals frequently withdraw from them, old friends distance themselves, and sometimes their family lives fall apart. This happens to physicians, nurses, hospital corpsmen, mental health providers, law enforcement officers, as well as highly trained Special Forces, EOD, and other military professionals. It also happens to Chaplains. Henri Nouwen wrote: “But human withdrawal is a very painful and lonely process, because it forces us to face directly our own condition in all its beauty as well as misery.” That happened to me, and I am better for it.  In the depths of my struggle I found a strange solace in the words of T.E. Lawrence who toward the end of his life wrote a friend: “You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.”

So that’s how things began. I wrote about what was going on with me. That included my spiritual struggles, as well as writing about baseball which is as much a part of my spirituality as anything. As I continued to write I began to address social and political issues, and then on to my real love, writing history, which I completed my second Master’s degree in a year after I started this blog.

The latter which has been both educational, as well as therapeutic. In my reading, research, and writing, I discovered fellow travelers from history whose stories helped me find myself again, men with feet of clay, doubts, depression, often masked by triumph. My examples included T.E. Lawrence, Gouveneur Warren, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Ulysses Grant, and William Tecumseh Sherman. I found a measure of comfort as well as solace in their lives, experience, and writings.

My historical writings been further motivated by being able to teach and lead the Gettysburg Staff Ride at the Staff College. That is unusual for a chaplain, but I am an unusual chaplain, as one of my fellow professors said, “You’re a historian masquerading as a chaplain, not that there is anything wrong with that.” 

So that’s how, some 2,862 posts, and three draft books, I got to this point. I still do suffer symptoms of PTSD but I have stabilized for the most part, much of it I attribute to a decent combination of meds, a renewed love and friendship with my wife, and my Papillon Izzy, who is a therapy dog in every sense of the word. Likewise there have been a few people who stood by me through thick and thin. I have expressed to them how much I appreciate them and because of them I really began to appreciate the words of William Tecumseh Sherman who noted: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy. I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.” Since I have been both at times, I find that such camaraderie is more important than about anything else.

I appreciate all the people who subscribe to this blog, those who follow it through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and who take the time to comment, as well as to provide words of encouragement. For that I thank all of you.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Try to Understand: The Kindest, Noblest, & Best Thing You Will Ever Do

grant and sherman

Grant and Sherman

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman once said of his relationship with Ulysses S. Grant, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk. Now we stand together.” Having been both crazy, and at times drunk, I can relate to both men, both of whom also often suffered from severe and often disabling depression at different points in their lives.

Yesterday I wrote an article about depression and I decided to follow it up with another on the same subject. Yesterday I mentioned the late Iris Chang and her comments about how depression is not rational, and C.S. Lewis who talked about how mental pain is harder to deal with than physical pain. During my worst phases of depression in the years after I came back from Iraq, I fought every day to find something to hold onto, something to keep me from ending my life. If you have never experienced real depression, the kind that slowly eats away the very fabric of your being, you might not understand. In fact it was something that I really didn’t understand until I went through years of it.

Depression is far different than being sad. It is like the difference between having a cold, which you know should pass, and having an insidious cancer which even if it goes into remission lurks for another chance to strike again.

I think that Elizabeth Wurtzel, the author of the book Prozac Nation, hit what I am describing on the head, “That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as he sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and in compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

In a similar manner, J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books noted, “Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. . . . It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.”

I have to agree with both of these writers, depression is the worst. I can live with insomnia, and night terrors, even with anxiety, but depression is the worst, it never seems like it will end. I was fortunate that I got through my most difficult times, including a period just over a year ago where I was nearly suicidal after very bad treatment in the Mental Health Department at the local naval medical center. It took the intervention of my former commanding officer, a doctor named David Lane, who had just been selected for promotion to admiral to get me the help that I needed, but not everyone has that kind of ace in the hole. I wouldn’t have thought of asking him, but his Command Master Chief, and my friend Ed Moreno, intervened, told him of how bad I was doing and that made all the difference. Ed didn’t try to fix me, he just stood beside me and when I needed help, he came through as a friend, and he is still a friend. That is what friends do.

I still struggle, sometimes with depression, but more often the nightmares and night terrors associated with my PTSD. Last night my wife woke me up when in one of my high definition nightmares I was thrashing around trying to defend myself from an enemy insurgent in Iraq. Now mind you, I was never in a close combat situation, but I took part in a number of missions where we didn’t know who the good guys or bad guys were and I was unarmed. But I can live with that, depression without end is far different.

In my worst times I had a lot of people tell me what I needed to do to get out of being depressed. Most were well meaning but didn’t have a clue as to what I really needed. I didn’t need someone to fix me. I didn’t need a checklist of things to make me well. I didn’t need to pray more, or read my Bible more. I didn’t need to work ungodly numbers of hours in ICUs where lives of people were hanging in the balance… all I needed was people who would say I love you, I care for you, and I value you for who you are, not what I want you to be, and will be there for you no matter what, or maybe, let me buy you a beer. Thankfully, there were a few people who did all of those things, and they have been there for me since I emerged from that darkness.

As for the others, who seemed more like “Job’s helpers” it is sometime embarrassing to come across them. Of course I am polite and I do not avoid them. That being said, once you have gone through this, you can see just how uncomfortable that they are to be around you. So those encounters tend to be brief and uncomfortable, as Job’s helpers quickly move along to avoid the awkwardness of the situation. The interesting thing is now I am perfectly fine with their discomfort.

I think that some of the best advice for those who live with, work with, or are friends with a person struggling with depression was written by English comedian Stephen Fry, who said, “Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” That is empathy in action.

I have a number of friends; classmates, and other people I have served with in the military who this very day just hope to stay alive, to find something to live for. The depression that they feel is often overwhelming. They are wonderful, talented and gifted people, people who have a strong amount of empathy for others, but they are enveloped by a darkness and fog which makes it hard for them to see any sign that the depression will ever lift. I have been there, and now I try to be there for them. For me it comes back to what Sherman said about Grant, If I don’t stand with those who suffer from depression after what I have been through, what good would I be?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Success, Depression & Empathy

chicken of depression

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I just finished reading a biography of the late Iris Chang, who wrote the book The Rape of Nanking and A History of the Chinese in America. She was a brilliant, caring, and passionate women who had a major depressive crash and ended up committing suicide. She wrote her mother about her feelings when Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts died, the night before the final Sunday comic came out. She wrote her mom:

Dear Mom,

I think it was Charles Schulz’s pessimism – as well as his ability to understand human failure, insecurity, heartbreak – that made millions love Peanuts.

You’re absolutely right, Schulz had no reason whatsoever to be depressed, after achieving wealth and fame at such an early age. But depression is not rational. Perhaps he did have a mental problem, or some chemically induced condition. But whatever it was, it prevented him from losing touch with the underdogs of the world.

It’s strange, but I still feel a void in my heart after Schulz’s death – even though I never knew him and didn’t particularly like him after meeting him in person, It made me wonder, what is the secret to Schulz’s magical appeal?

The answer, I believe, is simple. Schulz understands the heart of a loser. He captures those moments in life when we fell utterly unloved, unwanted, and alone. And all of us – no matter how successful- have felt like losers at some point in life.

Love, Iris

(From The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and After The Rape of Nanking, a memoir by Ying-Ying Chang, Pegasus Books, New York, 2013)

The book intrigued me and I was drawn to Iris’s story, and was so impressed with her as a person, and having suffered major depression myself, felt a certain kinship with her as I read the book, especially the chapters dealing with her success, and her collapse.

Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I have struggled a lot with major depression, anxiety, and even have occasionally been suicidal since returning from Iraq in 2008 with one hell of a case of PTSD. Thankfully over the past couple of months I have been doing pretty well. While I still suffer chronic insomnia, really weird dreams, nightmares, and night terrors, as well as anxiety in crowed places and flashbacks; but I have not been chronically depressed. I have had a few down days, but nothing like the past number of years. So all in all I think that is a good thing, I am starting to get back in better physical shape, eating better, and losing weight, so all in all I count that in the win column.

That being said, since Iraq I have developed a tremendous amount of empathy for those that suffer from depression, because it is not a rational disease. It affects millions of people in our country, and I am not referring to people who once in a while get the blues or feel a bit down, but people who live their lives in a state of clinical depression. I have known a lot of people who suffer from depression. Most are tremendously talented, witty, charming, intelligent, and caring. I have known very successful people who suffer from such depression that they cannot appreciate their own achievements and feel like failures. I have known some who have committed suicide because they saw no hope for themselves and believed that the world would be better off without them. I have friends who walk this path today, people who are battling to stay alive.

Likewise, many of my heroes, my role models, have suffered from depression, even lifelong depression. These include Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln, and T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Sadly, most people, especially religious people have little long term tolerance for depressed people. If the depressed person does not get better, they abandon them, sometimes in very cruel ways.

In a Peanuts strip Charlie Brown goes to Lucy and says, “I have deep feelings of depression… What can I do about this?” Lucy does what is so common in our culture and says “Snap out of it! Five cents, please.” The fact is that if you are chronically depressed or suffer from clinical depression, you don’t simply snap out of it and I think that depression and mental pain is harder to bear than physical pain. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Problem of Pain:

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

The reality is that depression is not rational, nor is it logical, and thus it defies the attempts of well-meaning people to help those who suffer from it. You can tell a depressed person to get involved in activities, to stay busy, work harder, to read their Bible or pray more, but most of the time this only makes things worse. The depressed person tries them and does not get better which makes the depression and feeling of failure even worse. I know this because I lived it, I did all those things. I worked harder, prayed more, and the rest of that, and I only got worse. Then I began to lose hope. It was terribly frightening and very few people understood, and even fewer stood by me. Those who did were mainly my drinking buddies and friends from the Norfolk Tides and Kinston Indians ballparks, not clergy, or chaplains. 

This makes it terribly frustrating for all concerned. The depressed person ends up feeling alone, lost, isolated, and rejected when the friends, family, and caregivers give up.

I think to me the hardest thing is that for those of us who serve in caring professions, the clergy, mental health care, medicine, and nursing; is that when we struggle there is often no-one to go to. When I was absolutely falling apart after Iraq, my new commanding officer asked me “where does a chaplain go to get help?” and I said “I don’t know, but not to other chaplains.” I know that I said that in the abyss of total despair, and that there are a couple of chaplains that I can go to and pour out my heart without fear of rejection, but they are the minority. The fact is that many caregivers, especially clergy, have no empathy for those most like them. I know this because I have known and seen so many clergy, across the denominational and theological spectrum who have been broken by the cares of life, and been abandoned by their churches and their peers.

But like, Iris Chang, I do think that some, people like Charles Schulz, the depression they live enables them not to lose touch with those who suffer, that in a sense that their suffering engenders a great empathy for others that many lack. I have been told by some that I have that kind of empathy and if I do it is not because I am such a great person, but rather because I have suffered and still suffer from the pain, and despite my own accomplishments, and achievements, that I still occasionally feel like a loser or failure. But as far as my condition goes, I am oddly comforted by the words of Raymond “Red Reddington (James Spader) in The Blacklist:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And everyday when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

I know my ongoing battle will continue, but I have determined to try to be there for others that struggle with pain that does not want to go away, and nightmares that never seem to end. As the late Henri Nouwen wrote: “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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