The Spiritual Life in Depression and Anxiety

    

A very poignant question was sent privately to me after my last post. It asked how I was able to go about my parish work when I was battling with depression and anxiety. I have pondered the question over the past week. On one level, I felt a sense of personal astonishment that, in hindsight, it had all been possible. There were very few days through the decades where I was unable to get on with things. So, what did I do? Or, perhaps better, what did God do?

At some point in my life, I began to think of the depression and anxiety much like a broken leg or a sore throat. We never say, “I am a broken leg, or I am a sore throat.” But when we are anxious or depressed we say, “I am depressed, I am anxious.” Strangely, it makes a difference. It is certainly the case that having a broken leg can interfere with any number of activities. It could cause enough pain that medication and rest would be required. Depression and anxiety are no different.

To my mind, it’s possible to be “depressed” about being “depressed.” And this leads to a terrible paralysis. Spiritually we begin to agree with our adversary. Not only do we suffer the pain of such a feeling but we have to tolerate his taunts of “look how depressed you are! What kind of a Christian are you? Give up! Quit!” and the like. He is a liar. I often thought that it was important to act in a manner that contradicted the depression and anxiety simply to infuriate our adversary. There is some joy in ruining his day.

I am describing certain aspects of my inner life that I can only speak to for myself. I do not know if these strategies would be of help to anyone else. I have often thought of others who carry very debilitating chronic diseases and think that my own struggles are quite minor by comparison. I have developed a strong interest in the stories of those who endured the Gulag and the other prisons of our time. Nothing in my life begins to compare to even the shadow of their ordeals. This was not a practice that “cheered me up.” Rather, it was a practice that encouraged me to be patient, ask for their prayers, and, as much as possible, to ignore the inconvenience of my brain.

Parish work is blessedly composed largely of two things: pastoral care for others and prayer in the altar before God. Both are salutary and of deep benefit. I think there were many times that my prayer life was reduced to little more than “arrow prayers” through the day (“God help me!” Lord, have mercy!” “Glory to God for all things!” etc.) and the blessing of liturgical prayer in the altar. There have certainly been many times that, standing in the altar, I could not “feel” anything of which I spoke. But I prayed quietly that God would receive it as though I did.

And all of this has been within God’s mercy. He has sustained me. I prefer not to share the worst of my days and my failings – those belong to my confessor and are well-enough known to those immediately around me. I am convinced, however, of the goodness of God. Much of that conviction, for many years, was rooted in the examples I saw in the lives of other people because I could not see it in mine. I see it more clearly now, I think, partly as a function of getting older. There’s enough scenery in my rear-view mirror that I can now see the unmistakable pattern of divine goodness. One strategy against depression and anxiety is to outlive it!

The Elder Thaddeus spoke about profound changes in his own life that came with a true acceptance of Divine providence. To some small degree that has been part of my own experience. There is a strong physical component in depression and anxiety, but there is an equally strong component of self-talk and habits of thought. Extended meditation and confession of God’s good work in all things has served, especially over the past few years, to calm my soul and preserve my joy. All of the things that cause anxiety or are objects of depression simply do not matter. They are of no consequence in the last analysis.

Four years ago, I had a heart attack. As such things go, it was minor, but certainly served as a mortality check-up. St. Paul said that we should “reckon ourselves dead to sin.” I reckoned myself dead to everything and came to the conclusion that it would be fine. My life has been deeply blessed. Everyone, everywhere, every day, is living on “borrowed” time. Every moment is a gift. If we give thanks for the gift, then we can begin to know that the Giver who has sustained us this far will also give us what we cannot see – a new life in a new world in the depth of union with Him. Of course, writing the blog would be more difficult!

See also
A Priest’s Thoughts on Depression, Anxiety, the Soul, Your Body and Your Brain A Priest’s Thoughts on Depression, Anxiety, the Soul, Your Body and Your Brain
Fr. Stephen Freeman
A Priest’s Thoughts on Depression, Anxiety, the Soul, Your Body and Your Brain A Priest’s Thoughts on Depression, Anxiety, the Soul, Your Body and Your Brain
Fr. Stephen Freeman
Somewhat problematic, I think, is the not infrequent distinction made between anxiety and depression as physical/medical problems and as so-called “spiritual” problems. There is no such distinction. We do not have “spiritual” problems that are not also physical problems, simply because we do not exist as some sort of divisible creatures.
VIDEO: The Nature of Depression VIDEO: The Nature of Depression
Fr. Dmitrius Basalygo
VIDEO: The Nature of Depression VIDEO: The Nature of Depression
Fr. Dmitrius Basalygo
In this video. Fr. Dmitrius Basalygo speaks about depression, which the holy fathers considered one of the most severe passions of the soul, which hinders us from taking up our Cross and becoming that which Christ created us to be.
“Any Illness is a Cross”, a Frank Talk on Psychiatry “Any Illness is a Cross”, a Frank Talk on Psychiatry
Stepanida Vepsina, Vasily Kaleda
“Any Illness is a Cross”, a Frank Talk on Psychiatry Stepanida Vepsina, Vasily Kaleda. “Any Illness is a Cross”, a Frank Talk on Psychiatry
Vasily Kaleda, Stepanida Vepsina
What is modern psychiatry like? Why are people suffering from mental diseases often treated as lepers? And what should you do if you or any of your relatives become mentally ill?
Strategies for Dealing with Impulsivity Strategies for Dealing with Impulsivity
Hieromonk Alexis (Trader)
Strategies for Dealing with Impulsivity Strategies for Dealing with Impulsivity
Hieromonk Alexis (Trader)
Our lived experience tells us that today impulsivity can be a disorder that affects many people of all ages in a sundry of situations with a variety of objects that are the focus of pathological impulsivity.
Psychogenic Depression: The Orthodox View Psychogenic Depression: The Orthodox View
Prof. Dmitry Avdeev M.D., Ph.D.
Psychogenic Depression: The Orthodox View Psychogenic Depression: The Orthodox View
Prof. Dmitry Avdeev M.D., Ph.D.
It turns out that the main origin of neurosis is not stress and troubles, but a person’s personality. And this personality is internally upset. Sin, as the root of any evil, brings neurotic disorders with itself.
 An Orthodox Psychiatrist on Neuroses An Orthodox Psychiatrist on Neuroses
Dr.Dmitry Avdeev, M.D.,Ph.D
 An Orthodox Psychiatrist on Neuroses An Orthodox Psychiatrist on Neuroses
Dr.Dmitry Avdeev, M.D.,Ph.D
The portrait of a neurasthenic is typical — this is a person who is quick-tempered, irritable, quickly wound up, "at the drop of a hat," in whom the nerves are clearly giving out or, just the opposite, lethargic, whining, feeling tiredness and exhaustion in all of his life powers. But it is interesting to note: the high irritability and irascibility of the neurasthenic is not directed toward himself, but towards others!
Comments
Van7/8/2017 4:21 am
Being transparent, let me say I can identify! After 3 decades of fighting this battle I have come to the understanding that my brain is simply "broke." My position now is that my brain has been trying to kill me for years, but I have succeeded in outwitting it! I no longer wish "to die" in the throws of a majorly depressive state. I simply realize that all I want is for the "pain" to end. Funny -- it always does, and I am still alive! Thanks for this series of articles.
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