This is the 11th in my Lenten series of posts about Monica A. Coleman’s book on faith and depression: Not Alone. I will wrap it up tomorrow with an Easter post. I have received a lot of wonderful feedback, mostly from colleagues in the Unitarian Universalist ministry who also live with depression. Monica A. Coleman herself even posted a nice comment on the last post. That was a wonderful blessing. Thank you, Rev. Coleman for both the comment and this book, which has truly been a pastoral experience both to read and to discuss.
I am a physical person. I like touch. I like holding hands, for example. I like hugs. I think that sometimes we play down how much simple touch means to us and how important it is.
I now understand how much the hug gives to an adult. Adults also receive a sense of dependence, fulfillment, comfort, and joy from the hugs. In hugs we absorb and diffuse pain, project and receive comfort, greet and celebrate, mourn and shudder. It’s one of the few, quick-and-easy forms of mutuality in my life. Hugging creates empathy. Coleman, Monica A. (2012-08-24). Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression (p. 174). Inner Prizes, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
One of the most powerful observations that Monica A. Coleman makes in Not Alone is people with depression need to learn to how to soothe and comfort themselves. As an example of this she speaks of how parents learn to let babies cry in order to fall asleep on their own. Most parents I know can tell you a “cry it out” story. In a similar fashion, people living with depression need to learn how to tell ourselves it is going to be ok. We need to learn to do this over and over again, because we will hit times when it won’t work, that whatever words, phrases, habits, or prayers we’ve been using won’t be enough to assuage the panic and the fear that you’re slipping into a place of darkness from which you will never return. The reality is that you will come to the end of hope every now and again, you will die to yourself over and over again, but you can and do come back. In my Unitarian Universalist tradition we say that we are not interested in being born again, because rediscovering hope and new life are not one time events that save you from never having to face the darkness again. My faith tradition tells me to be born again and again and again and again. Dying and rising are indeed cyclical and anyone who lives with depression can tell you that.
One therapist pointed this out to me when she said, “You have to learn to do for yourself what you are asking other people to do for you.” I knew what she meant. I wanted other people to comfort me— to rock me and hold me and tell me that it’s going to be okay. My therapist’s point was simple, but it wasn’t easy…I had huge emotional expectations for some of the closest people in my life. That had to stop. I had to strip the codependent relationships from my life. Don’t call them at 2 am to talk me through the nightmare. Don’t call them to come over and watch me sleep. Don’t ask them to hold me together when I’m falling apart. That was too much to ask. It wore people out. It was too much of a task for any one person to manage. And I would always be disappointed because no one can do that perfectly. So I learned. I learned to curl up in a ball, wrap my arms around each other with my hands on my shoulders, and rock. I would imagine that someone— some Spirit, an imaginary friend, my mama, God— was rocking me. Someone was pulling the hair back from my eyes and rocking me and saying, “Shh, baby. It’s going to be okay. Shh. It’s going to be okay.” Coleman, Monica A. (2012-08-24). Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression (p. 176). Inner Prizes, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
I understand this part of Coleman’s story as well. I always wanted someone to soothe me. I always wanted someone to hold me, take care of me, tell me it’s going to be alright. It took a massive depressive episode brought on by the failure of a pastorate and the inability to find work to wake me up to addictions, especially overeating, that I had been hiding from most of my life. I learned that in some ways I was also addicted to depression. Depression, after all, was safe. It is what I knew. Coming out of my last major depressive episode has been a painful but also liberating journey. I’ve learned I can survive the deaths and resurrections, that as painful and dark as it gets, I can soothe myself, take care of myself and when it gets so bad I can’t any longer, I now know going to get help is also a way of taking care of myself. The big lesson is that in-between those extreme times, I don’t need others to soothe me – it helps and it’s easier and it’s appreciated – but I can make it if I have to.
Reflection questions from Not Alone:
When do you know that something has stopped working? How do you soothe yourself when you’re anxious or scared?
I know something has stopped working for me when it disappears and is replaced by something else. I don’t notice sometimes that I have given up on it, but I notice one day that something has taken its place in my life. About ten years ago, I started to dabble in yoga, then I got more interested in it as I noticed I generally felt better and needed the chiropractor a little less often. Then over time, I realized I really loved the meditation and the savasana (corpse pose of total relaxation) at the end of the classes, so I began to meditate. I eventually stopped practicing yoga entirely, but I started meditating every day and still do.
I have found music to be my soothing agent over the years. I know I am headed for a bad time when I can’t find music I want to listen to in order to lift my own spirits or sympathize with my own sadness or take me out of myself for a while. I know that when the music stops, I am heading for period of depressive darkness. When I hit those times, what little music I want to hear is instrumental, be it classical or jazz or new age. The rest of the time, I love music. If I ever play you a song or post a music video on Facebook, you know I am saying something about me or to you. Music has been my calming cup of tea since I was a teenager.