Where Do you Go to Find Help?

“Barely hanging on” raised an extremely important question:

WHERE DO YOU GO TO FIND HELP?

At least in terms of LCMS pastors, this is an area where I believe our church body has almost completely flopped. Most of the resources from the Commission on Ministerial Growth & Health (or whatever the current permutation calls itself) are such yawners that I can barely stand to even look at their stuff. They had better resources a few years ago in some respects, but no one wants to addresss the 900 pound gorilla: Our pastors are hurting and suffering, and no one is really trying to address the issue. We continue to churn out pastors at our seminaries and very poorly trained “pastors” through various mail-order or long-distance programs, but offer little in terms of real resources for help.

Okay, enough ranting. Back to the question. Where do you go to find help?

I think there are several answers to that question. These are in no particular order. Whatever you are most comfortable with is probably best. Also please don’t take these as laws to make you feel guilty about how you’re failing. They are counsel from one who has been on the road for a while. A travel map, if you will, when you are in the fog.

  • Go to your family doctor. Just do it and tell him what’s going on. While depression may feel like it is unique to you, it is tragically common in our over stimulated and ridiculously busy world. Just lay it out. I would urge you to have him refer you to a psychiatrist for prescribing medication. Your family doctor can prescribe anti-depressants and other medications, but get to an expert. (Btw, if you are on one of the permutations of the Concordia Plan, you will need to get prior approval to see a psychiatrist and/or psychologist from AETNA, formerly know as Broadspire. I’ll post on that soon.)
  • Go to your pastor, and if you don’t have a pastor, find one quick. I am very blessed to have the best pastor in the LCMS, but that is the loyalty one should have of their own pastor who speaks the words of our dear Lord in and out of season. This pastor may be a personal friend, although I don’t think that is always the best. The key thing is that the pastor’s pastor must be someone you trust. Tell him what’s going on. The whole story, warts and all. You need to have people that are in your corner who are thinking clearly. I know there are many times (even now) when I am not capable of making intelligent decisions. Someone has to be able to think objectively. Ideally the pastor would be nearby, but I suppose that’s not absolutely necessary either. Pastor Weedon is right. Having a Father Confessor is tremendously helpful.
  • Talk to your wife (or husband). This make come as a shock to you, but they know what’s going on. They may not be able to define it, but they know things are not right. The more your wife understands what’s happening, the better off both of you will be. All she wants is for you to be well. If you’re sick, she will want to help. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses require a different kind of help than a broken leg. But she loves you. Don’t hide your fears from her. It’s why you’re married.
  • Explore counseling. I’m not talking about psychobabble. Believe me when I say I have seen psychobabble really close up, and that is not helpful. But a good counselor can serve as a listening post, help to refine your thinking and decision making, give you the experience of one who has helped hundreds or even thousands of patients, and most importantly, understands exactly what you are going through. The trick here is finding a counselor you trust. You may try Lutheran Social Services, or other Christian counseling services in the area. Personally, I am quite leery of most Christian counseling. If it comes from a Reformed background, they are going to root you in the Law, which is the last thing you need. If they come from the liberal wing of Christianity (if it can be called such), they may use a lot of Christian sounding words, but be using a different dictionary. I am very blessed to have just about the only confessional Lutheran counselor in the LCMS. But if I didn’t have my current counselor, I would probably explore going to a more secular counselor. While pastors have a lot of unique challenges to face with mental illness, much of what they face is also common.
  • Tell yours friends what’s going on. There is such a stigma with mental illness, there is this bizarre temptation to hide it from the very people that can help the most. I have 2-3 friends whom I confide in that have been hugely helpful. Don’t be afraid. They are your friends. They’ll help you if they are able, and they will certainly pray for you, check in on you, and the like. Trust them.
  • At some point, consider talking to key members of your congregation. This is perhaps the hardest, because we Super-Pastors don’t want our flock to know that we are weak like they are. It is an arrogance that comes from a false view of the Office, and most of us (imo) succomb to it in one fashion or another. The way congregations receive this knowledge will vary, but I would start by seeking out whomever you trust the most (noticing a theme here?) and confiding in them about what’s happening, and how to approach it with your parish. Since I ended up going on disability, I really needed to tell everyone. At the end, it was the right decision, but it was very scary for a while. Life is like that sometimes.
  • Pray. This is hard, very hard. Even now I can barely pray. But a kyrie eleison goes a long way. Pastor Weedon mentioned in one of the comments that he had never experienced the daily office as pain. I have. It hurts me to pray Matins. I hate it. Drives me crazy. But I can’t. Most people don’t realize that depression and anxiety can cause physical pain, expressed in all kinds of odd ways. But right now for me, the offices are a weight and a burden, not the freedom I know that they truly are. Nevertheless, a little prayer goes a long way, and after all, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness (Romans 8).

This is a start. I know it’s not profound. But this would have been pretty useful to me at the beginning of my journey. I hope it helps you.

So anyone else have any suggestions that I have missed?

-DarkMyRoad

A couple thoughts on drugs

We’ll talk about drugs more later, but here is my initial take on drugs. (Remember, I’m a pastor, not a doctor, Jim!)

1. Drugs are good. It’s First Article stuff. Whether you are talking about natural or homeopathic remedies, or good ole fashion home grown medication, it is a gift from God. It is part of how God takes care of us through the means of doctors, diet, medication, counseling, etc. Of course, the chief thing for the Christian is the strengthening of the faith by Word and Sacrament. This may not make you feel better (there’s another post for ya), but it certainly is the most important.

2. It is not a sign of weakness to take medication. If your children were sick, you would give them medicine. If your leg was broken, you you wear a cast an probably take pain medication. While opinions and mileage may vary, most experts suggest that depression and anxiety is about 70% biochemical. What that means among other things is that it is very difficult to overcome depression and anxiety disorder without medication.

3. It is a sign of weakness to take medication. Yes, I know, this is a bit of a paradox. But part of what we pastors have to come to realize is that A) We’re human, B) We’re fallible, C) We can succomb to sickness and disease as much as the next sinner, and that D) that doesn’t make us a bad pastor or a bad person. That means that Christ has come for us. Our Lord knows that pastors are weak and in need of His strength and healing. It is arrogance and pride on our part to believe that we can do all things without Christ who strengthens us.

4. When dealing with medication, go to the right kind of doctor. Many general practitioners will prescribe anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, etc etc etc. While this may work, I don’t recommend going this way. All medication is a bit of hit and miss, and this is especially true when it comes to medication that affects the mind. Go to a psychiatrist. Talk about your family history. Get whatever tests needs to be done. But if you are serious about wanting to get better, then go to the doctor who can help with the medication part of it.

5. Medication isn’t everything. While medication is a key component (in my opinion), it isn’t everything. I have found counseling absolutely invaluable. I have found having a faithful pastor to be more precious than jewels. My family (esp my wife) have supported me in ways that I can never repay. My congregation has also given me amazing support (we’ll talk about that more later). All of these things sort of run together.

So anyway, there’s my thoughts on drugs for the day. FWIW, I’ve been on Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Clonazepam, Trazedone, Xanax, and a few other things along the way.

Be at peace.

-DarkMyRoad

Lists…lists….lists….oh my!

Lists.

I’ve come to sort of hate lists. Yes, I know they are necessary. Yes, it’s a great way to organize, etc., etc., etc. But they remind me so clearly about what I am NOT able to do much more than what I am able to do.

I find that being responsible for something with a deadline (a sermon, an article, a chore) is utterly exhausting. It’s difficult to explain. And as one of our commentators noted, there is this blurry line beween what you can’t do and what you don’t want to do.

The real trick, of course, is first of all making the distinction, second prioritizing, and third being at peace with whatever you are not able to do. For someone with some serious OCD tendencies (not to mention Super-Pastor Syndrome), the concept of making a list and then saying “I can’t do this” is utterly foreign to me.

But I can’t. It’s just not there. I go until I turn into a zombie. Find myself staring at a wall or a tree or something. Stuff keep going by and there isn’t a thing I can do about it. I am trapped in my own mind.

Now I would like it better if there was some sort of “take two bible passages and call me in the morning” answer to this. Be joyful in the Lord! Pray the daily office! Go to confession! I look at a passage like Isaiah 40 and wonder:

But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV)

Notice in here the future tense. They shall. They shall. They shall. They shall. It will happen. But we know not when. At least not precisely.

So it comes back to hope once again. Hope in what you cannot see, in what you cannot feel or know with your mind. But that is the essence of faith. Hope in the Lord will never dissapoint. Healing will come. Things will be better in time and certainly in eternity in Christ Jesus. And there we find hope.

So the lists go on. I look at them, do what I can, and rest in Christ, knowing that God will take care of what I cannot.

-DarkMyRoad

Lists…lists….lists….oh my!

Lists.

I’ve come to sort of hate lists. Yes, I know they are necessary. Yes, it’s a great way to organize, etc., etc., etc. But they remind me so clearly about what I am NOT able to do much more than what I am able to do.

I find that being responsible for something with a deadline (a sermon, an article, a chore) is utterly exhausting. It’s difficult to explain. And as one of our commentators noted, there is this blurry line beween what you can’t do and what you don’t want to do.

The real trick, of course, is first of all making the distinction, second prioritizing, and third being at peace with whatever you are not able to do. For someone with some serious OCD tendencies (not to mention Super-Pastor Syndrome), the concept of making a list and then saying “I can’t do this” is utterly foreign to me.

But I can’t. It’s just not there. I go until I turn into a zombie. Find myself staring at a wall or a tree or something. Stuff keep going by and there isn’t a thing I can do about it. I am trapped in my own mind.

Now I would like it better if there was some sort of “take two bible passages and call me in the morning” answer to this. Be joyful in the Lord! Pray the daily office! Go to confession! I look at a passage like Isaiah 40 and wonder:

But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV)

Notice in here the future tense. They shall. They shall. They shall. They shall. It will happen. But we know not when. At least not precisely.

So it comes back to hope once again. Hope in what you cannot see, in what you cannot feel or know with your mind. But that is the essence of faith. Hope in the Lord will never dissapoint. Healing will come. Things will be better in time and certainly in eternity in Christ Jesus. And there we find hope.

So the lists go on. I look at them, do what I can, and rest in Christ, knowing that God will take care of what I cannot.

-DarkMyRoad

On Fireworks and other Events I've Missed

I’m sitting at home tonight alone. My family is off doing the annual fireworks display thing downtown. I can’t go. The noise. The people. The clutter. The questions from my children. I just can’t take it. It would wear me down. My brain would overload. I would get nervous and jittery, like too much caffeine. Then I would start to shut down. I would turn into a zombie. Staring into space, praying for the noise to stop.

It’s not that I don’t like fireworks. Okay, truth be told, I’ve never been a huge fan of fireworks. But we’ve always gone to the fireworks. It’s what you do on the 4th. Duh. But not this year for me. I just couldn’t take it.

This is, of course, simply one of many examples of things I have missed because of my illnesses. Between depression and anxiety (two illnesses that often go hand in hand), I have missed a lot over the years. Graduations. Confirmations. Birthdays. Recitals. Even little things like walks to the park, extended family events. The list could go on and on.

And this is just family, of course. If we started to talk about church, I’m not even sure where to begin. For me, the most obvious and painful is preaching and teaching. I love preaching and teaching. It’s why I became a pastor. Yet my mind doesn’t’ allow me to function well enough right now to do it. I used to be just numb to this. Now I’m more anxious to get back into things. I’m sure my counselor would tell me this is a good sign.

But whether we’re talking about family or church or other parts of life, the reality is that depression and anxiety just plain change things. You can’t do these things. At least for a time.

How are we to deal with this? If you’re like me. There is:

  • Guilt. I believe I should be able to do all the things I “normally” do. But if I had a broken leg, would I feel guilty for not being able to walk? Maybe, but it would be pretty silly. Why do we believe this is different?
  • Shame. I’m embarrased that I am so weak and incapable. (This, btw, is a kissing cousin to pride.) The concept of weakness and suffering is one that does not come easily to pastors, especially younger pastors. We may know all the right answers about suffering, but it is different when one is in the middle of it.
  • Relief. I know I can’t do these things, and so it is liberating to be free of them, at least for a time. A period of rest (sabbatical? Sabbathical?) is a good thing. But we are so programmed to GO GO GO until we drop, that this relief is often fleeting. So, it leads back to guilt.
  • Creepy Despair. Will I ever be able to do the things I enjoy again? Or have I given them up for good? Despair is really more of a theological term than a medical one in my opinion. See the Sixth Petition. Satan causes despair by using the events in our lives to lead us away from where our confidence lies (Christ and His Gifts) and onto ourselves, or something or someone else. Despair is creepy, and it creeps in to the most unsuspecting places.
  • Hope. This is the most elusive of them. Relief from the responsibilities of life for a time is a gift and a good things. It’s hard to see. Hope is like that. But it will come, as sure as the morning. Even when you don’t feel it. Even if you can’t see it. It will be there.

Every day I go through these. Sometimes one more than another. The hope took months to come. Even the relief took time. But I have been able to look at things now a little differently, thanks to medication, counseling, a supporting family and congregation, the the prayers of many friends.

So how do you deal with these and other results of a changed lifestyle? What have I missed?

-DarkMyRoad

On Fireworks and other Events I've Missed

I’m sitting at home tonight alone. My family is off doing the annual fireworks display thing downtown. I can’t go. The noise. The people. The clutter. The questions from my children. I just can’t take it. It would wear me down. My brain would overload. I would get nervous and jittery, like too much caffeine. Then I would start to shut down. I would turn into a zombie. Staring into space, praying for the noise to stop.

It’s not that I don’t like fireworks. Okay, truth be told, I’ve never been a huge fan of fireworks. But we’ve always gone to the fireworks. It’s what you do on the 4th. Duh. But not this year for me. I just couldn’t take it.

This is, of course, simply one of many examples of things I have missed because of my illnesses. Between depression and anxiety (two illnesses that often go hand in hand), I have missed a lot over the years. Graduations. Confirmations. Birthdays. Recitals. Even little things like walks to the park, extended family events. The list could go on and on.

And this is just family, of course. If we started to talk about church, I’m not even sure where to begin. For me, the most obvious and painful is preaching and teaching. I love preaching and teaching. It’s why I became a pastor. Yet my mind doesn’t’ allow me to function well enough right now to do it. I used to be just numb to this. Now I’m more anxious to get back into things. I’m sure my counselor would tell me this is a good sign.

But whether we’re talking about family or church or other parts of life, the reality is that depression and anxiety just plain change things. You can’t do these things. At least for a time.

How are we to deal with this? If you’re like me. There is:

  • Guilt. I believe I should be able to do all the things I “normally” do. But if I had a broken leg, would I feel guilty for not being able to walk? Maybe, but it would be pretty silly. Why do we believe this is different?
  • Shame. I’m embarrased that I am so weak and incapable. (This, btw, is a kissing cousin to pride.) The concept of weakness and suffering is one that does not come easily to pastors, especially younger pastors. We may know all the right answers about suffering, but it is different when one is in the middle of it.
  • Relief. I know I can’t do these things, and so it is liberating to be free of them, at least for a time. A period of rest (sabbatical? Sabbathical?) is a good thing. But we are so programmed to GO GO GO until we drop, that this relief is often fleeting. So, it leads back to guilt.
  • Creepy Despair. Will I ever be able to do the things I enjoy again? Or have I given them up for good? Despair is really more of a theological term than a medical one in my opinion. See the Sixth Petition. Satan causes despair by using the events in our lives to lead us away from where our confidence lies (Christ and His Gifts) and onto ourselves, or something or someone else. Despair is creepy, and it creeps in to the most unsuspecting places.
  • Hope. This is the most elusive of them. Relief from the responsibilities of life for a time is a gift and a good things. It’s hard to see. Hope is like that. But it will come, as sure as the morning. Even when you don’t feel it. Even if you can’t see it. It will be there.

Every day I go through these. Sometimes one more than another. The hope took months to come. Even the relief took time. But I have been able to look at things now a little differently, thanks to medication, counseling, a supporting family and congregation, the the prayers of many friends.

So how do you deal with these and other results of a changed lifestyle? What have I missed?

-DarkMyRoad

Links?

I would like to include some helpful links on various aspects of depression and other mental illnesses, rather than include the “usual suspects” of links that are common in Lutheran cyberspace. Does anyone have any suggestions for sites which would be helpful? They can be theological (specifically dealing with the theology of the cross, imo), medical, or even other Lutherans and/or Lutheran pastors who are exploring these topics in cyberspace. For that matter, I would also consider non-Lutheran links for theological topics, but I would provide some kind of caveat on the process.

Ideas, anyone?

-DarkMyRoad

The Anonymous Pastor with the Anonymous Disease

I struggled mightly on whether to make this an anonymous blog or not. Friends and colleagues basically convinced me to make it anonymous. I generally don’t like anonymous comments and statements, because I don’t like the idea of hiding behind a “nome de plume” in order to say what needs to be said.

Upon further reflection, though, it actually makes sense for a blog dedicated to mental illness. Pastors with mental illness generally hide it. They hide it from their children, their parish, their friends, even their wife. (Wives, it should be noted, usually know anyway.) But perhaps most importantly, they hide it from themselves. I know. I’ve done it.

Why is that? Why do we hide such things from ourselves, refuse to recognize that things are not right, that our lives are sort of collapsing all around us? I know that for months, perhaps even years, I couldn’t see it creeping into my life. I would put on the “super-pastor face” (this will be a topic for another post), and would refuse to let anyone, even my own family, in on my pain and trials. Unconsciously, though, I started to let things slip. Things that I couldn’t handle, I simply stopped doing. Little things at first, but it got to be so that some of the bread and butter things that pastors do became impossible. Hospital calls, shut-ins, even writing sermons and more. I wouldn’t return people’s phone calls. I would hide from my own flock.

That is, of course, the nature of depression. It creeps in unsuspecting, unnoticed. It takes over, so that you don’t know it’s even done so.

But you can’t see it. And when you do finally see it (most never do), we are ashamed. Guilty. Unworthy of others company. What can’t I just force my way through this? Why can’t I turn back the clock, make myself the way I used to be? So we hide it from others, until there is nothing left inside.

I suppose that this may be true of many diseases and illnesses. But unlike a heart attack, it is much easier to deceive yourself (and sometimes others) that there is nothing really wrong.

So for the time being at least, this blog is anonymous. For those who suffer alone. For those whose names and trials are hidden from others. We are anonymous for the sake of the One whom we hid from (Isaiah 53), because he is the One who knows our every weakness, every suffering. We are anonymous, but none of us are ever alone.

The Anonymous Pastor with the Anonymous Disease

I struggled mightly on whether to make this an anonymous blog or not. Friends and colleagues basically convinced me to make it anonymous. I generally don’t like anonymous comments and statements, because I don’t like the idea of hiding behind a “nome de plume” in order to say what needs to be said.

Upon further reflection, though, it actually makes sense for a blog dedicated to mental illness. Pastors with mental illness generally hide it. They hide it from their children, their parish, their friends, even their wife. (Wives, it should be noted, usually know anyway.) But perhaps most importantly, they hide it from themselves. I know. I’ve done it.

Why is that? Why do we hide such things from ourselves, refuse to recognize that things are not right, that our lives are sort of collapsing all around us? I know that for months, perhaps even years, I couldn’t see it creeping into my life. I would put on the “super-pastor face” (this will be a topic for another post), and would refuse to let anyone, even my own family, in on my pain and trials. Unconsciously, though, I started to let things slip. Things that I couldn’t handle, I simply stopped doing. Little things at first, but it got to be so that some of the bread and butter things that pastors do became impossible. Hospital calls, shut-ins, even writing sermons and more. I wouldn’t return people’s phone calls. I would hide from my own flock.

That is, of course, the nature of depression. It creeps in unsuspecting, unnoticed. It takes over, so that you don’t know it’s even done so.

But you can’t see it. And when you do finally see it (most never do), we are ashamed. Guilty. Unworthy of others company. What can’t I just force my way through this? Why can’t I turn back the clock, make myself the way I used to be? So we hide it from others, until there is nothing left inside.

I suppose that this may be true of many diseases and illnesses. But unlike a heart attack, it is much easier to deceive yourself (and sometimes others) that there is nothing really wrong.

So for the time being at least, this blog is anonymous. For those who suffer alone. For those whose names and trials are hidden from others. We are anonymous for the sake of the One whom we hid from (Isaiah 53), because he is the One who knows our every weakness, every suffering. We are anonymous, but none of us are ever alone.

Topics

I’m working on some topics that ought to be covered here in the next 2-3 months. Here’s what I have so far:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • OCD
  • Relation between Faith and illness
  • Mental Illness and Stigma
  • What can pastors let go and what CAN’T they let go and why
  • Pastors as Supermen
  • Hiding weakness
  • Drugs Drugs Drugs
  • Counselors? We Don’t Need No Stinking Counselors! (not)
  • Hope when there is no hope in your heart

So those are some of my ideas. What would YOU like to see covered?

A Lutheran View of Depression