“Barely hanging on” raised an extremely important question:
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?