Over the last year or more I’ve read a number of books on or about depression in different ways. When I could concentrate enough to read. Two books I read early on I’ve mean to write about for some time. Here is the first one. The second will follow:
Speaking of Sadness
By David A. Karp
Karp is a sociology professor at Boston College. He is not a Christian (neither is the other writer). However, Dr. Karp’s book is profound. He has suffered from depression himself, and so the book is part auto-biographical, part sociology, and part explanation of what is happening to you and how others around you are reacting to it.
Some of the topics he discusses are disconnection, illness as identity, medication, coping, family, and depression’s impact on our society. It was probably the sections on disconnection and illness as identity that were the most useful to me. Depression forces one to withdraw into yourself. You shrink, so that you feel like you are in a deep dark hole and can only barely see out at all. Friends fall by the wayside, family even. Many a divorce has had depression as one of the chief causes. So to understand how and why this disconnection is happening is quite important.
Perhaps equally important is the concept of illness as identity. I remember having a conversation with my wife’s brother once. He said that he hated being called a diabetic. He had diabetes. In his mind, the illness did not define him, and so he wanted to create separation between himself and the illness. That can be done with physical diseases and illnesses to some degree. No one says “I am a flu-er”, you say you have the flu. Even this has it’s limits. Paraplegic. Diabetic. These are but a couple examples of where the illness is incorporated socially into the identity of a person.
But with mental illness it is different. Because depression and mental illness are so invasive, because we can’t seem to separate our minds from ourselves, depression quickly gloms itself on to the identity. You are marked as unclean or not quite right in the head. There is a social stigma that goes along with depression. Are you trustworthy, or will you just crash? Jobs, family, church, all of these areas an more can make depression become a part of you. I am surprised that no one has coined a term like “I am a depressionic” or something to that effect. Karp addresses this phenomenon with a great deal of insight.
Now where is the Gospel in a secular book like this? There isn’t any, directly. He goes through the journey down into the valley and back up again. It is descriptive, with many helpful insights along the way. I would highly recommend this book, for example, to anyone suffering from depression and especially to their family. It is very good for understanding this. What he doesn’t do (and I have yet to find) is a real treatment of the relationship between mental illness and faith. How is it that I can cry, “I trust when dark my road” and yet mentally not believe there is a future for me? Is the mind the sole place for faith, so that if my mind isn’t right, it must mean my faith isn’t right?
God forbid. Faith is a gift, not an achievement. It is a gift that God continues to give, no matter how difficult the circumstances. In fact, the harder it is, the sweeter God’s gift will become. Even if you don’t feel it. Even if you can’t see past the next fifteen minutes. That doesn’t mean God abandons you. It means that he is hidden for a time so that He may reveal Himself more fully to us at the proper time. There is hope. There is a future. There is a Messiah who comes.
5 thoughts on “One of Two Books I've Read on Depression: Speaking of Sadness”
Well, right now the diagnosis for the issues I’m facing seems to be manic-depression, so I could say, “I am manic-depressive” or “I am a manic-depressive.”
I agree that mental illness can leave quite a stigma. On the other hand, getting a diagnosis can personally be liberating. It gives one the ability to make an attack plan, and helps reassure that the illness is not who you are, but is an illness that must be fought, like a physical one.
What you said in the last paragraph goes so well with “Day By Day We Magnify Thee” the last couple of days (midweek of Invocabit, in case anybody’s reading this later).
I think depression is very much defines one’s identity when one is in the throes of it. But when it’s eased, it’s easier to think of it as something you “have” instead of something you “are.”
In the middle of depression it’s hard to do anything. In depression I can’t think about the future beyond lunch. So having me wait for God to move from His hiding place to reveal Himself later won’t happen. He hides, I’m too weary to seek. He may as well be absent entirely. Yeah not too uplifting, but pretty honest.
I know and agree completely, anonymous. When you are stuck in an eternal present, talking of hiding and revealing are meaningless. Yet that is the reality of suffering. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Depression tells you that since you can see, touch, feel, taste or hear Him, He is absent and is therefore irrelevant. But that isn’t true. He IS present, whether we feel Him or not.
I too am an LCMS church worker. I’ve been reading these posts but haven’t responded. Maybe it’s the shame and need for anonymity. Maybe it’s that I haven’t had the right “medication cocktail” until now and couldn’t do anything but make it through the day.
But maybe it’s the whole identity thing of which you speak. That “social stigma” is alive and well in the LCMS. I have battled depression for several years. In the pit, out of the pit, and back in again. I’ve served faithfully and competently, but one time my service was interrupted while I was hauled out of the pit. And so I have been “marked.” I might not be trustworthy or I may as you say “just crash.” So this time in the pit I can’t tell anyone. I won’t. Not my peers, not my ecclesiastical supervisor, NO one. I must put on the masks and get through the day.
So here I am. What if they do find out that I am “unclean”? What if they discover I am “not quite right in the head?” Aren’t we all? Isn’t that one of the teachings of our faith? We are unclean and not quite right!
So what IS my identity? I am a child of God! My framed baptismal certificate hangs on the wall of my living room. Each day I am “confronted” by it. There is a paragraph on it that begins, “In your earliest childhood you were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He became your Father and you became His childâ€¦.” That’s who I am. That’s my identity. I am, in fact, marked.
I am not a pastor, but I am blessed to have a very faithful and compassionate one. He “in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ” helps me tremendously when my head is not right and my faith is weak. As he pronounces the absolution he makes the sign of the cross on my forehead, just as was done in my earliest childhood. He reminds me that I AM marked.
A depressed person? A person who is depressed? Call it what you want. I have my real identityâ€¦ I am His child! I’m marked..