When the righteous cry out, the Lord listens; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed.
—Psalm 34:17-18 (NRSV)
I am fortunate in being someone who has never really had to struggle with depression. I have my down days and off moods like everybody, but they have always been manageable. However, I’ve known many who were not so fortunate, so I don’t take it for granted. I know that depression can be devastating and paralyzing for those who suffer from it, either as a life-long burden or as the side-effect of some kind of loss. But for the most part, this knowing, for me, has mostly been about the experiences of other people; a second hand knowing, if you will.
I suppose that’s why it took me a while to see what I’ve been feeling for what it really is. In our seventh week of social distancing, I find myself cycling through periods of grumpiness, impatience and deep tiredness. It hasn’t prevented me from getting things done, but everything seems like more of a chore than it ought to be. And when I’m “off duty,” I confess to binge watching old episodes of That 70’s Show, Brooklyn 99 and Seinfeld; anything for a laugh, anything for a little blessed distraction.
I share this with you not to trigger your sympathies (though I welcome your encouragement as much as anyone would) but because I know I am far from alone in these feelings. Our world has been thrown up for grabs. Our future is anyone’s guess. Our security is dependent on fighting something we can’t see. And the only way to stay safe is to steer clear of precisely that face-to-face community we would normally turn to for comfort and support. Our situation is a perfect setup for grief, and depression is one of grief’s most predictable expressions.
With all this on my mind, I happened across this short piece from the current issue of Christian Century…
David Kessler, author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, says that many people are experiencing a number of kinds of grief during the pandemic. Anticipatory grief imagines the worst about the future; focusing on present realities is the antidote. People are grieving over loss of normalcy, connections, and economic security. Collective grief is in the air. Naming and understanding the stages of grief –– denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance, finding meaning –– helps manage it, but the stages are not necessarily linear. Think about how you can let go of things you can’t control and stock up on compassion for others. (Christian Century 4/22/20, reprinted from the Harvard Business Review, 3/23/20)
For a short article, Kessler’s advice is certainly useful. We would all do well to focus on present realities and stock up on compassion for others. But the greatest challenge of grief is that pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps is precisely what depression makes it nearly impossible to do. Our natural instincts are to be “up” for one another. Thankfully, we are quick to offer encouragement and inspiration where we can. But there is no shame in admitting that none of us are on top of our games. We are not and cannot be up all the time. And probably the least helpful thing we can do with our down feelings is to add a layer of guilt on top of them.
So, to Kessler’s good advice I would add … be gentle with yourself, allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling without judgment, allow yourself to ask for help rather than suffering in silence, recognize that your sense of loss is real, and that it will take us all time to recover from the truly unprecedented situation we are in. And most importantly, from my own experience, allow yourself to draw strength and comfort from your faith. Trust in the Lord, for God is “close to the brokenhearted,” and “saves those whose spirits are crushed.”
Yours in Grace,