Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Yes, Virginia, priests get depressed, too.

So it's been almost a year since my last blog.  What can I say?  I've been busy.

OK, that was flip, but I actually  have been busy.  Since my last post, I have pulled stakes and moved to the other side of Canada altogether.  Yes, Concerned Internaut, I finally did extricate myself from an unhealthy work and living situation and got another job all the way out West on the Sunshine Coast (which I have since discovered is an ironic name) of BC.

Despite these positive changes in employment and living arrangements, somewhere along the way, I got horrifically depressed.  I don't know when and where it happened (if I did, I would report the location to CAA), but it did.

I should probably back up a bit and clarify that I have been battling major clinical depression (and a strongly correlated anxiety disorder) for about 12 years.  That is to say it was diagnosed 12 years ago...if I look back on the 25 years of my life before that, I think it would be fair to say that I had probably been suffering from it long before it was diagnosed.

Since my first major depressive episode in the winter of 2000 which required me to quit my job, leave my apartment and move back in with my parents, I have had several major episodes which have forced me to decommission myself from various important aspects of life to varying degrees and for varying lengths of time.  These major episodes have been interspersed with varying degrees of down-ness, but during those times I have always managed to discharge my professional and personal duties.

That in and of itself is an interesting and rather telling turn of phrase: "professional and personal duties".  You can accurately infer from my words that I did not enjoy anything I was doing.  I was just doing it because it was expected of me or because I knew I had to.

This is what happened to me when I moved out West recently.  I am still trying to piece together what happened exactly, and I am making good progress towards that, but many things are still large question marks.

The most infuriating part of it is that I have absolutely no reason to be depressed.  Good upbringing, well educated, gainfully employed, in excellent health, lots of toys and hobbies, etc, etc.  My job and my personal relationships are rewarding.  I don't worry about food, shelter or personal harm.  I have no reason for it.  But there it is.

Here is the thing about clinical depression: it does not respond to reason.  It does not need a reason.  As an emotional entity, it is so badass it just shows up and makes itself at home, unbidden, uninvited and unwelcome.

There are things in life that are, for lack of a better word, worth getting depressed about: the loss of a job, the death of a loved on, the breakup of a relationship.  These things suck, and they can leave you feeling very down for a very long time, indeed.  What these experiences and feelings have in their favour, however, is that they are discreet.

What I mean is that, generally speaking, your normal person loses a job, gets really down, maybe even for a few days (or even a couple of weeks if they actually liked their job), but then is able to scrape themselves off the floor and print up some resumes.  They are generally able to say to themselves, "That was one job, there are lots out there, I am a qualified individual with talents and skills and something will turn up".  It is an event that happens once, and that is that.  Well, OK, you may lose another job down the line, but a normal person will simply do the same thing over again.

I know this because I was normal once.

Well, I was probably normal more than once, but who's keeping track?  What I mean is that I have, in a normal state of mind, been able to weather some fairly traumatic events, such as the loss of a job, loved one and relationship.  These events were all discouraging, frustrating and even heartbreaking.  But as I was in a normal headspace, I managed to cope with those feelings and move past them.

Not so when I am in The Valley.  When I am in The Valley, braving the distance between my bed and the bathroom first thing in the morning is an impossible task fraught with peril.  In The Valley, picking up a phone is a terrifying prospect, social interaction is an impossibility and personal relationships become unbearably onerous and draining.  Being hungry makes me panic, but no less so that the inability I feel to actually prepare food for myself or to go out in search of it.  It is a horrific, draining, frustrating, depressing, ugly, insidious and terrifying cycle.

Perhaps the worst thing about it is that it is not like other ailments or diseases one could have.  If I break my leg or pull my shoulder, its pretty straightforward: wait for it to heal, do these exercises, and that's about it.  It may be a drag, but I know it's just a matter of time.

I am not trying to downplay the seriousness of any other disease, infirmity or ailment, incidentally.  I am merely pointing out that when I am depressed, I lose all memory of ever being well, all recollection of ever having been sane, capable, responsible, respectable, worthy, loveable and good.  All I can call to mind are the times when I have felt the exact opposite, and I am firmly convinced that I am just always going to feel that way, no matter what I do.

I think most people are blessed with the ability to control their emotions to a certain extent, and usually so can I.  To those of you who can do this and who have never suffered from this disorder, the foregoing may sound totally alien to you.  You may wonder (and some people have actually asked) why I can't just "snap out of it", why I can't "just focus on the good things", why I can't just "take a nice hot bath, get a good nights' sleep and things will be better in the morning".  Someone even told me once that I had no business being a priest because my depression was indicative of a lack of faith and hope in God.

With the exception of that last person, I know you mean well when you say things like that, but you're actually making things worse when you do that to a depressed person.  That is akin to telling someone with cancer that if they just prayed hard enough, it would go away, or telling an insulin-dependent diabetic that they can and should be able to go without insulin if they just "thought positive".

The fact is that clinical depression is a disease like any other.  It is not due to a lack of character, moral fiber or emotional strength.  It is caused by an excess or a dearth of certain chemicals in the brain.  This disease manifests itself emotionally rather than physically, but it does manifest itself and can disrupt ones quality of life like any other disease.

The depressed person is not to blame.  I say this as much for the depressed person as I do for those who are not.

But there is hope.  Fortunately, although to my knowledge there is no cure for depression as such, there are a number of treatments, both in the form of medication and the form of therapy and/or support groups.

If you are reading this and you are suffer from depression, I want to affirm a few things that I was told when I was first diagnosed with this disorder.  I did not believe them, but they have turned out to be true:

1. You are NOT crazy.

2. You are NOT alone.

3. It gets BETTER.

You may not hit on the right medication right away.  You may not get the right therapist right away.  You will backslide.  Be patient with yourself, be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to feel the way you are feeling.


  1. What a great entry. Much love Jason.

  2. Dear Jason,
    I am glad I found you - your blog, that is. Since I am never on facebook, I had not noticed that you were no longer there either. Facebook friends simply disappear and you don't even notice. But friends shouldn't.
    I miss you and now am really blown away by this blog entry. Is this copyrighted? Can I use it for people I know who suffer from clinical depression but don't want to accept it because that was not how they were raised?
    Thanks a lot, I hope to see you again at some point!

  3. Hi Christian,

    Great to hear from you! I'm glad you found me. I left FB for Lent, but am now considering not going back. It's a bit of a time-waster and is just generally not good for my soul:) I hope all is well back in QC. Things are much better here these days. Just focusing on myself and my career, and taking some big and exciting steps. I've applied to do my PhD and I am headed to Costa Rica in April for a vacation at an eco/adventure tourism lodge run by a friend of mine.

    Please feel free to use anything you find here if it will help anyone!

    Take care and stay in touch!


  4. Sometimes you feel like your the only one , then you read something like this and you realize that although we have our days . weeks . months . we are not alone .Thank you for being so honest . This made "one of those days" better !

  5. Love the way you have described depression, "when I am in the valley". Psalm 23, i shall fear no evil for you are with me. Hard to remember when we are in the thick of it. Hoping this winter was kinder to you.

  6. Hoping this winter was kinder to you. Love the way you described being in the valley. So hard to remember the light when we are in the thick of it.

  7. I think you should save this post Jason. This is a really great description of depression. So many are struggling right now this could help them. Maybe a new blog for mental health is in order?