Pagan Blog Project 2014: “D” is for Depression
I struggled with this week’s topic. Originally I had planned to use this D for “Doing It Wrong”, because I am always paranoid that I am doing this whole business wrong. But the way this week has gone has convinced me to use this topic instead.
I’ve noticed that the online pagan community is at the very least more open about mental illness than nearly any other community I’ve been a part of. Even at my college, which averaged a rate of approximately one student suicide per year while I was there, seeking counseling or even being open about mental issues was still highly stigmatized. The counseling center had a separate side entrance, which to me made it seem like students were “sneaking” in. I took advantage of the services offered, not least because they were free, but now that I’m a Real Live Adult (TM) with a bachelor’s degree and everything, I find myself broke and uninsured, and in this country that combination doesn’t lend itself well to seeking therapy.
And I have definitely noticed my depression affecting my practice.
I’m going to preface this by saying I’m lucky, in a sense; my depressive episodes are comparatively mild. Even on my worst days I’m still stubborn enough to get myself out of bed (eventually), even if I don’t do anything but scroll down my tumblr dash for the rest of the day. At least, I tell myself, I managed to get out of bed.
Depression is exhausting, and that’s the joke of it. The “cure” to depression is action, as my mother always says, but if you can’t motivate yourself to do something as simple/excruciating as going to the kitchen to make yourself a sandwich, there’s not a lot of action going to get done. It’s exhausting, and frustrating, and you feel like nobody would listen or care if you tried to explain your issue to them. It makes every day into a battle against the demons in your own head, and if you’re lucky enough never to have experienced this kind of depression, take it from me, you never want to. Your mind tells you that you’re worthless, you’re scum, you’re a waste of space, you’re no good for anything.
The logic then goes, if I think I’m worthless, then what must the gods think of me? You feel unclean, and ashamed; you don’t feel like you’re good enough to place yourself before your god or gods because they deserve better than you, they deserve better than a devotee who can’t even muster up the energy to light some incense and take a shower and eat something that’s nutritionally balanced.
So you mutter apologies and your practice slips, because you think you’re not worthy of your gods’ attention. You have failed them, and thus failed yourself.
This is especially ironic to me, because I have had many friends tell me that they take comfort in their religion during periods of depression. How do you accomplish that when you don’t even think your gods should bother with the likes of you?
That kind of thinking is poison, and it’s poison I’ve chugged by the gallon in the past. We are flawed; hell, we’re only human. Some traditions will warn you against trying to attract the gods’ attention if you’re in any way “unclean”, physically or mentally; others say to just approach and they will listen. When I find myself in that hole – and I can predict when I’ll end up in that hole, largely because I’ve come to recognize the patterns – I somehow manage to stubborn myself into the shower (both for ritual purity and because I feel better when I’m clean), prepare an offering of cool water, sit down, light a candle, and just talk. The gods know when you’re trying, and from all I’ve seen and heard, they appreciate the effort.
Doing hardcore magic or devotional work when you’re in that hole can be ill-advised or impossible, depending on the person. It requires energy you might not have, and confidence in yourself you might not feel. My advice: Don’t push it if you really don’t feel it. The gods can wait, and you need to look out for yourself first. Piety is well and good, but it won’t pay the bills. If it helps you get out of bed in the morning, then go for it, cling to anything you can to climb out of that hole. But please don’t take a shovel and dig it deeper because you think the gods won’t want you, or that they’ll be angry because you haven’t been able to honor them in your usual way. Chances are, they’ll be glad you’re looking after yourself, and they’ll be waiting for you to climb out of the hole. They might even throw you a rope.