I was flicking through the TV channels earlier this week and found myself watching Horizon’s ‘Stopping Male Suicide.’ It made for sobering viewing.
As some readers might be aware I have suffered from both depression and anxiety. I call them my twin impostors. They are impostors for the straightforward reason that they seek to impose, without invitation, their presence. Depression and anxiety like to penetrate every part of our beings: bodies, minds, and souls. The symptoms and manifestations of depression and anxiety are widespread; they are holistic diseases.
Depression left me feeling physically sick. It hit me in the pit of my stomach. It made me feel as though my whole body was being suffocated in what the psalmist (40, 2) describes as the ‘miry bog.’ Anxiety caused acute pain in my large muscle groups and the sensation of my whole body being washed through with chemicals. It was truly awful. Both depression and anxiety tell the worst of lies. As one of the main characters in the programme said: “Depression is a liar: it tells you horrible things about yourself and makes you believe them.” This is so true. In my experience anxiety is also a liar. It tells you that the worst is going to happen, and that your wildest imaginings are truths, and every time something ‘bad’ does happen, anxiety’s cruelest whisper is ‘I told you so.’
Depression and anxiety also tell three, potentially devastating, spiritual lies: ‘you aren’t good enough,’ you aren’t capable enough’ and, cruelest of all, ‘they would be better off without you.’ For a person of faith, a Christian, these are particularly awful lies. The first lie invites a direct rejection of our foundational Scripture, the very notion that we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1, 26). The second lie tells us that we really can’t expect to a make any form of meaningful contribution to the functioning of the ‘Body of Christ,’ and that we don’t therefore properly belong, the third lie asks us to consider whether there is any point in going on, given that we are of no earthly value to anyone else. These lies are all cruel, de-humanizing, and potentially dangerous. They are some of the most widespread lies at work today.
These are the lies I had to confront time and time again as I trained for ordination, for it was at theological college that many years of suffering from ‘twin impostor syndrome’ came to a head. These were the lies that crushed, that sought to break an already highly ‘bruised reed,’ (Isaiah 42, 3).
I was very fortunate to have a friend, one friend, who I could talk to (the staff at Cuddesdon were also simply amazing). His name was Nick. I think he saved my soul. I can’t remember a single word he said to me; it was enough to know that he was simply there for me. I will be forever grateful. The presenter of the Horizon documentary said ” in the fight against suicide the power of a single conversation should not be underestimated.” This is so true. Sadly Nick died earlier this year, of natural causes. Preaching at his funeral was bitter-sweet but was without doubt one of the greatest privileges of my life.
I still find it difficult to think of the twin impostors as a blessing, but these days I can’t quite think of them as a curse. But, there again, I am fortunate for I have survived, at least thus far. If, as a parish priest, there is a blessing to be found it is through the privilege of having a platform from which to speak about mental health and the tentative possibility of helping others to live ‘with, through, and beyond,’ depression and anxiety. For me, ‘with, through, and beyond,’ best articulate my understanding of ‘healing.’ We learn, as I found out to, with and alongside, others.
I am passionate about speaking out, and hopefully de-stigmatizing, the twin impostors. I am also passionate (for Andrew is a passionate fellow) about helping others live with, through, and beyond depression and anxiety. I also think that if the church is serious about her healing ministry she needs to get down into the ‘miry bog,’ and help in the process of lifting sufferers out of the ‘pit.’ One of the ways we can do this is through the use of carefully crafted liturgy.
A small group in my benefice have been working on a liturgy we are going to be offering for the first time on the 21st October. The aim is to bring sufferers together in gentle solidarity in the hope that we learn, together, to live ‘with, through, and beyond’ depression and anxiety. Can I ask you to keep us in your prayers? If you would like to join us you would be most welcome. In the meantime let me offer you a passage from Scripture that reflects my experience of living ‘with, through, and beyond’ depression and anxiety:
‘I called on your name O lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help, but give me relief.’ (Lamentations 3, 55 -56).