Monday, February 28, 2011

A road I know not.

I've been struggling with this post for a long time. How much can I talk about suffering without whining or complaining? How can I describe pain without fishing for pity? And this space has become something I never imagined it would be: So much about wounds, so little about philosophy.

But pain is a good school for the philosophical. If Caryll is right, only the sick are really living. And if Plato is right, then philosophers "are doing no more nor less than to prepare themselves for the moment of dying." In our dying we are coming to life: philosophy.

As the back issues have started to lift, we've faced the reality that underneath the physical pain I have a robust case of postpartum depression, coupled with severe sleep trauma. Even though the baby is sleeping well now, I can't. And in those dark hours, as all moms know, dark thoughts tend to crowd in.

It's hard for an introvert, who lives in her head, to recognize that there's really something physically wrong in her brain. I've always articulated worthwhile, meaningful pain and suffering in terms of the soul. Feelings of being alone or depressed were, I assumed, spiritual problems. Either I needed some absolution or to kick a sinful habit.

Or maybe I was heading down that holiest of paths, the "dark night of the soul." I must getting holy! Like Mother Teresa holy. And St. Therese and Father Damian holy. They were so holy that they suffered spiritually. They weren't clinically depressed, I thought, because they were obviously so close to God. They didn't have Zoloft, but they didn't need Zoloft! They had real faith.

But it turns out that, in the recesses of my mothering brain, some tiny little cells called neurons are misfiring, or not firing at all. A friend who is also struggling with depression said, "It's actually just physical!"

Is it? Is this kind of suffering also "just physical"? Can it go away with the right pill? How does that fit in with the "dark night of the soul"? Is there anything more, more meaningful, to psychological brokenness?

I'm convinced that no suffering--and no joy--is "just physical" or "spiritual" or "psychological" or "emotional." Human beings are never just physical, just spiritual, just psychology, or just emotions. We think we can isolate our experiences into various categories--it is so practical to categorize in order to control and manipulate. But when we fracture ourselves in order to understand ourselves, in order to heal ourselves, then we lose ourselves. And we end up only more broken. The back pain may lift with enough Aleve and a perfect posture, but if I think I have escaped unscathed, I am wrong. The depression may vanish with enough psychobabble and sertraline, but there are other consequences with which I must contend.

Along with far-reaching consequences of one sort of suffering--say, depression--there are also great opportunities. The spiritual war being waged in my soul, the battle for physical health, and the humiliation of psychological depression--in all these things, I may become more than a conqueror. In them, God might lead me in a "way I know not," until all that I am finds healing. Not just my back. Not just my brain. Not just, even, my soul. The total devastation of the Cross might one day become the total victory of the Resurrection.

And so, depression is not just a problem with my serotonin. It's not even a setback. It can become a way, a way through a dark night, to the place I long to be.


nayhee said...

I love this. St. Therese of Lisieux died of TB--something we can prevent so very easily now. Is her suffering lessened just because she died of an ailment that can be resolved with an injection? Of course not.

btw, you and I share a mutual love of Carryll and I posted something inspired by her today if you are interested. In fact, you might be one of the only ones who could "get it," having read her books!

Carter World said...

Thanks for posting on a topic so many women suffer from, and so few are willing to discuss in a public forum. You never know who you may be helping in sharing your suffering.

Young Mom said...

I had Post Partum Depression after my third baby, and I agree with you that we humans are not purely any one aspect or ourselves.

For me, my tough recovery from the delivery, and my unhealed emotional wounds both contributed to my depression, and all together it made a heavy burden to bear. I had a hard time admitting it as well, because I had always been taught that depression was a spiritual "laziness". But talking about it and actively working to get better (with the suppot of my wonderful husband) has been the best thing I've ever done.

Good for you for starting that journey!

e said...

‎"More men discover their souls in darkness than they do in light. This is not to invite darkness; it is only to be reminded that darkness need not go to waste when it is thrust upon us." -- Archbishop Fulton Sheen

I love you.

kate said...

its a tricky thing, getting a proper perspective on suffering. My son, 27, has been chronically sick for 2 years without a diagnosis until recently. In recent months, receiving treatment for a difficult to diagnose rheaumatoid condition, he (deeply devout) remarked, "I've learned to find Christ in my suffering, a part of my is worried how I will find Christ if I'm well".

I'm unclear if you are going to accept treatment for depression or not - and I hope you will. If you don't have a spiritual director, finding one might be a good thing. You are in deep water when you are sleep deprived and depressed - and clarity of thought is elusive. It is true that serotonin will not, in the end, solve everything. But if you were deficient in a nutrient or vitamin you would not hesitate to supplement - why with this? We have a moral imperative to be happy for the sake of others if not ourselves - we should not ignore chemical issues that make that more challenging.

LP said...

Grateful for the questions and raw honesty of this post. Depression is something very spiritually elusive, in terms of getting a handle on it, it seems. My 2-cents regards my own experience: when I had a rough go with it in the post-college years, it came on so gradually that by the time I was low enough to really suffer it, I had forgotten what it felt like to be well. And I was very reluctant to medicate, for various reasons, including spiritual concerns, though a sound Catholic therapist encouraged me to supplement counseling with a prescription. It wasn't til I was well again that I remembered how rich and delicate and varied the life of the human heart can be - and then I saw the path I'd just trod and wished I'd accepted the medicinal help to get me to that place sooner. For me, I always thought the depression was my fault, that if I'd been more courageous, virtuous, or made different choices I'd have avoided it completely. I needed to grow up in certain areas, it was true. And I did. Whether or not the deep dark valleys were necessary for this growth - only God knows. I think they still would have been present as crosses had I been less depressed - but I'd have been able to face them head-on, eyes-open, with a deeper sense of freedom / love, having the strength to say yes and go forward with more peace and hope. Depriving myself of medicine, especially out of the thought that I was at fault, in someways, was for me a selfish act of insecurity and pride. (However I know this is not the case for all...I am certainly not suggesting it is for you!) I think in the end, recovering the *desire* to pursue what's best for yourself and your family and vocation is a huge impetus to pursue physiological answers to the questions of PPD. (In my experience, at least, depression robbed me of the desire to do what was good for myself...add a hubby and kids in there and I'm certain there will be 5 grateful people at the end of the day!)

Your important point about not being able to isolate physical from emotional from spiritual is well-taken (and well-made!) - Watching other friends suffer through other types of depression is just a reminder of the wide-ranging reach of original sin and the havoc it wreaks on our entire world and all of humanity. Certainly each and every suffering permitted by God brings a multitude of opportunities for grace and conversion, for ourselves and others. Who knows whose souls you are saving along the way!

baltimoremom said...

Hello, this is my first time commenting. I'm usually not bold enough to comment but felt I ought to after reading your post. I can very much relate having gone through PPD 3 times myself. After my 3rd child, it felt like everyone around me was pushing me to get medicated for treatment. I resisted. Then came upon a post at Blessed Among Men regarding progesterone treatment. I tried it and it worked. Perhaps read the post at Apologies if my comment in any way offends you. I, of course, know next to nothing about you or your situation other than what I read in your blog. And maybe you already know of this treatment. Best wishes. Will say a prayer for you.

Erika said...

Thank you all so much for your encouragement and comments. I have been just amazed at how many women share in PPD (and so happy to see how many recover!). God is good--He does not leave us alone. I have been getting help (didn't mean to worry anyone!), though that's a post for another day. I will ask my OB about progesterone treatment (thanks!).