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.