Praying While Depressed

For those who suffer from clinical depression, prayer may just be one more thing to get depressed about (believe it or not). I remember when someone close to me died and another relation of the deceased who suffered from depression was told to “stay strong and pray” but clearly just couldn’t do it. Therese Borchard over at Beyond Blue tells of her experience as well.

When I was in the eye of depression’s storm, I couldn’t pray. I would go into my bedroom closet, shut the door, and light a candle in the dark. I stared into its flame, wanting so badly to feel at peace.

But I didn’t. Instead, I trembled with anxiety, barely able to hold my rosary made of rose petals. I pleaded with God to send me a minute of consolation, to show me that He was there. I got nada.
”Be persistent,” a Buddhist friend told me. ”Meditation takes patience and discipline. When the distracting thoughts come, acknowledge them and then let them go. If you do this over and over again, you will begin to transcend.”
But it never happened. So on top of my depression and anxiety, I felt like a prayer loser.

Surely Therese is not alone. And it goes to show that there are relatively few people who really understand mental illness. Mental illness often blocks freedom to think as you’d like to. One might want to think positively, but when in the grasp of depression one is powerless to do so. Powerless. And therefore one needs some kind of anchor to hinge them into prayer. That anchor needs to be rigid in some way as well–something you just can’t let go of because if you do–you fly back into that depressive state.

Read on at this link to see how Therese prays while in the depression’s grasp and the extremely healthy anchor she uses.

For folks who end up with scrupulosity, the same matter applies, I think. Scrupulous people really believe that no matter what they do they can never be redeemed. They are always bad people with no chance of God’s forgiveness. Depression can be at the heart of that issue as well and once that depression lifts then they can see their goodness more clearly.

However, while that depression is lifting, a scrupulous person often needs to make a plan. A therapist-friend tells me that this is much like what someone with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) does. When an OCD person feels the need to overly wash their hands the realization of that compulsion gets worked out by replacing the compulsion with an activity. So when one feels the need to wash hands one may go and run around the block instead, or write in a journal,or walk the dog. I continue to call it “The Anchor”. What is it that we can hold onto that brings us out of our own confused and jumbled thoughts and into healthy relationship with God?

When one feels like they are worthless, perhaps doing an activity that reveals self-worth–like exercise or volunteering is indeed helpful and can lead some into a better place. Sometimes even that might not lift those feelings but the point (as the 12 step community will tell us) is to “fake it ’til you make it.”

For many, the anchor needs to be coupled with good meds and continual therapy as well. Depression is not something that just goes away. It needs constant attention, treatment and understanding. Not to limit the power of prayer, but when a depressed person sometimes cannot pray, or better stated, can’t connect their thoughts to God because of their mental state, encouraging further prayer without some other kind of plan, is indeed useless.

Thanks to Therese for pointing this out to us today.

Seminary Application: Question #1: Are You Gay?


The New York Times has an unbelievable story today about the seminary application process and the concentration on whether someone is homosexual or not. Here’s a snip with a few snarky comments of my own in parentheses.

Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist at Catholic University who has screened seminarians and once headed a treatment center for abusive priests, said the screening could be “very intrusive.” (Ya think?) But he added, “We are looking for two basic qualities: the absence of pathology and the presence of health.” (Pathology, here, is defined as gay.)

To that end, most candidates are likely to be asked not only about past sexual activities but also about masturbation fantasies (OK, THAT’S going to be awkward), consumption of alcohol (Better search a lot of rectories, Catholic schools and homes first), relationships with parents and the causes of romantic breakups (Wow! So if she broke up with me because she didn’t think I was ambitious enough, would that be a negative?). All must take H.I.V. tests and complete written exams like the 567-question Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which screens for, among other things, depression, paranoia and gender confusion (good to know that they weed people out who have treatable mental illnesses too). In another test, candidates must submit sketches of anatomically correct human figures (I’d fail on this part alone. I can’t draw a straight (or gay) line WITH a ruler, never mind a penis or vagina).

In interviews by psychologists — who are usually selected because they are Catholic therapists with religious views matching those of the local church leadership (What a surprise!) — candidates are also likely to be asked about their strategies for managing sexual desire.

“Do you take cold showers? (Only in Nicaragua and Miami)Do you take long runs? (Not if I can help it! And not since the last time the cops were chasing me.)” said Dr. Plante, describing a typical barrage of questions intended both to gather information and to let screeners assess the candidate’s poise and self-awareness — or to observe the tics and eye-avoidance that may signal something else.

Yeah, because the creepy people asking these embarrassing questions will make candidates want to look you right in the eye. And if the candidate is able to answer in that manner –then good Lord, RUN FOR THE HILLS!

Harvard’s Mark D. Jordan hits the nail on the head later in the column:

“A criterion like this may not ensure that you are getting the best candidates,” said Mark D. Jordan, the R. R. Niebuhr professor at Harvard Divinity School, who has studied homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood. “Though it might get you people who lie or who are so confused they do not really know who they are.”

Bingo. And guess who those people are most likely to become?

Yep, you guessed it, PEDOPHILES.

Wake up, Bishops. You are STILL asleep at the switch. Perhaps the folks at the Dallas Charter might want to take some time to write a nice little op-ed here?

And since they haven’t answered that call, Fr Jim Martin has and has done so admirably here.

Three in One

We often mistake the trinity for three divisible individuals, forgetting that God does all things. So it is always the three persons working in unity together. God the Father doesn’t just create, but he also sanctifies and redeems along with the other two persons of the trinity.

The persons of the Trinity often allows us to understand what God is but it also gets confusing. Three persons. I think that term is what confuses people. My good friend and pet expert, Warren Eckstein, who is Jewish, once put the question best when he tried to understand this:

“If I had the Holy Trinity over for dinner, how many place settings would I need?”

I laughed and replied confidently with the number one.

Others argued that I was wrong because of that word “persons”. But God is only one, unity in a diverse expression. So it is not only Jesus who redeems with his blood but it is also the other two persons who work in unity.

The word expressions I have found to work better than the word persons when we regard the trinity. God has three expressions but only one unity. God is beyond us (unknowable mystery–the inexhaustible one). But God is also with us, we have a God who lives and moves and has our being. Finally God is also within us–closer to ourselves than our very breath.

This Trinity Sunday I am reminded that we are all called to work for unity. Husbands need to unite with their wives to take care of their family—so everyone’s pointed in the right direction. Who are we out of union with and how might we repair that.

Today lets us pray for those who feel confused by the message of the Trinity. God loves us and cannot bear to be without us. So we try to unite with the trinity–to be single-minded with God.

Of course it never happens, because we all sin. However it is through the Holy Spirit that we are forgiven. It’s one of the few prayers other than the Sign of the Cross that mentions all three members of the trinity:

“God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church may God give you pardon and peace and (priest) I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Perhaps the truth to concentrate on today is how God can be all things to us when we need God in our lives. Does not God the Father hang in the cross and suffer with Jesus and with us when we are in suffering? When we need inspiration doesn’t the Holy Spirit point us to Jesus?

Do we believe in this mystery?

We believe Lord, help our unbelief.

Are People with Mental Illness Overmedicated?

Therese Borchard at her great blog on mental illness, Beyond Blue, takes on the question.

Are some people overmedicated in this country? Yes. Absolutely. I devote a few chapters of my book, Beyond Blue, to describing the dangerous phase in my recovery led by a doctor whom I call “Pharma King.” I was taking something like 16 pills a day, enough to drop my head into my cereal bowl every morning for about three months. And I wasn’t at all uncomfortable with how the nurses at the outpatient psych program I attended jumped to an increase in medication every time a patient voiced a complaint or raised an issue.

I wanted to scream out, “For crying out loud, let the woman try to sort through this a tad before we up her prescription.”

I think there are many people with mild depression who would be better served by a change in diet, a strict exercise regiment, some psychotherapy, and the other tools we have to help us, than simply by swallowing a pill.

I would tend to agree in some cases, but not in many. I know a few people in my life and in my ministry who would be lost without the use of drugs to stabilize their brain chemistry.

And therein lies the problem. Many people with mild depression rely on meds to bring them back to the borderline when simple talk therapy will do.

Then there are people with serious issues who NEED meds simply to stabilize their brain chemistry and correct the imbalance that causes mania or depression–or both.

And that being said, those people also need to participate in talk therapy on a minimum monthly basis. These two therapeutic solutions work well in consort for the seriously ill. The issue is that one usually favors one over the other when both are actually necessary.

As is the case with most things, fear is at the heart of this, I think. Mildly depressed people hear horror stories of people who are seriously mentally ill and they don’t want to find themselves in that situation so they medicate unnecessarily. Seriously depressed people take their meds and it stabilizes them, but they don’t thrive on meds alone–they need the talk therapy as well. Those who are seriously ill can participate in talk therapy from now until the end of time without meds and they will never recover –but they fear taking meds for one reason or another. And there are many who lobby against the pharmaceutical industry who tell people to chuck their meds and it leads to a rapid downfall. Others can bring themselves naturally up to the borderline with simple talk therapy–but choose to do nothing.

For many of us in ministry, we see a good deal of people who come to us for pastoral care or for spiritual direction. We’ve learned the signs of mental illness and know when people need more help than we are able to provide. And yet, many people really trust us and want to use us for talk therapy when they really need to see a psychologist–perhaps one who is open to spirituality in their practice would be best. I’ve even toyed with the idea of working on a psychology degree for these reasons. I love doing direction with young people, but at times I can see the blocks that doesn’t let someone even see the possibility of God working in their lives. It becomes my job to send them elsewhere–which really is hard for them to hear sometimes.

I think this is an area where a great conversation can happen between the psychological community and the religious community. We really can help one another here and I know a good deal of psychologists who consult religious professionals for assistance including one who said “Until my client went to confession regularly, I couldn’t get them past their negative feelings. Confession was the piece that helped me to help them make a breakthrough and forgive themselves and the others in their lives and be more able to see the world as a safe place again.”

Indeed. Any other experiences with this?