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Author Topic: Guilt, depression and joy  (Read 2243 times) Average Rating: 0
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Cassiel
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« on: January 18, 2008, 01:17:49 PM »

Hi, I'm new to these forums but I'm delighted to find such interesting discussions. 

To give some background: I've dealt with depression since I was a child, along with some anxiety.  I'm not medicated but I do everything I can otherwise to treat it - nutritionally, exercise, cognitive therapy.  Medications simply have never worked for me.

A common problem among depressed individuals is low self-esteem, as well as an overblown focus on guilt.  It's fairly normal to feel really down on yourself even if you have no concrete evidence to back it up and can't finger any particular sins.  Related to this, I think, is the tendency to feel disproportionately bad about things that may or may not be real sins (scruples, it is called in the Roman Catholic traditions in which I was brought up).

As I explore Orthodoxy as a catechumen I am discovering the value placed on sorrow over sins, which is not foreign to me coming from the RCC.  Yet it's something I've never focused too much on, because when I do, I tend to get very wrapped up in it, become discouraged, and quit.  Sometimes it is just too painful to hear my own inner voices telling me I am terrible, and also hearing exterior ones from spiritual sources which seem to agree!  I am not worried about getting too discouraged and quitting right now, because I really have nothing to go back to: there is nothing in my non-Orthodox life to attract me, because what I have found here is infinitely better and answers so many of the problems I had (intellectually, spiritually, and in every other way, really).  But I do wonder about how you tell the difference between simple sorrow over your sins, and the tendency to become obsessed with your own sinfulness.  It's sometimes very hard to believe God forgives me.

Still, I know that saints are characteristically joyful!  Without confusing biological ailments (my depression probably is chemical) and spiritual ones, if it is possible, how do you balance feeling sorrow for your sins and feeling joy that God forgives them?  Is there anyone else here who has experience with depression and spirituality?  (By the way, I have a pretty excellent spiritual father with whom I started talking about this just recently, so I know if I am patient this will probably all soon become clear, but it never hurts to find out all you can, right?)  Any recommended reading?
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« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2008, 05:48:21 PM »

Cassiel, read the Lives of Silouan the Athonite and Elder Joseph the Hesychast.  Both dealt with years of torment and both lived relatively recently.

Saint Silouan said something to the effect of, "Keep thy mind in Hell and despair not."  When I was suffering from dark PTSD that somehow gave me hope and eventually I was able to experience joy.

God Bless, silouan
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Cassiel
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2008, 12:32:27 AM »

Thank you - that was just what I needed!

Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2008, 12:38:30 AM »

Another good one is The Path to Salvation by Saint Theophan the Recluse.  He says more than once that true Christianity always brings some measure of suffering and if we don't feel like we are struggling for our faith then our faith is probably some sort of illusion.  It sounds glib, but give thanks for your suffering, it will draw you closer to God.

Looking back on my life, I probably never yearned more for, or was closer to God, than when I was lying in bed with a gun to my head crying out for reasons to live.  Sorry if that is a little dark.

silouan


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« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2008, 12:54:07 AM »

Dear Cassiel, have you talked with a doctor about your depression?
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« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2008, 01:34:32 AM »

Dear Cassiel, have you talked with a doctor about your depression?

Cassiel,

All the spiritual reading that has been suggested is wonderful and I do find it all very uplifting, but I also had a thought similar to George.

I'm sure you have thought of this, but it you haven't, do ask your doctor for a blood test, especially for thyroid function.

God be with you.
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« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2008, 12:43:24 PM »

Silouan,

darkness I am familiar with.  I've been in a similar place more than once before.  I'm very thankful to have found Orthodoxy, which feeds my hope in God.  Without that, I would quickly be back to crying for reasons to live.

Yes, I have seen doctors and been medicated before, and I'm in counseling now, too.  This seems to be a place where the spiritual life and the psychological one are difficult to differentiate though, you know?  I feel anxiety, and I feel sadness, but I don't want to talk myself out of them by saying "I'm ok, you're ok" anymore.  I want to learn how to have joy because I know that God is with us, rather than because I think I'm self-sufficient (which is what a lot of modern psychology tries to tell you: "nothing you've done is that bad; you're an ok person...").  I'm not self-sufficient, and I'm not good, and I know it.  From what I understand of our faith, though, that's sort of ok because God has mercy on us anyway. 

This is all pretty new to me still, though, and sometimes I have trouble navigating it.
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« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2008, 12:59:14 PM »


Yes, I have seen doctors and been medicated before, and I'm in counseling now, too.  This seems to be a place where the spiritual life and the psychological one are difficult to differentiate though, you know?  I feel anxiety, and I feel sadness, but I don't want to talk myself out of them by saying "I'm ok, you're ok" anymore.  I want to learn how to have joy because I know that God is with us, rather than because I think I'm self-sufficient (which is what a lot of modern psychology tries to tell you: "nothing you've done is that bad; you're an ok person...").  I'm not self-sufficient, and I'm not good, and I know it.  From what I understand of our faith, though, that's sort of ok because God has mercy on us anyway. 

This is all pretty new to me still, though, and sometimes I have trouble navigating it.

Of course you are not self-sufficient and of course you, like the rest of us, try and succeed and also fail. But when you fail, just recall that God is MERCIFUL! Not only just, but also merciful. He forgives you when you fail trying. Keep trying and keep "talking" with Him in prayer. Also, go to the Chalice, receive the Holy Body and Blood of Christ - that alone helps more than we know...

On the other "front," if you are not on medication now, please, please do ask your doctor whether you need it. There is absolutely nothing wrong about taking anti-depressants. Thousands over thousands of people are taking them, and they DO HELP. Yet, all known anti-depressants (most of which are, nowadays, inhibitors of serotonin re-uptake) are "tricky," and you do absolutely need to stay in a very close touch with a medical practicioner when you are taking them. Only when you do that - when you stay in a close touch with a good doctor or at least registered nurse-practicioner, - you two can work together on the right preparation, right dose, and right schedule.

Also, how about physical activity? I know from my own experience and from the experience of my relatives that going to a gym is per se a great anti-depressant!!!

Best wishes and prayers,

George
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« Reply #8 on: January 21, 2008, 12:33:55 AM »

Thanks, George. I may reconsider antidepressants someday, but I have been on three different ones so far and been happy with none of them.  Things may be different now, though - it was at least four years ago that I last took any.  I may reconsider.

As for physical activity, yes!  I am an endurance athlete and without my exercise I am a sad, sad girl.  I am also a vegan, so I try to take good care of myself nutritionally.  I think I do everything I can short of taking medication to help myself out.  In fact, I've recently gone to scaling back my caffeine intake (with the eventual goal, I think, of having none) in the hope of toning down my anxiety.  Some people are really sensitive to caffeine and I don't know that I'm not one of them. 

I can't wait to be fully Orthodox so that I can receive the sacraments.  I was Roman Catholic until about two months ago and always believed in the power of the Eucharist.  I am longing for Pascha when I can receive in the Orthodox church.  Thank you for reiterating that God is merciful, not only just.  It may take me a while to come around to it, but the more I hear it, the more I believe it.  Somehow I came to believe in an ogre God, probably in part thanks to my depression (which tends to work in a rather vicious cycle: you feel bad, tend to see the downside of many things (including God), and then you feel worse, which makes you focus on the negative...), and relearning an accurate picture of Him is taking time and patience.

Today, however, I am happy to say I feel a great deal of joy because I officially became a catechumen this morning. 
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« Reply #9 on: January 21, 2008, 01:18:17 AM »

Today, however, I am happy to say I feel a great deal of joy because I officially became a catechumen this morning. 
Congratulations on your enrollment into the catechumenate, and welcome to the OCnet forum, Cassiel. Grin
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« Reply #10 on: January 21, 2008, 01:58:42 AM »

Congrats Cassiel!  The road is long and the mountain is steep, but deification in this life is worth the struggle, and the depression it took on the way to truth!!! I was diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder exhibiting insomnia, severe depression, severe suicidal tendencies, hallucinations, you name it.  I can empathize with you.

I was given almost every type of psych medication you can imagine.  They all had their place, and they all were necessary when I was at the intitial manic phase of my troubles.  But they all left me feeling drugged, although less depressed, but still not fully human, so to speak. Drugged long term was no way to live.

It wasn't until I simplified my life and got serious about how I spend my time, that I got healed.  Remember, there is no substitute for prayer, repentence, attending the services, reading Holy Fathers, etc.  Go to a good Orthodox Bookstore and look who most of the books are by or about, not academics and armchair theologians, but monks, priests, bishops, etc. who practiced the faith and spoke from the experience of a real interaction with God.  They all overcame their struggles, their temptations, their depression, by following the Churches rule.

Listen to a Doctor you trust for sure, but in my case, when my soul was healed I didn't need the depression medication.  But at one point it was necessary, when you've gone 2 weeks without sleeping a big horse pill comes in handy!!!!

Thanks, George. I may reconsider antidepressants someday, but I have been on three different ones so far and been happy with none of them.  Things may be different now, though - it was at least four years ago that I last took any.  I may reconsider.

As for physical activity, yes!  I am an endurance athlete and without my exercise I am a sad, sad girl.  I am also a vegan, so I try to take good care of myself nutritionally.  I think I do everything I can short of taking medication to help myself out.  In fact, I've recently gone to scaling back my caffeine intake (with the eventual goal, I think, of having none) in the hope of toning down my anxiety.  Some people are really sensitive to caffeine and I don't know that I'm not one of them. 

I can't wait to be fully Orthodox so that I can receive the sacraments.  I was Roman Catholic until about two months ago and always believed in the power of the Eucharist.  I am longing for Pascha when I can receive in the Orthodox church.  Thank you for reiterating that God is merciful, not only just.  It may take me a while to come around to it, but the more I hear it, the more I believe it.  Somehow I came to believe in an ogre God, probably in part thanks to my depression (which tends to work in a rather vicious cycle: you feel bad, tend to see the downside of many things (including God), and then you feel worse, which makes you focus on the negative...), and relearning an accurate picture of Him is taking time and patience.

Today, however, I am happy to say I feel a great deal of joy because I officially became a catechumen this morning. 
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« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2008, 09:26:42 AM »

Thanks!

It seems likely my depression has a biological component, but that isn't the whole of it, and already I am seeing the effects of a serious spiritual life.  I don't discount the possibility of being healed of it, but you are right - medication has it's place.  We shall see.  A tremendous component of the psychological side of my depression to this point has been serious existential despair (it was hard for me to believe that enduring all that pain was worthwhile if I was only going to die someday anyway, and there were so few lasting consolations in life).  It's impossible to hang on to existential despair here!  After beginning my path to fully belonging to the church I realized that so many of my prayers have finally been answered, and I have come to experience God in an immediate and personal way (rather than just groping for the Unknown God who I really, really, fervently hoped might exist).  I have still had some symptoms of depression and anxiety - they lurk - but I am learning to have confidence in God.  A big issue was feeling guilt over being depressed, and my priest told me last week, "I don't want you to feel guilty about that."  You would not think such simple words would have such a big impact, but they pulled me up short.  I have always felt guilty and ashamed of being depressed.  Of course, hearing those words does not mean that I immediately no longer feel that way - it will take some practice after so many years!  But I needed to be pulled up short, first. 

There are ways in which depression has been good for me - I have rarely been under the illusion that I am strong enough to make it on my own, or that any happiness here is great enough to compensate for life's pain.  That drives you to something greater than yourself like nothing else can.  But I won't stop praying for it's disabling effects to be lifted, that's for sure.  Livefreeordie, your story gives me a lot of hope.  Thanks.
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« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2008, 02:12:38 PM »

Congratulations, Cassiel!!! Sorry, I gave you a wrong advice ("go to the Chalice" - since you haven't been chrismated yet, you can't do it; but you will soon!).

Keep us posted about your progress as a catechumen!
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« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2008, 08:08:23 PM »

Congratulations Cassiel - and welcome! Smiley
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« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2009, 11:22:32 AM »

I'm responding to this older thread because I have a question about depression: I know in Orthodoxy we are told to get the help we need for depression (whether it's chemical or spiritual).  If it's chemical or hormonal, is it sinful to try to bear this as a cross without medical help?  I have been treated in the past, both with therapy and medication, to no lasting avail.  I am functional, if emotional, most of the time.  I do not like the havoc drugs wreak on my body and hormones, but am I being willful in refusing them?  I have found so much relief for my symptoms since becoming Orthodox and having a spiritual framework for my problems, but with this pregnancy, I fear I may be in for post-partum depression.
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« Reply #15 on: April 01, 2009, 11:40:41 AM »

I'm responding to this older thread because I have a question about depression: I know in Orthodoxy we are told to get the help we need for depression (whether it's chemical or spiritual).  If it's chemical or hormonal, is it sinful to try to bear this as a cross without medical help?  I have been treated in the past, both with therapy and medication, to no lasting avail.  I am functional, if emotional, most of the time.  I do not like the havoc drugs wreak on my body and hormones, but am I being willful in refusing them?  I have found so much relief for my symptoms since becoming Orthodox and having a spiritual framework for my problems, but with this pregnancy, I fear I may be in for post-partum depression.

Si, if you ask me, I'd say, no, you are not really trespassing against God or neighbor if you do not want to take anti-depressants. However, if you need them (which is something to be decided by your doctor), and you refuse to take them, and your condition becomes worse, and your doctor again insists that you take them, and you again refuse - then it would look like you are harming yourself (and that may, indeed, be sinful).
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« Reply #16 on: April 01, 2009, 03:29:11 PM »

Hi, I'm new to these forums but I'm delighted to find such interesting discussions. 

To give some background: I've dealt with depression since I was a child, along with some anxiety.  I'm not medicated but I do everything I can otherwise to treat it - nutritionally, exercise, cognitive therapy.  Medications simply have never worked for me.

A common problem among depressed individuals is low self-esteem, as well as an overblown focus on guilt.  It's fairly normal to feel really down on yourself even if you have no concrete evidence to back it up and can't finger any particular sins.  Related to this, I think, is the tendency to feel disproportionately bad about things that may or may not be real sins (scruples, it is called in the Roman Catholic traditions in which I was brought up).

As I explore Orthodoxy as a catechumen I am discovering the value placed on sorrow over sins, which is not foreign to me coming from the RCC.  Yet it's something I've never focused too much on, because when I do, I tend to get very wrapped up in it, become discouraged, and quit.  Sometimes it is just too painful to hear my own inner voices telling me I am terrible, and also hearing exterior ones from spiritual sources which seem to agree!  I am not worried about getting too discouraged and quitting right now, because I really have nothing to go back to: there is nothing in my non-Orthodox life to attract me, because what I have found here is infinitely better and answers so many of the problems I had (intellectually, spiritually, and in every other way, really).  But I do wonder about how you tell the difference between simple sorrow over your sins, and the tendency to become obsessed with your own sinfulness.  It's sometimes very hard to believe God forgives me.

Still, I know that saints are characteristically joyful!  Without confusing biological ailments (my depression probably is chemical) and spiritual ones, if it is possible, how do you balance feeling sorrow for your sins and feeling joy that God forgives them?  Is there anyone else here who has experience with depression and spirituality?  (By the way, I have a pretty excellent spiritual father with whom I started talking about this just recently, so I know if I am patient this will probably all soon become clear, but it never hurts to find out all you can, right?)  Any recommended reading?
I have struggled greatly with these same problems. My spiritual director told me to focus more on how much God loves me than on how much I fail to love him. For me this was great advice. I was able to experience more joy and freedom in my faith while maitaining a true sorry for my sins not exaggerated by scrupulocity. I may not be Eastern Orthodox but I think that this is good advice for any Christian.
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« Reply #17 on: April 01, 2009, 07:24:59 PM »

AXIOS, ДОСТОЈНА, WORTHY, DOSTOJNA.....CONGRATULATION'S...........

ДА ТИ БОГ ДА МНОГАЈА ЛЕТА И МНОГЕ ГОДИНЕ................

MAY GOD GRANT THEE MANY MANY YEAR'S AND MANY SUMMER'S..........
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