It never fails that when January rolls around, there is a complex of emotions that settle within me. As I have taken stock of my life and what I experience, and explored the information available to me, I believe that I experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. It has been called winter blues. It is recognized as a legitimate type of depression. It is tied to the seasons, in particular the late Fall and Winter seasons.
For me, I begin to experience it in January and it lasts through March. At times it has been worrisome for me. The expression that I experience the most is a feeling of worthlessness. My mind is attracted to the idea that I am useless to people (family, church, colleagues). I dwell in the playground of convincing myself that I am not needed by anyone.
Over the time frame of weeks that I experience this, it progresses and worsens. It is not a good feeling. It is not something that I can just "shake it off". It is not just a matter of thinking about something else. Everything I think of is corrupted by the line of thoughts and emotions. Everything that is done for me has been met with a sense of being useful to them, but not necessarily needed.
And that is where I am today. I realize that the complex of emotions that is my disorder is beginning to rise its head. I am writing this, not for sympathy, but to excise some of the demon that wishes to do battle with my heart and mind.The beginning of these feelings and thoughts are usually random bubbles. The worst that it can get is a consuming focus. And I don't tell anyone about it, usually.
I was completely unfocused on any particular thoughts. I was making my breakfast. And WHAM! I was hit with the thought - nobody needs me. And not knowing it for what it was, I allowed myself to play with that. "I'm not needed. I am only useful. Lisa and boys only have me around because I'm useful to their life. The church doesn't need me because another pastor can be appointed." In the span of only a couple of minutes, all of those thoughts ran through my mind. They were accompanied by feelings of despair and worthlessness.
After a couple of minutes of this, I realized what was happening. I was able to stop that line of thinking. But the emotions linger. The skirmish was over. The battle was paused, though. I can sense the next skirmish with my enemy being plotted.
This post is not to gain sympathy or an intervention. I want to name the experience for what it is: a mental illness. I don't control it. I can attempt to divert its effects. I don't bring it on. I know that there have been some circumstances recently that have contributed to it. It is part of my existence. It is a burden. Perhaps a "thorn" like Paul experienced and alluded to in his second letter to the Corinthians (12:7). It is most likely a biochemical malfunction in my body.
There are options for it. There are light boxes that are supposed to mimic natural sunlight. The prevailing thought is that seasonal disorder is tied to the reduced exposure to sunlight in Fall and Winter. There are drug interventions such as anti-depressants that would be prescribed in chronic depression. There are homeopathic recommendations that are supposed to elevate certain natural elements within the body. I have not sought any of these in the past.
I have always struggled with it. That is typically how I deal with physical, mental, or emotional problems. I manage pain or problems on my own. I don't feel the right to burden others with my "stuff". And the strange thing is that culture is okay with that. As a man and a pastor, the prevailing opinion is that I don't have to share my "stuff" because it is awkward.
Mental illness is getting some much needed attention lately. It is something that needs to be dealt with openly and honestly. 1 in 4 people experience some type of episode with mental illness. There is still a stigma about discussing it in "polite company." If there is something that is so prevalent, it seems ridiculous that we do not have the willingness to discuss it openly.
Men are supposed to be strong. Anyone who is open about the struggles loses status among peers, and even among those who know him. Sure there are some who will support him and be part of a solution to improving his circumstance. There is also the sad reality that generally men are supposed to be able to "deal with it."
Pastors have the burden of caring for the struggles of the church (as a business and the people who comprise its constituency). Pastors are to be stoic sentinels able to deal with the brokenness of people's lives and be the source of hope and joy and faith for those in times of need. And they are reminded that the church is not there for the pastors problems. Within our Annual Conference, our options are discuss our problems with our District Superintendents, our colleagues, or seek professional help. And each one of those has overwhelming barriers to effectiveness. I speak from personal experience on a couple of them.
Some times it is just easier to suck it up and walk on, face it and try to cope. It isn't the best way to do it. But I am fortunate that my experience is manageable. But that doesn't mean I must be quiet about it. And there aren't enough people who read this that I would be damaging my reputation or status in using this platform.
And for those who have read this, thank you for taking the time. I apologize if it made you a little uncomfortable. I don't apologize for posting, though. This is my outlet for thoughts and feelings and creative urges and opinions. And if I share too much, you are invited to find a nice happy blog with noise. I won't take it personal, I promise.