But what have *you* got to be depressed about, Vicar?

vicardibleyIn response to a high profile figure being outed as having depression, sooner or later someone will say, “But he’s rich, famous and successful, what has HE got to be depressed about?

My shameful confession is – I have nothing to be depressed about either.

I have a solid marriage to a man I love. He exasperates me at times – but he’s my best friend and he still makes me laugh. (He’s been telling the same awful jokes for 23 years, so that’s quite a claim!)

I have two great teenage kids who are growing towards being thoughtful, funny, interesting young adults. They enjoy school, work hard and so far are giving the whole teenage rebellion thing a miss. (I do not take this for granted.)

I have a fulfilling job, as the Vicar of an urban parish. It has massively rewarding moments. On a good day, I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do.

What’s more, I have it easy compared to many, many other Vicars. Yes, it’s an odd sort of a job, which carries a bizarre set of expectations with it, but at least I only have one parish and one church, compared to people I trained with who spread themselves across several communities and congregations.

And it’s a good church. A church full of decent, encouraging folk. A church full of people who say, “Let’s give it a go” rather than “We tried it once and we didn’t like it”. (I do not take this for granted either).

We have our issues, but our building is warm and dry, our finances kind of work, and (fellow clergy will understand), our graveyard is closed.

If you’re wondering what horrors my past might hold – I had a normal, happy, settled childhood. Ordinary, in the best possible sense of the word.

I have no reason at all to be depressed.

Yet, it seems that depressed is what I am.

Starting in Autumn 2013 I spent months living in thick fog. All light and joy and energy were gone. I would stumble into my study after every church event and wish I could sit and cry – but the tears wouldn’t come. My sleep and appetite were all over the place. I felt like the worst, weakest, most stupid, failed Vicar in all the world and that conviction coloured every thought and action. All my energy went into making it look like everything was ok on the outside, so no-one would realise how far from ok things were on the inside. Every day, for months.

I went to my GP feeling a complete fraud. After all, I had nothing to be depressed about, did I? Feeling ashamed of coping so badly, when my circumstances were so easy. Feeling like I couldn’t possibly have “real” depression. I must just have the “lite” version, whatever that might be.

Now I’m held together by anti-depressants, counselling and a big dollop of mindfulness, (aka, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy – I’ll write about that another time, it’s good stuff). And it’s better, much better. But I feel like I’ve learned to manage the depression, rather than banished it. It is lurking somewhere close by.

Yet, I have nothing to be depressed about.

Either I’m a total light weight to have crumpled so badly – or maybe depression isn’t that much about your life circumstances after all, although they can certainly play their part.

Why am I writing this?

It’s not a plea for sympathy. I have good friends who let me cry on their shoulder, when I need to.

It’s not a fishing trip for compliments so you’ll all rush in to tell me “But you’re a wonderful Vicar, Claire….” I have friends who will do that too – and now and then I even half believe them.

It’s not a set of excuses, so you’ll cut me a bit of slack when I’m rubbish at returning phone calls or organising stuff. (though, some days, even a simple phone call is a mammoth effort.)

I think it’s a request for understanding – for the recognition that depression isn’t just being unhappy because bad stuff has happened to you. The bad stuff in life can trigger depression, for sure, but it’s way more complex than that. However easy your life seems, at first glance, you can still end up there. That there are many, many factors that cause and maintain depression – some of them well understood, some of them not.

I’m writing this, because I wish I’d read something similar a year ago. It wouldn’t have made the depression go away. But it might have taken away some of the shame and sense of being a fraud that went with it.

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15 Responses to But what have *you* got to be depressed about, Vicar?

  1. ColourGeek says:

    You mention that you wish you’d read something like this and I immediately thought of The Black Dog. Well worth looking up as it represents depression in a way that is immediately understandable.

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    • Thanks ColourGeek – it’s an image I’ve come across a couple of time. (I think someone sent me a link to an excellent animation of a man being followed by one) I’ll have another look, as it was really helpful.

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      • If that link was the Matthew Johnstone book – the youtube version – then that was the book that helped me comprehend my emotions and that someone else knew them, even when I had no words for it. I was having a full on breakdown whilst training for ministry, and thought I would never get here. I am now in my 6th year of doing the minister thing, and in my case depression continues to be my thorn in the flesh that doesn’t go away, though like the tides its depth changes. Many others may have only a singe episode in their life.
        A wise minister/spiritual director who had other reasons to be in the club referred to ‘the wobbly ones’ that made me think of the Weeble toys of my childhood – ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down’ – leads to the title of my (occasional) blog Aweebleswonderings.blogspot

        (PS advantages of lots of chapels is that they each assume you are somewhere else – when I might be nesting under my duvet)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. LizH says:

    Thanks for the honesty. Praying…

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  3. Thanks for that – I can relate as I too ‘had nothing to be depressed about’ so carried the guilt for nearly a year before going to GP. Then I had what is called a ‘crisis episode’ ending up in emergency at hospital followed by 6 months off work. It is still a struggle but I have learned to recognise the symptoms and be kind to myself on foggy days. Have just finished training as a Methodist minister and am writing my dissertation on mental illness and the church. Is it okay if I contact you sometime? Blessings

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    • Thanks for the comment. I was much helped when I had a good whinge about how hard everything seemed to a friend, and she replied bluntly, “Talking to you is just like talking to someone who has depression. Go and see your GP” The fact that someone else could see it, and give it a name made me take it seriously. And I knew she’s been somewhere similar herself, so that helped too. As you suggest, learning to live with it, with some kindness, seems a good way forward.

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    • And yes – feel free to contact me some time, if that would be helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Helen. (Not sure why I can’t click “reply” on your comment….sorry) Yes, that was the animation I saw. That sense of, “It’s not just me!” is incredibly helpful. I’ve also found the image of a tide helpful – I can’t control the tide, or how high it rises, but I can learn to live alongside it in such a way that it doesn’t completely sweep me away.

    (That’s a benefit to having many congregations that I hadn’t thought of!!! 😀 )

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  5. Sarah Hillman says:

    I don’t want this to sound wrong but it is so good for me, a vicar who is a chronic depressive, to hear that there are other clergy out there who know what it is like to suffer depression. I have found it very hard when parishioners and others don’t understand the illness, as they would do for something physical. But I also know that my experiences have made me a far better pastor. God really has used a horrible time to bring comfort to others. That doesn’t make the bad times easier to cope with but when I’m on a good phase it is encouraging to know that something good has come out of the rubbish.

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  6. Kevin says:

    Good point well made. Thanks for talking about it. We vicars don’t often take that risk.

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  7. Pingback: Giving up Church for Lent | Confessions of a Ridiculous Vicar

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