Saturday, June 27, 2009

Understanding: Depression or Acedia?

Yesterday I posted on the "crisis" of the past year. In some ways I feel quite shy about it. I have no intention of giving specifics, or describing the triggers, or speculating on what I think may be the underlying personal stuff from which the crisis grew. But I do want to say a bit more generally.

My first thought was that I had walked up to the edge of possibly a major depression. Since then I've read a book recommended by a friend: Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me. Acedia is the sin of sloth, one of the seven deadly sins. You can check Wikipedia's definition here.

Norris suggests that one test for whether one is experiencing acedia (the lack of caring; a sort of massive indifference) or depression is to see what helps. Acedia, she suggests, is not amenable to therapeutic counselling, but does respond to spiritual care. Depression, she states, is not helped by spiritual care, but does respond to therapeutic counselling.

Some bits of what I walked through fit her description of acedia; other bits fit what I know of depression. Certainly the two, acedia and depression, mimic each other. And certainly, whichever one a person experiences, the body, mind, and soul are all involved. But my own journey as I reflect on it was a spiritual journey, not a therapeutic one (in a counselling sense). Healing there was, but healing that came through prayer and an experience of God's grace.

I have walked closely enough with clinical depression to know that it does not yield to advice from well-meaning friends to "pray more." This brush with acedia suggests that for some of us -- Kathleen Norris and I share at least this much -- acedia is a lifelong companion, and spiritual discipline is a necessary part of life lived in defiance of such torpor.

It is a good journey, and at this stage I am glad to be on it.


KGMom said...

Kathleen Norris is a favorite of mine, though I have not heard of the work you reference.
You draw an interesting dichotomy, though I am not sure acedia and depression are really different things. It may be experienced differently by different people.
Obviously, we have a family history on depression.
And, if I learned anything about depression, it is that someone cannot be talked out of it.
Of course, there are writers who tell of the dark night of the soul.
Whatever the cause of your journey--I am glad that you continued journeying, that you have experienced some solace from whatever sources, and that you have emerged or are emerging.

Climenheise said...

I agree that my description sounds like a dichotomy. I don't mean it as such, but rather see depression and acedia as overlapping phenomena. I worded it as I did to guard against the idea that one can dispel depression simply by praying more. Further journeys with depression and acedia may bring greater understanding.

Meanwhile, I think that the distinction KN gives is helpful: acedia is amenable to spiritual care, and depression is amenable to medication and counselling.

RJ said...

I'm intrigued by the connection between acedia and the sin of sloth. I never really thought of "not caring" as sloth, but it does make sense. The connection to clinical depression further complicates the scenario. We certainly don't want to cast condemnation on the clinically depressed. But the subtleties and nuances of depression are legion and discerning true depression versus sloth is a slippery slope, I'm sure.
I don't know any middle aged friends who've not experienced bouts of depression and I know several who've experienced prolonged and profound depression. I also know many others of all ages, with exception of pre-teens and younger, that have suffered depression.
I appreciate the comment that spiritual counsel is not usually helpful for the clinically depressed. That is true of my experience, although I'm sure one could find those who would claim otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I found this very interesting. And further telephone conversation with yourself yesterday afternoon sharpened my understanding of the difference. I recall remarking when I was in Depression, and I’m convinced it was Depression, though thank God not Manic Depression, that a person in Depression is a very selfish person. All I could think about was myself. I have wondered sometimes how your mother held up and carried on positively with me during that time. And I thank God daily now for her memory and help, then and throughout our life together. Father "C"