When I was hospitalized for suicidal depression, the therapists and doctors asked us to focus on which of our basic needs were and weren't being met. One area of need that was discussed, but not in-depth, was spirituality. In my experience, therapists and counselors are not (and I would add should not be) the best spiritual advisers. This is partly because they receive little training in religious psychology and spirituality. A counselor will generally focus on emotional and cognitive problems, and will leave most complex matters of spirituality to the client and his or her spiritual adviser. A spiritual adviser, such as a minister, priest, rabbi or imam, has studied a specific tradition of spirituality and can impart his or her own personal experience with spirituality. When I was hospitalized, I benefited greatly from the chaplains provided by the hospital. While I lack any particular religious affiliation, they were still able to explain their own experiences and to give me advice on finding my spiritual feet.
However, many people experiencing depression either lack a spiritual adviser or have one who is ill-suited to deal with depression. While much of the stigma of mental illness has gone away, and many spiritual advisers understand that mental illness and suicidal tendencies should be treated as illnesses and not as sins, they may lack the training to deal with depression and other mental illnesses head-on.
This is problematic, I believe, in part because depression isolates a person not just from other people, but from the divine. The despair that comes with depression takes away hope in a better existence, in a compassionate god(s), in a sense of something greater than the self (at least a good something, it's easy to believe in an oppressive force far greater than the suffering person), and awe at the splendor of the universe.
I lacked any spiritual affiliation--indeed, like PZ Myers. I tended to scorn the idea of spirituality. Perhaps I had always had a general sense of the connectedness and awe that seems to be the root of spiritual understanding. That sense was pulled out from under me like a rug. I have no idea if this is true of other atheists and agnostics who struggle with depression, I do not claim that this is their experience, but I would be surprised if I were alone in this.
One aspect of my depression is that I experience extreme loneliness quite frequently, sometimes even if I'm with other people. Because loneliness is such a significant part of my life, I think it needs to be incorporated into my sense of spirituality. I believe such incorporation is both possible and necessary.
Loneliness is a desire for connection; connection with others, with self, and with the divine. I have trouble in establishing two of those connections: with others and with the divine. I find it difficult to ask people to do stuff with me; often when I'm lonely I don't feel like being around other people in a strange and harmful paradox that feeds upon itself. Sometimes I cannot break free of it even by being around other people. I do not know if there is a solution to this.
Of course, being around some people makes the loneliness worse because I cannot or have not admitted to them that I am depressed. I don't feel comfortable explaining to them that I experience this disease; I know many of them would not know how to react and might respond in ways that would be (unintentionally) hurtful. It is not easy for me to let new people into this part of my life, a feeling which adds to my loneliness.
Connecting with my self or soul is easier for me. I am well-practiced in meditation, introspection, and self-reflection. But sometimes I need to remember my roots and delve back into my core. Since that core includes the depression I experience, this is not always a pleasant process.
Connecting with the divine is the most elusive of all. I am not even sure I recognize something as divine, let alone know how to connect to it. But I do feel a sense of something beyond me and beyond other individual people that needs connecting to. Maybe it's humanity en masse, maybe it's the Universe, maybe it is God; I don't know. Perhaps I should seek this divine Otherness in prayer, but I find it difficult to pray most of the time, although there are times when I am caught up with the urge to pray. Meditation is another way that some people connect to the outside, but for me meditation is an inward process, connecting me with my inner self and core, not with the outside.
And so I feel a longing to connect with something I cannot understand, define, or even recognize. This loneliness may be the worst of all, because I do not know where to look. Perhaps depression simply pulled the scales from my eyes and showed me the cold inhumanity of the universe and whatever divinity may be found there, but I doubt this. Depression does not give the sufferer a realistic depiction of the self or others, why should it give a realistic account of the divine? Part of recovery from depression, I believe, is seeking to find again a sense of awe and joy in the wonders of the universe, a sense of connection to others, and maybe even a sense of connection to the divine, if such a thing exists.
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