Am I depressed because I read Henri Nouwen or does reading Henri Nouwen depress me?
It has been suggested to me recently that I am depressed. I have to admit I was a tad surprised by the statement, thinking myself to be only obnoxiously grumpy. Honestly, I prefer ‘depressed’ because at least I can write it off to a chemical or hormonal imbalance as opposed to ‘obnoxiously grumpy’ which is mainly attributable to general asshattery. (OMG you have no idea how happy I am to have finally been able to use that word in a post. I feel so tingly and literate.)
Henri Nouwen, for those who don’t know, was a Catholic priest and author who wrote rather extensively about his struggle with depression. I became re-aware of Nouwen after we received Hope’s diagnosis as he was indirectly the subject of a podcast I downloaded for mid-night pumping entertainment. The topic, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche (an international organization which creates communities where people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them share life together) was a close friend of Henri Nouwen, whom he invited to live in a L’Arche community for many years.
I wrote a few posts several months ago quoting Nouwen. I opened one of his books again yesterday, looking for something short and inspirational for my devotional responsibility at last nights meeting. I suppose the fact that I was flipping through Nouwen looking for something uplifting is, at least circumstantially, a poor reference for my mental state. As I turned the pages and skimmed through the short entries of the anthology, all I could see was me.
Me on this page, me on that. Oh, must come back to this section. Where’s my pen?, I should underline this. I need a bookmark. I’ll just dog-ear this page, and this one, and this one. Wait, how do you dog ear both sides of the page?
In all fairness, Nouwen is a wonderful, thoughtful, and sensitive writer and you don’t have to be perched on a cliff to enjoy him.
In particular, this piece struck a chord with me — practically a response to a post I wrote a few weeks back.
Feeling Off Course
When suddenly you seem to lose all you though you had gained, do not despair. Your healing is not a straight line. You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don’t say to yourself, “All is lost. I have to start all over again.” This is not true. What you have gained, you have gained.
Sometimes little things build up and make you lose ground for a moment. Fatigue, a seemingly cold remark, someone’s inability to hear you, someone’s innocent forgetfulness which feels like rejection–when all these come together, they can make you feel as if you are right back where you started. But try to think about it instead of being pulled off the road for a while. When you return to the road, you return to the place where you left it, not to where you started.
It is important not to dwell on the small moments when you feel pulled away from your progress. Try to return home, to the solid place within you, immediately. Otherwise, these moments start connecting with similar moments, and together they become powerful enough to pull you far away from the road. Try to remain alert to seemingly innocuous distractions. It is easier to return to the road when you are on the shoulder than when you are pulled all the way into a nearby swamp.
In everything, keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions on the journey. Keep returning to the road to freedom.