Well, here I am, writing a real blog post for the first time for the world to see.
I’ve been sitting on this for a couple of years now – contemplating the start of a blog, thinking about the content I will put out, nitpicking every idea like a true perfectionist and dreading the outcome of it all.
We all have dreams, and to some extent we all bury them (or maybe that’s just what I tell myself in order to avoid the reality of my own shortcomings with this) – for a time or infinitely – due to fear, perfectionism or just plain laziness. My dream since 8th grade has been to be a writer; and where that fear, perfectionism and laziness collide and converge is in this ugly place called despondency.
This isn’t a word that’s used often, and to many people’s disadvantage (I think), because when I first heard the word and learned what it meant, I felt the sudden tug of the beginning of freedom somewhere inside of me. This revelation has set me on a journey which has fluxed and flowed in and out of my life since 2015.
The first time I heard this word I was listening to an Ancient Faith podcast,* which I was doing a lot of at the time because I was just discovering Orthodox Christianity after a couple years of wandering. The interviewee, an Orthodox clinical psychologist named Albert Rossi explained despondency as a “problem with God,” in contrast to depression which he explained as a “brain problem.”
Whether you agree with the psychologist that depression is a “brain problem” or not, there is something quite freeing about making a distinction between depression and despondency. It is freeing, at least, for people like me who have felt “depressed” for many years but have never felt comfortable saying they were depressed because something about it just didn’t seem right. I’ve known people who truly suffer from depression, and their descriptions of the darkness they experience regularly and what I find myself often experiencing are different in subtle but important ways. The lack of motivation is there, the feelings of emptiness and meaninglessness are there, the irritability is often there; the random crying spells, isolation and escapism, feelings of being overwhelmed when faced with daily tasks are all present. The darkness is what we have in common, but the cause is different. It seems, from my experience and from my readings (though I am no medical doctor or theologian, so please don’t quote me on this), that despondency is first and foremost an ailment of the soul at it’s deepest core.
Dr. Nicole Roccas*, an Orthodox Christian and historian, explains despondency and its cause beautifully in her book Time and Despondency (a gift from my husband who obviously knows me better than I know myself since this is a book I would never have picked up for myself, and I’m so grateful he did):
“[…]despondency: it evokes, for me, the sticky web of sadness and rumination […] In despondency, we fail to care about things that should actually matter to us, such as cultivating a life of spiritual effort or seeking the well-being of our neighbor. Once apathy affects one corner of our lives, it quickly metastasizes elsewhere. As soon as we start neglecting prayer, we find it easier to disregard our chores, or our children, or the homeless man on the street […] despondency arises from desire and anger – anger toward what is present, desire for what is not. Out of this two-pronged dissatisfaction comes a lack of care, a total apathy and indifference. Yet I think we could also say that there is something more primary than desire and anger at stake: pain. Anger is a covering for our pain; we stop caring when we are wounded by the laceration of existence – whether that comes in the form of sadness, fear, disappointment or shame.” (Roccas, Time and Despondency, pg. 24)
So what does despondency have to do with my dream of being a writer? The answer lies in those three words I mentioned in the third paragraph which have caused me to bury my dream (or maybe, in the context of despondency, the correct word would be “disregard” or “avoid” instead of “bury”): fear, perfectionism, and laziness. The answer also lies within that “wound(ing) by the laceration of existence[…] in the form of sadness, fear, disappointment or shame.” It is fear that has kept me from starting this blog for so long – fear of failure, for sure, but at a more pervasive level, it is the fear of what other’s will think and how they will react when they read my writing. I had a poetry blog on Tumblr for YEARS (yes, years) that went unshared with anyone other than with my mother and some close friends (and any stranger who happened to stumble upon it) for this reason. That fear of what others will think corresponds to my perfectionism mentioned above and the disappointment that Dr. Roccas mentions, because when something I write, or anything I begin to do for that matter (I say “begin” instead of “finish” because I rarely finish projects, I only start them) is not perfect in my perception, then I just delete it, destroy it or leave it behind to never be worked on again, which then leads to the inevitable: disappointment. Disappointment in myself, and sometimes, disappointment at the world – a melancholic, victim-mentality that is rooted in my emotions and shame (LOOK, another keyword mentioned by Roccas) rather than in reality. This disappointment then leads to sadness and laziness (i.e. despondency). So, I’ve got fear, perfectionism, disappointment, sadness and shame all working together to create the ultimate demon: despondency.
Despondency keeps me from pursuing anything worth pursuing, including my dream of writing, but more importantly, my spiritual life. The two actually go together because I am my healthiest spiritually when I am writing. Writing is a form of worship for me. Outside of attending church and participating in the sacraments and liturgical life, writing is how I best get in touch with the Divine. I haven’t written much in the past 3-4 years. Thus, you can conclude that my spiritual life has been drifting away on the currents of some sea far away from where I currently sit. This is my greatest sin. With this acknowledgement and confession, I begin this blog.
*The podcast “On Depression” can be found HERE if you’re interested. Dr. Albert Rossi also has a podcast specifically addressing despondency HERE.
* In addition to her book, Dr. Nicole Roccas also has a podcast channel, as well as a blog, on Ancient Faith.
Profound, clearly stated, genuine, insightful, informative, deeply universally resonating, a success. Journaling to the Divine is inspirational. Thank you sharing.
I relate to despondency, or as I call it hopelessness-induced passivity. When I was still doing the evangelical deliverance route, one person who tried to cast demons out of me said that I had a “stronghold of passivity”. I did not really know how to apply that knowledge. I think they were right, but without sacred tradition to provide context, such a diagnosis just increased my paralysis. I really appreciate that so many of the evening prayers directly ask God or the Theotokos to take away despondency
“hopelessness-induced passivity” – I think that’s a good comparison. Despondency is passivity and hopelessness. I have started to say some of those evening prayers myself recently. It’s quite amazing how saying those prayers actually does alleviate the symptoms of despondency almost immediately.
Pingback: Death to Despondency Part V: Acedia and the Bible | Collette Kristevski