For those of you who watch this space every week to see what’s happening with two of the most excellent congregations ever, and also with me, there are no sermons this week. This is not due to a technical problem which I, through the grace of God, have never had. Rather, it is because I have the week off. The Session at St. Mark’s granted me two Sundays in a row without the responsibilities of preaching. This is not so much a vacation but rather their gracious response to some of the challenges I have been working through over the past several months.
It is always difficult to know how much to share in a sermon, a conversation, a blog post, but sometimes one needs to be willing to take a risk. I have been dealing with depression for most of my life. This certainly doesn’t make me unique or unusual and is not a plea for . . . well for anything really, it simply “is.” It became apparent about a year ago that the anti-depressants I was taking were losing their effectiveness; this is also neither unique nor unusual, it just happens. In consultation with my physician it was decided that I would go off that medication and on to another one with good reports. I don’t deny the good reports, all I’ll say is that the goodness in question was not my experience. That set in motion a months long exploration into different medication options, transcranial magnetic stimulation and therapy. It has been a long and extremely difficult road to this point but things are giving indications that improvement is on the way. The last stage of this lengthy exploration is a complete cessation of a family of anti-depressants, SSRIs, for those keeping score at home, and the discontinuation symptoms* are challenging.
I explained some of these things to the Session and the elders’ response was not one of “feeding into the stigma” but a strong and expressed desire to help. It was at their suggestion that a couple of weeks off in a row, as I hopefully process through the final and worst parts of “discontinuation,” would be the best thing they could do for me. They were almost correct. It was the second best thing they can do for me.
The first best was that they were not judgemental in any way, not disapproving. There were not hints that if I only prayed more or had more faith or or or . . . I wouldn’t be this way. There was nothing but compassion and a desire to care and that is the best thing anyone who is struggling with any physical, mental or emotional difficulty can receive.
I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. A lovely and loving wife. Healthy and creative; interesting and fun kids. Delightful grandchildren. Friends and family who love me. The opportunity to use my gifts in the church. Gainful employment that I enjoy. All of these and many more besides but the one that is top of mind this year is the great gift of the people of God and communities of faith where compassion and a strong desire to follow God is the norm.
Thank you to everyone at Knox Presbyterian and St. Mark’s Presbyterian, you bring out the best in me and each other as you pursue God with your entire beings.
God be with you all,
* in virtually any other situation this would be called withdrawal but the psychotherapy world really, really doesn’t care for that word and, naturally, came up with their own.