Some ramblings about depression and religion

What do I believe? I find this question more and more confusing, and its answers more and more nebulous, the longer I dwell on it.

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox in my neck of the woods, marking my seventh year as a Pagan of some stripe or another. My very first Pagan ritual was Ostara 2007 wherein I didn’t dedicate myself so much as light a bunch of candles and meditate a bit on my yoga map, generally letting the Powers That Be know I was interested and if They wanted to say hello, well then, I was here. My journey, which very nearly started out with me Ásatrú, has led me through Neo-Wicca (via Cunningham and an IRL!coven), two college Pagan groups, twoish years with ADF Druidry, an on-again-off-again fling with Kemetic Orthodoxy, and, more recently, helping shape the Brighid devotional group Clann Bhríde. Among many, many other things.

I find myself struggling (as I so often do) with issues of faith and trust and what the hell am I doing with my life, anyway? I wonder if I will ever find satisfactory answers or if I’m aiming too high, or aiming at the wrong thing altogether. I’m going through my own existential quarter-life crisis (again), this time exacerbated by the painful end of a two-and-a-half year relationship with the first person I really loved, and by my own crazy depression and anxiety issues. Last week, I believe I sank into a major depressive episode as I fought with “regular” depression and school-related anxiety and the guilt over initiating my breakup. The biggest thing I’ve been craving has been some sort of structure in my life, some sense of conviction. Even now, back in my more-or-less-normal mental state and not caught in the reality warp that is a depressive episode, I feel cast adrift and completely without a clue of what to do. Or rather, there are several avenues open to me and I feel… completely uninspired, lackluster, unsure. In several areas of my life (academic, spiritual, whatever) I just feel… stuck. And I’m not sure how to get unstuck, or even if I want to, which is the real kicker.

I miss my girlfriend (my ex, I suppose, even if that concept still feels so completely unreal and alien beyond all reason, even seven weeks later) like I’d miss a limb. I talk in therapy every week about making schedules and plans every day so I feel like I’m doing something and being productive, but then I don’t. I take on responsibilities and then don’t see them through. I sometimes wonder if I’m just so used to feeling useless and adrift that I’ve built my entire identity around these feelings, and the idea of not feeling like this is a threat to the weird comforting status quo I’ve built up over the years.

This was originally going to be a post about theology and trying to figure out what it is I believe and what I stand for, but I’m not even sure I’m at a point where I can do that sort of work right now.


Brighid and Me

Light me as Your lantern,
Play me as Your harp,
Keep me in Your mantle,
Guide me to Your hearth.

Brighid has been part of my life in some way, large or small, since November 2010. I had just been diagnosed the month before with dysthymia and started medication for depression for the first time in my life. I’d started therapy at the beginning of the new school year at a new school, having transferred away from Bryn Mawr after serious depression and anxiety tanked my sophomore grades and led me into dark places. At that point I’d been a Pagan for three and a half years, give or take, and while I had some passing experience or at least familiarity with a variety of Pagan traditions I was still lost, confused, and hurting for the assurance and rightness I had felt as a Baptist growing up.

This is not a story of how I found Brighid and found my faith. This is not a story of finding surety and strength in the darkness. This is not a story of spiritual awakening and enlightenment. This is not a story of coming out of the woods and into the light. It is a story about the blessedness of being lost and meeting myself on my level, where I was — not where I thought Deity wanted me to be. It is a story about not having to be found before understanding that Deity could find me. And it is a story about how Depression Is Okay and like with any serious issue, mental health issues do not go away with the introduction of a new relationship.

Brighid did not “cure” my depression, nor will She, nor do I think She plans to, nor do I want Her to. I have depression and anxiety. They are part of my neurochemistry and genetic makeup as much as my PCOS, my family history of diabetes and cancer, my gender identity, my eye color. I am depressed. I have depression. These things can be managed and I want Brighid’s strength and comfort, but I do not want, nor do I need, to be fixed.

I think this is something to keep in mind when I think about perhaps the core symbolic imagery I associate with Brighid: the transforming fire that exists at the hearth, the forge, the fire of inspiration, the fire of cleansing and healing. Transformation, healing, and home can all exist with our cracks and pains and baggage. We can cultivate these attributes without waiting for being “fixed” or being “ready” or for “the right time.” I used to think of Brighid and depression in terms of Brighid healing my depression away, of Her taking me over Her forge, heating the impurities from my body, shaping me with swift, precise blows, plunging me into the water, and I would be reshaped into something new, something better, something in Her image and of Her making.

I don’t think that’s what is happening or will happen. Not that the forge metaphor is something I’ll throw away entirely — not that I don’t need Brighid’s transforming and loving hand to guide me. But this isn’t a matter of being made better. It’s being made whole. And it’s not a completely passive process. Brighid will not do the Work for me. She can assign me the Work, guide me, and walk with me, but it is my Work to be done.

Imbolc is always hard for me because February is not my month. Bryn Mawr, my first college, has a freshman initiation ritual called Hell Week in February which really fucked me up and felt more like hazing (and completely non-consensual) than anything celebratory or welcoming. It’s why I transferred away after sophomore year. So in many ways I look at Imbolc not as a happy festival, but as the festival before my unhealed traumas re-emerge for about a month. Ostara then becomes my renewal, my safe-again-for-a-year time when I can finally relax and put my hurts back into a box. I don’t think I’m ready to put Hell Week behind me — I’m not even sure if I want to heal — but I don’t think it’s coincidence that Brighid came into my life not long after my depression diagnosis, nor that Her holy day is in the month of my greatest trauma and depression.

All of these things are okay. I am okay. I do not need to be ‘fixed’ of my trauma before coming to Brighid. I do not need to be ready to face my demons before seeking or deserving comfort. I do not need to wait for the inner impulse of faith before acting on faith. And maybe this has nothing to do with faith at all. As much as I want to have trust in Brighid, I also know She needs to put Her trust in me. That’s how I want my relationships to function, involving deities or not.