For several weeks now – maybe months, who knows? — I’ve been bothered by a low-grade depression. Not the stay-in-bed, cry-all-day clinical variety. No, it’s more of a perpetual drone in the background, a hum of what writer Kathleen Norris calls “acedia.”
My mind flits back and forth between an uneasy restlessness and indifference mixed with a heavy dose of monotony.
The days are all the same. The routine keeps rolling through the same old mud-worn sludge, and despite the tedium, we somehow wake the next day and start the process all over again.
It’s hard not to fall into such a dreary pattern when work and the ever-demanding schedule require us to repeat the same old same old, day after blessed day.
Even the habits– for which I am a loud spokesperson – begin to drive themselves, like my van steering itself toward one part of town when I meant to go in an entirely different direction. If we
aren’t careful, we can look up one day and find out we aren’t where we were meant to go at all.
One afternoon as I sat in my living room, trying to recover from a long and tiring day, my 13-year old boy, head stuck inside the refrigerator, suddenly exclaimed, “It’s
Tuesday!” (as if he’d forgotten and only just remembered). ”I’m so lucky!” he said.
When I asked him why he was so lucky today, on an ordinary Tuesday, he reminded me that his favorite show airs on Tuesday. I chuckled at the un-remarkability of it.
Simple pleasures. Even in a 13 year old child who has access to Netflix and digital replays and more entertainment than any one person has a right to. And yet he was “lucky” because his
favorite show was about to air, in real time, and he would get to watch the plot unfold.
The Opposite of Depression
I’ve been reading a book called The Holy Longing, another attempt to find a way to solve this “acedia” problem of mine. In it, author Ronald Rolheiser discusses the problems of our particular times. I had to grab my highlighter quick, the morning I read of a low-grade depression that Rolheiser says plagues our generation.
We are rarely on an even keel, always either too low or too high, feeling dead inside or unable to act or sleep properly because we are too hyper and restless.”
As I read those words, something inside me stirred. “This,” I thought. This is what I’ve been feeling. The struggle I can’t name that I am nonetheless slogging through daily.
He goes on to say this:
The opposite of depression is delight, being spontaneously surprised by the goodness and beauty of living. This is not something we can ever positively crank up and make happen in our lives. . . delight has to catch us unaware, at a place where we are not rationalizing that we are happy.”
A revelation, a true light bulb, “aha” moment lit up inside my brain as I read those words. ”This is the answer,” I thought.
The Absence of Delight
All my recent attempts to muster up gladness have fallen short, and why? Because there is a deeper-rooted problem. There is a serious lack of delight. A wizened old forgetting that today is Tuesday and how lucky is that?
Rolheiser goes on, of course, to tell how delight comes quite naturally to children. We see it all the time. Often, we are irritated and annoyed by it, because it interrupts our tedium and the need to keep our grown-up faces firmly affixed and focused.
If you want to see what delight looks like, go by any school yard sometime when kids, little kids, kindergartners and first graders, come out for their recess bereak. They simply run around and shriek. Now that’s delight. This, the spontaneous response to the goodness and beauty of life. . . is what nondepression sounds like.
How then, to address the problem?
Start by Noticing
Years ago, Ann Voskamp’s bestselling book, One Thousand Gifts, changed my life. Her gratitude approach altered my outlook completely, introducing me to delight when I hadn’t known it was something I could even experience in everyday adult life.
Perhaps this would help with my current situation, a listing and numbering of daily gifts. It’s certainly worth the effort, if I can muster up the gumption to get it started.
Even more, there is the act of simply opening my eyes. Because delight is all around, and noticing it means looking and being aware.
This will be easier now that I have a two week break from work. But how does one continue the act of noticing into the new year, with all its monotony? I’m not sure if I have the answers.
But this I do know, just in the last couple of days:
- I laughed at my dog and the silly way she scratches and licks the air at the same time.
- I smiled at a baby through a glass window, sitting atop a restaurant table as though he were on display.
- I sank deep into clean cotton sheets on my bed last night, tired and relaxed and happy to be so comfortable.
- I noticed the faces of my family, all six of us, gathered around with Starbucks cups and stories on the first day of the holiday break.
- I joined in the fun and laughter of a group party, all of us seated around my very own kitchen table, drinking cider, playing games, cracking jokes and enjoying each other’s company immensely.
- I savored a plate of Mexican food, relishing each delicious bite.
- I sat before this very fire with coffee in hand as the rain poured down outside, and I was grateful for this cozy, wonderful place called home.
These are the little things. The ones we must notice in order to nurture the delight inside us, to bring it back to life the way it was in early childhood.
The Season of Delight
I don’t have a three-step plan or a simple chart to make it happen. I wish I did. I wish life were that easy.
But if you are also struggling with this acedia of the mind, this absence of delight and the drudgery of a low-grade depression, I will join you.
I will – alongside you – help you look for the moments of sheer delight. The moments that make you glad to be alive. The moments that lift your soul a little higher and direct your gaze into something more eternal.
This is the season of delight, is it not? I am determined not to let it pass me by.
How I pray that delight will wrap me in its embrace this Christmas. And I pray the same for you. May you delight in the season that celebrates the birth of the blessed Christ child. May your
soul magnify the Lord, alongside the virgin Mary, as you celebrate the wonder and the gift.
A blessed and merry Christmas to you.