A Misfortune, Not A Fault

This is the sixty-second post I have published since I started writing this blog last October. For a few weeks, I posted almost every day. Then I settled into a routine of about three posts per week. Recently, however, my productivity has declined even more, and this is only my second post this month.

That pattern is common among bloggers, so I am told. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that almost as many blogs have been abandoned within the first six months of their existence as there are PhD candidates who have given up on the degree although they were ABD. (That is, they had completed all the required course work and had only to write the dissertation. As a student in two PhD programs, I never made it past the first semester of either, so this comparison is a bit disingenuous on my part.)

I can understand why bloggers quit the business. Like any other worthwhile endeavor, producing a good blog (i.e. having something to say and saying it well) on a semi-regular schedule can be hard work. It seems likely that many who start writing a blog simply grow weary of the grind, especially when they learn that the average blog is read by fewer than two dozen people.

It’s true that a lot of bloggers fit the definition I read somewhere (probably in a blog)—”boring, self-obsessed narcissists who use their website mainly as a means to discuss the inconsequential minutiae of their day-to-day lives.” I mean, the case could be made that someone who is willing to pound out 800 to 1200 words per post on any subject simply because he (or she) believes that what they have to say is worthwhile and potentially transformative, despite the fact that it will likely be seen by only a handful of readers, qualifies as a self-obsessed narcissist.

I don’t think I am a self-obsessed narcissist. (But then, if I were, would I know it, or even more, would I admit it?) I put off writing a blog for years because I thought it was presumptuous and arrogant to assume that I had something that important to say. Eventually some persistent and persuasive friends convinced me that I should give it a try, and so I did. And the truth is, I love doing it. I genuinely enjoy writing this blog. So, why has the frequency of posts slowed down? I’ll tell you why.

Because I respect and value my readers too much to let this blog depreciate into a forum for my whining.

I have long known I am subject to periodic bouts of depression. I have never been officially diagnosed, I have never sought treatment, and I take no medication. (I did once mention my suspicions regarding my susceptibility to depression to a physician who was also a good friend. He gave me a few antidepressant pills which he had received as samples from a pharmaceutical company rep. I took two of them. They did help me sleep, but there were side effects that I could not abide. I never took another antidepressant.)

In an earlier era, my tendency to depression would have been labeled “melancholy temperament.” As a teenager I was simply called “moody.” I realize the potential seriousness of this predisposition, and I know it can be debilitating. I have been advised that it can intensify with age.

Some well-meaning but, I think, misguided “counselors” have suggested that all manifestations of depression (along with most other mental illness) should be regarded as a “spiritual problem” to be addressed with a combination of confession of sin and renewed commitment to religious devotion. I reject that conclusion. Rather, I believe that the sources and causes of depression are not fully understood, either biologically or psychologically, and that many people genuinely benefit from treatment by a professional, including, but not limited to, medication.

I also believe that anybody who could experience a job loss, the death of a parent, the life-threatening illness of a spouse, and the unmarried pregnancy of a daughter, all in eighteen months, without showing some signs of depression possesses qualities of super-humanity and super-spirituality to which I can only aspire.

It may be that I will need to consult a mental health professional at some point in the future (although I really think my “episodes” are less frequent than they used to be, the “dark periods” less intense). For now, however, I believe that the worst of my most recent crisis is behind me. In fact, I’ve experienced some “breakthroughs” in the past few days, and I’m eager to share some of that with you in the days ahead.

Still, the past couple of weeks have been difficult for me, and I was tempted to unload a lot of it on you by way of this blog. I even wrote a couple of posts which, I am now glad to say, never made it to publication. They were simply too bleak. I did, however, succumb to the urge to vent some of my melancholia on my Facebook wall. So a few days ago I wrote this:

“While I appreciate genuine expressions of encouragement and concern, I need to say this: The next person who offers me some form of ‘Hang in there; God is not finished with you yet; the best is yet to be’ will subject my Anabaptist convictions regarding nonviolence to a severe test. You may ask why. Do I question whether I still believe those things, or am I just sick of hearing it? Answer: Yes.”

Fortunately I came to my senses fairly quickly. That statement came down ten minutes after it was posted. And then, in the midst of some really gloomy days, I was still thinking clearly enough to conclude that it was not fair to impose my pessimism and sense of hopelessness on my blog readers. So I determined that, unless I could write something edifying, or at least positively stimulating in some way, I would simply write nothing at all. That is why I have published fewer posts recently.

Many well-known figures have suffered from depression, some almost incapacitated by it at times, and of these none is more renowned than Abraham Lincoln. Henry Whitney, a lawyer who traveled the legal circuit across Illinois with Lincoln, once said of the future president that “no element of Mr. Lincoln’s character was so marked, obvious, and ingrained as his mysterious and profound melancholy.” And Francis Carpenter, an artist who lived in the White House for a time in 1864, said that “Mr. Lincoln had the saddest face I ever attempted to paint.”

Lincoln recognized his propensity to depression, but he never allowed it to overcome him to the degree that he was unable to function. He was convinced that, whatever the depths of his melancholia at any given moment, he would emerge from it and continue to carry out the normal activities of life. In 1841, in a letter to the half-sister of his best friend, Lincoln wrote, “A tendency to melancholy… let it be observed, is a misfortune, not a fault.”

I believe that as well. And when I am in the throes of that misfortune, I shall give diligence not to inflict it upon you in these posts. And then, after the clouds have scattered and the sunshine has reappeared, I’ll be back.

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