Black dog days

Jul 19th, 2006 | By | Category: Personal Columns

A woman of our mutual acquaintance was going through a particularly hard time.

“I think she is suffering badly from depression”, I told the wife of a colleague who had asked after her.

“Oh, that’s old hat”, the colleague’s wife responded, “They can stop that now with medication and diet.”

She was a woman whose opinions were always definitive and there seemed little point in trying to argue with her. When she herself went through a bad patch some years later, I found it hard to feel sorry for her.

It’s not like a sudden acute moment that can be isolated and identified, more like clouds across the sun: light and shadow. There are moments of brilliant light that are suddenly obscured and dark times that are suddenly illuminated by a piercing light. What the medical world seems to offer is a uniform greyness; no dark moments, but no light moments either.

In the dark moments, I have to persuade myself that this is not the world as it is. But, if the dark moments are unreal, is there also an air of unreality about the light? Is the cost of dismissing sorrow the loss of the counterbalance of joy? Is the price for saying that the pain does not exist, the dismissal of delight as no more than imaginary?

Is the world of greyness and equilibrium the only real world? Was the colleague’s wife right in saying that the peaks and the troughs are really “old hat?”

I’m always intrigued by Saint Paul‘s words. Writing his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he says “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”.

Various Biblical scholars have said that depression was the thorn in Paul’s flesh. There were great peaks in his life, but to prevent him from becoming arrogant, there were also troughs, which he was required to endure. If it is depression that Paul is enduring, then it is not so much in the brilliant light, but in the darkest moments that God’s grace and power are most known.

As only Paul can, he is able to boast about his weaknesses because it is in weakness that Christ’s power is known.

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