Independent of one's faith, Rabbi Spitz is one of the only writers I've ever read on this subject whose feelings truly resonate with mine. And perhaps the reason is because he has experienced such a deep case of depression (caused by meningitis and viral encephalitis when he was 27 and a practicing attorney) that when he returned to work he felt he "was no longer whole, that I was in some sense broken, that I was forever altered."
These are almost the exact words I used when I experienced my first depressive episode as an 18-year-old college freshman.While Rabbi Spitz wasn't sure at the time why the illness caused his decline, he knew his ability to concentrate was impaired. "I found myself angry, filled with fear, and increasingly isolated."
Ultimately, he quit his job, sold his possessions, and fled to Tahiti. "Perhaps in choosing to travel so far to an unknown locale, I was trying to flee myself. I had no clue that within a year, I would have spiraled down into utter darkness, leading to a series of hospitalizations in mental hospitals."
In the same way, I finally quit college for a year and traveled for six months to Europe and Israel, and then worked for a political campaign before returning to school, but my feelings of despair were unrelenting.Elsewhere in the book, Spitz writes, "For me, my spirit was weakened by meningitis and encephalitis, but I already carried burdens--how to realize my parent's dreams, how to make my life purposeful--that had compromised my strength before I became ill. Because I had not learned to understand those burdens, I found I could not bear the additional weight from the illness.
"When we experience loss, the injury may leave us more compromised than before. Life can weaken us, leaving us in pain, exhausted, and self-pitying, when we are carrying beyond our capacity. Our hurt becomes anger, and when bottled up inside, that anger may lead to destructive behavior. Our unaddressed resentment is expressed as hostility, violence, and isolation.
"The longer we carry the weight of unexamined losses, the heavier they become. Through the experience of processing, of coming to understand the sources and manifestations of our pain, we lighten our load and become stronger. We find our capacity for healing, for forgiving, and ultimately for understanding the blessings that come from despair."
(to be continued)