Psalm 142 and the enemy within

The enemy pursues my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead, long forgotten. Therefore my spirit fails; my heart is numb within me. Ps 142.3-4

Depression–the enemy within. This is one of the most apt expressions of the experience of depression, for me, that I have come across. I return to it again and again–or, rather, it returns to me in the daily office, at Lauds or at Compline. Whether I pray it in the moment, feeling the failure of my spirit and with numb heart, or with the psalmist from a place later in the psalm–a place of hope and relative peace and light–I know the enemy still pursues my soul. I remember clearly what it is like to feel that my life has ben crushed to the ground and to cower in the face of encroaching darkness.

I read recently, in the acknowledgements of a new book, an expression of gratitude for a spouse who saw the author through two seasons of depression. These sorts of reports–the experience of going in and coming out the other side of depression, a “before” and “after” somehow identifiable and discrete–puzzle me. While I have had some long seasons of peculiar numbness of heart (one of which began to lift on the feast of St Teresa of Ávila nine years ago), I move in and out of that dark place far more frequently than I would like.

Depression is the enemy that stalks me constantly, sometimes striking me with great force from behind, other times attacking head-on. Struck from behind, I fall to pieces, and slowly re-gather myself like the T-1000 in Terminator 2 (but without the malevolence, I hope). When I see my enemy coming, as I sometimes do, I fight. Sometimes I even win. It is amazing how powerful the weapons of fresh air and exercise, of restful days and good nights of sleep, are against the darkness that threatens.

The achievement of a long peace, however, is not my experience. I cannot look back to a “before” depression and I am certainly not living “after” depression. No, I come through each battle (or emerge from the shattering darkness) with the sense of having survived once again. That doesn’t mean the war is over, any more than the seven samurai hung up their swords after having driven the baddies from the vulnerable village. I do not overcome. I do not claim victory. I simply live to fight another day, and, I hope–by the grace of God–to survive again.

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