My Lenten Tradition


by John Tyler Connoley

February 17, 2004


Every year, around late February or early March, I feel like I've been dropped into a lobster tank. Moving through life becomes more sluggish, and my brain feels deprived of oxygen. I'm aware of the brain cells right at the front of my skull, because they seem to have stopped working properly. Everything takes more effort than it used to, as my body responds more slowly to commands. There are also now hidden boundaries and reflections in the world that weren't there last month. I run into glass walls, and see dangers that don't exist. In the spring, my life is at once too small to matter and too difficult to manage. Most people love spring -- I dread it.


Of course we all recognize my symptoms, because we've seen them in those antidepressant commercials. And, by now, we all know there are tiny receptors in my brain that don't function properly in the springtime. That's why I now include an antidepressant in my Lenten observances.


Lent is the forty days before Easter, which begin the day Mardi Gras ends. Many Christians give up something for Lent. I give up the blues by adding an herb to my diet. Perhaps I'm a wimp who's succumbed to the advertising of the Prozac nation, but I've had enough bad springs to know that I don't want another.


This isn't a self-induced spring phobia; it's simply a pattern I've noticed. Somewhere in my late twenties, I began to take stock of the times when I felt most depressed. Twice in my life, I've seriously considered suicide -- making plans and preparations. In both instances, there were environmental factors that attributed to my suicidal thoughts, but they also both happened in the spring. I remember other blue periods that I can clearly correspond with spring events. When I realized the pattern, I started to watch myself, and sure enough my blues were almost as regular as the daffodils.


Then, three years ago, I had a particularly blue period. I was in seminary (a place I loved), I was recently married (to the man I loved), and I still felt like I was treading water. I couldn't motivate myself to do homework, or go out with friends, or even to spend time with my spouse. I was in a deep blue funk. I knew it was just the spring, and I figured I'd do what I always did and ride it out. But, at the urging of a friend, I tried an herbal remedy.


It took a couple weeks for the chemicals to work on my brain receptors, but by week three I was beginning to breathe easy again. It didn't feel like I'd taken a happy pill, so much as that the water in the lobster tank had thinned out. I could move a little easier. A friend with clinical depression describes antidepressants as giving her a basement -- there's a depth at which she knows she won't sink any farther. For me, it gives me a threshold at which the pressure in the tank won't get any worse.


Not usually one to self-medicate, I made an appointment with my doctor to discuss the dangers and effectiveness of this herbal remedy. He and I discussed my pattern of blue periods. We also talked about my family history. There are no suicides in my family, and no signs of clinical depression, but there is a history of mild depression. Going back to my great-grandparents, there are stories of family members falling into deep blue periods. There are also tales of one relative going behind the shed with his shotgun, or another relative almost running in front of a train. My doctor suggested that if the herb was working for me, then it was okay to take it in the spring. So, I started a Lenten tradition.


Most of my friends and family know about my spring blues (most have experienced them with me), and most know that I medicate in the spring. Occasionally, a family member or a friend will tell me about how depressed she feels, or how he doesn't want to get out of bed these days, or how she's been walking in a fog for weeks. I'll usually suggest he or she talk to a doctor. I'll say, "You know there are medicines that can help with that." And, invariably, the response will be, "Oh, I don't need Prozac!"


Somewhere among all the advertisements -- perhaps because of them -- we've gotten the idea that our society is addicted to happy pills. We seem to believe that antidepressants are for wimps who can't handle real life. We imagine these people who pop a pill every time it rains, while the rest of us soldier on drug-free. But I don't buy that.


There are so many medical tools that we take for granted. When I have a headache, I take ibuprofen. When I cut myself, I use a plastic bandage. And I use a heating pad when I strain my back. I have no qualms about using tools that make my life easier, and antidepressants are one of those tools. Certainly, my blue periods are something I could live with if I had too, but so are my everyday aches and pains. The fact is, I don't have to live with them, and it's not a bad thing to feel good.


Contact Tyler


Copyright 2004 by John Tyler Connoley

All Rights Reserved