What's Tony Thinking

Speaking Honestly of Depression


Michael Gerson is a columnist for the Washington Post and a frequent commentator on the PBS Newshour. He is also a person of faith, a Christian.

Recently Gerson spoke publicly of his own experience of serious clinical depression. He did so in a sermon delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C. You can link to the entire sermon here, and I hope you will. It is an honest and moving testimony and witness.

As Gerson describes it, when deep in depression you become a burden to yourself, constantly relating messages of despair that distort reality.

I know, as I have done that. I have experienced depression myself. I have both spoken and written of my own journey in this respect. My experience has not been as severe as what Gerson describes of himself, but it has been hard, even terrifying, at times.

I welcome those, like Gerson, who speak honestly of this disease for it is often shrouded in silence, shame and stigma.

One of the things Michael points out is that you don’t get out of this place with intellectual analysis and explanation. The same is true of faith. You can think yourself out of faith, but not into faith. There is, as Kierkegaard said, a “leap,” one that doesn’t make rational sense.

Here’s Gerson:

“The answer to the temptation of nihilism is not an argument – though philosophy can clear away a lot of intellectual foolishness. It is the experience of transcendence we cannot explain, or explain away. It is the fragments of love and meaning that arrive out of the blue – in beauty that leaves a lump in your throat… in the peace and ordered complexity of nature… in the shadow and shimmer of a cathedral… in the unexplained wonder of existence itself.”

I join Michael in testifying not only to the experience of depression, but to the counter-experience, the experience of a transcendence that brings a hope and life that one cannot fully comprehend or explain — only trust.

Here’s a confessional note. I’d always felt a little ambivalent about Michael Gerson when I heard and watched him as a commentator on the Newshour. Partly it was that his usual role is to pinch-hit on Friday evenings for David Brooks. As a Brooks fan, I’m always disappointed when he’s absent.

But, here’s the confession, I also felt like I was always seeing pain in Michael Gerson’s face and eyes when I looked at him. My reaction was, sadly, not sympathy but impatience. Now I know that I was indeed seeing pain and I know why. And maybe I was seeing some of my own pain mirrored back and didn’t want to own it.

I am grateful for Michael Gerson’s courage and candor here, and I encourage you to share his words with others who might also find them helpful.

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