Communion with Depression
I’m going to be honest with you about this. You shouldn’t be reading this post here for free. It should be tucked into the slick pages of a renowned journal of creative nonfiction. Hilary Yancey’s writing is fraught with humanity and with divinity, both. Her words are the wisdom of careful choice and full of the beautiful infusion of wisdom that happens when life does what it does. Today’s post is just a taste, but I guarantee you’ll want more.
Allow me to introduce her to you. Hilary Yancey is mama to Jack, wife to Preston and in the midst of getting a PhD in philosophy from Baylor University. When she isn’t chasing an idea, a busy toddler, or learning the first few steps in her adult beginner ballet class, you can find her writing at her blog the wild love or on Instagram at @hilaryyancey.
You will not be sorry if you follow her writing as much as she will offer it. I told her that her words do indeed read like an offering.
I had pushed us to go to church that Sunday. Preston had hesitated, knowing that in flu and RSV season even apparently healthy children carry germs in their pockets and scatter them like breadcrumbs. But I pushed, insisted, that we were that family that went to church on Sundays. I said something like, “Jack lives in the world, and he’ll be fine,” and got dressed in the outfit I had been planning all morning in my head. I wanted to wear this particular dress up for Communion so that people could see me and I could feel them see me and from that I might draw out the littlest bit of what I hoped would be admiration, even awe: Hilary is still going strong, she is still faithful, she is even wearing a bright yellow pencil skirt holding her four-month-old babe in her arms like she has been doing this all her life.
I did not pray on the way up to the Table or on the way back. I do not enjoy silence but I had imposed this on God. You can say nothing to me anymore, I had told him weeks before, and so I took bread and wine and it was dry on my tongue and I felt a hum in the air that perhaps was the Holy Spirit or the fluorescent lights; in hindsight I’d be afraid to predict.
Jack got RSV two days later, probably from the boy who coughed a foot away from him during the post-Communion prayer. We traveled to the PICU in Temple, a place I had promised myself I would never need to go – and the hum was replaced by a silence cut by the metronome of the hospital clock.
Jack was learning fearlessness too fast for babyproofing. I watched in awe and surprise as he found every breakable mug or bowl we left just low enough for his hands to search. I snatched a stemless wine glass from him once and he burst into tears. I lived in a daze of fury and delight, and somehow they were no longer contradictions but companions, filling each of my lungs. I was beginning to sense something like a laying down of arms between me and my God. I had gone round after round too angry to breathe, and then rounds where I was so dizzy from gratitude that I could not catch my breath enough to speak any words.
One Sunday in that summertime, I held Jack as we went up for Communion. I held up my one hand and the priest grasped it briefly as he laid the wafer on my palm. I thought I could just make out the beginning of amen on my lips when Jack freed himself from my arms and tried to dunk his whole hand in the cup. I grabbed his arm in embarrassment and he whimpered and reached again as it moved to the lips of a neighbor. He longs for the cup more than I do, Jesus, I said as we walked down the red carpet of the side aisle and slid back into our pew. He knows you’re there, but why can’t I feel you? I handed Jack back to Preston and pressed my hands to my eyes, making fireworks on my eyelids.
“I think I have depression.” I said this to Preston as we sat in Jack’s room, the fall sunlight streaming in through his windows. Jack was bopping his head to a repetitive song coming through a bright plastic activity table with a blue-eared puppy on it. Preston nodded, looking at me, and just said, “Okay. How do you know?” I fingered the burn mark in the carpet. We had made that burn accidentally our first year of marriage. We were so new to each other that we didn’t yet know how much you can laugh at one another, and so when Preston told me how he had laid a pot that was boiling hot down on the carpet, thinking he shouldn’t put it on our concrete apartment floors, and realized only afterwards that it was melting the plastic fibers in the IKEA grey and white zigzag pattern, I didn’t laugh right away. The woman I was my first year of marriage would not know how to explain how she knew she had depression. She would have wanted to find the diagnostic words or explain the shape and journey of the neurons.
But I said only, “Jesus told me today at Communion.”
I was afraid for a few Sundays that duloxetine had replaced my ability to grapple with God with an all-too-easy contentment. Once I began the therapeutic dose, swallowing two small capsules before bed in the quiet behind the bathroom door, I felt too light. I could not carry the heaviness anymore, but it was the more familiar – this slow, gentle walk through my days felt too easy to be true. Surely God did not mean for me to stop wrestling? Isn’t that always the story I had told, that I was another Jacob and my life a great wrestling with the Almighty?
It had been such a long time since I had cracked the pages of my Bible that they whispered and rustled loudly, like a bird disturbed in her sleep. “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” I sat in my bed, surprised. Jacob does not sound as though he sought to wrestle; perhaps it was his longing and perhaps not, but the words themselves slip away from us. But it does not sound like Jacob chose the time of his striving with the Almighty; who was I to try and choose the same? Was I afraid to rest, afraid to let peace into my skin?
The first Sunday of Advent I let Preston hold Jack, kneeling deep into the cushion, my elbows driving into the altar rail. “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven,” the priest said, and he smiled as he placed the wafer in the small throne I made of my hands. “Amen,” I whispered. We walked back to our pew together, my family, myself, and I felt the bread on my tongue, resting as it dissolved in just the same place that I put the pills each night. To you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid, we had prayed at the beginning of the service. And it was then I knew that there was a communion in me, a communion of bread and wine, of body and blood, of duloxetine and the hope of Jesus, his birth, his stooping low to earth. There is a communion in me, built with, and amidst, my depression. There is a communion in me.