Anonymous said: I wanted to ask a question about depression and religion (I'm a Norse polytheist). Depression makes me feel worthless and motivation-less in regards to my religious practice. I was wondering if you have any advice for somehow helping with this.
Well, anon, it’s obviously a vastly complicated issue, given the variety of ways depression can manifest. Having said that, being someone who suffers from chronic depression myself, I can comprehend things to a certain degree.
The first thing to bear in mind is that the way you are feeling is just that - feeling. And just like other feelings, while they have a biochemical basis, the way we process and interact with our environment can alter how we relate to that biochemistry, and in some cases, subtly alter it too.
The second thing to bear in mind is that humans tell themselves stories, every moment of every day. Stories about what things mean, and how they make us feel. So that voice in your head or that surge of feeling worthless in your heart, that’s a story, a script, a song.
And the thing about stories, is that we humans love to tell them. It really doesn’t matter what, we’ll tell a story about it. Look at your coffee cup, feel its shape, see its colour, how full or empty it is. You might even catch yourself internally narrating, describing it as you go.
Now, of course, the cup is quite, quite, real, as far as these things go. It exists physically. It’s right there in front of you. And it exists independently of the story you tell. But when you look at it, there is still the colour, still the shape. The storytelling begins again.
And see, this is the trick our minds like to pull. The story, the imaginings, they’re very useful, because we don’t have to really look at things when we’ve got the story unspooling out in front of us - it saves us time and energy to follow the script. Most of that time, that’s really bloody useful, y’know? We don’t have to spend ten minutes analysing the environment befor we cross the road. We can do it in a few seconds.
(Which is awesome because, well, otherwise we’d never get anything done, y’know?)
And what depression is, is also largely a script. It’s a script that says:
You’re powerless. You’re shit. There’s no point because you’re shit. Because you can’t cope. The world is big and you are small. You’re nothing. You’re less than nothing. Everyone hates you. You’re fucking disgusting. You can’t do anything so why bother trying? Nothing’s ever going to change. You’re going to feel like this forever. Nothing matters. Screw getting out of bed, you’ll only fail at that too. Screw feelings. You’re a mess, so they’re invalid anyway. Besides, you deserve the ache, that hollowness inside.
At least, that’s a favourite of my brain when things get bad. Your mileage may vary, of course. The thing about scripts though, is that they’re mostly unconscious. You don’t even realise you’re running them half the time.
So when I say that you’re running a script, telling a story or whatever, there doesn’t need to be constant narration, though some people have that. And the thing is, everyone runs scripts all the time, like I said above. Almost everyone you will ever meet is running a script, whether they’re strangers or friends; they’re letting things run on automatic with the occasional tweak, like a train-driver. Most of what people consider to be reality is made of stories and scripts, so just because I say something is a story, please don’t think I’m saying those internal stories are less real than anything else - they aren’t.
Have you ever had anybody tell you to exercise to help with depression?
When that works, it’s because the needs and feelings of the body, backed by certain shifts in biochemistry, require the script to change slightly to include motion and change and endorphins.
And that, anon, is part of the trick to managing depression. Because scripts only change when what what they’re describing can’t be true any more. Sometimes it takes a little while for us to realise things have changed because the change is small and overshadowed by the script, but the truth of the matter is, there are changes happening all the time, beneath the overarching monotony of depression.
Even now, as you’re reading this, you’re breathing, you’re moving minutely in your chair or shifting to keep your balance; you’re digesting, you’re swallowing, you’re hearing the noises in the room and bathing in the glow of the screen.
Chances are, you didn’t realise you were doing all that, did you? It was all running, all shifting in the background. And the script didn’t even cover it, did it? Like all scripts, depression is built to help you in some way. Or rather, it was. When depression manifests as depression it is because there is a fundamental disconnect between what’s seemingly outside your head and what’s seemingly inside. Depression is a protection mechanism gone ‘wrong’.
And here’s when the religious bit comes in, anon. Because remember I said that changes were going on all the time, shifts and movents and responses and actions inside your body and environment as a whole?
Not all sick men are utterly wretched:
Some are blessed with sons,
Some with friends,
some with riches,
Some with worthy works.
The halt can manage a horse,
the handless a flock,
The deaf be a doughty fighter,
To be blind is better than to burn on a pyre:
There is nothing the dead can do.
It is always better to be alive,
The living can keep a cow.
Fire, I saw, warming a wealthy man,
With a cold corpse at his door. - Havamal
So go the words of the High One anon. Leastways, that’s what the tales say. You might feel worthless, but even from reading that, I’d say the gods might differ.
And the thing of it is, I’m an Odin’s-man. I’m a bloody cripple, and for a long time I couldn’t work out why the Old Man would want someone broken like me - and that’s leaving aside the depression, y’know?
So I’ll tell you a secret, one that the Master of Fury passed to me:
You can’t not do anything. You’re doing it already, you’ve just forgotten. You just can’t see it yet.
Everything and everyone has worth anon, even if we don’t realise it at first. What you’re aware of yourself feeling right now, is backed by ten thousand things unfelt, unnoticed. Any one of those could be of worth - and yet you think yourself worthless?
For all I know anon, my entire life might exist solely so that I can put a smile on the face of my girlfriend, or feed my cat, or answer questions on Tumblr for people who are curious or in pain. A thousand things I have done, or may do, or even haven’t done, may influence the flow of wyrd.
For all I know, this might help someone who’s not you, anon. Someone else may read this question that you asked, because you were in pain, and it might help them, might inspire them - might be exactly what they need to save their life or change it for the better.
Read that again.
You might save somebody’s life tonight. You might help someone.
Because I wouldn’t have written this if not for you, anon.
Now, for all I know, you might not read this. Once I hit post, it might just exist in the ether, unnoticed for years, until someone pokes my blog or the tags.
Imagine that: helping someone five years in the future. You did that anon, I only facilitated. That’s what I do, you see.
I sit here. I breathe. I lean back into the arms of my ancestors, and I spin words. It’s my skill, my gift; and let me tell you something anon, just beween you and I and the world:
I’m going through a rough patch too. I have trouble getting out of bed, and I’m virtually housebound right now. I’ve had to take a break from my regular volunteer job because I’m creatively fucked right now, and I can’t provide regular content of the type my fellow travellers require.
But doing this, writing small pieces, shining fragments cast into the void? It’s what’s keeping me alive, keeping me from wanting to die again.
You helped me anon. Are helping me, right now as I type this.
So thank you, oh stranger who came to call in my inbox. Thank you for being the guest at the feast of my existence, friend. I truly mean that.
Now, of course, this isn’t about me - you’re the one asking the questions. But in the greatest tradition of storytellers, of wandering strangers? Let me ask one in return.
Are you alive? Are you breathing?
You who helps strangers without leaving home. You who shares an open heart with the world, who stirs my very own breath into inspiration?
Then you have worth. You have worth to me and the world and the Old One. You have worth to every single human who cocks their head and wonders if, despite their better judgement in this most ‘rational’ of worlds, wonders if maybe the gods are real after all.
Because each one of us polytheists can be a light; a sign, a way to draw in those who are feeling the call in their hearts and know not which way to go, in order that they may come home.
All you need to do is breathe and be. Just show up, as much or as little as you can. Everything changes, and soon enough this shadow will pass away. You just have to be alert for the signs.
And they will be there. You just have to remember to look, and keep looking. Because it’s actually the looking, the seeking, rather than the finding, which will get you where you need to go.
Trust me on that anon, and in the words of someone very, very old, remember this question:
Would you know more, or what?
Be well, friend. I’ll be here by the proverbial fire if you need me.
Confront death, not by pretending that you have cut a deal with the Elder Vampire Gods invented for you by some internet Dark Witch fantasist in their over-priced books. Confront death, not by pretending that a beautiful Beltane ritual and a blue sky means everything will stay the same. Confront death, not by practicing the magic of ploughmen and wortcunners in your urban appartment believing that it makes you more authentic than any given Wiccan. We need to stop making those closest to us our sworn enemies. The game has changed. I have no interest in telling people how to practice their witchcraft, a term which covers a multitude of sins, but what I can offer is the principles that will make it work in these difficult circumstances. Readers of my Apocalyptic Witchcraft will recognise these ideas: Orientation, Presence, Imperative. We are not simply losing it all, it is being stripped from us as surely as those accused of being witches were by their inquisitors in the torture cell. Our enemies are not our sisters and brothers in the craft, they are the named individuals and corporations and their governments who are tearing out our living flesh. Witchcraft has never been about turning the other cheek to this. The witch has been created by the land to speak and act for it.
If you prefer reassurances you can ask the New Agers about their ‘global awakening product’ or believe the green wash of the venture capitalists who will seek to cash-in on the death of the biosphere with equally implausible schemes and vapourware tech-fixes. The governments and scientists will continue to lie to you to prevent the panic that disrupts shopping as usual; however, the cracks in the official narrative are beginning to show. Most will choose to keep mainlining what Dmitri Orlov calls hopium from the sock puppets squawking out of the idiot box. However, I predict the next generation are going to be angrier and their witchcraft more radical than you or I could dream. They will realise that there is nothing to lose, rather than this generation which seems concerned only about the size of their pension pots – not the fact that they have cost us all the earth.
We need to offer the death rites in a culture that pretends that death can be cheated by buying the latest i-gadget or hooking ourselves up to plasma bags of young blood. These technological and scientific responses do not account for the wider environment which we do not control, but which now seeks to redress the killing balance and is doing so with storm surge and wildfire and tornado and flood and drought regardless of what is playing on your headphones or how high the gates are to your compound. I welcome this storm.”