Spirituality and depression

One of the effects that depression can have is a sense of separation from the world. This can play out in all kinds of ways – a sense of alienation from other people, a sense of dislocation from what you’re doing, distance from your own body and actions. The spiritual consequences of this detached feeling can be vast and deeply disturbing to deal with.

There have been springs when my inner season has remained winter and I’ve just not been able to connect with what was going on. There have been many days when it seemed as though all the life and colour had drained out of the world. How do you practice a Pagan faith when everything tastes like cardboard? When all you can do is skim the surface of life and not experience any breadth or depth? When you can’t feel a sense of connection, depression can rapidly become a spiritual crisis as well.

When I am depressed, I have tended to lose either my intuition or my ability to trust it. I’m not creative, or am less creative. I’m not open, so very little can get in, including the things I really need to have permeating me – the seasons, the time of day, the weather, the songs of birds.

I have a suspicion that depression may be worse for Pagans than for people of many other faiths. In many religions, there are rituals, prayers, songs, actions, regular gatherings for worship. It is normal to show up to these because it’s what you do rather than in the expectation of anything massive happening. Paganism has a far greater emphasis on personal revelation, experience of the divine and the numinous, and for a person mired in depression, these experiences are not very likely at all. We’ve got a priesthood, but it’s individuals working alone, mostly. We don’t have the support infrastructures to help take care of people who run things when they are in difficulty themselves.

I hold inspiration sacred. I’m dedicated to the bard path, a big part of my spiritual life is about creating and performing. Again, these are things that it is very difficult to do at all, or to do well when the black dog has sunk its teeth in.

I don’t have any tidy solutions to this. It helps to know that you are dealing with depression and not Pagan-fail. You may not be able to do the things you normally would – anything calling for concentration – so meditation and ritual can be too difficult. You might not feel as you normally feel – no sense of the animistic reality around you, no sense of the gods or the voices of spirit in the wind or whatever it is you normally do. That itself can be painful and disorientating and will add to the burden of depression.

Believing that all of this will pass can be the hardest belief to hold onto.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

23 responses to “Spirituality and depression

  • Robin Wildheart/WildheartSpeaks

    Thank you for posting on the things you do. I’ve struggled with depression my whole life. I don’t know what it’s like not to struggle with it. For me, though there have been times when the small beauties in life seemed so much brighter due to the contrast. I can’t explain why that is, but my emotional struggles have given me a spiritual sensitivity that I might not have had otherwise. All things can be teachers in life if we will but listen I guess, even our struggles with depression. Of course, when it has me by the throat it’s hard to function well, and those are times I usually retreat inward. Again, I got a lot from your post, as usual. Thanks for sharing.

  • Martin

    Whenever I find myself spiraling into the pit (assuming I’m cognizant of the fact of that), I get physical – even if I’m only capable of a short walk – and/or I get into some semblance of the ‘natural world’, if at all possible. I’m fortunate in that I live within a day’s drive from some awesome stands of Redwoods, so I try to make one or two pilgrimages a year to stand among these silent giant beings that help to renew and open my soul. However, if I’m already well over the edge and into the pit, about all I can do is wait it out and focus on being-here-now until it eventually passes.

  • Stephanie

    Hi there, thanks for posting this. I’ve always had depression in my life and recently over the years a few mental health issues… I always get extremely self conscious about my spirituality and how I project myself to others because when you’re mentally ill and new to the “pagan” path, people like to lead others on and make them believe wild things… so I’ve made a fool of myself quite a few times with people :/ sometimes I want to just throw in the towel and quit all this because I get tired of the ableism I endure. But then I remember why I’m here…

    You’re not alone and I’m glad I’m not alone either. Thank you for reminding me.

    • Nimue Brown

      There are a lot of interesting questions to ask about the relationship between mental health and magic – perhaps most especially around traditional shamanism. There are many things our society sees as crazy that most of our ancestors would have understood in spiritual or magical terms. But it is a minefield, and there are no easy answers. I might pick this up as a topic to take further.

  • Karen Cooper

    I can relate to this, thank you for your wordsk

  • lornasmithers

    I’d definitely agree pagans lack the frequency of meet-ups and support systems of the ‘big religions’. Would some form of religious counseling and shared worship help pagans struggling with depression? I think it would probably would. Only there’s not enough of us or the enthusiasm to bring such things into being.

    One of the things that has been on my mind a lot is that there is no secure life path available for pagans who feel they have a religious vocation and that must be central to their lives. Other faiths have support structures such as nunneries and monasteries where people can live prayerful lives connected with the land and in some cases community. There are well-defined routes into clergy and religious teaching for those who want to take them. We have nothing.

    My anxiety is definitely made much much worse by the fact that I’m trying to live a religious vocation as an awenydd that is unrecognised and unsupported by the majority of the human world, a situation I can’t see changing in my life time.

  • jakkybee

    This is so true! Thanks for writing and sharing this!

  • BeckiesMentalMess.wordpress.com

    Good Afternoon. I have just finished reading your post and found it to be quite intriguing, to say the least. I never even thought of the Pagan path to spirituality until you made me look into it further. Very recently, I have become more and more in tune with my heart, soul, and body by encompassing meditation in all form as well as essential oils to relax me. I too have suffered from severe depression for most of my adult life, amongst other mental health disorders. It wasn’t until my mental instability declined that I researched the following techniques to regenerate my existence. I would love for you to share with me other methods of grounding through meditation. Again, I found this piece to be very profound in nature to being pagan. Thank you in advance, Beckie

  • Wol Ulchabhan

    ” . . . depression may be worse for Pagans than for people of many other faiths” . . . Different *perhaps*; Worse? Depression is depression. I’m an “Aspiring Amateur attempting to follow a Jewish carpenter and wine-maker by the name of Yeshua” , having come from a pentecostal/charismatic background. And when I read this blog (very excellent, btw) I found myself saying: “Yep, that’s me. Yep, that’s me.” As M. Scott Peck said “It’s over-determined”. I.E.: There’s a lot of things that feed into the mix. So blessings upon you and Shalom tackle you. Thanks for talking about the hard stuff. Believe me, it helps just knowing that one is never alone in this stuff.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for this. I can only really speculate around this stuff, but I think it could equally be said that many other faiths have better inbuilt ways for framing long dark nights of the soul and suchlike.

      • Wol Ulchabhan

        Come to the Dark Side! We have cookies! And Ice Cream! Of course, we get to spank you . . . but you still get the cookies and ice cream!
        (Cookies and Ice Cream really help me in the long dark tea-time of the soul. A good Stout now & then helps too . . .)

  • Your Spiritual Notification System « Shaping Factors

    […] via Spirituality and depression — Druid Life […]

  • Bryant C

    Thank you for this. Really fighting my own depression right now.

  • spiritualwarriorscholar

    You should read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. He is a an incredible psychologist and he writes in his book that he believes depression is actually a healthy thing. It is a sign that something in your life needs to change or that you need to grow in a certain area. What he wrote really changed the way I view the downs life occasionally throws at me and now instead of feeling sorry for myself I ask, “What needs to change and how do I need to grow?” Now I use depression as a tool for spiritual frow instead of letting it control me.

  • mtn_tarzan

    I study pagan belief systems in my exploration of my own spirituality and deal with depression as well. Thank you for making the world feel less alone😊

  • allieknofczynski

    I can relate to your struggles with depression and how to stay spiritually connected when our mental health feels sub par. I hope you can see your depression less as a crutch holding you back, but as a platform where you can learn to appreciate the physical and spiritual worlds even more. I discuss spirituality and mental health often, so I’d love if you would visit my blog. 🙂

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