During the month of August, I am writing about past summers in my life, an attempt to shine some light on why my depression seems to be worse during the summer each year.
I’ve been heading backwards in this blog series, focusing on an earlier year each post. Now I’m at four years ago, and I found that this was the first one that I had absolutely no idea what to write about. I had no memory of anything that happened that year. Thankfully, I have journals to peek in on.
Reading those journals, I discovered that I (as usual) wrote about how depressed I was feeling, how nothing seemed to make sense, how I was running over the same ground over and over again. However, despite the words that spoke of depression, it really didn’t seem as bad, certainly when compared with the summers of ’16 and ’17 anyway. In fact, it seems to me now that I was living more with anxiety than depression that summer, in particular the kind of anxiety that comes from anticipation of the unknown.
That was the summer that I was the chaplain at the LYF Assembly held at Muhlenberg College. A little explanation: LYF stands for Lutheran Youth Fellowship, and is the youth organization run by the Northeastern PA Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Back when I was a youth, I was very active in LYF, and in fact served as vice-president in 12th grade. I hold the friendships I made at LYF very dearly, and in fact most of the people I’m still friends with from high school are from LYF, not from high school. Back then, the annual assembly was held at a resort in the Poconos, but by 2015, they were holding them at Muhlenberg College, which was also my alma mater. I was asked to be the chaplain to this event, to do some teaching and worship-leading. It was a rush of nostalgia for me — I would be heading back to my roots, both my high school (LYF) experience and my college experience. The weekend itself was amazing — both LYF and Muhlenberg had changed so much, but I felt at home in a weird way, and I felt like I really accomplished something. It was the weekend of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and I was able to rethink my whole teaching plan to have the youth talk about how they were feeling about it. I felt important, and needed. That was a good feeling.
But before the event, I didn’t feel good. I was anxious. I didn’t know how it would go — would I know what I was doing? Would I spend too much time in nostalgia, and think I was one of the kids? Would I embarrass myself? In the end, it was fine. But I was so worried about it, because despite my ancient history with LYF, this was something brand new to me. I’m always anxious about new things, especially when they’re unknown.
I was also anxious that summer at church, because we were hiring a new Director of Music, the first time I’d ever been part of that process. In addition, we were going to be the location for a seminarian to do her field education for three months, and I was to be her supervisor and mentor. I had never done this before! These were both good and exciting things, but new, and new always means anxiety. I wanted to make sure I did everything right. I felt like people were judging me during the process, and that they would be judging the seminarian and the new organist — and that if they judged their performance poorly, it would reflect on me. I should be able to make them perfect from the beginning! Of course, that’s ridiculous. But inside me, I have such high expectations of everything I do.
The summer of 2015 was pregnant, bursting with new things. And I was full of the same kind of anxiety I’d felt when my wife was pregnant with our first child: what do I do? Will I be ready? This summer was chock-full of that anxiety, but as I read through my journal, it’s clear that I was “doing the work.” I was reflecting on my mood…I was telling myself alternative narratives to the “Dark Voice”…I was walking into that anxiety head-on. And I think that made it a pretty good summer.
The insight that can give me for right now is that I benefit when I find a way to “do the work.” And this very blog series is this summer’s version of the work. I am looking at what worked, and what didn’t in the past, writing about it, and learning from it. I continue to be amazed when I look back and read old things I wrote. I am bewildered that I don’t remember learning lessons I still need to (re-)learn today. I am astonished at the creativity and honesty I find there sometimes. Check this out, from my journal:
I haven’t journaled.
I haven’t recorded.
I haven’t bared my soul or
My therapist says it’s all in my head
I said Doc, I wish I could write it instead
He said, “spice it up” (like with cumin or dill?),
So finally I’m here. This thyme I will.
I journaled in verse for few weeks after that. Writing is always my salve. I just keep forgetting that! Another good reminder for 2019.