I’m looking back on past summers in my life, exploring a theory that my depression gets seasonally worse in the summer each year.
Throughout the summer of 2012, I was in a call process, which is the funny Evangelical Lutheran Church in America way of saying I was interviewing at a new church. Call processes are slow and laborious for both pastor and congregation. They involve filling out extraordinary amounts of paperwork. They involve multiple levels of meetings and interviews, and long periods of waiting between them. They involve prayer and thoughtful consideration. And through all of it, the pastor has to completely hide this from his/her current congregation. It’s an orchestrated process, and there’s not much room for deviation. I trust that it’s been developed by wise and experienced people, but it can be very, very stressful. I know it was for me that year.
In early 2012 (February, I think), I met with my bishop to discuss the possibility of a new call, and by March I had received information about a congregation he wanted me to consider. My call process with that new congregation officially began in April, and I started my ministry there in November. So the summer of 2012 was right smack in the middle, as the process chugged along, and got more and more intense.
I journaled a lot that summer, which was a good thing. Looking back on those journals, I’m quite surprised at how calm and patient I was in the beginning of the summer. I was happy to be in the process, and working through it well. But slowly, a change happened.
At first, I can see a change in the content of my journals. I was writing about how anxious I was, and about how I could feel depression coming on. I was anxious about the unknown, of course. Even though I knew how the process would go, I had no idea what the final outcome would be, and I also didn’t know for sure at that point if I even wanted to go to this new church, or if I wanted to leave the church I was at. I wrote about how guilty I felt about uprooting my wife and my 3-year-old daughter. I wrote about how guilty I felt about being deceptive to my current congregation. But the writing itself was still calm and collected, which I find remarkable. I was writing this as though I was narrating something going on, kind of like I’m writing this blog post right now. I’m not affected right now by those emotions, but I certainly was while I journaled about them in real time. I think this was a really healthy time for me — even though my feelings weren’t great, I was able to use reflection and journaling to find some meaning and direction within it all.
But as the summer wore on, the journal entries began to change, and the emotion began bleeding all over the page. I was still feeling the guilt, the worry, the anxiety, but it was no longer in control. My handwriting suffered. Instead of narrating how I was feeling, I was exploding those feelings all over the page. The medium matched the message.
This is a huge discovery to me. I think that, in a way, I was doing two completely different forms of journaling throughout that summer. At the beginning, I was journaling to make sense and reflect on the feelings I was having, the situation I was in. (Again, that’s much like what I’m doing in this series of blog posts.) But as the summer wore on, my endurance wore out, and I no longer had the wherewithal to journal like that. Instead, I began to journal not to reflect, but to vent. It became a place to let my emotions out in a safe way. Both forms of journaling came naturally to me; I’m confident that this was not deliberate, or even conscious. But what I needed changed over the summer, and my mode of writing followed suit.
Writing is the way I learn. It’s the way I figure stuff out. It’s the way I teach, and the way I preach — I am a manuscript preacher, through and through. When I need to teach a class at church, I tend to script it out. I am much better at getting my thoughts out over email than over the phone. And writing is the way I deal with my own internal stuff. It’s why I journal, why I blog, why I’ve written a book that just seems to not want to be published. And the summer of 2012 shows me that I have some versatility in my writing, and that’s a good thing to know. I just have to keep writing.