It’s almost time to go back to school and I’m busy finalizing syllabi, organizing my classroom, figuring out assessments, and doing all kinds of exciting teacher things. Not to mention gearing up for the class I’m taking and plotting a coven schedule.
But because I love you and don’t want to neglect you, dear readers, I’m digging through the Thorn the Witch archives and pulling out (and updating) an old post that still feels important.
This is a blog about positive thinking. Sort of.
One of my favorite things to look at when I take a peek at the statistics for Thorn the Witch are the search engine terms that people use to find me. There’s the usual wicca in nc, witchcraft in charlotte, or, my favorite, wiccan pussy (Oliver is pretty spectacular, I know). But one of the most common search terms is something to the tune of wicca and depression or depressed wiccan. My post Being Depressed and Being Wiccan is consistently my most-viewed and, given that it was mainly designed to angrily criticize a stupid Internet meme, I thought I’d write something that was a little more general and less reactionary.
I’ve been struggling with depression for most of my adult life. I’m very pleased to be able to say that the past year has been my best in a really long time and lately I’m feeling productive and happy. I’ve been in regular therapy for several years and have a pretty strong support system, as well as a number of effective strategies in place for coping with my history of self-injury. I’ve made a lot of progress (very slowly) and consider myself to be largely out of the woods.
But I’m not convinced it’ll ever really go away.
I’ve also spent a lot of time watching close friends struggle similarly, often without a lot of guidance. I’m obviously not qualified to offer anything more than my personal experience, but I thought I’d do so here, given that I think a lot of other witches and Pagans can relate (or could maybe use the perspective):
When I imagine life without major depressive episodes, dysthymia, anxiety, or PTSD, the only thing I can think of is what it must be like to be able to see without glasses or contacts. I’ve been dependent on one or the other since I was five and have never had the experience of just opening my eyes in the morning and being able to see clearly. Never.
Mental illness can be much the same. Some things we’re born with. Some things are the result of our upbringings, traumas we’ve suffered, or brain chemistry that just goes haywire for who-knows what reasons.
When you struggle with depression, it flavors your whole life, like iodine in your drinking water. You might get used to it, but you never really stop tasting it altogether. When I have strong feelings (or no feelings), I have to ask myself, “Is this me being reasonable or is this my anxiety/depression/PTSD talking?” I have to check all of my reactions before I have them. I am constantly second-guessing social cues that other people take for granted. I catch the tiniest details in inflection, posture, and phrasing because I have to supply myself with evidence that people really mean what they say, or explain their behaviors, however trivial, because I learned that people often don’t mean what they say and desire to hurt you (this was a survival mechanism developed after several years with an abusive partner). It takes me longer to decide how I feel in any given moment than it does for other people, because, for a variety of reasons, I can’t always articulate what’s going on inside of me very well. I don’t even always instinctively know when I’m hungry because hunger, sadness, anger, and fear often feel the same to me. A social worker literally had to teach me—with illustrated flash cards—what those emotions might look like in myself.
I’m not actually complaining. I have no idea what Wiccan-specific resources for mental illness would even look like. Given what happens when I Google Wicca or scroll through #wicca on Tumblr or Instagram, it’d probably be pretty terrible. Like Wiccan ethics, we’re mostly left to deal with things on an individual, case-by-case basis. I’m mostly okay with this, because there are, at least increasingly, other places to turn (particularly for those of you—the six of you—who have enough insurance).
But I am disturbed by the tendency in Wiccan, Pagan, and New Age communities to eschew psychiatric care, qualified counseling, and even open discussion of mental illness in favor of, essentially, positive thinking and lots of herbal tea. There is still a trend toward shaming those who seek professional help in struggling with depression (etc.). The implication is that if you struggle with mental illness, you’re doing Wicca wrong. You’re “giving in” to negativity or not visualizing hard enough or something. And if you choose to take chemicals to right your brain chemistry, you’re not only doing Wicca wrong, but you’re violating your body, the earth, and tiny kittens and orphans everywhere. Or something.
While it’s none of my business what choices other people make for themselves, I am frustrated by the implication that people who live with depression somehow aren’t trying hard enough. Like if they just had a greater knowledge of crystal healing or believed in themselves more completely their lives wouldn’t be what they are.
I’m not necessarily disparaging these other treatments, only those who insist that modern psychiatric care and secular counseling are the enemy. I’ve benefited enormously from massage, ritual, time outdoors, and a whole lot of other things that show up in New Age memes on the Internet. But the reason “nature is cheaper than therapy” (or whatever that stupid quote is) is because it doesn’t fucking fix clinical depression. At least, probably not on its own. If your experience has been different, then great for you. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment. But I would have (actually, literally) died without the professional help that I was fortunate enough to receive. Yoga, lavender dream pillows, three pounds of fluorescent-orange manufactured citrine, and walks in the woods were just not going to fucking cut it.
So to you, depressed Wiccan reader who found me via Google search, please know that you are not alone in your struggles. Your religious choices probably have little to do with your brain chemistry or emotional innards and your feelings are not your fault. Wicca—as well as a lot of other things that don’t come in a prescription bottle—can absolutely be beneficial. Wicca was part of the equation when I was deciding whether or not I wanted to be alive anymore. I’ve found enormous meaning in ritual, I’ve built connections that are worthwhile, and I’ve found a place for myself in a world that sometimes seems too fucked up to be allowed. It can be done, and many have done it. Do not hesitate to avail yourself of the resources available to you, whether it be a counselor (secular or religious), a psychiatrist, an SSRI, or a whole lot of hot tea. When other Wiccans (or whoever) tell you you’re not being positive enough, you’re poisoning yourself with “chemicals,” or that you should just meditate more, they’re probably not intentionally being insensitive assholes (I learned this in therapy). They just don’t know what it’s like to wake up without being able to see every day.