The Dark Night and Depression

“Before enlightenment, take Prozac and talk to your shrink.  After enlightenment, take Prozac and talk to your shrink.”
Dr. Gerald May quoting Judith Hooper’s conclusion after interviewing a collection of psychiatrists and buddhist practitioners.  The Dark Night of the Soul, p 159

May discusses the relationship between depression and the dark night of the soul.  They are different, but they often overlap which can be confusing to say the least.  But it’s very clear that depression needs to be addressed on the physical level (which can mean exercise and a restricted diet as well as medication) and the Dark Night on the spiritual level.

For myself, I see that I have used my depression in the service of my spiritual growth.  But that does NOT mean I can go off medication.  When I first got on medication, I found out what normal brain chemistry was for the first time.  I also discovered that all the issues I had been working on over and over again in therapy suddenly cleared up.  It was like I could finally USE the insights I’d gotten in therapy.  I also noticed that, without effort, I was being friendlier to people I didn’t know: checkout people at the grocery, the guys who pump gas.  I also learned that appreciation can be done on will power, but enjoyment requires normal brain chemistry.

Dr. May, a psychiatrist, says:  “… my experience is that people often experience depression and the dark night at the same time.  To say the least, the dark night can be depressing.  Even if most of the experience feels liberating, it still involves loss, and loss involves grief, and grief may at least temporarily become depression.  Conversely, a primary clinical depression can become part of a dark-night experience, just as any other illness can.” p156
“I am not certain why people still think that medications can interfere with God’s work in human souls.  … one’s theology would have to hold that God’s grace is so weak and ineffective that a chemical compound can block it.”  p159

It is however also true that addiction to alcohol or other drugs can at least weaken the individual’s ability to turn toward god’s grace.  In AA you need to become clean and sober and stay that way.  My past attempts to get off drugs have been under the illusion that I was using medication the same way my parents used alcohol.  I recently tried again to lower my medication, mostly because the dentist told me that persistent dry mouth, one consequence of the medication, can be very bad for one’s teeth. So I lowered my Imipramine dose from 175mg to 150 mg.  I was fine for two and a half months.  Then I saw that I wasn’t bouncing back as fast, that depression was creeping up again.  So I raised the medication two weeks ago.  Now I’m seeing that it’s working. I’m really pleased with yesterday’s long list of things done!  It’s both a sign that I’m doing better, and a morale boost that keeps me on the upward spiral.  And that is why I have to keep taking medication — it raises the bottom.

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