Jim Cogley: Reflections 16 Jan 2024-22 Jan 2024

Tues 16th Jan – Exploring Causes of Depression

Because depression is such a widespread phenomenon we return again to this topic since it merits much wider exploration. So many who suffer from this condition believe that there is no answer, and reliant on medication, that they must endure what is a living nightmare for the rest of their lives. This is often based on the belief that there is something amiss in the brain that can’t be fixed. Unfortunately, the medical model that relies heavily on psychotic medication is not trained to look for answers anywhere other than physiology. It is only slowly acknowledging that one’s personal story, and to what extent it has been integrated, plays a big part in the underlying cause of depression. It is even slower to take into consideration that one’s ancestral story may reveal the root cause. While a doctor can ask, ‘if depression runs in the family’, to answer in the affirmative can leave us stranded, because there is little understanding of how anything can be done to rectify a situation that may go back a few generations.

Wed 17th Jan – Grief and Anger

In counselling practice, a most common cause of depression is unresolved grief. This frequently gets misdiagnosed or goes undetected. A significant loss, or a series of losses, can be too much to cope with at the time. Hence their emotional content resides in the unconscious awaiting, and even looking, for an opportunity, to come to the surface. Even a small loss can trigger a major reaction and open a Pandora’s box. Often the death of a parent in childhood, that can amount to the loss of both, with the second being unavailable, or a parents separation, can lie dormant for most of a lifetime while the bearer is busy, but when he/she retires and has time, that earlier loss can turn the dream of retirement into a nightmare. At a more immediate level experiencing anger is a natural part of the grieving process and when this surfaces so few know how to welcome and allow it to be, without feeling guilty. This blocking of the natural flow of emotion inevitably gives rise to depression.

Thurs 18th Jan – Childhood Roots

So much of depression is rooted in unresolved issues from childhood. The child that was seen but not heard may have had a lot he or she needed to say but was never given the opportunity. The abusive or unacceptable behaviour of the parent would have caused anger that could not be expressed. Since the young child can’t survive without the parent, to express anger towards that father or mother could be tantamount to annihilation, and so was to be feared forcing the anger to go underground. Often this kind of anger becomes misdirected towards a partner or children resulting in more anger that this time being overlaid with guilt. Knowing that one can have a destructive temper can be quite frightening. When viewed through the lens of fear, emotions always appear to be bigger than we are and so we close down, we don’t allow ourselves to feel their full extent. This closing down comes at a high cost, at the lower end of the scale will be moodiness and irritability while at the higher end will be depression.

Fri 19th Jan – Resentment and Depression

Resentment is born at a high cost to the bearer. Every recovered addict knows that his/her connection to their higher power is severed once resentment enters the picture, and that they are now once more on the slippery slope. A lady who had been seriously hurt took advice about forgiveness from a not so wise priest. He told her, that in the absence of the offending party admitting their wrongdoing and asking forgiveness, she was under no obligation to forgive. It was five years later she came to realise that he had condemned her to prison for those years. Her un-forgiveness had given rise to full-blown depression that forced her to re-examine her position, and see that forgiveness was not for the other, but a means whereby she could release herself from the burden of what had happened. What she came to see clearly was that the anger she was holding onto was being directed towards herself, because of another’s injustice. In effect, she had been punishing herself because of what he had done.

Sat 20th Jan – Womb Experiences and Depression

Sometimes the roots of depression go back to the womb experience that is a lifetime in its own right. Many who experience depression during a certain month each year have uncovered that this corresponded with the time when their mother either attempted or considered abortion. Other have found that being born after an aborted child left them with a legacy of sadness, loneliness and a sense of not being wanted. In that mysterious world of the womb multiple pregnancies are as common as one in every eight at two months gestation. These losses usually go unnoticed, but the survivor remembers at a sub-liminal level, and carries the trauma throughout life. This is usually experienced as a low level of depression that has always been there, accompanied by the feeling of never having felt right. Recognising oneself as a womb-twin survivor can be a life changer and always involves a necessary grieving and the cutting of psychic ties with that significant other who has never previously been acknowledged.

Sun 21st Jan – Jonah – The Reluctant Prophet

The Book of Jonah, from which the first reading is taken, is one of my favourites and the one I recommend most to anyone starting to read the Bible. It’s the story of a reluctant prophet who was called to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. However, for this to happen he first had to learn a few very hard lessons. Jonah was an out and out patriot who loved his own country, and hated the dreaded Assyrians, who had on several occasions conquered his land and deported its inhabitants. They were also notorious for their cruelty towards their captives. To hear of God going to destroy Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, would have been music to his ears. But now God was calling him to go there and preach repentance and forgiveness. This was asking too much, so he went and found a ship going to Tarshish, the very opposite direction.

We are told that he paid his fare and got on board. We all pay a high price for going in the wrong direction, and so do others. A great storm arose and the ship was in danger of sinking. After throwing cargo overboard the sailors realise they literally had ‘a Jonah on board’ (hence the expression) and wake him up. After listening to his story of being an Israelite who was running from the Lord, they reluctantly throw him overboard and the storm abates. Sometimes tough love demands that we have to make similar hard choices. It breaks a parent’s heart to have to say to a son who is abusing the household with alcohol or drugs that while he is always welcome in the home the addiction is not and he needs to make a choice.

As Jonah sinks into the murky waters a whale sees his dinner floating past and swallows him. For three days and three nights he somehow survives in the belly of the whale where he must have had air but can you imagine the stench. I can’t imagine him getting much sleep. While all this sounds a bit ‘fishy’, strange to say this story has been known to happen during the days of whaling where fishermen lost overboard have been found alive after a whale was killed. Then the whale vomits him up on the shoreline and only then is he ready to set out for Nineveh where the people were more than willing to receive his message. You would think that God would have His big problem with this crowd who were notorious for their cruelty, but in fact His difficulty with Jonah was even greater.

There are different ways we can apply this story to our lived experience. Once I shared it and there was a woman present who hadn’t spoken to a former friend for many years. Whenever she saw her coming she would take any other direction in order to avoid her. That day she walked out from Church and you can guess who was coming towards her? At that moment the Jonah story she had just heard became real. She could run for Tarshish and create more suffering for herself, or she could do what she knew in her heart the Lord was asking her to do. This time she was ready and went over to sort things out. They both embraced with relief and became good friends again.

Nineveh can also represent any part of our history where we had a hard time and don’t want to revisit. Something that was hurtful, painful or shameful can get locked away and we don’t want to go there. Anyone who had been a victim of any form of abuse, physical, emotional or particularly of a sexual nature, knows only too well how difficult this journey to Nineveh can be. Before being ready they may have spent years of suffering in the belly of the whale. Sometimes it’s only the trail of destruction we have left behind that awakens us to the realisation that what we thought we had left in the past has been with us all along.

Jonah’s running from Nineveh and towards Tarshish can represent our running from ourselves and taking recourse in denial. Above is a symbol of denial, it’s not the most attractive, a face and torso combined with arms folded, where we don’t want to see and don’t want to know. This is the river where we love to swim and it’s not just in Egypt! The problem with not owning our own story is that eventually it owns us as it comes back to haunt us. The path to healing is never found by moving away from pain and into denial, but always towards it. All our addictions are attempts to avoid pain but invariably they plunge us into the belly of the whale. No matter how fearful Nineveh may seem, it is the only place where we find peace, healing and reconciliation. Or as one Eastern writer put it so well – ‘It’s the cave that we most fear to enter that contains the treasure that our heart seeks’.

Mon 22nd Jan – Repression and Depression

Depression is just one of the high costs we pay for repressing our emotions. Broken down as e-motion the word suggests that energy needs to be in motion and when its blocked we get into trouble. Cut off from our emotions we live in our heads and become identified with our thoughts. Depressed people often suffer from cyclical thinking and disturbed thought patterns. Emotions are the currency of communication and so cut off from our feelings we have little to say. Divorced from our emotional wellspring we suffer a lack of vitality. Very often our unexpressed emotions seek physical expression in inordinate degrees of pain for which there is no medical explanation. A trapped nerve is just as likely a pointer to a trapped emotion. Carrying a large backlog of emotional material in my unconscious usually means that I have sleep difficulties, since this is letting go into the unconscious. The fear of living my emotional life often results in a fear of dying since I carry so much unlived life.

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. Sean O’Conaill says:

    So much of this on the impact of early life trauma echoes my own experience!

    What a church we will have when the emotions that are given words in scripture can be connected with our deepest sufferings and griefs in our own time! That the Incarnation has to do not with judgement and accusation but with God’s solidarity with us in those sufferings has still to be fully realised in Ireland.

    For example, why is it that ‘repentance’ is connected still almost always with the need to acknowledge guilt and almost never with the need to stop beating ourselves up, to have compassion for ourselves? A moralism fixated on the 6th commandment has done incalculable damage, when the ‘perfection’ that Jesus calls us to has to do clearly with love of God, of one another, and of ourselves.

    And what an opportunity awaits when homilists can connect the often media-generated depression of younger generations with the judgemental power of ‘the world’ that Jesus and the Father overthrew by the Resurrection?

    Still today we are giving weekly dutiful utterance to the Creed without realising that it was composed as an antidote to the worst horrors that the Roman world could inflict on the least privileged. How many can recite it consciously now as a reminder of their own indestructibility? It was Christendom that transformed it from the greatest story ever told into nothing more than a catalogue of authoritarian dogma – ‘six impossible things before breakfast’.

    That Tony Flannery could ask in 2020 why we say the Creed – and not get a coherent answer from any Irish bishop – says it all.

    As evidenced by last night’s RTÉ discussion, ‘synodality’ has not yet truly started here yet. It will be truly underway when Jim’s wisdom here on the origins of so much depression – the great scourge of our time – in early life experience has become the common currency of Catholic dialogue.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.