Friday, July 12, 2013

Live As Well As You Dare: Some Practical Suggestions for Depression Sufferers

This is my second post for the month of July for the Society for Christian Psychology.

For those of us who have tasted the dark waters of depression, the attempt of others at helping often makes things worse. I can remember the all-too-often phenomena of Bible verses being tossed in my face like prescriptions, if only I had the faith to swallow them. Other times I was smothered in flamboyant flattery, the kind that has little or nothing to do with actual virtue or skill.

There are many things that can be said along the lines of what actually “helps” sufferers of depression, but one of the most basic and easily missed is the value of regular routine and paying attention to the concrete realities before our faces. That is why I found this letter so delightful. The blog Letters of Note brought it to my attention, which introduces it this way:

In February of 1820, on learning that his good friend, Lady Georgiana Morpeth, was suffering from a bout of depression, noted essayist and clergyman Sydney Smith sent her the following precious letter, in which he listed twenty pieces of advice to help her overcome "low spirits."

The letter encourages Lady Morpeth to live as simply as she can stand it, which also means living as well as she can dare. It takes great courage to walk through depression, and often the best help is found in returning to the bedrock of our reality, the simple dusty ground beneath our feet. We find little hope in untangling the great mysteries, but can find the energy needed to walk another step by watching a bird fly or by taking a bath. Below the letter is listed in its entirety. What would you add to the list?

Foston, Feb. 16th, 1820

Dear Lady Georgiana,

Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done—so I feel for you.

1st. Live as well as you dare.

2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75° or 80°.

3rd. Amusing books.

4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.

5th. Be as busy as you can.

6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.

7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.

8th. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.

9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.

10th. Compare your lot with that of other people.

11th. Don't expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.

12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy sentimental people, and every thing likely to excite feeling or emotion not ending in active benevolence.

13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.

14th. Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.

15th. Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant.

16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.

17th. Don't be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.

18th. Keep good blazing fires.

19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.

20th. Believe me, dear Georgiana, your devoted servant, Sydney Smith

(Source: The Selected Writings of Sydney Smith; Image of Sydney Smith: Replica by Henry Perronet Briggs, oil on canvas, 1840 (1833) NPG 1475 © National Portrait Gallery, London.)

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