Posted by: L. E. Barnes | June 22, 2010

Tempered Steel

Today I’ll pass along some insights about emotional struggles. The first is by Therese Borchard, a writer who has suffered from depression for years. It is taken from her blog Beyond Blue:

I am what you might call a “depression snob.” I have a rather high opinion of people who suffer from depression and anxiety. I assume that if you carry bottles of Zoloft, Prozac, or Xanax in your purse, you are a deep feeler, brilliant thinker, compassionate healer, and funny joke-teller. My stereotypes haven’t failed me yet.

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t seek out for depressives. They find me. Or we sort of migrate toward each other. They laugh at my jokes and see the bizarre connection I make between Thing One and Thing Two. They don’t fault me for viewing the world through the impractical lens of a poet, for judging “not as a judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing,” as Walt Whitman wrote.

Depressives are complex, interesting people because they can’t stay still for long. The voices of self-doubt will catch up to them and shout lies in their ears if they do. They are spiritual because some days their faith in God is the only thing that keeps them alive. This sensitive bunch uses their suffering to evolve into better people: Emily Dickinson transcribed her pain into the 1,775 poems and fragments found at her death. Teresa of Avila emerged from her dark night to found the Discalced Carmelites and become the first woman Doctor of the Church. Dorothy Day transcended her tumultuous past to co-found with Peter Maurin the Catholic Worker Movement, a community of lay people working on behalf of the poor.

I agree with Kay Redfield Jamison, author of “An Unquiet Mind,” that “intense experience and suffering instruct us in ways that less intense emotions can never do . . . and that those who have particularly passionate temperaments and questioning minds leave the world a different place for their having been there.”

Read more:

Thank you, Therese, for these encouraging words. The History Channel did a documentary about Abraham Lincoln in which they discussed his struggles with depression. At one point they quoted a philosopher who had remakred that depressives seemed to excel in areas such as politics because their experiences had made them such strong realists. If what Therese says is true, those of us who deal with anxiety and depression are more spiritual as well. I can certainly relate to what she says about our faith sometimes being the only thing that keeps us alive. God knows it’s kept me going when everything else failed. I definitely fall into “this sensitive bunch,” as she calls them.
The other bit of wisdom is from the appendix (written by Dr. R. Havard) of C. S. Lewis’s book The Problem of Pain:
Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’ Yet if the cause is accepted and faced, the conflict will strengthen and purify the character and in time the pain will usually pass. Sometimes, however, it persists and the effect is devastating; if the cause is not faced or not recognized, it produces the dreary state of the chronic neurotic. But some by heroism overcome even chronic mental pain. They often prduce brillian work and strengthen, harden, and sharpen their characters till they become like tempered steel….
Pain provides an opportunity for heroism; the opportunity is seized with surprising frequency.
His words bolster Therese Borchard’s observations. I can attest that bearing mental pain can be harder than bearing physical pain, and mental/emotional problems can be just as debilitating–if not more so–than physical ones.
I’ve stopped praying for the Lord to heal me of generalized anxiety disorder; years of such praying have accomplished nothing. Now I pray instead for the grace to get through this as well as for some kind of good to come out of it. Hopefully my problems will harden me into tempered steel fit for God’s service.   


  1. […] Tempered Steel […]

  2. Wow. I am simply stunned to read your post, and cannot wait to read the full text of Miss Borchard. So much of what you both wrote describes me. In fact, this was a particularly difficult week. Yet I had the chance to do what Lewis suggested (“Yet if the cause is accepted and faced, the conflict will strengthen and purify the character …”) and had a long, productive conversation with my wife. I have begun feeling God’s love again.

    I cannot believe how timely this post is for me. Thank you!

    • I’m glad this helped you. It’s been a struggle for me to come to accept this issue in my own life. Anxiety and depression have plagued me for years and have made hash of a lot of my endeavors, but I believe I can soldier on and somehow benefit from my experiences, and perhaps even help others.

      May you continue to feel God’s love.

  3. I still suffer from anxiety and depression, but after many years I am getting better. It’s not just an accommodation of the illness, but an actual improvement systemically in my body. Never would have believed it. The natural health doctor I’m seeing remarked at my visit this week that he could see that I was more relaxed and noted that he no longer had the urge to duct tape me to the chair to calm me down. This is truly a blessing from God and is freeing me to do more work for Him. I have been praying for a long time to have the grace to let go and trust in Him and He is gradually bringing me along. Therese does describe me. I was very good at covering and family members didn’t know how depressed I actually was. Sheer force of will kept me going, even in my chronic pain when I wished to no longer wake up in the morning.

    I do think there is a biological basis for chronic anxiety and depression and it involves hormonal imbalances that affect the brain. I also believe there is a genetic predisposition to it because I inherited this from my mother. No way is it learned behavior. The learned behavior is the survival mechanisms we adopt to keep going. Fortunately Jesus, the Great Physician, helps us bear it and sometimes, as in my case, sends us someone to actually help us get better.

    • Barb,
      I’m very glad to hear that you’ve recovered to a large degree from your emotional problems. I still have a long way to go. Doubtless there is a biological basis, and perhaps a hereditary component. (I have family members who have struggled with emotional problems as well.) I agree that emotional disorders are definitely not a learned behavior, although environment does seem to play a role in these problems.

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