Depression or Desolation

Depression is something I have struggled with my whole life.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.

More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness and you can’t simply “snap out” of it. Depression may require long-term treatment. But don’t get discouraged. Most people with depression feel better with medication, psychotherapy or both. (The above definition was taken from; Depression (major depressive disorder) – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic)

Depression is a medical condition which can have several causes. Depression is a condition that can be treated.

There is another dark influence that can mimic the symptoms of depression but is different and has its causes in the psychiod realm. This condition is one people will face in this life whether they are depressed or not. This dark influence is called desolation. It is a struggle with the dark forces which influence our lives. The following statement (Fourth Rule) comes from the Rules for Discernment promoted by Ignatius of Loyola:

Fourth Rule. The fourth: Of Spiritual Desolation. I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. Because, as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts which come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts which come from desolation.”

Desolation cannot be treated with medication or therapy. There are many people (myself included) who may have tried to deal with desolation by self medicating. I have found out this only makes the desolation worse and can created a clinical depressive state as well. Spiritual desolation has its roots in the persuasive deceptions and activities of those spiritual forces which are hostile to human existence. It cannot be treated but it can be outlasted and overcome.

Ignatius Seventh Rule gives insight in how spiritual desolation can be resisted:

Seventh Rule. The seventh: Let him who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, in order to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can with the Divine help, which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it: because the Lord has taken from him his great fervor, great love and intense grace, leaving him, however, grace enough for eternal salvation.

Spiritual desolation is a state of transition, It is a reminder of the spiritual reality that surrounds us. The best way to cope with spiritual desolation is to follow Ignatius Eighth Rule:

Eighth Rule. The eighth: Let him who is in desolation labor to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations which come to him: and let him think that he will soon be consoled, employing against the desolation the devices, as is said in the sixth Rule.”

And then, to help understand spiritual desolation as to the why, Ignatius gives us the ninth rule:

Ninth Rule. The ninth: There are three principal reasons why we find ourselves desolate.”

The first is, because of our being tepid, lazy or negligent in our spiritual exercises; and so through our faults, spiritual consolation withdraws from us.

The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we let ourselves out in His service and praise without such great pay of consolation and great graces.

The third, to give us true acquaintance and knowledge, that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to get or keep great devotion, intense love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and that we may not build a nest in a thing not ours, raising our intellect into some pride or vainglory, attributing to us devotion or the other things of the spiritual consolation.

Fourteenth Rule. The fourteenth: Likewise, he behaves as a chief bent on conquering and robbing what he desires: for, as a captain and chief of the army, pitching his camp, and looking at the forces or defenses of a stronghold, attacks it on the weakest side, in like manner the enemy of human nature, roaming about, looks in turn at all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral; and where he finds us weakest and most in need for our eternal salvation, there he attacks us and aims at taking us.

As you can tell, much of what I am writing is in agreement and seeks show the major difference of treating depression (a medical condition) and with the effects of the spiritual world on our everyday lives and the application of the rules of discernment laid out by Ignatius of Loyola.

As a spiritual director, it is important to listen deeply when the directee speaks of being in a depressed mood. Always lean toward advising the directee to see a doctor if the feeling persist. Then, listen closely in prayer. Is what the directee saying a true indication of depression or is the directee in a state of spiritual desolation. All desolation can be endured and overcome and will be by those who seek God’s will and mercy. True depression likely will not.