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Surviving ‘Blue Monday’

Gavin T. Murphy keeps a blog on ilovebipolar.com and he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.

The third Monday of January has recently become known as Blue Monday, making it January 21 this year. It is a gloomy time for a number of reasons including a dip in mood after Christmas, the harsh winter conditions and financial debt. People also tend to lack motivation after unsuccessfully attempting to implement their new year’s resolutions.

Saint Ignatius Loyola offers us guidance in this regard. In his rules for discernment of spirits in the Spiritual Exercises, he states: “One who is in consolation should consider how he or she will act in future desolation, and store up new strength for that time”. Upon reading this before Christmas, I wrote down some suggestions during a period of consolation (oriented toward God) to help me recover from periods of desolation (away from God).  The suggestions may serve as guidelines to help us get through Blue Monday and to get back on track with the divine.

1) Pray

It is a wonderful opportunity to pray when I am in low mood or depressed. I can speak ‘heart unto heart’ with rawness, pouring out my despair and inner turmoil to God. I may not sense a divine presence at all, but my act of praying acknowledges that I am rightly dependent on God who I need more than ever during this time. I can join with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done”. Similarly, I can pray: “Father, let this darkness pass me by, but if I must endure it, your will be done, not mine”. I may feel some consolation from this self-emptying and, like Jesus, be comforted by an angel.

2) Share my desolation with support persons

This step is often a top priority when I am out of sorts and need to draw on the strength of those I trust. But, I am often, for instance, not quick enough to contact my loved ones which leads to further desolation in the form of loneliness and despair. I may be plodding through my day with a lack of awareness over my vulnerable mood. When I try to anchor myself for a moment or two, e.g., through deep breathing, an honest answer may surface which then calls me into action. I have different words of expression: “I feel low”, “I’m down in the dumps”, “I’m stressed out”, “I’m disconnected”, “I feel like blah”. My pain lessens a little bit when I share my desolation with others, and a supportive response can make all the difference.

3) Keep to my routine and appointments

I need to draw on every ounce of inner strength to continue with my daily tasks. Every step may feel like a hike up the mountain – getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, arriving to work, attending meetings, completing a project. I may feel like nothing is getting done, but I can rest assured that the only way out of a problem is through it. I can give myself permission to let go of the normal pace of life: going for a slow walk in the daylight instead of a faster one is absolutely fine. Ignatius’s concept of agere contra (‘act against’), meaning to do the opposite of my natural inclinations, comes to mind during this time. Knowing that my feelings cannot be trusted can actually empower me to dig deep and persevere.

4) Be with others: a) Push myself to talk, or b) Express my desolation and be myself

Like keeping to my routine and appointments, it is also good to be with others during this time. Withdrawing into isolation or getting lost in distractions will get me nowhere. A further bit of discernment may be involved as I sit down next to people. I may, for example, need to force myself to contribute to a conversation with colleagues. Talking about the weather, news or celebrity gossip may be more manageable than talking about my real life. On the other hand, I may find that sharing my desolation with certain colleagues is helpful, enabling me to show my vulnerable side and remaining quiet if I wish. I may feel safe in the company of others, as if held by the goodness of the love of God.

5) Have a cup of tea

Having a cup of tea or other soothing drink can create a homely atmosphere to wherever I may be. It is an opportunity to be mindful: to notice the taste, the temperature of the drink, the colour of the mug. A snack may complement my drink and again it is a chance to be mindful. Tea drinking is an Irish tradition in which many good conversations take place. It may stimulate the other person to open up and share something of themselves. I may connect with their humanity and transcend my pain or suffering for a moment or two. The tediousness or drudgery of my tasks may disappear in the midst of a heart-warming and inclusive conversation, reminding me of the divine presence. I drink decaffeinated tea after dinner time.

6) Do something creative (note a point on good decision-making)

Writing or engaging in another creative activity can do the world of good for my soul. Writing words on a page can validate my thoughts and feelings in a concrete way. “I feel like a mess at the moment”, I may write, “but I know something or someone is there. God, give me the power to do what is needed, to wait for the rising sun.” My words can speak to the longings in my heart. They have the power to anchor me because they give expression to my true self. They may nudge me to pause and accept my desolation. In line with another of Ignatius’s rules for discernment of spirits, it is best to hold on until I return to consolation if I wish to publish or publicly display my creativity.

It is thought that the application of the guidelines to endure or even transcend Blue Monday will contribute to the embodiment of a fully functional person from a contemplative perspective. A person may grow to such an extent that their mind and heart expands, thus becoming fully aware of themselves and others. They see the world with fresh eyes, secure and rooted in concrete reality. They fully accept and embrace their world; they are in tune with the potentiality of all things, and they are completely active in building up their community. They are a reminder of Ignatius’s definition of love: “Love consists in sharing what one has and what one is with those one loves. Love ought to show itself in deeds more than in words.”