About seven years ago, because I was holidaying in Perthshire, Scotland, I made an appointment to meet up with the present Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, David Chillingworth, who was still just a lowly bishop of Saint Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane at the time. I thought we might hit it off together as, like me, he was a Christian blogger during that glorious blogging spring when all things seemed possible. He also struck me as a bit of a rebel himself.
After the initial introductions the first thing he said to me was, "You have a problem with authority."
Perhaps I should have left David's office at that point instead of letting myself be lulled by his diplomatic charm into a sense of optimism that would prove to be unwarranted. He never kept in touch and there would turn out to be no place for me north of the border as I had so fervently hoped there would be (I had it in my head that they were more adventurous up there but I was so naive back then).
This thing about having a problem with authority has been flung at me in various forms over the years. The truth is that I have as many problems with authority as I do with unicorns and little green men from Mars and for exactly the same reason. I do not believe in it. In fact, the concept of one person being in charge of another and the other having to do what the person in charge tells them to do is so ridiculous to me that it literally makes me laugh. I find it funny. It's not the only thing that is obviously important to the vast majority of people in the world that I find hilarious. For example, some people earning more money than other people is like an absurdity out of a Monty Python sketch to me. I do not understand how people can believe such things to be in anyway logical let alone of culture defining importance. However, my downfall has been my inability to pretend that such things are important and, believe me, there would appear to be nothing that annoys a person who thinks they are more important than you more than you relating to them as an equal.
I have lived with the suspicion that I might have some form of autism, although psychiatrists do not seem to think I have. However, if Tim Lott, writing for The Guardian two days ago, is right, what might appear at first to be a serious case of social ineptitude may just be a part of the depression that has rendered my life one of ongoing social ostracism.
Towards the end of his opinion piece, Tim writes:
"I have a suspicion that society, in its heart of hearts, despises depressives because it knows they have a point: the recognition that life is finite and sad and frightening – as well as those more sanctioned outlooks, joyful and exciting and complex and satisfying. There is a secret feeling most people enjoy that everything, at a fundamental level, is basically OK. Depressives suffer the withdrawal of that feeling, and it is frightening not only to experience but to witness.
"Admittedly, severely depressed people can connect only tenuously with reality, but repeated studies have shown that mild to moderate depressives have a more realistic take on life than most “normal” people, a phenomenon known as “depressive realism”. As Neel Burton, author of 'The Meaning of Madness,' put it, this is “the healthy suspicion that modern life has no meaning and that modern society is absurd and alienating”. In a goal-driven, work-oriented culture, this is deeply threatening."
Something that keeps me awake at night is trying to understand why Martin Wharton (formerly the bishop of Newcastle) was so eager to get rid of me as quickly and completely as possible when I fell ill with depression rather than help me to recover, which you would think would be the Christian, "good Samaritan" thing to do. Also why did his henchmen, like the archdeacon, Geoff Miller, back him up so enthusiastically; why did none of my colleagues visit me when I was sick let alone stand up for me when my vocation, my whole life, was being ruined by the ecclesiastical authorities and why has no one, who could help me get my job as a parish priest back (no matter, how morally virtuous and inclusive they make themselves out to be in the media and social media) offered to help - even tentatively?
Tim Lott's suggestion would explain it.
However, knowing the reason for the bigotry of others towards you does not help and neither does any amount of sympathy. What is needed is for the laws protecting those who suffer from mental health problems in secular employment to be widened to apply also to those working in the Church of England (at present the church is exempt from such human rights laws). This is urgently needed because Christians, regardless of their position in the church, appear to be quite incapable of acting like Christians. To a depressive like me that is very silly indeed. Heck, it would be hilarious if it was not so tragic.
Tim concludes pessimistically:
"... the bulk of the unafflicted population may never really understand depression. Not only because they (understandably) lack the imagination, and (unforgivably) fail to trust in the experience of the sufferer – but because, when push comes to shove, they don’t want to understand. It’s just too … well, depressing."
Basically, the people who let me down so terribly were scared - not, so much, of me as of the possibilities within themselves.