It goes by various names: the preacher’s hangover, the monday blues, or even “PMS” (post-message syndrome). And every Sunday evening, like clockwork, it begins to strangle me.
I wasn’t ready for it. I dove headfirst into ministry with absolutely no idea about what I was doing. This isn’t an exaggeration – I was twenty years old when I became the Lead Pastor of my church. I was young, idealistic, and invincible. And I wasn’t prepared for Monday.
It’s apparently common for preachers to experience a significant depressive state after preaching (hence the various affectionate monikers). It’s far less common for pastors to be honest about it (or anything, sometimes). But while I know much less about the world than I did when I was twenty, I do know that love is not possible without vulnerability. I’ve learned that community is unattainable without confession. And the church needs to know that even her leaders aren’t perfect. My church needs to know that I am not perfect. And so I confess: some Mondays, I’m not even sure if I’m still a Christian.
Archibald Hart calls this pastoral phenomenon “post-adrenaline depression.” He describes it as
“a profound shutdown of the adrenal system, following a period of high stress or demand. It’s as if the adrenal system is saying, “That’s enough abuse for now; let’s give it a break,” and shuts down so that you have no choice in the matter.”
I’m sure individual experiences differ, but my experience of post-adrenaline depression usually manifests itself with the following symptoms: my entire body aches (as if I’ve participated in some ultra-competitive athletic competition), my energy level is completely depleted, and I slowly slip once again into the dark abyss of depression. Not to be confused with sadness, depression is the irrational grip of acute hopelessness, restless anxiety, and the inability to experience joy. And sometimes, these are the descriptions that most truly characterize me only hours after proclaiming the most profound and beautiful news in the world.
I’m no stranger to depression. As a high-schooler I was diagnosed with both Panic Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. Thus, I am able to strangely resonate with the enigmatic words of Søren Kierkegaard: “My depression is the most faithful mistress I have known — no wonder, then, that I return the love.” Indeed, I often wonder if my experience of this post-preaching depression is more heightened than others due to my already-present chemical imbalances and psychological tendencies.
I don’t mean to be dramatic. Depending on a number of circumstances, some Mondays aren’t actually that bad. But sometimes the stress builds and I crash. So I get help. My church prays for me. I take a Sunday off. But I no longer pretend to be invincible. I’m not fine, and neither are you. And the good news is that once we’ve admitted that to each other, we can finally give and receive love. And that truth, on this Monday, makes me feel a little like a Christian.
“Because of this fear – the fear of being needy within a community of neediness – the witness of the church is compromised. A collection of self-sustaining and self-reliant people – people who are all pretending to be fine – is not the Kingdom of God. . . . Specifically, a church where everyone is “fine” is a group of humans refusing to be human beings and pretending to be gods. Such a “church” is comprised of fearful people working hard to keep up appearances and unable to trust each other to the point of loving self-sacrifice. In such a “church” each member is expected to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, thus making no demands upon others. Unfortunately, where there is no need and no vulnerability, there can be no love.”
– Richard Beck