The following is by Rev. David K. O’Rourke, OP, special to The Catholic Voice:
I am an old man. And I am depressive by temperament. I don’t know what that means, but whatever it is, it means that I’ve got to work at keeping going. So I do. And it works. So that is what I want to talk about. What I do, and on a regular basis every day. How I go about it. Why I set up these daily jobs — and I set them, they didn’t pop up. And why I do it.
I am writing this because I believe — 55 years as a priest can give you a lot of experience about life — that one of the most common issues old people have to deal with is depression. Depression — what do I mean? Depression is a big word so let me change to something else. When you are living with “depression” what does it look like? Some examples — examples right around the house.
In the morning it can be tough to get out of bed. But you go into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee — and there are things collecting dust in the corners of the kitchen counter for so long that you don’t even see them anymore. And don’t even look into the refrigerator! In each room there is so much that needs to be done — if only you had the energy.
Getting old is tough. You used to have family, lots of friends. But your old gang — my old gang — has really slimmed down. So every day you may wonder not “What am I getting up for,” but “Who am I getting up for?” We need an answer.
As a pastor I have a good answer — all the people in my parish, the young family members who now look to me. Good answers, but if you are depressive it’s still not enough. The truth doesn’t get you going. So who are you getting up for? Yourself. Myself. I get up in order to get going in my day. Which is nice but, again, it doesn’t help that much. What does help me? Routines. Rituals. Morning rituals. Things I do every day just because it is morning. And in the morning this is what you do.
When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is make my bed. Carefully. I tug the corners of the covers so that all the lines and patterns on the duvet are lined up, no dents or wrinkles, the pillows are fluffed up and placed carefully, everything is neat, newspapers placed in the wastebasket, everything set in place. And since I usually nibble on something with a cup of tea before going to bed — which means crumbs — I get out the vacuum cleaner and vacuum the carpet.
Then into the kitchen, put on the electric kettle and make coffee the same way every day, get out the cup and coffee and filters, and as the kettle is heating I fill the sink with hot water, a squirt of detergent, and wash off the kitchen counters so the kitchen looks visibly neat and clean.
Sounds crazy, but it works. It works because what I am doing — right out of bed, every day — is taking very concrete charge of my life. Since I live alone — like a lot of old folks — I have a house to take care of, laundry and shopping and cooking and cleaning to do, all of which takes at least two hours a day. Two hours of good exercise, using all the muscles in your body, and using your brain to stay on top of your life and meet the demands of your life. Last Monday I went skiing — very badly, started out like a Lucille Ball comedy routine — but I went.
I still have a lot of irons in the fire. I am a pastor. I write, professionally. I work in the tribunal. They are all good and they keep me going. But to keep going I first have to get going, which means keeping that tendency to depression under control. It is part of this old man’s life. It’s not going away. But at least I can tame it. And continuing the good life I have had for the last 84 years is worth that daily effort. I am so lucky to have figured out that if I follow these daily routines that get me out of bed, the bedroom and kitchen in order, the place cleaned up and neat, then those daily routines will push me into getting on the move and dealing with whatever it is that life needs me to do today.
Full story at The Catholic Voice.