When Depression Shows Up, How Do You?

by Iya Melissa

In my other life, I’m a middle school teacher.  A discussion from my graduate school classmates remains fresh in my mind after 14 years.  Some of us, while reflecting on our own favorite teachers, shared stories of adults who were attentive beyond the 45 minutes they spent with us each day.  After hearing our memories of teachers who went above and beyond, a classmate blurted out, “But that’s not what I’m signing up for.  I just want to be a teacher.  I’m not a nurse, or big sister, counselor, or babysitter.  I just want to focus on my content.”  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and we all agreed to disagree to say the least.

Whether she accepted it or not, teachers aren’t just teachers.  We are caretakers, older siblings, aunties, disciplinarians, counselors, nurses, moral compasses, role models – the list doesn’t end.  Children don’t learn from people they don’t like, from people they don’t trust, from people who don’t see them. Actually, adults don’t either. And since priests are also teachers, let’s follow this line of thinking.


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Deciding to get a reading is sometimes like deciding to go to the doctor; we realize there’s something going on with us that we just don’t understand, and we need an expert to help us figure it out and make plans for improvement.  Our bodies don’t come with flashing lights or update notifications like our cars or cell phones do when it’s time to take action. We need regular maintenance, just like everything else in our lives.

Part of a priest’s responsibility is being able to sensitively, yet accurately, explain what is revealed through divination while offering remedy through ebo.  We aren’t psychoanalysts (unless that’s who we are in our other lives), but we can recognize when someone is suffering.  We can (and should) offer words of comfort, we should follow up and see how someone is doing after ebo.  We should be aware of resources in our communities that may aid those who seek our help in resolving their situations.

It’s not unusual for someone to break down in tears during a reading.  Sometimes the desperation is palpable, and we should do our best to help in whatever ways we can. Divination reveals a lot about us, and it’s not uncommon to see when someone is suffering from depression.

Suffering becomes such a sensitive subject if we believe in destiny.  Did we really choose to suffer from a mental illness? Why would we make those decisions in orun before being born?

In Candomblé we believe in Ori.  Ori is praised before any other Orixá, and is probably more conceptually complex than other Orixá. We believe that prior to being born we decided on the paths we would take on earth, but that during the passage from heaven to earth we forgot our decisions.  Divination exists to remind us of the road we should take and what we need to do to maintain balance in our lives.  The most important ceremony, in my opinion, is a bori – ritualistically feeding one’s head to bring spiritual and conscious alignment.

When someone’s reading reveals unrest, confusion, doubt, or depression the religious remedy is often a bori.  A bori can take on many forms, and no two boris are alike (even when two or more people are going through the ceremony together).  Performing the ceremony is the priest’s religious role, but helping the members of our community navigate depression doesn’t stop at the bori. Are we recommending that they speak to their doctor? Are we breaking down some of the stigma around seeing a therapist? How do we respond when the person on the other side of the shells is suffering from depression?

Teachers are pedagogical experts and priests are religious experts, but we have to accept that we are often many things at once and be prepared to act accordingly.