Have you hugged your porcupine today?

Odd title, huh? Actually it is appropriate for today’s blog: the two sides of living with depression. One side involves the person who is depressed, the other side involves the people who live with the person who is depressed. And the porcupine imagery catches some of the tension and difficulty in living on either side of depression.

English: Photograph of two North American porc...
Hugged a porcupine lately?

One who struggles with depression is acutely aware of pain, suffering, woundedness, etc. When some one close wants to help, through words, or hugs, or just listening, the quills of the porcupine make it painful even for the helper. Often unknowingly the one helping may trigger some reaction (see Depression and Triggers) in the depressed person. It may bring back memories (see Depression and Memory) that cause further pain. The quills are getting sharper.

At the same time, for the depressed person, the quills pointing inward feel much larger, much sharper, and much more focused on the areas of pain. Thus, the helper is reaching out and getting stuck with quills, and may withdraw. Meanwhile, the depressed person is hurting more, and tends to withdraw. It is a catch-22, the depressed person needs more companionship in the best sense of that word, yet the encounter can be painful and self-defeating.

It doesn’t take long for the porcupine effect to close doors rather than open them. Thus, for the depressed person every event becomes intensified. Rejection is more acute, a sense of abandonment lurks behind every relationship. Not a winning combination.

For the person who is depressed, it really comes down to having a few people who will faithfully walk with you, not pressuring, not demanding, but to be there for you. In the darkest days, God was drawing me, even when I wasn’t aware of it. In the flesh, I was blessed with my wife, our son and daughter-in-law, and three elders and their wives. They stuck by me in the very worst of times. I marvel at their patience, their willingness to “put up with me.” And they did so for several years. Always supportive, always listening, always loving.

As I look back, I can see how difficult I was to live with. In the worst days they needed to direct me to do things, every day things that we most often take for granted. If someone has not been down that dark road of depression, it might seem silly to need help with simple tasks. My close circle of family and friends never once gave that impression. They demonstrated Christian fellowship in the best way possible.

Another aspect of companionship is to realize that I as the depressed person wanted to be around some people, but not necessarily participating in their discussion. It sounds odd, but for me I wanted to be a wall flower, listening and seeing others respond, but I didn’t want to speak or interact. It was almost as if I had to learn how to interact with people all over. And I didn’t trust myself on what or how I said things.

I have found that dialog was hard for me. In the slide down and coming out the other side of the depression valley (for me a 4-5 year process for the actual diagnosed depression), I sometimes would speak, but not appropriately. I don’t mean vulgar or filthy talk, but it was if I couldn’t see how my remarks affected others. Even now when the depression battle rages, I have to be careful on what I say; when I forget about that, it can have negative repercussions. Of course, that plunges me further into the recrimination of despair.

There were always two questions people would ask me: 1. Are you okay? 2.What can I do to help? I couldn’t tell whether I was okay, because I had been out of kilter for so many years. And I didn’t know enough about myself to ask for help, or even what kind of help I needed or wanted. The questions showed concern, but as a depressed person I wasn’t capable of providing even an intelligible response. That made me feel bad for a long time. As years have passed, I realize that neither I nor the other person knew what to say… And I am okay with not really answering. Those who care also can accept the lack of answers. Their love and presence spoke more than their questions, and more than any answer I could give.

For me the ultimate place to be with people and yet not be part of it was in worship. The liturgical worship service provides the environment to welcome, embrace, and lead people who are hurting. Confession: I was good at internally… I could beat myself up quite well, thank you. But confession before God exposed the shallowness of my beating myself up. It wasn’t only words and attitude towards others, but towards God that I needed to hear, to face, to confess—most often in my heart, the words not actually forming on my lips. But it was confession nevertheless. I could never tire of hearing that my sins were forgiven for Jesus’ sake.

For me some Sundays I couldn’t sing the hymn of praise (“This is the feast…”). But inwardly I liked being around people who could. The creeds brought me reassurance that not even this congregation was my world; they drew me into the “cloud of witnesses” throughout the ages. The Lord’s Supper likewise reaffirmed the eternity of this reality, being in God’s presence, receiving His gifts. Once again the body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The beauty of family, close friends, and worship comes together to bring about God’s work of pulling a person through even the deepest valleys.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7)

Ten times “comfort” is used in the passage. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it? And now God has given me the grace and comfort to embrace other porcupines… Been there, done that, and yes, porcupines can be loved. And God wins!

Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

15 thoughts on “Have you hugged your porcupine today?”

  1. In thinking about the porcupine, realizing that you can love and care for our brothers and sisters even when those “stickers” hurt us, is a lesson in itself…..If GOD’s SON took the nails I feel honored to suffer a few sticks. May we always see others through GOD’s eyes. I thank GOD each day that HE can see me and, in spite of what I have done to his creation, continue to guide and love me and use me to HIS purpose. God’s blessings as you continue your journey. Pray for us as we continue ours!


  2. What an appropriate image, Rich. Thanks for sharing. I think I benefitted from my own struggle with depression, but I still feel scared when I think it might be returning.


    1. Wayne, that is the struggle of the last few weeks for me (“Is it happening again?”). This has been a harder season than any since the disaster of 14 years ago.


  3. Fascinating observations about being a wall flower, observing others, and gleaning hope from being among people who can praise even when you yourself can’t. I really like your description of how the liturgical service helped you.


    1. Thanks, Joy. Over the years I have found that the liturgical life and church year cycle is more important than just a routine. It sweeps along in a long train of gifts received (Word and Sacrament), hopes encouraged, lives changed, and fellowship renewed. Especially when everything else in life is uncertain, this brings true comfort and stability.


  4. A very apt image. And we remember also that the porcupine has a soft side too where it receives comfort. But that side is very hard to find, especially when the porcupine is defending itself.


  5. As you know, I can absolutely relate!


    One of the things that really kills me when I am feeling that way is KNOWING that I am poking others… who are trying to help me, or those who are just LIVING in my presence (being little kids for example!) It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to hide… for their sakes and yours.

    So glad for those who weather the quills to get through to us with grace!


    1. Yes, many times I wanted to hide, and sometimes did… just to avoid that very thing. So very glad a few people didn’t hide from me, although they did give me space and time.


  6. I have been very fortunate to have understanding family and friends – except for one time about 4yrs ago when my family had had enough. I was devastated during my hospital stay where no one would come to see me. I guess the quills were too much for anyone to bear. I still tear up when I think of that time. But it was short-lived, and my family has become closer because of that whole ordeal. It has shown me that God can use anything to make our lives more fulfilled.


  7. Since I have gotten better, I have come to realize just how hard those poking quills poked my loved ones. Once I got better, i realized how much I never wanted to get to that point again. I almost did about a year ago, but caught myself before getting too bad and sought the counsel of my therapist. I thank God everyday for my friend who showed me that I needed professional help. One thing that never changed was the constant of the liturgy and that comforting reminder every week. Keeping you in my prayers Rich at this time.


  8. I am so thankful that we are living in an age when we can openly discuss depression and learn how we can help and support those who suffer (alone). I love going to our church and being in that safe, warm embrace of the congregation. I always feel better after communion and know that God intended it to be there for all of us all of the time–no matter what! Good stuff Rich–may you be happy most of the time–


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