Fortress Press, 200 pages
Reviewed by Jenn Zatopek
Pastor and first-time author Jessica Kantrowitz has written a soulful manual for surviving depression and chronic illness. I wish this were required reading for all to help dispel the terrible myths about depression that poison our beloved community. Her artful memoir “The Long Night” tackles a difficult subject with warmth and deep compassion, filling a great need for the lost and despairing among us.
In the grand tradition of spiritual writers like Henri Nouwen and Barbara Brown Taylor, Kantrowitz’s nonfiction volume reads more like an insightful collection of letters from a cherished friend. She pulls no punches about the devastating effects of depression, but first, she calls out to us through poetry: “Come for a walk with me, my friend, I know you are tired. I know the sorrow has settled into your bones like the ache from an old wound.” We are invited into Kantrowitz’s reassuring hands as she aptly identifies what it is like to go through the hell of depression and survive.
Her earnest wrestling to make sense of her despair is dearly appreciated for she serves as a beacon of hope for the curveballs life throws. Kantrowitz deftly explores a childhood filled with emotional upheaval and wonderings on where God resides in the midst of so much loss. We peer into her heartfelt reckoning when we read that God gave her empathy in the pain, rather than a quick fix to soothe her sorrows. While this acknowledgment is no stranger to us through popular writers like Anne Lamott and Glennon Doyle, reading a Christian pastor validate the pain of so many is breathtaking in its welcome.
Kantrowtiz’s ensuing burnout in ministry and recovery from both depression and overwork read like an all-too-familiar account for many who have survived similar woes. She writes: “I stayed in the community for so long because I was afraid to be alone. But once I left, I was surprised at how quickly the healing came.” She delicately captures the pain of having to leave church community she still loved but could no longer stay connected to, which reads like a painful but necessary spiritual divorce.
Yet Kantrowitz makes her faith practice her own and offers many time-tested resources to withstand the weathering effects of depression and chronic pain. We learn about practical tools like meditation, centering prayer and yoga, to name a few. At one point, Kantrowitz throws the Enneagram into the mix, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the inclusion. Then I realized how truly generous she is to disseminate so many resources to help the despairing. But Kantrowitz’s prose shines brightest in her stories on finding love and belonging in new and unexpected places. She weaves intimate stories of longing for family amid church community, her deep love and fear of becoming vulnerable with others, the surprisingly painful yet hopeful process of releasing expectations and caring for her own body and mind, no matter the cost.
By the end of the book, you realize that her struggle for peace and hard-won transformation amid lingering depression is what we all long for: self-compassion, bravery from sharing her authentic story, love from treasured kin and a solid connection to the Divine who loves her as she is. And that’s a story worth celebrating.
Jenn Zatopek is a writer, mental health therapist and recovering perfectionist. She lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. You can find more of her writing at theholyabsurd.com.