For anyone who has struggled with depression, it’s likely they’ve been told to “Suck it up and move on,” or “Get over it,” or “Don’t be so gloomy.” Easier said than done! As though someone wants to be depressed! If you have never struggled with depression, you probably don’t get it, just as I don’t get what it’s like to suffer from cancer or diabetes or another physical ailment I haven’t suffered. The difference with physical ailments is that they have physical symptoms that are recognizable to others. Depression can certainly present physical symptoms, but the source for the symptoms is a reaction to what’s going on in the brain.
As Catholics, we particularly struggle when we are presented with the sad situation of suicide. Suicide is a result of despair. How can we prevent or cure despair in the depressed individual? Much like an addiction, the depressed individual must acknowledge a problem and seek help. During high school and college, I had begun to despair and contemplate suicide. If I’d been more savvy about what pills to take, I may not be here today. Thank God for my ignorance!
I realized I had a problem and went to the doctor. At one point I admitted myself to the psychiatric ward at the hospital, but after an hour or so in the room, hearing the shouts and confused words of the others on the floor told me I was not where I needed to be. My doctor said I could be released since I was self-admitted, but I must promise not to hurt myself. I promised.
When I left the hospital, I knew that wasn’t the end of the depression. I sought the help of a psychiatrist and took anti-depressants. They helped some, but the most significant help I received was when I went to a Dominican rectory and knocked on the door. An older priest came to the door. I told him I wanted to die. His kind eyes looked deeply into mine and he invited me into the rectory. We sat and talked for a short time. He gathered some helpful articles for me to read. He reminded me that suicide is final and that God didn’t want that for me. He, too, asked me to promise that I would not harm myself. Again, I promised.
A woman is only as good as her word! Those promises kept me alive. I don’t remember the Dominican priest’s name, but he more than anyone else saved my life.
One of my Facebook friends just lost a friend to suicide, a young man who had suffered with depression. There are no easy answers. We cannot turn back time and talk him out of it. We cannot erase the sadness, anger, and broken hearts of the survivors. We can only pray for his soul and for those of his family and friends who are left with memories and questions.
If you have come to this article in search of answers for your depression, I’m not a professional, but I have a message of hope for you. Talk to a priest–even if you aren’t Catholic (yet!). Our priests are well-trained in counseling and have much to offer in guiding you to the help you need. Find a friend or family member who doesn’t tell you to “get over it”–someone you can confide in if you suffer despair. Then promise them you’ll never hurt yourself. Talk to them when you need to. Keep a journal. Sometimes writing about the things that trouble us takes the load off our minds and we can gain perspective and peace.
Most importantly, pray. As I read “Thursday, February 7, Prayer for the Morning” in Magnificat, the reflection introducing Psalm 42 said, “The psalm reflects the shifting moods of down-heartedness, questioning, and confident joy that can affect the committed believer in the face of questions and taunts of a disbelieving world. Yet the tears and torrents of discouragement have no power over the waters of life with which God’s love renews us.” Today’s selection begins: “Like the deer that yearns/for running streams,/so my soul is yearning/for you my God.” The psalmist goes on to question where God is in my life and to say, “My tears have become my bread,/by night, by day.” Yet through the suffering and despair, he concludes:
I will say to God, my rock:/”Why have you forgotten me?/Why do I go mourning/oppressed by the foe?”/Why are you cast down my soul,/why groan within me?/Hope in God; I will praise him still,/my savior and my God. (Psalm 42:10-12, emphasis added)
Words for a new day!