Saturday, April 14, 2007

Dealing With Depression

Why depression hits some people and not others will never be known. The very illness itself is a deep mystery understood by few and suffered in silence by many.

It does not help when well meaning authors put pen to paper and make uneducated comments such as was seen on another website, "One of the most astonishing lessons of life is that there is never a good reason to stay depressed." There isn't a person on earth who chooses to 'stay depressed' but there are many who don't know how to overcome this debilitating and excruciating illness. From this same site come these ill informed words, "The keys are faith, love, and ridding ourselves of "self." Self is an anchor to the muck, and we don't need that! Meantime love shields us, smoothing over conflicts, or eradicating the source of antagonism, while faith erases fear, which is the cause of much depression to begin with."

Some of our greatest Saints suffered bouts of depression throughout their whole lives, do we dare level this same criticism at them? Of course not! St. Flora of Beaulieu, suffered intermittent depression throughout her life mainly at the hands of her over suspicious Mother Superior who, driven by envy made life very difficult for this virtuous and holy woman of God. In the end who proved to be the one who was self absorbed, selfish and egocentric, St. Flora or the Mother Superior? As a young girl St. Therese of Lisieux also suffered a 'mysterious illness' that had her bed ridden and in floods of tears as her family desperately looked for a cure for their beloved daughter and sister. Can any one of us say that Therese was selfish and self absorbed? Later when she was in the midst of suffering from tuberculosis the bouts of depression would return, would any of us dare point the finger and lecture St. Therese about the suffering she was enduring with blasé and patronising comments? The same can be said of St. Teresa of Avila who suffered for many years with bouts of depression as did St. John of the Cross, as well as St. Monica when her anxiety about her son would drive her to tears and she would suffer bouts of despondency?

In order to truly try and understand depression we must first recognise it as an illness, for instance do we blame those who are suffering from cancer for their disease? Do we point the finger at those suffering from Alzheimer's and blame them for their condition? Once again of course not! Yet there are many who with great ignorance blame the sufferer of depression as the main cause of their own illness, how obtuse! Let us look at what the late great Pope John Paul II said about depression when he described it as a 'spiritual trial, and continued in these words, "The illness frequently is accompanied by an existential and spiritual crisis that causes one to no longer see the value of living... the spread of depression has become worrisome," and suggested that the disease "at least in part is induced by society."

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly secularized, where people are treated as commodities where profit is more important than a working man or woman's dignity. In other parts of the world we are inundated with images of murder, mayhem, political scandals and corruption. Where children are becoming less and less protected as the law courts seek to protect the transgressor rather than the victim and natural catastrophe's afflict different parts of the world. Yet we are supposed to remain immune from these devastating news and continue on with life as if we were popping zippy do da pills.

Who is anyone to say what a person can and cannot feel or how long one must feel pain and anguish? We read all these calamitous stories via the media, as if it is having no effect on us until one day a person may become immersed in one personal tribulation after another which afflicts their very being and leaves them drowning in a sea of doubts as their feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness increases. Do we tell them to just 'think happy thoughts and everything will disappear'? When a soul is immersed in this dark night, words become meaningless, but their pain and anguish is not without hidden meaning. Rather than dismiss depression as a 'self obsessed illness' it would behoove us better to understand it without a patronising attitude.

There is no worse feeling than that of abandonment, yet many sufferers of depression do feel this sense of abandonment by God as they feel their prayers going up into 'thin air' unheard. Yet did Jesus also not suffer in the garden of Gethsemane? Our Lord also suffered that abandonment that the sufferers of depression endure, is this not a validation that depression like all other illnesses has a redemptive quality and that by offering up their particular suffering the sufferer is then ennobled through the Power and Love of God.

No suffering whether it be physical, emotional or mental is meaningless. We find meaning through our anguish and doubts with the realisation that Christ walked the path of suffering and therefore He calls others to also walk this same path. It is described as 'the Kiss of Christ' and so it is, as we journey the same path without knowing the reason why. The mystery of redemptive suffering lay not in our love for God but in His love for us, for it is God who strengthens us to persevere through this dark night trusting in His Promises even though our very feelings prompt us to harbour feelings of severe doubt, still the sufferer endures relying on their faith in God's Goodness alone!

In order to overcome depression one has to learn to utilise mental discipline, so when we are overcome with severe doubts and feelings of unworthiness we then apply mental discipline against these debilitating thoughts. Rather than allow our thoughts to continue on the downward escalator we put into practice this discipline and change our thoughts onto more productive one's and thereby stop the downward spiral into negativity. This takes time and patience so none should become disheartened if their thought process continues to torment them, as the negative 'inner voice' tries to convince the soul that it is somehow unworthy to exist.

Prayer is also an essential key even if the soul feels it is going into 'thin air' still we persevere not relying on our feelings but on the Promises of God and His very goodness to each of us individually. It is prayer that will strengthen the soul as it struggles to escape the deep morass that leaves a person grasping at shadows as it tries valiantly to overcome this terrifying illness alone.

When you are in the company of a sufferer it is wise to know you are in the presence also of one who is enduring their own passion, therefore rather than offer empty words of advice, compassionate with them in silence. Remember if you had been present in the garden of Gethsemane would you have advised the Lord that 'it will be all over by tomorrow, so just think positive' I think not!

Depression is a much misunderstood illness even to those suffering through it including some of the Churches greatest Saints. Let us then in a spirit of compassion simply listen to those who suffer this lonely journey..and hopefully we will learn from them how to live our lives with true meaningfulness.

Copyright © 2007 Marie Hill. All rights reserved.