A blog about Catholicism and depression might seem like one of the smaller, sadder corners of the Internet, but God’s mercy makes everything it touches deeper and brighter. St. Dymphna’s Daughter has a mission to bring the Spiritual Works of Mercy to the depressed and their loved ones. This is how:
1. Instruct the Ignorant
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”-John 9:1-4
Depression is an illness that affects our minds, bodies, and souls. It is not a punishment for sin or a character weakness. It will not simply disappear one sunny day when we finally “realize” how great our lives our compared to those starving kids in Africa or that lady down the street with cancer.
For some of us, depression is only a season of life, but for many more it is the fight of a lifetime. Winning our fight against this disease may mean management rather than a cure. In fact, there is no miracle cure for depression—and certainly not one that comes in a pill. Our battle requires prayer, the Sacraments, exercise, nutrition, medication, education, therapy … we must throw everything we have into the fight for our lives. This might sound like an exaggeration, but everyone knows someone that has been blindsided by brokenness or suicide due to depression.
We have no say in the way that God chooses to reveal His works in us. But we are still called to honor Him by treating the crosses of others, and our own, with the same reverence we would give a fragment of the One True Cross. To this end, I will never downplay a person’s illness as a punishment for sin, a character weakness, or a bad attitude. Instead, I will offer heartfelt advice for managing depression that has worked for me. You are free to take what God puts on your heart and leave the rest.
2. Counsel the Doubtful
“Neither death, nor life, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”-Romans 8:38-39
God loves you. He knows you. He is with you. I cannot stress this enough. If you are in the midst of a depressive episode, you might not feel Him now. You might feel like He doesn’t exist, like He doesn’t love you, or even like He wants you to suffer. These thoughts are not of Christ. They are lies born of depression, which, like all illnesses, is born of the Father of Lies himself.
God is always with you. He always knows you. He always loves you. I will keep those phrases on the tips of my fingers at all times. I don’t believe they can ever be said enough.
3. Admonish Sinners.
“He said unto them, ‘They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’”-Mark 2: 17
What does depression have to do with sin and repentance? Aren’t we all just mentally ill? (Isn’t that we she literally just said??)
Alcoholism is an illness, but not an excuse for driving home wasted. PTSD is an illness, but not an excuse for shooting at co-workers. Obesity is an illness, but not an excuse for making one more round through the drive-thru. Similarly, depression is an illness, but not an excuse for bad behavior. That is blunt, but there it is. No one alive today is exempt from being a sinner, and none of us are exempt from carrying a mental, physical, or spiritual cross. It’s a consequence of living in a fallen world! That being said, we are called to “fight the good fight of the faith”—NOT to hide in the shadow of our cross to avoid our responsibilities.
Countless times, I have used my depression to cover true sins, like laziness and selfishness. Even worse, I have used it as an excuse to grow apart from my Lord in prayer and deed. This is why the Divine Physician calls us to repentance. Without it, all our physical healing means nothing. I will use this blog to gently examine the “favorite sins” of those of us with depression, but I will never use depression to excuse anyone from being a Christian.
4 and 5. Bear Wrongs Patiently/Forgive Offenses Willingly
“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18: 21-22
There is so much that we misunderstand about depression, from its very nature as an illness to its daily details.
“You were laughing today, so you must be feeling better!”
“I always like to remind myself how lucky I am when I get sad.”
“Just suck it up and keep on keeping on.”
“Anti-depressants are terrible for you. Try exercise/this supplement/eating better/getting more sleep.”
These sentiments might mean well, but they are just another stab of guilt in the hearts of those of us who already feel abandoned by God, alienated from our neighbor, and unable to do anything right. This stab often turns to a flow of anger and withdrawal, leading to the interpersonal strife that is a hallmark of depression. It is a (very difficult) Christian duty for us to forgive these offensive statements and bear them as patiently as we are able. What we aren’t required to do is keep them festering in our hearts like an infection that makes the original wound more and more painful. I will write here in order to help heal my own wounds, and I invite you to do the same.
6. Comfort the Afflicted
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
Explaining depression to others is a bit like playing the board game Taboo: a randomly dealt card in your hand has a concept on it that you might not even recognize. Amidst high anxiety, with time running out, you have to describe your concept to a group of over-excited friends and family members who have even less of a clue what is written on the card than you do. You are cut off from all the usual routes of explaining yourself, and every time you open your mouth, people suggest random and unhelpful solutions to your riddle.
Often, the best empathy for our problems comes from someone who’s been dealt the same card we hold in hand. I am not an expert or a medical professional, but depression has been on my card for many years. There’s a “time to weep, and a time to laugh” in depression, and you can be damn sure I know which is which. I will write accordingly.
7. Pray for the Living and the Dead
“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.” Psalm 18:6
Praying while depressed can be difficult and painful. Sapped of every outward-reaching energy and caught in a snare that was set for me inside my own soul, I can barely muster a return text or a “hello” to my co-workers on a bad day. Sending an invisible message of love to Someone all-knowing yet unknowable seems like a Herculean effort.
But whether we fall asleep during the Rosary (again!), cry profusely at a desperate Psalm, or have just enough energy to breathe, “Save me, O Lord,” before crawling under the covers, God hears us! That all-knowing, unknowable Being understands exactly how much effort we can give, and wants exactly that much. He does not expect more.
I will regularly include prayers here that I think will resonate with those of us who are fighting depression. I ask that you lift me up in prayer, and I will pray for all those who read St. Dymphna’s Daughter.