I’d like to talk about something personal to me that may be a taboo subject for some, especially for those within Christian circles.
I’d like to talk about my struggle with depression.
Everyone has baggage. Everyone is a product of their past, but no one’s past defines their value as a person. While no two people share the same baggage, some of us can relate to each other’s hardships in more ways than one – but everyone deals with their personal demons differently. Sometimes, people have a harder time than others reconciling with past mistakes or unjust treatment done to them.
Most people who know me well view me as a very social extrovert when, in reality, I’ve struggled with making new friends and breaking through social barriers all my life. I also used to be frequently bullied in elementary and junior high school, and have often felt like my existence was a burden to everyone. As I had mentioned in a previous blog post, my struggle with loneliness and depression has also led me to make countless mistakes in my daily school, work and home life, causing me to think even less of my own self-worth. And even after finding a group of friends to spend time with, there were always those default cliques that would often make me feel like I’m just an afterthought or only present for the convenience of others. So in many ways, my seemingly confident demeanor is merely a facade to hide the struggle within.
Whether it’s the way I was treated by my peers in the past or the mistakes I’ve made that have caused harm to others, I’ve often beat myself up to the point of self-deprecation. I find it easy for my mind to convince me of certain ideas based on personal feelings. Sometimes I get too wrapped up with what others think of me (or the what-ifs about what others might think). It’s the curse of being a people-pleaser. In my lowest points, the thought that everybody would be better off if I didn’t exist has crossed my mind more than once in my life. This is where the line in my mind that divides personal feelings from objective truth becomes blurred. In cases like these, I need people in my life to reassure me that what I am thinking is not true and remind me that I am valued and appreciated.
When I find myself in these types of slumps, it’s easy to start looking for fulfillment by other means. Some people turn to video games to stimulate their minds, social media for outside approval, substance abuse or trauma-bonding in unhealthy relationships to numb internal pain – anything that sounds better than dragging our fleshbags through a thick mental fog. And when my carelessness causes harm to others, accepting forgiveness from others is difficult because I have an even harder time forgiving myself.
One of my favourite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. It’s not the most uplifting book in the canon of Scripture, but it sure drives home some hard, profound truths. When considering all that makes up the universe, everything is vanity and utterly meaningless without the existence of God. Some key verses I’ve highlighted are:
“I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind. “- 1:14
“For in much wisdom there is much sorrow, and he who stores up knowledge stores up grief.” – 1:18
“The covetous man is never satisfied with money, and the lover of wealth reaps no fruit from it; so this too is vanity.” – 5:9
“All man’s toil is for his mouth, yet his desire is not fulfilled.” – 6:7
If I removed God from my life, there is very little that seems to bring meaning to my existence. I have my wife, my kids, my family and friends whom I love dearly and give my life meaning to press on. But should anything happen to them only reinforces the fragility of life, and losing them would equate to losing my drive to keep living. People are wired for relationships and human interaction, and aren’t meant to go through life alone – and what am I without them? I also find one of the most horribly depressing thoughts, along with losing loved ones, is to believe we are the only planet in the universe that sustains life – like a single grain of sand in an ocean . Whether there is life beyond our solar system or not, I don’t like to imagine life to be the result of an accident due to particles colliding. I don’t like to imagine a universe without purpose or reason for its design if it weren’t for a divine love that binds everything together.
Sometimes I feel as though the world has me trapped in a corner. Given my painful personal experiences with religion, I’ve often felt like my Catholic upbringing automatically disqualifies my ability to have a personal relationship with Jesus, especially during the years when I identified as an Evangelical. The rampant hostility I’ve faced from the varying worldviews of Christianity has fractured my heart almost to the point of embracing atheism out of retaliation, and yet my heart refuses to allow me to reject the existence of a God who designed the universe and longs for a united humanity. To those who have read my previous posts, my most passionate writing is usually done out of feeling trapped in a corner as opposed to sparking up debates for fun.
I’ve cycled through many friendships in my short lifespan. Many of them drifted away either because of conflict or because of life situations beyond their control. And since I’m not getting any younger, I also have very little patience for maintaining pretentious relationships. But thankfully, some have remained close and refuse to leave. There is an old saying that we are the company we keep. We’ve remained in close fellowship with one another because we are like-minded, despite the outside differences. After knowing what it’s like to have a hard time finding good friendships, it’s a blessing to be reminded of the ones I do have and that I am not alone in my struggles.
Sometimes when I pray the rosary, I meditate on the sorrowful mysteries of Christ – the first one being the Agony in the Garden. In the past, I’ve often been told that trusting in the Holy Spirit would prevent me from having any form of anxiety or depression. But when I think of Jesus and how he prayed so sorrowfully before being arrested and put to death, it reassures me that if God Himself could feel despair then maybe my depression isn’t a reflection of my worth as a human being after all. In some ways, meditating on His agony is a way of allowing Jesus to walk with me through the fog of depression rather than trying to ‘snap out of it’ and pretend that it isn’t there.
In my experiences, God doesn’t always take away suffering, but suffering creates empathy for those who are struggling. And empathy is the willingness to help others carry their burdens.
Out of all the means I’ve experimented with when it comes to managing my depression, writing has become my greatest coping mechanism. As someone who is not particularly strong at public speaking, writing gives me a chance to say what I mean without being interrupted or suppressed by those who are outspoken in person. Writing offers me a chance to unload the clutter inside and make known the war that rages inside of me. Writing gives me a voice when I feel like I have none, and a chance for others who might relate to my struggles to engage in conversation and walk together.
When it comes to dealing with friends who are struggling with mental health issues, the only advice I can offer is to walk with them. Rather than reminding them about their shortcomings or telling them to ‘snap out of it’, just walk with them as they carry their crosses. Reassure them they are valuable to you regardless of what they believe. Ask them what you could do for them to make their day or their lives better.
And as for my friends who are reading this, will you be willing to walk with me?