April 23, 2013

Rays of Sunlight

I suffer from depression. 

This is a fact I have come to accept in my life.  It is something I realized after many years of not understanding why I sometimes wanted to curl up under a blanket and escape the world, why I could not bear to talk on the phone, why I found myself crying over things that should not upset me, why I worried so often that I was not good enough and would never be good enough.  I have been through quite a journey of emotions with my depression, and while I am embarrassed by some of my reactions, they are a part of who I am today. 

I know that I am not alone in my depression. A 2011 NPR article says that 11% of Americans are prescribed antidepressants, and that many more Anericans suffer from depression but are unwilling to tell their doctor for fear of being prescribed antidepressants. But the strange thing about depression is that, though there are many of us, we suffer alone.  We feel that we are alone, helplessly so, even when we are surrounded by friends and family and those who suffer as well. 

When I am depressed, I push people away. Friends, family, even my wonderful husband. I push away God, too, unable to form prayers in my mind to a God who allows me to suffer so much. I want to be alone because I feel safer.  I alone understand my own inner pain. It is strange that part of suffering from this disorder is to push away the things that might help me to feel better.  

In my most recent struggle with depression, I found that my social life was not the only thing suffering. My spiritual life, which in the past few years has become an incredibly important part of my life as a whole, was almost completely gone. It wasn't simply that I wasn't praying or talking to God. I was not knitting, not spinning, not creating. In curling up on the couch and watching TV, I was pushing away the practices that help me to connect with my inner self, and with God. I was, again, pushing away the things that would help me to feel better. 

I was recently assigned a paper for my Spirituality class where we had to find a character from the history of Christian spirituality to write about. After some searching, I fell upon Therese of Lisieux.

Therese of Lisieux was a young Carmelite nun who struggled many times throughout her life with what she called "the night of my soul."  Toward the end of her short life of 24 years, she suffered physically as well as spiritually, and at time considered suicide as a way to escape. She wrote of dealing with this struggle in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul

"When I sing of the happiness of Heaven and the eternal possession of God, I do not feel any joy therein, for I sing only of what I wish to believe. Sometimes, I confess, a little ray of sunshine illumines my dark night, and I enjoy peace for an instant, but later, the remembrance of this ray of light, instead of consoling me, makes the blackness thicker still."

I have considered this passage many times over the past week.  It is both profound and simple. Act out what you wish to believe so that you might experience a "little ray of sunlight."  Though Therese writes that remembering these moments "makes the blackness thicker still," I strongly believe that we must experience these little bits of light in order to make it through the darkness. It's like walking through a dark hallway. When you use a flashlight, it makes the going easier for a while. But when you turn off the light, the darkness is even darker than before. But eventually your eyes will adjust to the blackness, and you will find your way to the end of the hall. 

Depression is a part of who I am. It will always be a part of who I am, even when I am not directly suffering from it. However, if in those moments of sadness I can find my friends and hold them dear, I will remember that I am appreciated. If in those moments of struggling I can allow myself to hear the struggles of others, I will remember that I am not alone. If in those moments of pain I can bring myself to talk with God, I will remember that I am loved.

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