It is relatively easy to make others laugh. Somewhat more challenging to make ourselves laugh! This man entered into the doctor’s office in Florence, Italy. He was filled with anxiety and exhausted from lack of sleep. The doctor examined him and concluding that his patient just needed a good time, he suggested going to a circus in town and watch its star performer, a clown named Grimaldi. Night after night he had the people rolling in their seats. “You must go and see him,” the doctor advised. “Grimaldi is the world’s funniest clown. He’ll make you laugh and cure your sadness.” “I am afraid I cannot do that”, answered the patient. “This man cannot really help me. You see, I am Grimaldi!”
Depression is always near us. It disrupts the lives of 30 to 40 million Americans and it has been called the “common cold” of mental disorders. It debilitates many. David Feherty was watching TV, a near empty bottle of whisky in hand when his 6 year old daughter changed his life. “She actually climbed up in my lap and said, ‘Dad, you need another bottle’.” Devastated, he sought help for his drinking and was quickly diagnosed with depression. “Half of what makes you feel better is having someone to talk to, someone who does not think you are irrevocably broken.” David has been sober one year. Bernanos says that to find hope one must go down to the abyss of despair.
Depression is basically an illness of distress, of energy. Somewhere the energy is blocked. And it is this blocking of the spirit that causes all kinds of anguish, all sorts of elements in one’s interior that must be calmed.
The danger is to hide behind the television, to take refuge in alcohol, in drugs, to look for something new instead of looking within oneself.
Gerald Sittser had no easy answers as he wrote about the loss of his wife, mother, and 4-year-old daughter from a head-on collision with a drunken driver. In A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, Sittser describes his trials of panic, anger, disorientation, and depression.
Those who suffer such loss run the risk of “the gradual destruction of the soul” as guilt, regret, bitterness, hatred, immorality, and despair threaten to devour it, he writes. Christians however have another option – the possibility of embracing loss in the light of Christ’s passion and resurrection.
“The sovereign God,” he writes, “who is in control of everything, is the same God who has experienced the pain I live with every day. No matter how deep the pit into which I descend, I keep finding God there. He is not aloof from my suffering but draws near to me when I suffer. He is vulnerable to pain, quick to shed tears, and acquainted with grief.”
The Bible does not use the word “depression,” but it describes people who were down in the dumps. Taunted by Queen Jezebel, the prophet Elijah “was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: ‘This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers’.”
David expresses himself so in psalm 38, “I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. …I groan because of the turmoil of my heart”.
How can I get out of the pit? Jean Vanier, who founded L’Arche Community in 1964 in France – it provides group homes and spiritual support for mentally disabled people – states unequivocally that though medicine can help people and drugs can lessen anxieties, the real therapy starts when we learn to recognize our frail human condition. “Do I want to discover what it means to be human? The human being was born little and will die little. Are we willing to accept our frailty as it really is?”
But to do this, I need help. I need a community. “Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.”
Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of a greater benefit. It has the potential to open our eyes and above all, our hearts. Our weakest moment is when we give up!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.