I’m not a doctor or a therapist. I can’t diagnose or treat depression. I can only offer you encouragement and thoughts from my own personal experiences. If you’re suffering from depression, please seek professional help (I highly recommend Pastoral Solutions Institute tele-counseling services). If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 immediately.
I remember the darkness.
The whole family had gathered around the dining room table. It was a typical holiday meal overflowing with food and fun.
But to me their mirth was raucous laughter. Their conversation was frivolous and obnoxious. Their jokes were abhorrent.
I couldn’t stand to be in their company. So I grabbed my plate and retreated to the kitchen to pick at my meal in sullen silence.
Fast forward a few weeks.
My husband wanted a cut-your-own Christmas tree. Of course he did, we do it every year. It’s normally one of our favorite family traditions.
So I packed up the kids to go, but I hated every minute of it. I raged at them to find their socks, to put their shoes back on, to zip their coats. I threatened to skip the whole trip and just stay home, but only because that’s what I really wanted.
I wandered indifferently up and down rows of trees, wishing they’d just pick one and get it over with. Every so often I’d wipe my tears and attempt to smile for a picture, with marginal success.
If I could have skipped the whole holiday season that year, I would have. Which is crazy, because Advent and Christmas are always my favorite time of year. But that year I wanted to hide away from it all.
I had unknowingly suffered from growing depression for over a year, and it was finally coming to a head. I retreated from the world. My emotions were turning off, and so was my body.
I watched my reproductive system shut down. I suffered from endless fatigue, no matter how much I slept. And I muddled through episodes of what I could only describe as “a fog.” Where the world was thick around me. It took heroic effort to cross a room. To swim through the oppressive atmosphere.
And the worst part was, I didn’t know there was something medically wrong with me. I thought I was being a melodramatic jerk. I thought I was failing at my vocation. I tried to pray my way out of it, to think happy thoughts, to push through the hard days. But nothing worked. I sank lower and lower into my misery, and all the time tried to hide it.
And then I couldn’t any longer. I poured my heart out to a dear friend who helped me recognize the illness I was suffering from. Who looked past the smiling face I showed to the world, and saw the depression festering underneath.
Thanks be to God for her advice.
She didn’t tell me try to fix it myself. She didn’t suggest that maybe I was being too self-centered, or ungrateful, or a bad Christian, or any of the things I had been telling myself.
She told me I needed to get help. That same week, I set up an appointment with my doctor. I went on antidepressants, and made an appointment to begin counseling with Pastoral Solutions.
Note: I’m not in any way professionally affiliated with Pastoral Solutions. I’m simply a very grateful and satisfied client, excited to share my experience with you.
Pastoral Solutions is a Catholic tele-counseling service.
I loved that I could trust my counselor. That I knew every bit of advice he gave me would be in line with the Church’s teachings. That I could take his guidance and run with it. I had always been wary of counseling because of fear. Fear that it would be too hard a task to carry the burden of defending my faith to the very person trying to help me heal. Too hard to sift through secular philosophies to ensure they were on board with my deeply cherished Catholicism.
But I had no fear with Pastoral Solutions. My counselor, Josh Hawrot, spoke to me in my language. He was very open about incorporating prayer and faith into my healing process. He encouraged growth in virtue, and showed me practical, research-based ways to do so.
In our very first session, he introduced me to the concept of the Healthy Mind Platter. Although it seemed overwhelming to me in my oppressed state of mind, this practice changed my life. I still use it today, and think it’s a helpful tool for all people – healthy, or struggling. By checking off all the things I need to do to stay mentally healthy each day – including exercises, work, play, reflection, and more, I’m in control of my own wellness.
I also began doing a daily “emotional temperature” check in. I was amazed at how flatlined I was, even though I was pretending happiness. It was hard for my emotions to reach a calm or happy level. But as time went on, and I kept tracking, I saw that the positive emotions became my default, and the negative emotions became the exception.
When Josh introduced me to the obligatory “positive and negative self talk,” he put a theological spin on it for me. Consolations and desolations, he labeled them. Ignatian spirituality became my new jam. I loved the idea of discerning which thoughts were from God and which were temptations, and still do.
Every moment of every session was worth the time and investment. Using tools ranging from meditation, to mindfulness exercises, to emergency strategies, to true/false exercises and more, I grew healthier every day and week.
I began to recognize the me I once was. I had my moments (and I still do), but the oppression subsided. The fog I lived in was replaced with clarity. My energy returned. My vocation became a joy once again. And I watched my fertility, after having been shut down by the effects of depression, come back online. Finally, after trying for close to 18 months, we became pregnant(*). My mind and body were back to functioning normally and healthily.
(*Every woman’s body and situation is different. While my temporary experience with infertility arose from and was resolved alongside my depression, I don’t intend to imply that treatment for depression is a sufficient or universal treatment for infertility. Infertility is a heavy cross to bear, and my heart goes out to all who suffer from it in any way.)
On the other side
Not long after we found out we were expecting our fourth child, I was able to wean off both my antidepressant and my counseling. I was given the clean bill of health.
I’ve continued to do my best to be aware of my emotional and mental state. I feel so empowered and filled with a wealth of knowledge and tools from my time in counseling. I don’t fear relapse, even though I know it’s not an impossibility.
Instead, I feel confident.
Confident in my own ability to monitor my health. To make changes and work towards wellness when I start to slide. And confident that if I ever need help again, I know where to turn. And I know that it’s okay to get the help I need.
Not only is it okay, it’s brave. And it’s holy. And it’s humble. To admit that I’m not perfect. That I’m flawed and I can’t do it by myself. I need the help of my family and friends. I need the help of a counselor sometimes. And I always need God’s help.
As the winter cold rolls around this year, so do the holiday blues. I find myself needing to fall back on some of my strategies from counseling. I’ve pulled out my healthy mind platter checklist. I’ve reached out to others for support. I’ve fought off the desire to escape, and traded it with an effort to lean in to my vocation.
And I’m thinking and praying for others who might be suffering.
I’m praying for you
If you’re experiencing the winter blues right now, I’m praying for you.
If you’re experiencing postpartum blues (or, like me, 3rd trimester blues), I’m praying for you.
If you’re experiencing depression or anxiety arising from stress or other life situations, I’m praying for you.
I’m praying for you to get the help you need. To recognize that you can’t and don’t have to do this alone.
For you to know that you’re not a bad person. Not a bad Christian, not a horrible wife, or a lousy mom. For you to know that depression and anxiety are real illnesses. And that perhaps you can’t heal them on your own.
I’m praying for you to reach out to a trusted friend. A trusted doctor. A trusted counselor in your area.
I’m praying for you to begin the road to recovery.
Don’t be afraid. Don’t be ashamed.
And if you’re wary of secular counselors (like I was), find comfort that there is another option. There are Catholic counselors you can trust. Counselors who won’t be afraid to tell you to pray. Who will respect your faith, your marriage, and your family life. Counselors who will shower you with a wealth of information, and lead you speedily along the road of recovery.
Counselors who will change your life.
I’m praying today, that if you’re in the midst of the darkness, you will begin traveling the road towards the light.
I’m praying that you won’t believe the lie that it’s your fault.
I’m praying that you won’t go another day, another month, another year, wondering where your joy and happiness escaped to.
Don’t spend another holiday cutting yourself off from the world like I did.
Make the call. It will change your life.
Contact Pastoral Solutions Institute
phone number: 740-266-6461
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Check out: Joy: The Hidden Gift I Found in Depression