What It’s Like to Be Catholic… and Depressed
I can proudly say that I am a Catholic. Though I have had my fair share of ups and downs with my faith growing up, it wasn’t until getting to high school that I was really able to embrace it and share it. It has become much easier now to share with others that I am Catholic without feeling shy about it.
We don’t need reasons to be happy, because sometimes we just are. In the same way, we shouldn’t need reasons to explain why we are down or depressed or anxious.
But there was just one, tiny problem. I remember talking with other Christians about the whole issue of depression and suicide. It is through those conversations that I opened myself up and talked a little bit about my past experiences – namely, I’ve been depressed for a while and had thoughts of suicide in high school.
The people I talked to would look back at me in disbelief. “But you’re Catholic, you aren’t allowed to be depressed. God said so.”
Now before I go on, I would just like to pause and say that this is not me having beef with other Christians, nor am I ragging on them for their seemingly narrow-minded ways. I am open to other Christians – I have friends who are Christians and non-Catholics. And while there are minor differences in certain practices, the God is still the same. The paths are different, but the end goal is the same.
Okay, push play.
In conversations that followed, I got more or less the same reaction, along with sprinklings of “you need to be baptized ASAP” and “you’re going straight to hell”. It made me question all my feelings, but it also made me somewhat fearful. Was I really going to hell because I had thought about suicide a couple times?
But the hardest hitting one, and the one that sparked this post, was this one:
“Why are you acting so selfish? Are you not grateful for what God has given you?”
|(umm… from giphy.com)|
Let me be clear of one thing: I am not just grateful, I am EXTREMELY grateful. I know how lucky I am to be born in this part of the world and to be in a family that loves me. I have access to a home, to food, to education, and I am healthy. I’m lucky that I wake up every day so that I can write more pointless words so that people can read them (though I really hope that they aren’t pointless).
Having depression, or any other mental illness, does not make you selfish. Wanting to commit suicide is not selfish, and committing suicide is not selfish.
Any person who has suffered from depression will know that we have very heavy hearts. We feel more than sad – we feel down on life, like the world’s odds are stacked against us. On top of that, we feel like we are burdening everyone – family, friends, and others – with our depression.
So we don’t talk about it, in part because we don’t want to burden people, but also because 1) we don’t want to admit that we need help and 2) we don’t want to be shunned or thought of as “problematic” or “different”. But as we all know, not talking about any kind of problem perpetuates more problems, and suffering alone sucks. It absolutely sucks.
Being a Catholic was an extreme clash inside of me. On the one hand, I know exactly what the Church teaches on life and death – we value from conception to it’s natural end. So that’s why we care so much about abortion and euthanasia – not because we want future babies and terminally ill people to suffer, but because we don’t dictate the value of life and we don’t decide who’s life ends because of our socially constructed “life value”. Similarly, by taking our own lives prematurely, we would be going against the same Creed we recite every Sunday.
However, God is good. He knows that we make mistakes, that we all fall down, and that sometimes, life is hard. Feeling depressed does not make you ungrateful. Committing suicide does not make you selfish.
Hearing these conflicting ideas, I think, ultimately kept me from going through with anything serious. There were many points when I wanted to end it all, but in those quiet moments where I felt something that had some semblance of sanity, I weighed the pros and cons. Sure, my pain and suffering would be over, but I would rot in hell. This logic ran through my head over and over, and I felt incredibly guilty for it. I didn’t want my family to grieve, and I didn’t want to be labelled as selfish, as a failure, or as someone who just couldn’t suck it up.
Admittedly, despite the fact that I have met some incredibly supportive friends and have done more research on the topic, I have always felt guilty of my depression and thoughts of suicide. But it wasn’t until a few months ago, when I watched this video about Kevin Hines, a man who attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He is one of the very small percentage of people that survived the fall, and now shares his story with others in hopes of bringing more awareness to the topic of mental illness.
You can watch the video here – and I encourage you to take 5 minutes to do so:
Regardless of your faith, know that you are not being “selfish” or “ungrateful” if you are depressed, anxious, or suffer from any other mental illness.
You are still human. You don’t need reasons to feel this way – and you shouldn’t have to provide reasons either.