The Gift of Respite

Admittedly, this first morning back from my extended family visit is hard. I woke up dreaming I was still there only to be disappointed by the reality that I was at home in my own bed facing the aftermath of the absence: work not done, calls not answered, and the prospect of unpacking. Then of course there is the matter of five pounds gained and getting used to 6000 feet of increased altitude. I call it vacation hangover.

All respite times are treasured times. We all experience them. They not only come in the form of vacations and retreats. They include prayer time, visits with family or friends, pleasurable activities, and relief/remission from seemingly unrelenting emotional or physical illness and conditions. That last one is oftentimes overlooked.

Respite times are gifts from God reminding us that difficulties, pain, and crosses are not the end-all or be-all. Heaven does exist and it begins here. Our job is to recognize when we are given the reminder, focus on it, and enjoy it thoroughly so it can bring peace, hope, and rejoicing even if the actual length of time for it is short.

All the Saints welcomed and enjoyed respite. The experience, memory of them, and the anticipation of those to come were part of the hallmarks of their holiness. For our healing and renewed hope we are obligated to follow their example.

Picture is mine, a view from my cousin’s boat.

Withdrawing with God

This will be my last post for a while. I will be leaving for thirteen days beginning Thursday. The destination will be 1779 miles away to my parents’ house where I will live, visit, and have some rest and fun. There will also be ample time alone because I’m the only one who wakes up early.

Solitude taken in moments during each day or during a retreat for those fortunate to have one is vital to becoming centered and recharged. You hear God better. In my case there will be daily mass with my 80 yr. old mother and likely a good confession. When you hear God better it usually yields a clearer knowledge of self, which inevitably leads to repentance.

For those of you who can’t take such a lengthy time away (I was there when I was younger), here are some times and tactics. Use them because solitude is a matter of necessity not luxury. Early morning or late at night, nap time, the times kids are in school, break and lunch time at work even if spent in a bathroom stall, in the car to and from work, errands run alone, and the times spent walking the dog are a few times. During those times put ear buds in your ears and listen to taped holy songs or prayers, use centering prayer, a rosary ring, or a memorized psalm (remember memorization?), anything that can lift your mind and heart to God. The truth is God provides time. It is up to us to use it well. So breathe, settle yourself, and listen, listen, listen.

We cannot become healthy without rest and respite. We cannot grow in holiness without withdrawing even if that occurs mentally in ourselves. St. Catherine of Siena often said, “Build yourself a room within your own heart and never put a foot outside it.”

God said, “Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm.” -Isaiah 7:9

(Pic is of my parent’s back yard.)

Catholics and the Either-or Stance on Depression

Many people call themselves Catholic. Some are very devout. Others are just about ready to jump ship. Most exist in between the two. But with regards to conceptualizing depression there seems to be one pattern. It is the tendency to view the causes and treatments in an either-or fashion; either depression is a medical/psychological problem or it is a spiritual/moral problem.

I actually once bought into this either-or mentality, leaning toward the medical/psychological viewpoint. However, studying scripture and reading the words of Saints and the catechism convinced me otherwise. So in 2005 I shifted my professional focus to primarily aid Catholics in spite of advice from well-meaning colleagues I was committing professional suicide. (In some ways that has proven true).

One of the myths about the Catholic Church is that she is behind the times when it comes to science and medicine. Read certain Catholic blogs and websites and you can easily come to that conclusion, especially with regards to depressive conditions. Officially however, this is simply not true. Post Galileo the Church has demonstrated a history of being quite with the times. After all it was a Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaître, who developed the theory of the Big Bang in 1927 and for the last 60 yrs. the Church has supported the notion of evolution. It therefore can be assumed that the Catholic Church is open to scientific developments in the area of mental health. Indeed around the world prominent people in the Church have now stepped up to the plate to help dispel the myths of those in the pew (and on the fence).

The bottom line is that Catholics, devout and otherwise need not think of depressive conditions in an either-or manner and those who would hesitate to return to the Church need not fear that the Church is behind the times.

“A depressive illness does not define a child of God, nor does it need to isolate one from God or the Church.”
Kathleen P. Hockey, taken from an unpublished work, 2009

This blog is an update of one published in 2010. Picture by Myrabella, 2009 Wikicommons (no endorsement of this website assumed)

Money Stress, Faith, & Depression

Yesterday I started the annual unpleasant duty of applying for student loans, plural because we have two in college. Those of you who have more I feel for you. Like most, the discovery that interest rates had climbed by an entire point was troubling. Is that the good news of an economy in so-called recovery?

Naturally fret replaced displeasure. “Lord help me not to worry about money,” I prayed. Worrying has been the story of my life. They call that Generalized Anxiety in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Husband and parents alike have constantly reminded me to relax. “You can’t take it with you,” my father always says. “We’ve always had enough,” has repeated my husband. He’s right. We know the sacrificial routine. Besides, our sons plan to help once they are out of college and they did choose majors that usually result in good jobs.

Research says that chronic worrying and long-term unemployment increases the risk for depression. And in this case faith, not just more meds and therapy can help reduce that risk. Faith is not just about trusting God to provide money or even simply peace of heart. Faith is about sharing when your sacrifice is only a delayed retirement or indefinitely postponed vacation.

Some Saints whose names elude me right now were known to share in their want. I see saints all the time on the street. Homeless people, some who have ended up that way through unemployment share cigarettes or food obtained from the food pantry. People in cars poke five-dollar bills out the window to a person begging, not judging where that money will go. Who cares? And then there are the volunteers. I know a guy who was sentenced to community service. He chose to clean the grounds around a local soup kitchen for that service and then continued afterwards. That is virtue and a road to Sainthood.

As one who is prone to depressive episodes I plan to listen to my husband and parents. Gratitude and generosity are virtues that when practiced put us on the path to Sainthood, our call as Christians. Virtuous deeds and trust in God won’t necessarily cure depression but it certainly is something we can take with us to the grave. Virtuous deeds also increase faith just as faith increases the desire to practice virtue, even in stressful times.

So thanks be to God for His mercy and for His providing examples for me and for you who are in the middle of great or small stressful money situations. Blessed be His Holy Name! Amen.

Picture Public Domain, on WikiCommons

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mother for the Abused and Depressed

In the Byzantine Catholic Church June 27th was the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Many who have been abused as children and/or adults have emotionally and spiritually fled into her arms seeking solace. There is an icon depicting our Lady in this role. It displays a picture of Mary comforting the child Jesus who has just fled into her arms terrified after seeing a vision of the cross, instrument of his torture and death. Jesus is so terrified that one of His sandals is falling off from the run.

Is it so far fetched to think Jesus didn’t feel fear in his childhood or run to his mother for comfort? All the gospels are very clear about our Lord being terrified in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was fully human so I suspect as a child He was also frightened from time to time. How blessed for Mary to have been able to comfort Him in her arms!

Mental illness can be terrifying especially when the symptoms are serious. Persistent thoughts of suicide, knowing you are not thinking clearly but can’t stop it, wondering if you will have another manic episode and commit acts that have dire consequences, or fearing you might hurt your child but not knowing where to turn for help are some of those terrifying symptoms.

It’s OK to flee into your Mother’s arms like Jesus. You can even imagine yourself holding Jesus at the same time. Such a meditation might give you the courage to face your fears and do what you must, what is right, and what will bring forth goodness in yourself and for all those you love.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us!

There is a depth to the symbolism found in the icon. So I leave you a link to learn more.

Picture is free domain, wikicommons.

Love loves the Depressed

Jesus did not suffer and die because we deserved it or because we were somehow worthy to be saved from damnation incurred through sin. He did so because He was God as well as man, and God is Love. Love loves because of being faithful to its self—perfect integrity. Love could do no other thing but become human and die for us.

Love cannot cause evil. Love however will still love those who do evil regardless of how they respond, by repenting or continuing to do evil. That is why some Saints literally allowed and still allow themselves to be martyred for love. They cannot be unfaithful to themselves wherein resides God who is Love—perfected integrity.

Love cannot create illness. Love however will still love those who are ill be it in the mind, body, and/or soul. That is why some Saints set themselves on the path of perfection by offering their illness to God as a sacrifice. They cannot be unfaithful to themselves wherein resides God who is Love—perfected integrity.

God heals, if only the soul, the most important part of us. Love can do no other thing because Love is faithful to its self. In that there is joy even in the emotional pain of depression and in that we can love others and serve others in love so they too can become open to God who heals—perfected integrity.

“God is love. Whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” 1 John 4:16 

Picture is public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

My God is my Strength!

“Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength..”

Sometimes try as we can there is nothing we can do to alleviate the pain of depression or the embarrassment of manic episodes. We may think we have it licked. Then a setback occurs usually triggered by stress, medicine that has lost its effectiveness, bad therapy, or our own habitual patterns of thought or behaviors that eventually overtakes us.

Yet when break-through symptoms occur or slip-ups happen there is something you can do. There are several things actually.
1. Don’t try to be strong— it is in weakness that God shows his strength
2. Don’t excuse the symptoms— the truth will eventually win
3. Don’t hide— courage is the stuff of Saints, so is humility
4. Don’t give up— perseverance is also the stuff of Saints

Listen to concerned family members or friends, go back to the doctor to have your meds re-evaluated, or change your therapist or spiritual director (regardless of what they tell you it is not good to feel more miserable after every single visit). Most of all remember that when medicine and people fail you it’s because we are on earth not heaven. Nothing is perfect and 98% of the time people who hurt have well-meaning intentions. Recognize that and love them for trying.

Of course at the core of all this is the most important thing— believe that God remains with you through it all and will lead you to holiness and peace.

“..yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God..
I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord [in sickness and health]
And my God is now my strength!”

Scripture from today’s readings. Isaiah 49: 4, 5b

Thanking God for Depression

How many Saints thanked God for their illnesses, trials, and mental and spiritual anguish? Lots. One of those Saints was Elizabeth Seton. Towards the end of her life she was quite open about the fact that her history of irrational self-demeaning thoughts and fears, part of her depressive tendencies, were part of her cross. “I have indeed been a sufferer, partly from the strong impressions of the mind which I could not efface, and also from causes sufficiently real.”

St. Elizabeth Seton’s coping strategy for all her sufferings including her tormented mind was to constantly work towards turning her attention to the Savior. “My heart is lifted, feels its treasure…God is with me and what can I fear?” (Today’s gospel: “Store up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor decay can destroy..”)

Can we embrace our cross of depression? Can we use it as a means to develop the virtues of perseverance, patience, and compassion for ourselves, and others rather than beat ourselves up every time we fail to subdue the relentless sadness, negativity, or self-conscious paranoia about how our symptoms sometimes drive people away? By the way, that is called “depressed about being depressed,” or “double depression.”

Imagine being able to say like St. Elizabeth (as well as St. Josephine Bakhita, Jane Frances de Chantal, and Augustine of Hippo), “Blessed a thousand, thousand times be the One who governs all, and will bring light out of darkness.”

Let’s follow the Saints’ attitude toward mental and spiritual anguish as well as sufferings “sufficiently real.” Let us practice patiently the discipline of focusing our attention on the Redeemer rather than our suffering so that we can also say, “I was not only willing to take up my cross but kissed it too.”

Quotes by St. Elizabeth Seton are from 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Seton by Betty Ann McNeil, DC. Chapter 11. Painting of All-Saints are public domain found on Wikimedia.

Right and Wrong Attitudes Towards Depression

We can be easily tempted to deny depression’s existence in our lives especially if it strikes in slow incremental steps. It is also easy to resign ourselves once we accept figuring its presence is beyond our control. This is especially true if we have already tried multiple spiritual, psychological, and medical helps.

Pope Francis has a different take on the matter, the matter of all suffering of course.

“Suffering is not a value in itself, but a reality that Jesus teaches us to live with the correct attitude. There are, in fact, right ways and wrong ways to live pain and suffering. A wrong attitude is to live pain in a passive manner, letting go with inertia and resignation. Even the reaction of rebellion and rejection is not a correct attitude. Jesus teaches us to live the pain by accepting the reality of life with trust and hope, bringing the love of God and neighbor, even in suffering: and love transforms everything.

A sick person, a disabled person can become support and light for other people who suffer, in this way transforming the environment in which he lives. With this charism, you are a gift to the Church. United to the risen Christ, you are active participant(s) in the work of evangelization and salvation.” —Pope Francis, 2014

Imagine that! United with the risen Christ, we are a gift to the Church!

Source: Vatican Insider, 5/17/2014

A Book Review: God’s Plan for You

Writing a book always entails a lot of reading. Consequently I recently purchased three books, two on my topic and one just for me. The one just for me is called, The Life God Wants You to Have by Gregory K. Popcak, PhD. Take note the subtitle. Discovering the Divine Plan when Human Plans Fail.

In all honesty over the past year and a half I have attempted praying, journaling, seeking counsel, and talking to my husband and friends about my hiatus from writing projects and my attempt to overcome writer’s block—to no avail. Fits and starts were all I could muster. In Popcak’s book I finally found the counsel I needed.

Yes I’ve decided to start a writing project but there are still nagging doubts. Is it really God’s will that I write another book or am I still chasing some unfulfilled personal career dream? Does God care at all? Then there is the post-start anxiety. What am I doing? Shouldn’t I be getting a full-time solid paying job? You know, make money, pay off the debt, and secure the style of retirement my husband and I desire? You get the picture. I’m sure you’ve had the same kind of questions about the same or different things.

The Life God Wants You to Have addresses all of these questions and more with scripture, practical psychology, case examples representative of a wide variety of life situations, and ample humor. It is also very easy to read, no hifalutin theology or display of psychological prowess. There isn’t even a polka dot of professional patronizing. This guy is real.

While obviously I’m highly recommending this book to all those suffering from a meaning angst it is not because I’ve decided to stay the course with my writing project. It’s because I’ve changed the wake-up song on my smart phone alarm to Only in God and decided to spend more time in silence by the tabernacle. I finally got it in my head that discernment is a continuous process not a one-time situation based thing.