A New Year, A New Hope?

“The Son of God, ‘living and effective,’ is active every day and effects the salvation of all.” -St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

A new year has begun, a time of renewed hope, of new possibilities. It’s time to start fresh on all the goals that weren’t fulfilled last year. At least, that’s what everyone says.

Let me warn you now: this will probably be a rambling post and a dark post. For me, the new year brings no fresh start, no new hope for change. I thought I had a bit of that at the end of last year, but at the start of this year, the hope already seems faded.

You see, for years I have been dealing with depression, not my own, but that of a loved one. I have prayed and prayed for healing for this person, and at times it seems God wants what I want, too. Things seem to get a little better, a new opportunity arises. We’re offered a sweet moment of respite. But then I turn around from doing the dishes or folding the laundry (all those “Mary cares”) to find that the battle has recommenced. Depression has taken hold more fiercely than ever.

Is depression a chemical imbalance, an illness? It’s frustrating to think about this because society still stigmatizes it as if it weren’t. “You broke a leg? Here’s a cast and crutches to help you heal. Let’s make some accommodations so you can work and live while it heals.” But “You’re depressed? You just need to buck up, smile. Life is good.” If it were that easy to heal oneself, we wouldn’t have such an epidemic, yet despite the epidemic, we really don’t recognize the illness. I can’t even say that I’m immune to this response. There are times when I must be reminded that depression isn’t just a choice to look at the negative aspects of life. Indeed, seeing only the negative is a symptom of depression.

Is depression a test, torments from the demons? It does often feel like this. So, I call on the Lord. I tell Him that my loved one is not Job; he cannot handle all these trials. He is slipping away and is in risk of losing his salvation. Why, O Lord, if you desire not the death of a sinner, why aren’t you doing more to help this one? Your sheep is straying into dark, foreboding woods. The wolves are tearing him apart. Where are you? Are you coming to find him? Please find him before it’s too late and heal his wounds.

I know that whether the depression is an illness or the torment of demons, the Lord can help. He healed the blind, the lame, and lepers. He can heal depression. He cast out demons, helping those who were tormented to return to “normal” lives. He did all this; He can heal depression. But will He? If so, when?

I find myself looking to “experts,” anyone really, for the answer that will help. I read every article I come across about depression. Is there a new treatment? It would be worth the try, even if it is experimental and expensive. Will a change in diet help? I’ll try to get him to go along with it. Studies show that probiotics in the gut change the mood of mice? I can get some supplements.
A Cure for Depression from St. Silouan the Athonite? We are missing God. Jesus suffered just like us, and we must hope in Him, keep our eyes on Him. I don’t disagree, but the reality is that depression causes utter despair, a separation from God that is so hard to cross. I continue to pray, but my loved one slips farther from God and His Church daily.

He used to be so faithful. He attended every church service, fasted diligently, even read spiritual books. These things have largely fallen to the side, but I can see that deep down he still is faithful. A glimmer of hope surfaces every once in awhile. But more often than not, he can’t see his own worth, and he can’t see the Lord’s love for him. Often times, he refuses even to see the Lord.

I’m left wondering: how do I help, can I help him? And how do I take care of the rest of the family and do all that I need to do when I feel myself more drained of energy, and hope, and love with each day that passes in this relentless depression? My spiritual father tells me that I must give the situation over to God, and I do. Especially on the bad nights, I pray for Him and His angels to watch over my loved one and keep him from all harm and torment while I try to rest. I pray that one day when all of this ends, he will know God’s love, peace, and salvation.

I have no answers, but I felt compelled to share things that have been burdening me for so long, things that have hindered my productivity and creativity. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, sharing will help someone else. After all, common wisdom suggests that it helps to know we’re not alone. So for any of you who are suffering as you watch the suffering of one you love, I share your pain, and I share your prayers for release from depression as we wait and hope for the Lord’s healing.

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