Since the unexpected and shocking death of Anthony Bourdain, I’ve begun seeing articles about depression and suicide. Among these articles, the phrase “preventable tragedy” has been coming up on more than one occasion, and I’ve begun giving it some thought. The following is just a reflection on how I’ve engaged with depression and a period of going through suicidal thoughts earlier on in life—I recommend speaking with a friend, a pastor, or a medical professional if you’re finding yourself in this season currently; there is no shame in needing help because there is richness in seeking it out, and it can become a deeply meaningful experience for the one who is able to care for and sit with you through it.
After passing through a period of depression in high school, I heard something during college about how people who go through depression never really leave it behind (though they do get to a place where it is completely under control apart from moments here and there). I think this has been true of my own experience; many times, I blog to manage the oncoming waves of depression, but other than that, I rarely notice it. However, it is exactly these waves that betray the nature of depression’s influence on a person’s life. As far as it’s a “preventable tragedy,” I think it takes a strong community and faith, hope, and love to truly prevent victims from taking their own lives. But many times, the suicides we see in our communities are “surprising” or “unexpected,” and the victim is described as “cheerful,” “friendly,” and “caring.” In my experience, when the wave of depression hits, it begins a process of going down a dark and lonely rabbit trail. No matter how objectively well things are going, it is as if I am being led down a path of my own failures, shortcomings, and weaknesses, and instead of rejecting these images of myself, I become more and more enamored of them. I desire to see myself as coming up short. I want to explore why I am the worst. I can’t help but agree that I am worthless. I begin to shut myself up at home, I talk myself out of relying on friendships because 1) they never reach out to me (which is likely false), 2) I don’t want to burden them, 3) if they can’t even notice, then they probably aren’t going to care much if I do open up to them. The terrifying thing is that these thoughts can be compacted within a short span of fifteen minutes (or even less). Within fifteen minutes, a lifetime of relationship, friendship, and trust can evaporate. There is no way to prevent this kind of thing, and depression sequesters its victims as a quiet assassin. It crushes any hope of rescue, convinces me that resistance is futile, and controls my perspective. Someone with depression might be doing well for a season, but depression, like the wave you never quite anticipate at the beach, could wipe him out in an instant.
This is not to say that there isn’t hope for all my friends out there who are in the long, trench warfare with depression—I stand with you and will always be willing to pray for you. However, the only thing that I can confidently say has helped manage my depression (to the point where I have a healthy enough relationship with it) is slow, consistent, and meaningful relationship with God and with those around me. God has provided me the works of journaling and writing to turn depression into an advantage; the poems and blog posts that have healed me the most are the ones written in pursuit of exorcising depression from my life, deepening my appreciation for how God works even in the small, dark details of my life. With regards to my friends, I have a handful who are my safeguard and my resistance to the three thoughts that depression plants in me, and I show them off proudly as proof to depression that it’s not true—people do care, and I just need to be brave enough to admit that I need help. But above all, it’s life with God that grounds victory against depression, and I think this poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is perfect:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.