The Power and Pain of Depression

Yme Woensdregt

“Where does depression hurt? Everywhere.”

“Who does depression hurt? Everyone.”

Truer words were never spoken. These television ads point to the desperate struggle that some people have with depression and its tragic consequences.

There used to be a significant stigma attached to depression or suicide or any form of mental health. There still is, a little bit, but people are learning to speak more openly about their struggle with mental health issues. Slowly, oh so slowly, the shame is easing as we realize how many people there are who struggle with this disease.

As people begin to speak about their struggle with depression and suicide, they say waking up every day is a struggle. That it’s like fighting a battle day–in and day–out. That often the hardest part is trying to hide it, because you just know deep inside that people will look at you differently if you admit to being depressed.

But they’re speaking out. Celebrities and athletes and other people in the public eye are talking about the pain. Clara Hughes, Ryan Reynolds, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Gwyneth Paltrow, Howie Mandel, Ellen Degeneres, Brad Pitt and many others are speaking out.

So am I. I have also been a victim of depression. In late 2000, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. How could this happen to me? I was supposed to be a helper, not someone who needed to help. I was supposed to be a paragon of faith.

But I wasn’t. I was a priest, for God’s sake, so I tried to keep it private. I just couldn’t let anyone know about how deeply I was struggling to make sense of it all.

Then it all came crashing down around me. I couldn’t hold it together anymore. My whole world became a black hole, sucking my very soul from me. So I made a plan to say goodbye to it all. Literally. I made a suicide plan, and I was this close to carrying it out.

It was only by sheer grace that someone found me in time and called the police who took me to the Mental Health Ward of the hospital in Regina. I was involuntarily committed. For 72 hours, nurses watched me carefully. All I had was some loose–fitting hospital pajamas and booties. I couldn’t go anywhere without permission. I wasn’t allowed to do anything without being watched.

For me, a large part of the problem was that stigma about mental health. It was ok to admit that you’ve got a broken leg, to get it looked after and wear a cast. But it was not ok to admit that your thoughts and your emotions are spiralling out of control. So I hid it. I tried to deal with it all on my own—which is exactly the worst thing to do when you’re depressed.

But when I could no longer avoid admitting that I needed help, the first thing I experienced was a profound sense of relief. I wasn’t alone anymore. I didn’t have to worry about keeping up appearances. My dark secret was out in the open.

Guess what? The world didn’t end. Quite the opposite. A whole new world was born. People sat with me in the darkness of my depression, and told me that I was loved and that I had value as a human being.

As time went on, I began to get the help I needed from some caring, compassionate and tough psychiatric nurses, as well as family and friends. Once I had admitted in that moment of desperation that I couldn’t do it by myself, the healing began.

It wasn’t easy. It’s pretty scary to admit our need and to become vulnerable. But I also know that’s the moment when my life began again. And to be completely honest, I still don’t have it all together. And that’s ok.

I know what the dark abyss looks like. I have danced on the edge of that abyss. I came this close to throwing myself over the edge.

My depression seduced me. It offended and teased me. It frightened me and drew me in. It tempted me with its promise of sweet oblivion and squirmed past my defenses. I couldn’t choose a healthier way because depression had invaded my tired spirit. It took me over, so that I could hardly imagine what it was like to live without it … or to imagine that I might ever live that way again. It becomes familiar. All of a sudden, I found myself enslaved to the very thing that terrified me the most. Everything else slides—your friendships, your marriage, your work, your self–worth, but I scarcely noticed. To be depressed was to be half in love with disaster.

I’m not alone. Neither are you.

The Canadian Mental Health Association is holding a Vigil this Sunday at 8 pm in front of the Dairy Queen to mark World Suicide Prevention Day. The theme is “Take a minute, change a life.”

Please come. Join me and others as we remember. Take a minute. Think. Pray. Light a candle. Change a life.

And if you are struggling with depression and suicide, please come. Talk with someone who understands, someone who can help.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook

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