A new post in our What’s Your Experience? Series, in which People-of-Faith share their experience of depression, anxiety, and other mental illness as they relate to their parish and their Catholic faith. W. a young woman in her 20’s writes of her experience with a disorder that leads to overwhelming and violent bouts of anxiety and anger.
I’m a young adult, in my early 20s. It was only in college that major emotional wounds inflicted by my father manifested in what certain Catholic psychologists term “frustration neurosis” — a condition in which emotions aren’t repressed but certain emotions are rather totally underdeveloped. An adult suffering from frustration neurosis may react like a child under conditions in which a healthy emotional palette would take completely in stride. It was even more complex for me because I understood so well — too well, perhaps — that my reactions were totally contrary to what they ought to be, and so my frustration manifested themselves in overpowering hysterical “episodes” that were the only medium by which the energy that built up from the stilted emotional growth and my desire for completeness rubbed against each other. These episodes were terrifying — brutal, animalistic, violent, and totally unexpected.
The Lord drew me after Him through the entire process. I consider it a stage of deep purification, for not a single person understood what was going on interiorly until I stumbled — quite providentially, of course — into the path of a spiritual director who understood the ways in the Lord was working on my soul and heart by means of my past and my emotional being. It was very humiliating, very frustrating — and continues to be, to some extent, as this healing takes time, and there are still manifestations. (The particular extremity of my experiences, sometimes relatively public, were totally foreign to my chaplains and those at my university’s ministry. They could only surmise that it was X or Y, depression, for example, but not a single person was able to see everything, understand everything, etc. And the one thing I would say to those souls is that for an individual in my situation what is needed is heroic support — 100x more than they might imagine is necessary. At its worst moments, these kinds of mental illnesses might very literally feel like the end of the world, a black hole, during which faith and hope and charity are strongly tested.)
I think that persons in situations like mine — be it the condition, or the sense of total darkness and desperation that overwhelms them — should remember a few things: The Lord is present always; even Christ, who offered His Spirit into the hands of His Father, did it in anguished darkness. We must offer everything into His Hands and the the hands of His Mama. We must consider this an opportunity for great purification and for an opportunity to imitate Our Lord; there is no greater grace than to understand the passion from within. More practically, I think we must fight to find the right counselor. The counseling world is large, complex, and can be deeply imperfect. I was diagnosed in a multitude of different ways, with many recommendations, and having really no idea what was happening, I did the only thing I could — I laid it out before God, I prayed my fiat, and I waited. It took much humiliation, much frustration, many dark nights before I found the right therapist (and I do think something, somewhere, needs to click to make the arrangement right), but I can say with deep thanks now that I wouldn’t change a thing: I love the Lord with a much purer faith and hope now, and by the time I found this therapist, I didn’t know how to keep anything back. I was in a state of total nakedness and poverty, desperate for healing and clarity, and in the midst of this painful faithfulness, the Lord granted me light.
Do you have a story of a struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional illness? What has your experience in the Church been like? Share your story to help others. I promise anonymity. Please email me at gpopcak@CatholicCounselors.com