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…
Dear Dr. Greg,
I’m writing in response to your series entitled “Catholics & Depression, Anxiety, & Mental/Emotional Illness. What is Your Experience?”
As a Catholic Christian woman who has struggled to cope with mental and emotional illness for nearly 25 years, I am grateful for the time, energy, and expertise you shar
e through your blog Faith on the Couch. Your ministry to those of us who exist on the emotional and psychological margins of society is, as I see it, a brilliant example of obedience to Pope Francis’ recent teachings.
It would be easy for me to go into great detail about my story, the journey I’ve been on for so long, but I am not sure if most of it would have any relevance to your questions. Having said that, I will try to summarize my history into bullet points of the kind of treatments I have undergone/sought for the major depression and anxiety disorder I have been diagnosed with:
- Drugs – tricyclics in the early 90s, then when those didn’t work, MAOIs. Trials of almost all the SSRIs. Currently I take Wellbutrin 150mg daily, and have for a number of years gotten varying degrees of relief. Lorazepam as needed for anxiety, which happens to be about every third or fourth day.
- ECT – during the mid to late 90s I had (to the best of my recollection) several regimens of ECT. As evidence by the fact that I am writing to you 15 years later, they worked.
- Hospitalization – both inpatient and outpatient partial hospitalization during the worst of the illness in the 90s.
- Psychotherapy - currently I see a (Christian, but not Catholic) psychiatrist every other week for an hour of therapy, which at this point consists of me talking to her about whatever issue is causing me the most emotional turmoil in my life at the moment. We spend a lot of time challenging my thought processes. I met this young doctor when she was just beginning her practice and have been with her for 8 years now.
- Seeking help in the Church – most of the help I have sought has been in the form of the Sacrament of Confession. There was a newly ordained priest assigned to my parish several years ago, with whom I had spoken outside the confessional a number of times. At first my visits were of some benefit, but when he got transferred to another parish it was more difficult to get an appointment with him. Then his willingness to see me in person evolved into a brief phone call. Recently transferred again (typical diocesan activity with our young priests) and due to his ever-increasingly-busy schedule, I no longer feel he has time to help me. I currently have no priest with whom I can discuss the spiritual aspects of this illness. Several times over the years I have requested and received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. It would have been good to hear a priest voluntarily suggest it, but the fact is that I requested it every time. I was left with the impression that I just wasn’t “sick enough to qualify”.
- To combat my strong tendency to isolate myself when I am feeling particularly depressed, a year ago I joined a prayer group at my church. This group of 15 women meets every other week to study St. Faustina’s book Divine Mercy in My Soul and to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. There are a few women in the group who are supportive, but my deeply-seated difficulty trusting others has caused me to withdraw from regular attendance. My emotional meltdowns are unpredictable and embarrassing, and the group setting causes me discomfort.
- I have come to the conclusion that, for me, it is far too easy to place unreasonably high expectations upon people in the Church. It has been rare for someone, priest or laity, to do or say something that effects a permanent healing of my body, mind, and spirit. I recognize that the fact that I am writing to you means that I have not completely given up hope in some kind of healing from God through His people, the Church. I beg your prayers.
- The most helpful books I have ever read were written by the late Conrad Baars, MD and his daughter. Born Only Once struck me to my very core and has a permanent place in my library. Feeling and Healing Your Emotions provided the comfort of a meaningful explanation of the emotional wounds that have probably been a part of me since childhood.
- I have one Catholic
female friend who I can occasionally call upon for support and encouragement. She is the mother of six children and one grandchild and so I try not to lean on her heavily, because she is quite busy.
Again, I am grateful to you for existence of your blog that I can turn to for support. Thank you for listening to me.
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