The other day, I spent some time at the Broad Museum in Downtown LA. Modern art is unique, graphic, and sometimes downright weird, and until this day I didn’t have much appreciation for it. But when I saw this particular painting, the first thing I thought was, “I’ve felt this before.” And for the first time in my life, I think I began to actually understand modern art. It begs to be different and to stir up some reaction or interpretation from the viewer. For me, it inspired a need to respond as well. That night, I decided to go home and share about my journey with anxiety and depression.
Invisible Sun by Julie Mehretu
I’ve always been an anxious girl, ever since I can remember. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of fear and uncertainty. I would say I had a mostly happy and privileged childhood, but it also included a lot of pain and suffering that I didn’t know how to address as a kid. Even in my early toddler years, I began to self-soothe with destructive behaviors.
I believe my anxiety stemmed from a need for perfection. I feared making any tiny mistake that would result in me being unloved or being a disappointment. It was a belief that I was not good enough, that I could never be good enough, and therefore, I was unworthy of love. When you’re a little kid who doesn’t know how to verbalize what’s going on in your interior world, these feelings can become internalized and end up being something you have to fight every day, possibly for the rest of your life.
As a teenager, I fell into depression without even realizing it. I had a lot of friends and I considered myself a pretty happy person. But I had not developed a good sense of self-awareness or emotional maturity to even realize how depressed I was until I tried to take my own life one day. I didn’t get psychiatric help or counseling at the time because I was a minor and the adults in my life believed I just “wanted attention” or that I needed to just “snap out of it”. Because this made me feel even more ashamed about my attempted suicide, I didn’t even tell my closest friends about what had happened.
After years of self-medicating and feeling like there was a constant dark cloud hanging over me, I took some psychology classes in college and felt determined to get some help. It was a decision I will never regret and I have no shame in saying that I see a therapist regularly, to this day, in order to address my struggles with anxiety. It’s also something I bring up in confession or ask prayers for quite often.
As a wife and mother, I’ve struggled with postpartum depression, feelings of inadequacy, and a lack of control over my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes I have irrational fears that I am traumatizing my kids, that my husband will suddenly leave me, that I was never meant to be a mother, and that I don’t deserve my family. Sometimes I get tempted to revert back to those self-destructive behaviors to cope with my feelings. It is a daily reminder that these thoughts are truly irrational, that all the evidence points against them, and that I need to pray more than ever to fight the temptation of these anxious thoughts. There are days where I make great progress. There are days where I feel like I am starting from Day 1 and it is incredibly frustrating. But with each day I decide to try again, I am filling up my toolbox with coping strategies that work for me. And instead of fear and anxiety, I hope that it is perseverance and healthy habits that I am passing onto my children when they see my willingness to work on becoming a better version of myself.
I’m sharing all of this to say 4 things:
1. If you struggle with anxiety and/or depression, know this: you are NOT alone. Many people also deal with this, whether they are diagnosed or not. Anxiety and depression look different in every person and can manifest in a myriad of ways. Even the most seemingly happy person in your life or the person who has an incredible relationship with God can be fighting anxiety and depression. We are all on this journey together.
2. There is no shame – ABSOLUTELY NO SHAME - in seeking help. It is the best thing you can do for yourself. The notion that seeking therapy makes you a “crazy person” or “weak” is so far from the truth. There is no benefit in stuffing your feelings down and refusing to be vulnerable. Yes, prayer is absolutely instrumental in your healing process. Yes, the Sacrament of Confession can renew and free you from the bondage of sin and temptation. But sometimes, seeking professional help from a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist is necessary in taking concrete, practical, and medical steps to making yourself whole again.
3. If you have a friend that confides in you and tells you he or she is suicidal or hurting him or herself, the best way you can love that person is to tell someone. A trusted adult, your school counselor, his or her parent, just tell someone. I know it sounds counterintuitive, especially when this person is trusting you with extremely vulnerable and sensitive information and is even asking you to keep it a secret. Keeping it a secret is not having their best interest in mind. Show this person how much you care by praying for him or her and supporting them as they get help.
4. I am praying for you. Please pray for me. Please know that you are a child of God, loved beyond measure by The Perfect Father. You are worthy of this perfect love because Jesus Christ decided you are. He decided to die on a cross for you, so that you would know how worthy you are. You have so much good to give to the world and the devil will try to pin you down and snuff out your light by distorting the truth and whispering lies into your ear when you are alone with your thoughts. Don’t let the devil win. Live your life in joy and hope and freedom, confident of your place in God’s kingdom and the legions of angels who fight for you, the Saints who pray for you, and the people in your life who love you.
This is the last art installation I saw that day at the Broad Museum: The famous Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away by Yayoi Kusama. As I stepped into this room alone, I was immersed into another world – a world of hope and peace and wonder. A little taste of heaven. To me, every single dazzling light represented a soul who loves you, in this world and in the next, connected through One Body of Christ. They are the ones who are right next to you cheering you on, and the Saints who are an endless number of miles away, praying for you. Don’t give up. God is with you. You are not alone.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:1-2)
Catholic Therapists - http://www.CatholicTherapists.com
Find A Therapist - https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/