I have a passionate devotion to Divine Mercy. I sing the Chaplet and pray this prayer of surrender, “Jesus, help the signature of my life be the signature of your Divine Mercy, ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’ ” And I strive to live that surrender minute by minute. But as I fell deeper and deeper into the dark hole of depression a couple of years ago, the prayer began to sit on my heart like a heavy weight. It made it hard for me to breathe.
When you are depressed, you are trying to articulate a pain you don’t understand. A tiredness for which there are no words. A despondency you are sure makes you immoveable. And a crisis of faith that echoes with one deep, begging question, “Where are you, God?” And the replies come from those who love you: “It will get better. God’s got you.” “Just turn it over to him. He works miracles.” “Have you asked God to heal you?” “Trust him. He has a plan.” All true. And all, for me in that moment, useless advice.
As depression engulfed me, everything was filtered through a fog of despair. All the encouragement to trust God and his providence became either a criticism of me for not being able to heal myself with my faith, or a criticism of God for not being willing to heal me.
What I discovered, thankfully, in time to save me from the rapid spiral of depression, is that sometimes faith, hope, and love in an intangible spiritual sense are not the answers to our desperate need. Sometimes we can’t find safety and solace in prayer and in the Church because we are no longer safe to ourselves. Sometimes faith alone is not enough to save us.
For me, safety came in the form of a hospital bed, a caring and attentive psychiatrist, pharmaceutical drugs, a month of intensive psychological care, and continues today with the same components to maintain my mental health. There was a point when I thought a diagnosis of bipolar disorder meant I was made all wrong, called into question God’s reliability, made it even harder to trust him. With a couple of years of good mental health care, what I now know is that I am not that diagnosis. I am not bipolar. I have bipolar. The way I have green eyes and dark hair and an unnaturally loud laugh.
Learning to live with mental illness was a long process. Learning to trust God again has been an even longer one. The truth is the mercy of God is in the faces of the professionals who sort through my pain with me and guide me to healing. The wisdom of God is in the scientists who can put my brain chemicals back together with a tiny blue pill. The delight of God is in me recognizing that my life matters enough to pursue what I need to live it fully awake and alive.
It turns out that where God was in my depression was waiting behind the office doors of that psychiatrist and under the lid of a prescription bottle, and in my darkest doubts and deepest fears. Depression has taught me that perhaps the greatest act of trust is to know that how God heals us is way less important than how he loves us. And that he loves us in the dark as much as he loves us in the light. That he loves the mentally ill parts of us as much as he loves the spiritually healthy parts of us. And that sometimes he hands us that love in the encouragement of our faith, and sometimes he hands it to us in a little blue pill that gives us eyes to see again.