During this yearlong Jubilee of Mercy, Catholics acknowledge God’s infinite forgiveness and mercy. Significantly, the Year of Mercy logo shows Jesus – the personification of Mercy – carrying a lost man on His shoulders. Emphasizing how deeply our Savior touches us, His eyes merge with those of the man He carries.
As we contemplate God’s infinite mercy, it is timely that the Diocese of Orange hosts the annual Forum on Mental Illness on Jan. 28 at Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish in Newport Beach.
Those of us who suffer from mental illness – and whose loved ones live with it – appreciate that the mercy of God sustains us even in the worst of times. This week’s forum promises to offer new insight into mental illness, support for sufferers and their families, and important local resources.
Mental illness retains its stigma. Like the lost man in the Year of Mercy logo, the mentally ill suffer despair. Like most mentally ill individuals, I’ve suffered without sharing my pain – I feared losing my career, friendships and family. As I meditate on this Year of Mercy, however, I recognize that Jesus carries me in my darkest hours. His mercy makes it possible for me to go on when I think all is lost.
I’ve suffered from major depression for most of my adult life. Normally it’s well-controlled with talk therapy and antidepressants; occasionally I miss a day or two of work because I can’t function. Rarely, I experience darkness so profound that death seems a welcome relief.
Such was the case in summer 2013. I hadn’t recognized the signs, which must have been coming on slowly, but on Saturday, July 5, I completely broke down: I couldn’t leave the house, eat, sleep or concentrate. Nothing could console me. For weeks I sat nearly catatonic, staring into space, my sadness so deep that even breathing was difficult. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling ‘normal’ again.
I was lucky. My psychiatrist and my husband took over and found the antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication that worked. I saw a psychotherapist during five long weeks of disability leave. Through the agony I wrote in my journal and called silently for God’s help. He answered, at first faintly and then more loudly, His presence apparent in the patient love of my husband, the support of my three children, the caring of a few close friends.
It cheers me to know that society is progressing toward acceptance and encouragement of those of us who suffer. I’m proud that here in Orange County the Church is working with leaders of other denominations and advocates to identify and assist mentally ill individuals. I pray that this holy Year of Mercy prompts all Catholics to extend love and mercy to all those who suffer.