How Being Tested by Depression Brought Growth

Man holding lamp in the darkness

How Being Tested by Depression Brought Growth


Here's something not everyone knows about me: a few times in my life, I've had to deal with depression.

When I was a teenager I struggled with it quite a bit, like a dark cloud that just followed me around wherever I went. There were periods where it was really apparent, and then maybe a year or so where it wasn't that bad. When it was bad it was hard to see anything in a positive light. It felt like I was just grinding along in life without any real reason to be. The future? Why be hopeful about it? The present is such a struggle, why would I assume things will get better?

Depression and hope have a hard time co-existing.

Looking back on that time I can see a lot of things that contributed to my depression. I don't mean to say there is a simple cause, as depression is often a combination of things- situational, biological, hormonal, relational, developmental, etc. I do think that a couple of these were at play in my depression, but I also think that personal decisions played a part. Prominently among them was a tendency I had to refuse to forgive people that I felt hurt by.

I outgrew this tendency in my 20s, and also experienced a resurgence in my faith (maybe there was a strong correlation here). This period of my life was marked by great joy and happiness, and I felt largely liberated from depression. I looked back at it and chalked it up to adolescent challenges and filed it under "simply part of growing up."

Then, not so long ago, it returned.

When depression hit me this time I was already married and a father. Still a man of faith, I looked around my life and had really everything I ever wanted. Beautiful wife. Wonderful kids. A relationship with God. What was there to be depressed about?

Because everything was so good in my life I had a very hard time accepting that I was depressed. But those close to me could see that I wasn't quite myself- I looked tired; I didn't have my regular wit and quick quips; I wasn't smiling or laughing much; I was impatient and easily frustrated, overly critical, etc. I had anxiety about many things.

I didn't feel like myself, either. I felt like I was stuck with someone else's personality.

Depression made me feel like I was stuck with someone else's personality. #BellLetsTalk

This time, depression really snuck up on me. But one of the blessings of having experienced it before was that I knew people to talk to about it- my family doctor, a counsellor, a psychiatrist, my spiritual director, family members.... I really did struggle though with telling friends. Part of me (a big part) really wanted my depression to remain a secret. I didn't want to appear weak. I would share with them that I had anxiety (which in my case was a symptom of depression), because anxiety didn't sound as bad. Depression was going to be my dark secret.

While I was depressed there was a campaign going on in Canada called Let's Talk. It was about public figures opening up about having depression, and I have to say that hearing stories of others who knew what I was experiencing was a great light in my darkness. I didn't feel so isolated or alone. (Update: When writing this post I would have never guessed that I would one day be approached by the Bell Let's Talk campaign to share my story.)

It was such an immense relief because one of the challenges of having depression is feeling like no one can quite understand what you're going through. If friends haven't experienced it, they might think it's just an extended bad mood. "We all have bad days", they might say. They try to empathize but you feel like you're speaking two different languages, across a wide chasm.

This is the main reason that I am writing about my depression.

If you are experiencing depression, you are not alone. You are not fundamentally flawed. You are not a lost cause. You just, have, depression. Other people have other crosses to carry, and this one is yours.

Related articles: I Really Hate Depression, but it Has an Upside; and How to Walk Tall as a Christian with Depression

That said, you need to talk about it. There are varying levels of severity of depression. Talk to your doctor if you think it is serious. One resource for counselling for non-major depression would be Catholic Family Services. Also, I would recommend that everyone have a spiritual director, depressed or not.

Here are some things I look at in my life to help stay positive and avoid those extended grinds that can lead to depression: regular exercise; good nutrition; regular sleep; regular prayer; slow-paced weekends; hobbies. It's really important to look at your habits critically and see what can contribute to negative thoughts/feelings.

Take frequent advantage of the grace available to you in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Communion; crank up the volume on a song of praise to the Lord, and praise and thank Him for his goodness even if you don't feel like it; read scripture daily, and keep some passages in your back pocket for days that you are feeling down. Here's one:

"For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says The Lord. Plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope." (Jer 29:11)

Pray for the theological virtue of hope. Prayer is always fruitful.

I hope that my reflection has offered something of value to you. Whatever cross you may be carrying, may it bring you closer to the heart of the Lord, Who never leaves us alone in our pain.


If you found this article to be useful, please consider sharing it. You never know who in your life might be struggling quietly. 

Additional resources: The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments, and Psychiatry Can Help You Break Its Grip and Find Happiness Againby Aaron Kheriaty, and Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones, by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. 

*This post was originally titled "My Dark Secret"

If you are experiencing depression, you are not alone. You are not fundamentally flawed. You are not a lost cause. — Josh Canning

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