From Despair, a Gift

In my late 40’s I suffered a major depression.  That fall into despair was very frightening.  I was unable to work for several months, and the generosity of friends who came to spend time with me, to go for walks, was a beacon to me.  I have never forgotten the kindness of a friend who met me for lunch every week, in a local greasy spoon.

When I returned to work, I spoke honestly about my experience to the people with whom I worked.  I wrote about the depression – I do not say, “my” depression, but rather, I consciously choose to say “the” depression – in a public way.  My therapist later told me that when I came to her after the diagnosis, I said: “this is what it is, let’s work with it.”  That acceptance was a great gift to me, and I remember clearly that at one point, I had said to God: “I can’t let go!”  I didn’t talk to God for a long time after that.  Now, I think that God carried me through.  I had given all I had, all the resources I had to save myself, and I could not save myself.  In my cry, was an admission of my own powerlessness. And in this admission, hope in surrendering to God – although hope did not feel like hope at the time. 

Several years later, a young man came to visit the church where I was a pastor, one Sunday morning.  As was my custom, I was in the sanctuary before worship bagan, to meet and greet folks I did not know.  As I sat with him, and as we talked, I learned that he had been recently discharged from the hospital for a mental illness.  At that moment, I realized clearly that I saw him differently than I would have before my own illness.  It was as if my sight had gone deeper, beyond his outward appearance, beyond his illness, his suffering.  I saw the young man in front of me, afraid, with an illness he would not have chosen.  I saw his vulnerability.  My own fear – call it “stigma” – of a person who was suffering, had left me.

From that day, I have considered the awareness I was given as a gift.  So often our own fears are a barrier to see, to know, to respect the one who is suffering.  I did not see the young man again, although I looked for him.  I think he was an angel who brought me this gift, this awareness, this consciousness.  I am grateful.

From Despair, a Gift… Mary Elyn Bahlert, 2020

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