As a priest, I have come to learn more about PTSD, depression, and anxiety, especially their dangerous suicidal tendencies. Many people go day to day, hiding their hurts and struggles very well, yet bearing the pains and sufferings deep from within. Some people have constant, daily struggles while others, episodic or sporadic by particular events, people, or things that trigger them. Some express their pains with anger, while others with self-blame. Sometimes, the pains are too much that they feel like they want to escape and end it all. Yet, many still courageously choose to fight the battle and we have to understand, have mercy and compassion, especially patience and empathy to accompany them as caring people.
Coming from an Asian and Vietnamese background, we really never talked about these psychological struggles. These matters are something that people do not talk about because they are either seen as a stigma or excuse. Many people even thought of them as simple weaknesses of the mind that can be overcome by the will. Some even struggled to empathize and sympathize with people who have psychological problems. That is why when they are psychologically struggling, they do not want to accept help. God forbids if there is a suggestion to talk to a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist! People think to seek professional help equates to being labeled as psychos, weakling, or pathetic persons. Sad to say, this is not something particular to my culture. Many cultures share the same reservations and stigmas.
Different people, with different personalities, family and cultural backgrounds, react and respond to matters differently. Often times, our error lies in our general presumptions and assumptions of how things should be or they should behave. Not everyone is like us or have similar understanding, experiences, or skillsets that at we have. It is often from our presumptions and expectations that we miss the mark and misunderstand people. Problems arise when we think that everyone is like us and think like us or should be like us! Nevertheless, everyone is different. Not everyone has the same family of origin like us; therefore, we cannot expect or demand that all skillsets or experiences are the same. Just like some are more intuitive and considerate than others, some are more in touch with their feelings and emotions than others. Some are more introvert as others are more extrovert. Some think more while others put their trust in how they sense things. These are just some examples; however, they are real reminders that we all come from different backgrounds, have different thought patterns, modes of thinking, natural ways to operate, and of course, our own blind spots.
I am naturally an introvert, so I keep a lot of things to myself and has to process many matters by myself. Yet, through my seminary formation, I had to learn to share and be attentive of other ways people process things and understand life. Even though I am very intuitive, I had to learn that my intuition, presumptions, assumptions of matters (especially people) are not always right. Even though I pay attention to a lot of small details, observant of people and things, my judgment and thoughts of them are not always correct. I had to learn to be in touch with my feelings just as to learn how to sense and understand matters in different a different way than what I am naturally accustomed to. It is so easy to look at all things through our own natural lenses and let our personal judgments color the world and define people around us. Yet this is the exact problem with our world! Too many of us expect people to be like us and up to our standards without getting to know them. We expect matters to be according to us and our understanding of things without willing to step outside of our own blind spots in order to widen our vision.
It is easy to walk through life angry and frustrating because “People don’t get it!” without looking at our own ignorances and presumptions, especially our blind spots and our hypocritical demands of others. We can go through life with our eyes fixed on our own little goals and expectations, yet missing the people who are on the peripheries of our standards and visions. It is important to recognize that we are not alone nor are we the sole standards of judgment and truth. We all need to learn and relearn empathy in order to put into practice the necessary implementation of compassion and mercy. Our world gets colder, impersonal, and sometimes even inhumane, because we — individually and collectively — have chosen to lose touch of what makes us humans. When we do not have empathy, we lose touch of a very important aspect of what makes our hearts move, be in touch, and able to care. The world gets colder, we get farther apart, and people stop caring when we are too focused on our own personal goods, worrying only about our needs, or only care to judge others from our own lenses and expectations without getting to know the people around us.
If we are not careful, our struggles will make our lives become more miserable and pathetic, hence affecting our relationship with others. It is too easy to make other people suffer because we do not like them or because we are miserable in our own lives. Also, it is tempting to only worry about our own problems and be stuck in our own little circles than to care about others who are around us. These excuses and self-centered desires are the exact reasons why our world becomes less aware of one another, lacking real communication, hard to be present to those around us, and having reservations about being genuine and transparent with each other. On the other hand, we can be so focused on ourselves that we think that we are the only one who is suffering or have it bad, yet blinded and ignorance of other people who around us. It is too easy for us to stop caring, become hard-hearted, lacking in compassion and mercy for others because we are too worried about our own problems or worrying about making ourselves known. Yet, in the midst of it all, we are called to lift up our hearts and allow ourselves to see the intimate and personal understanding of solidarity and communion, knowing that we are not alone or meant to be alone.
For those who are struggling with depression and anxiety, please know that you are not alone! It is so important when the cycle hits or episodic attacks come not to lock yourself in your own self. The Devil can manipulate and plays with our feelings and emotions to make us think that no one cares about us and that we are locked in our own circles of hell without any escape. He always wants to make up lies, deceives, and plays with our minds, filling us with doubts and despairs. At those moments when we feel desolated and alone, we have to do what seems to be unnatural by going outside of ourselves as to seek help from others. Many of us have seen and can testify that things can get out of hand real fast or that we can stay in the depressive or anxious state for a good while if we do not get help! It is very easy to let our emotions and feelings play tricks on us, hence intensified and manipulated by the evil one, to make us feel like we are trapped without no escape.
I have been taught and given the similar advice to many people who are fighting with depression and anxiety to reflect, understanding, and put into practice real, practical alternatives, checkpoints, and signs as to help us become attentive when red flags begin to appear. If we do not know ourselves, put up safety perimeters, and have practical alternatives along the way, we will find ourselves lost (or trapped) a little bit too late. Also, please have people that you can check in and keep you accountable, too. It is important to have a trusting relationship of someone who can keep us grounded and someone we can trust to listen to when there are too many negative voices in our own mind. Lastly, the struggle with depression and anxiety is a lifelong battle. It is not something short or with an immediate solution. Just like sobriety, any type of substance or behavioral dependency, it is important to understand that it is a part of us but it is not everything of us. We do have the power to choose not to be controlled by it every single moment! We will have our struggles. We might fail and make mistakes. Yet, it is important to know when to stand up and walk again. We can all learn from our mistakes and failures, and these are where wisdom is taught and experiences form us.
No matter our struggles are, it is always important that we do not fight them alone or keep them as secrets and to ourselves. It is so important to walk the journey toward recovery and transformation with people who we can trust so that we have people who can lift us up and keep us going when we feel like we are abandoned and by ourselves. It is important not to run away from the problem, ignore it, or put it on others, but honestly and humbly deal with it with prudence, perseverance, and grace personally and with the help of others. No matter where you are, you and I can only try our best with what we have and as we are. Therefore, do not be afraid or give up! We can only try our best, slowly but steady, little by little to embrace the struggles and to overcome them with the grace of God, with perseverance, and with the help of those who care for us. May the Lord be with you and be the source of your comfort and strength.