Would you believe that Francis of Assisi experienced depression during his life? The first time was around the age of 20, after he was taken prisoner and spent a year in a damp dungeon in a town not far from Assisi, after a deadly war. It was there, in Perugia, that he became very ill and disillusioned, and lost his passion for life. His greatest dreams had gone up in smoke: his love for the tales of chivalry, for love songs and for beautiful women. He had wanted to become a knight in order to make justice reign everywhere, but now he was just depressed, like many young people today.
The term depression, as we know, refers to a loss of zest for life (lack of energy, low self-esteem, pessimism). People who are depressed lose their enthusiasm, and they experience various physical and psychological symptoms. Signs of depression include anxiety, fatigue, sadness, negative or gloomy thoughts, obsessions and even suicidal tendencies. There are a number of causes that are linked to trauma: sorrow, stress and grief of all kinds. The medical side cannot be overlooked, but talking about it and being accompanied by someone is a huge step in the right direction. And it’s often the best step.
When I look at the youth of my country, when I see so many who are depressed, who are driven to escape into alcohol or drugs, it breaks my heart.
Neil Young, in his song “Helpless,” talks about suffering, about shadows on our eyes leaving us helpless, helpless, helpless. The worst part is, people who are depressed close themselves off from others, and can hear almost nothing except the cries of their own suffering, which block out other people’s words.
Baby, can you hear me now?
The chains are locked and tied across the door,
Baby, sing with me somehow.
Those who are depressed are not deaf by choice: they cannot be any other way, because of the storm that is washing over them. It’s not easy to take the first step, which will lead them out of their dark dungeon! But that is what they must do: ask for help and be open to it. I invite you to go to YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gKwjxF7ilI) and reflect on Neil Young’s “Helpless.”
Jesus Christ and Francis of Assisi would invite those who are broken-hearted, who feel helpless, to take steps to break out of their black hole. Jesus and Francis would shout at the tops of their voices that anyone who is depressed can break free and can gradually rediscover their interests and enthusiasm for life. The WORD changes EVERYTHING in our lives!
Roland Bonenfant ofm