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Column Beurskens: Depression

The catholic church is almost always having a feast. That is what she is all about, because she has a good message to convey. The catholic calendar comprises so many feast-days, that even our economy cannot afford to allow days off for them. That’s why people should be glad to be alive. Still there are people of whom Saint Teresa of Avila speaks here … the lord is also in the habit of sending the most grievous infirmities. This is a much greater trial, especially if the pains are severe; in some ways, when they are very acute, I think they are the greatest earthly trials that exist … For they affect the soul both outwardly and inwardly, till it becomes so much oppressed as not to know what to do with itself.

Once -some time in the nineties- I was on a boat alongside Manhattan, a trip over the Hudson and the East River. The view on the skyline of New York City was breathtaking. No sound came through to the boat. Only the silent hum of the ship’s engines and the languid slap of the waves on the hull. From the viewpoint so low above the water-line the spectacle seemed to emanate an eery, silent power. On Manhattan nothing disrupts the confidence of the people. On this indestructible rock reality is being controlled, or so it looks like. Some skyscrapers have gilded rooftops and they shine out in the sun. I heard that those are owned by insurance-companies. The institutions which rid us of our insecurity apparently fare best.

By myself I thought so people never get mad here then? That would be too good to be true. Some time later the ship passed a colossal building on the other shore, a gigantic, threatening block of an undeterminable color. This is -so we were being told- the psychiatric hospital of New York, one of the, because there are more. This reassured me a bit, because there are situations which should make people depressed, otherwise something is amiss in mind or feeling.

Depressions really can be hell on earth and very often one cannot discard them as illness. Many patients recognize themselves in the words of Saint Teresa. They ask themselves why they are feeling so unhappy, while at the same time their lives seem in such an excellent order. Some depressions cannot be comprehended by science. Prozac in the drinking water will not solve every problem. Happily enough many doctors are larger than their science. They realize that there is another shore. Without this insight many a depression would be without hope. The famous theologist Romano Guardini calls depression the perturbation of man in the proximity of the Eternal. And the prophet Isaiah I will make you ride over the summits of the earth. The good message is really there, for everyone. No exceptions allowed. Nobody ever is lost. So still glad to be alive.