We all know the various downsides to being single. We get lonely. We get bored. Sometimes we can feel like we’re not worth much. But there’s one negative aspect to single life than can turn severe, even deadly: depression.
I’m not talking about feeling bummed out because you can’t find a date or the occasional passing blues. I’m talking about serious clinical depression.
Depression is no respecter of persons. It can strike anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, religion, or social status. But in some ways, singles may be uniquely susceptible to it. Sometimes, certain life conditions — loneliness, stress, feeling undesirable — can trigger a longer lasting clinical depression.
Several years ago, I went through a long season of depression. I’d be driving along and, for no apparent reason, I’d start crying. The sadness was overwhelming, like a sinister, alien grief that had invaded my chest and brain. Activities that normally gave me pleasure, like reading books or seeing movies, no longer affected me. The whole world felt heavy. I couldn’t imagine a future with any hope.
I went to therapy to figure out why I was feeling so sad. In therapy, I identified certain life events and circumstances that could explain why I felt depressed. And it was helpful to talk with a trained counselor about those things. But no matter how much I talked, the depression didn’t lift.
It continued relentlessly.
During this dark season, I told my mother and father about my struggle. To my surprise, they both revealed that they had suffered clinical depression at some point in their lives. Maybe I was genetically predisposed to melancholy? Who knows? So much about depression is still a mystery.
But one thing is for sure: Just as our bodies get sick, our minds can get sick too. The insidious thing about depression, though, is that you don’t look sick to others. Physically, you appear normal, when in reality you may be in so much suffering that you need bed rest. Job describes this internal agony:
I have been allotted months of futility,
and nights of misery have been assigned to me.
When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’
The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,
and they come to an end without hope.
Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again.
This is a remarkably accurate description of clinical depression. Was Job depressed? Of course, and for good reason. He had lost everything. But unlike Job, today we have access to medication that can help alleviate our depression.
At first, I resisted medication, thinking I would eventually get better with just therapy and time. But I didn’t get better. So I finally caved in and got a prescription from a psychiatrist.
At first, nothing changed. So I tried a new combination of meds. Then one morning I woke up, sat on the edge of my bed and felt…normal. Not super-happy. Just not super-sad. The depression was gone.
Today I still feel fine. And I still take medication.
Some say that Christians shouldn’t feel depressed, as if we’re somehow immune from the normal ravages that come with being human. But Christians get sick just like anyone else. And sick people take medicine. You wouldn’t tell a diabetic not to take insulin. In the same way, we shouldn’t tell depressed Christians not to take medicine if they need it.
In addition to medication, there are other good suggestions to help stave off depression:
One, as Catholics, we can go to Mass and fill ourselves with the goodness of the Scriptures, the Eucharist, and fellowship.
Two, surround yourself with community. Don’t just sit around being lonely. Develop friendships, go out and do things, spend time with people.
Three, get exercise. Running, walking, playing a sport, any kind will do.
Finally, try to keep things in perspective. The fact that you’re single or going through a crisis probably doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. Whatever your circumstances, most things are not “all good” or “all bad.” Usually, life falls somewhere in between.
But if these things don’t help and you’ve been feeling unreasonably sad for more than two weeks straight, you may be looking at a more serious problem, and you should talk to a doctor about what to do. There is always hope that you can feel better. I’m proof of that.