By JJ Cephas
Not tonight. Things have to get better right? This can’t be the end of my story.
When I was 14, I learned what it meant to experience despair. I walked into a church, sat in one of the front most pews, went through all the motions of the mass, feeling nothing. I felt cut off from everyone around me, even the Lord, who was right in front of me. What I didn’t know then, and what I do now, is that would begin my long journey with mental health. For the next five years, I would spend hours each night questioning if tonight was the night I take my own life.
Depression is not something you stumble into by accident. It isn’t randomly found flipping through a magazine or surfing the internet. Depression slowly creeps into your life. It seeps in by the way we wish we could have more followers on Instagram, or how we wish we could have the best clothes, or have the best voice in car rides singing along to whatever Spotify playlist you have on that day.
Depression and its friends, anxiety and suicidal ideation, are much like a tsunami. When a tsunami happens, it isn’t a giant wave all at once that engulfs the coastal cities. It starts with water reaching farther inland in rather unnoticeable lengths and volume, until you’re at the edge of the beach and can put your feet in the water. You try to retreat back into the city, but there it comes, pushing its way through any barriers. It doesn’t mind your persistence– it will greet you in the end. But still, you retreat back, and still, the water rises up to your knees, and then you see the larger than life wave in front of you. Then, it devours you.
My life was overwhelmed by depression. I learned to fake a smile, act like everything was okay, and to keep my heart far away from anyone, even the Lord, behind the walls depression had built. Meanwhile, anxiety taught me to fear ever being noticed, to have a stutter when I was speaking to other people, and to never want to meet anyone new, for what if they saw me as worthless as I saw myself?
After depression and anxiety took their hold on me, that’s when thoughts of suicide entered into my mind. Without fail, every night, I would wrestle with myself to not take my own life.
In the midst of all this darkness, when I was a junior in high school, some might say at the peak of my depression, I went on a retreat in a last ditch effort. It was to be the last chance the Lord had to bring me back to him. His last chance to show me I was his beloved son. Man, did he deliver.
The theme for the retreat was “Mask Off.” We talked the first night about how we all wear these masks and this weekend we were encouraged to take them off. In obedience to my promise to the Lord, I took mine off. The next day, February 4th 2017, would change my life forever. So many beautiful things happened that day: I made the best confession of my life, truly basked in creation for a whole hour by myself, was reminded of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for me, and then, in the most pure crescendo of love, went to adoration.
I went into adoration not knowing what to expect. I knew what was supposed to happen, but I didn’t know what the Father had in store for me that night. As Christ was placed on the altar, sitting inside the monstrance, I began to sob. For the first time since I had been a young boy, I felt his love and His grace flow into my heart. I felt Him hold me, as I sobbed in his arms like a small child, begging Him to help me understand why He loved me so much when I couldn’t even love myself. He simply replied in my heart “I just do.” It was the most pure, unconditional love I believe any human to ever exist could have experienced.
Unfortunately, I didn’t just magically have depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation lifted off of my shoulders in one day, but for the first time, I knew I had someone carrying that cross with me.
The next two years were not easier, if anything they were filled with more confusion and anger at the Lord for not making it so easy as he had in the North Georgia mountains. Nevertheless, on the night before I entered the 20th year of my life, I declared to my 400 instagram followers that my 19th year of life was filled with more good days than bad, and by a large margin.
When we hear “mental health,” many thoughts—both positive and negative—may arise, but maybe we should start thinking, how can I help? The best advice I can offer is to love. Love everyone like Christ loves them. I cannot tell you how many times my life was saved by a friend, most of the time a stranger even, loving me with a smile or a hello. A smile can save a life.
If you are someone who is like me, who has or is currently struggling with mental health problems like depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, etc., please know the Father loves you. He doesn’t care how unworthy of his love you feel. Believe me, I tried to convince him so many times that I wasn’t worthy, yet He still loves me today.
If you are struggling, reach out. Don’t believe you can do this on your own. You can’t. You need the support you will get from your friends and family. Look up local therapists in your area, seek out a priest you trust, or seek out a trusted teacher or youth minister. I was able to climb out of my dark pit that I had been trapped in for so long because I asked for help. Please, do the same. You will be amazed at what will happen when you do.