Loneliness: She has come seeking Jesus
Sometimes, when I read the gospel passage of Jesus’s temptation in the desert, I wonder if it was truly Satan or if, perhaps, the isolation of the desert was driving Jesus crazy; or even if being alone for such a long time is similar to living through hell. It is difficult to be alone all the time.
I’m 34, unmarried and not called to the religious life. I’ve tried it. I believe my vocation is to live as a single person in the world, to spread God’s blessing in my workplace and in my neighbourhood, and to give generously of time, talent and treasure to the work of the Church. It is a beautiful but lonely call.
I work at a university in a relatively small department. The politics of the department is messy, with the result that there are lots of cliques that are impossible to infiltrate and, since I have no direct colleagues, I have little interaction with others on the job. I exercise a bit – Zumba once a week, swimming twice a week, a pick-up game of badminton when I can find a group playing somewhere. I’m engaged in the life of my parish. I’m a catechist for both first communion and confirmation, and sing in one of the church’s choirs. I also do outreach to refugees. Still, I’m lonely.
Sometimes the loneliness is unbearable
I spend most evenings and weekends alone. Often, I go from Thursday evening to Monday morning without speaking a single word. Of the 21 possible meals per week, I typically eat 21 alone, though every two or three weeks, I might ask an acquaintance to join me for lunch. I try my best not to disturb people: just because I have no family, it doesn’t mean that my friends and colleagues don’t. They have plans with their loved ones, and I often feel that to call or to ask someone round would be to impose myself.
Sometimes, the loneliness is unbearable, and leads to very dark thoughts. ‘If I die tonight in my apartment, would anyone miss me? Would anyone even notice?’ ‘If this train/ bus/ plane were to crash right now, would I die?’ ‘If I were to accidentally fall from my sixth floor office, would I die or just be injured?’ I don’t want to fall ill and then be a burden to people: I want to die, sometimes.
Trained to be merciful
At the advice of my confessor, I’ve sought professional help. I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I currently see a psychiatrist twice a month and am on a course of anti-depressants. No one at my workplace knows, no one in my parish knows. None of my friends or acquaintances knows. My confessor and a friend, who is also priest, know. I feel less bad sharing my experiences with them. They are, after all, trained to be merciful.
The only meal I share
My faith has also been a source of comfort for me. I attend weekday Masses regularly; not because I am particularly holy, but because otherwise, I might not come into contact with a single person for that day. There are days when the only words I say to another person are ‘Peace be with you’, and typically, the only meal I share with others for weeks on end is the Eucharist. The only human touch I’ve experienced since the end of February is the sign of peace.
During the early months of my diagnosis, I felt far removed from God, as though he had deserted me. The gospels are filled with Jesus’s wonder-working exploits. Surely he would heal me, too. Despite my prayers, my depression worsened.
Seeking God in all things
My confessor often poses me the challenge to seek God in all things, and so I look for God in my students, in the young people I meet, in my Zumba class, at the swimming pool, in nature. But my depression made it difficult for me to see God, even though I was looking.
Recently, however, I have been reflecting upon the encounters that Jesus has with his disciples following his resurrection. On the road to Emmaus, there are two; in the upper room are ten; at Tiberius, there are seven. But at the empty grave, at least according to John’s Gospel, there is only one: Mary. She is alone and distressed. She has come seeking Jesus and she, like me, cannot find him. That does not mean he is not there. It does not mean he has deserted me.
This is part of a series for Mental Health Awareness Week. Read the others:
14-20 May 2018 is Mental Health Awareness Week, an initiative to encourage discussion about and reduce stigma around mental health issues. The Jesuits in Britain want to take this opportunity to help our readers and listeners to pray, think, learn and talk about life’s uphill struggles, whether they are associated with diagnosed mental health conditions or other circumstances.
Across our online platforms, there are a number of different resources about situations in which people struggle to find peace of mind and heart. Our written and audio content will explore some of the causes, effects and manifestations of anxiety, and look particularly at the dynamic between faith and mental health.
We will be considering ideas, offering prayerful support and sharing experiences. However, please seek professional help if you are concerned about yourself or somebody else.