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Nov 22, 2019 96 0 Dina Mananquil Delfino
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Beneath the Shiny Foliage

A row of lilly pilly shrubs adorns our front yard. Their ever-green cascade of healthy looking, shiny foliage—with flushes of pink new growth embellished by edible berries in shades of maroon—make them attractive screens, windbreaks or garden ornamentals.

One day as I pruned them, I looked into the middle of the shrubs. I was shocked to see hundreds of dead twigs, branches and dried leaves. My one-day project became a back-breaking task of two weeks, requiring my husband’s reluctant assistance.

Lessons to Learn

As I removed all the dead sticks, I thought about my personal growth. I drew several lessons from my lilly pillies. First, some of my aims, aspirations, ambitions and activities are no longer life-giving. They are fast becoming deadwood. Why do I still hang on to these life-less branches? Even in my apostolic work, some areas no longer bear fruit. I need to pray for fresh inspiration from the Holy Spirit. If I have been performing the same role for many years, I need to ask myself—am I afraid to break new ground? Have I become too comfortable, attached, obsessed or untrusting of others to allow them to take over or too scared to take on new assignments from the Lord?

God also gave me insight into the reality and gravity of depression. Many of us have delightful foliage, bright and waxy externals, and our facades can make us hide the truth of our depressed state very cleverly. From the outside, no one knows how we are really feeling. When a family member took her life 10 months ago, after years of being depressed, it shook us up. The loss incurred by this premature death has left a tragic impact on those who love her.

Depression is a serious medical illness. It is more than just a feeling of being sad or “blue” for a few days. Nearly 15 million Americans a year struggle with depression, an illness that comes in many forms—from major depression and seasonal affective disorder to bipolar disorder. In Australia, three million people are living with depression or anxiety (ABS 2008). Depression is an illness that interferes with concentration, motivation and everyday functioning. Because of its complexity, a full understanding of depression has been elusive. Everyone experiences an occasional blue mood; depression is a more pervasive experience of repetitive negative rumination, bleak outlook and lack of energy. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. (https:// medlineplus.gov/depression.html)

It is such a complex issue. The medical world claims that even in the most severe cases depression is said to be highly treatable. Yet, we hear of both ordinary people and celebrities succumbing to suicide, triggered by depression. However, there are also amazing stories of people who have become powerful witnesses by surviving and going on to achieve great success in the midst of their adversity.

Aid from a Little Flower

In the year 2000, when I experienced this “dark night of the soul,” I sought the aid of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. This holy woman experienced many of the risk factors for depression and struggled with symptoms of the illness itself. At the age of ten, Thérèse suffered what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. At twelve she became scrupulous, a mental health concern believed to be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, doctor of the church, described herself as having extreme doubts about God’s existence. The important thing here is that Saint Thérèse stubbornly held on to her faith. She did this not because of health, good spirits, comforting assurances, miraculous healings or religious experiences but by the tenacity of her choice to believe.

She wrote: “While I do not have the joy of faith, I am trying to carry out its works at least. I believe that I have made more acts of faith in this past year than all through my whole life.” Depression, nervous breakdown, suicidal thoughts, scruples and doubts did not define Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. It need not define us. We are more than our illnesses. Thanks be to God!

When I have clients going through depression I suggest they seek the intercession of this saint. Only those who experience it can genuinely relate.

Are You Okay?

My lilly pillies also taught me not to take any day or any person for granted or assume that life is glowing for somebody next to me. “Are you okay?” is a question I sincerely and frequently ask. If the answer is no I can listen lovingly without judging. I might only be contributing a tiny drop in the ocean but helping someone survive the black clouds for a day may help them survive until a new day dawns.

One evening, I saw a young student with red, puffy eyes enter the shopping center. She was weeping as she collapsed beside me on a couch. I stepped out of my comfort zone to ask if she was okay. Her sobbing abated as she smiled bravely and quietly said yes. Since she did not feel comfortable confiding in me, I offered a silent prayer for her instead, claiming God’s tender mercy for her, paraphrasing His word: “But you, LORD, are a shield around her, her glory, the One who holds up her head” (Psalm 3:3).

Lord, please come to my aid when I am distressed. Enable me to seek and accept the assistance I need. Help me to notice the troubles of others and give them effective and compassionate support. Amen.

Dina Mananquil Delfino

Dina Mananquil Delfino is a counsellor, community worker, pre-marriage facilitator and Pastoral Associate of St Michael’s Parish, Berwick. She lives in Pakenham, Victoria with her family.

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