Saddened by the death of so many great performers in my lifetime, I recalled my own beloved relatives and friends who died from drugs, overdoses of pain medication and tranquilizers, anti-depressants, alcohol, or a combination of them. These losses devastated and deeply affected our lives. But we are not the only ones who have suffered such losses. Pressure to perform at peak or to be happy and satisfied all the time has made so many replace their natural feelings with chemically induced euphoria obtained from artificial means and prescriptions that might be robbing people of valid emotions.
The film Equilibrium warns about this in its story of a society that blames emotions for the failures of the past and forces people to take a drug to level out their emotions. In a way, we're doing the same thing. By over-medicating our emotions real victims are being controlled in the same way because we do not look deeper into the powerful affects that most drugs have on us. They might interfere with legitimate feelings and desensitize us exactly when we need to face a serious situation or emotion that will help us to grow.
During a difficult time in my life, my wise, old-fashioned father who looked deeper into my passage through depression and despair as a young widow nearly 40 years ago. Because of my overwhelming grief and loss, I went to see a psychologist, a compassionate young woman, who was visibly moved as I told her my story. She said that I'd experienced more grief by the age of twenty-six than some people do in a lifetime, and that mine were not the kinds of losses most people are prepared to deal with at such a young age. She explained that traumas like mine change people, and that there were two ways to live through these kinds of devastating losses: I could choose love and become softer towards life and its challenges, or I could choose anger, and by doing so, become bitter and hardened. She said it was my choice.
I knew I didn't want to become bitter. Yet the pain was so great, I had blocked out most of my feelings. Numb and confused, it took me a long time to be able to feel much of anything again, and when I finally allowed it, my anger surfaced. Whenever it happened, I would pray to God, "Please, don't let me be bitter. I want to be softer. I want to love!" Though I only had that one visit with the therapist, her words have guided me like a compass ever since.
I told my father I had seen a psychologist and that she had suggested more therapy. I also explained that my doctor had prescribed antidepressants because I was so sad. But Dad told me it was normal to feel depressed after all that had happened. He told me, "You're supposed to feel that way right now!" My father's words stayed with me and supported me as I allowed myself to heal naturally from my sorrow. Dad was old-fashioned and didn't believe in antidepressants or therapy, knowing nothing about them. But I believed and trusted him so I never took the medication. My father's wisdom helped me embrace the process of grieving. He told me it was okay to cry and to grieve, and that it was best to heal with the passage of time. His wisdom comforted me then and comforts me still; it is echoed in Marianne Williamson's Return to Love, where she says, "It's not neurotic to grieve a relationship; what's neurotic is when we don't."
What I've learned is that we must strive to remain mindful for the realities of our troubled hearts, beginning with those under our care. Helping others in difficulties helps strengthen, support and comfort them, but also ignites a source of power and peacefulness within us. It's not always an easy thing to do and can be a lonely place. Always remember that painful emotions are genuine loving guides that help to keep us in a healthy balance that allows us to feel more deeply. We are all deeply sensitive at our core. We must have empathy for others to move through them ourselves, because everyone suffers. Being there for others restores us as much as them.
But there are times when we can't do it alone because of mental illness or unremitting depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disease. In such cases only professional help and therapy will make a difference to help correct an imbalance to make life more comfortable just as they are intended to do.
As Norman Vincent Peale said: "When you become detached mentally from yourself and concentrate on helping other people with their difficulties, you will be able to cope with your own more effectively. Somehow the act of self-giving is a personal power-releasing factor."
About Catherine Nagle: Catherine grew up in Philadelphia with 16 brothers and sisters, reared by loving, old school Italian parents. Catherine's artist father's works graced churches and public buildings; her mother was a full-time homemaker. A professional hairdresser, Catherine worked in various salons while studying the Bible and pursuing spiritual growth through courses, seminars, lectures, works of Marianne Williamson, and conferences, including the National Theology of the Body Congress. She is also an Ambassador of the Society of Emotional Intelligence. The mother of two children and now a grandmother, Catherine lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and son. She is the Author of Imprinted Wisdom.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.