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Soul Searching

Tom Saretsky


Tom Saretsky


Living with depression

I was walking across a vacant parking lot one day and noticed a crushed Starbucks cup. It was a rather lonely site — this waste lot and a broken cup of emptiness. The cup, once a vessel holding an elixir of comfort for its owner, was nothing more than a broken dance partner for the breeze.

I stared at the cup for a long time, wanting to know its story, but it revealed nothing and simply drifted into a weed pile. I felt compelled to liberate it from its capture, but it seemed to need some companionship, even if it was only weeds in a vacant lot. Do you ever look at the crushed cups littering the streets and vacant lots of our city and wonder what their stories are? They all have one. We all have one.

They might be the stories of a person needing an energy boost. Perhaps they hold the story of person needing a mixture of sweetness, because they were having a difficult day. Some cups might hold the story of a person needing caffeine because of news they received or decisions they were contemplating. Some are the cups of struggle and loneliness, while others are the cups of happiness and joy. 

We’re all vessels holding something. Unfortunately, many are cracked, some are broken, and some feel like they’re nothing more than that discarded cup left to the vagaries of a restless wind blowing across a vacant lot. But what was it about that cup and that forsaken lot that made me so sad?

Have you ever felt like you were on the verge of tears even though there was nothing to be sad about? How can the most innocuous things in life bring a person to an emotional edge? Perhaps it was my emotional state. I live with depression. I don’t suffer from it. I live with it. Depression isn’t something you get over. You’re simply compelled to accept it, befriend it, and hope it plays nicely with you. Depression is not a welcome houseguest, and it doesn’t take kindly to eviction notices.

The insidious thing about depression is how cold rains can fall when the sun shines brightly, or how bitter winds blow when the day is calm and pleasant. It’s been said that, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” When the storm hits, I make sure my house is shuttered and secure. I’ll dance when the storm passes.

Mental illness is a growing concern in Canada where one in five people will suffer from some kind of mental illness in their lifetime. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, however, one-third of Canadians won’t seek treatment. Depression is one of those mental illnesses.

It’s unfortunate that depression has such a negative label. It is sometimes viewed as a weakness — something to be embarrassed about. It’s an illness that can be frustrating for caregivers, parents, spouses, and friends. Patience wears thin because of the frustration: “Why can’t you just be happy?” “I can’t figure him out. He’s always so glum.” “She’s always crying, and I just can’t be around unhappy people.” “Lighten up and suck it up. You have nothing to be sad about.”

Depression isn’t a sentence. It’s an illness, because it is more physiological than emotional. With the proper care of a physician or a therapist, along with parental, spousal, family and friend support, this illness doesn’t have to be journeyed alone. One can live with it and even lead a healthy and happy life. Take it from me, the skies aren’t always cloudy, and the rain doesn’t always fall. I have plenty of light, love, laughter and colour to swallow up my greys and blacks.

My days aren’t always sunshine and rainbows, and they’re definitely not always full of rainclouds and wind. I have lots of support and this gives me strength and keeps me balanced. I pray that all of you who live with depression will experience that same support. May you never be tossed by the winds of despair, but held by the comforting and steady hand of those who will stand with you when depression’s storms besiege you.

Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.