From the very cheeriest of Catholic women to the most depressed, we’ve all had at least one Really Bad Day. Not just a bad day. A Really Bad Day. A day that’s so bad the injustice of it all literally brings a tear to your eye. The kind of day where you lost your car keys, had a fight with your husband (on your way back from confession) bumped your head on the counter sweeping up the kids’ mess for the forty-fifth “last time” and logged on to Facebook only to find that everyone is still yelling angrily about that thing that happened with the thing last week. You have had it up to here with these people, and this day, and this universe, and there’s only one thing left to do …
No matter how we choose to deal with sorrow, frustration and anger, for the good of our mental health (and our souls) we must choose to actually deal with it, letting it out into the world and giving it up to God through prayer, action, and often, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There are an infinite number of ways to do this. Some ladies shed a tear in their beer or bawl along to the saddest part of their favorite childhood movie. Other folks shout nonsense words at nobody in particular, á la Joe Pesci. Still others run a mile, or say a Rosary, or take a drive.
There is a misguided notion that “good Catholics” never get angry or sad, but even the greatest Catholics had their favorite methods for managing the Really Bad Day. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s grief and frustration fueled her to build the first Catholic schools in the U.S. St. Therese imagined that the annoying, noisy nun behind her in church was actually making the music of the angels. St. Jerome, the unofficial patron saint of anger issues, was so short-tempered he beat himself in the chest with a rock in order to keep his anger under control (actually, please don’t try that one, ok?)
Just pick a (healthy) outlet, ask God to bless your efforts, and get going! Easy, right? Of course not. In practice, it’s much easier to hang on to negative feelings, hoarding them like terrible little souvenirs from the Really Bad Day and peeking inward to savor our treasures whenever the occasion presents itself. Mood disorders often worsen this tendency, causing us to hold on even tighter to negativity. Without it, we feel we have nothing else.
“You should get something out of this. You deserve something out of this,” the worst of our inner voice whispers to us sulkily. “Something for you.” So we cling to our bad moods and bad times, imagining they bring some dignity or meaning to our experience. And as we stockpile our sorrows, we grow more and more unhealthy, undignified, isolated, and finally unable to see the sunshine of a new day come pouring in.
Mark Twain, the great explainer of the human condition, illustrated this tendency beautifully in Tom Sawyer. As Tom’s Really Bad Day at the hands of the unjust Aunt Polly stretches on, he…
“pictured himself lying sick unto death and his aunt bending over him beseeching one little forgiving word, but he would turn his face to the wall, and die with that word unsaid … And such a luxury to him was this petting of his sorrows, that he could not bear to have any worldly cheeriness or any grating delight intrude upon it; it was too sacred for such contact; and so, presently, when his cousin Mary danced in … he got up and moved in clouds and darkness out at one door as she brought song and sunshine in at the other.”
To seek a dark sacredness in one’s anger, to revel in the Really Bad Day, can be both Deadly Sin and deadly sickness, both a cause and an effect of clinical depression. So forget your misguided dignity, your hurt feelings, or your search for deeper personal meaning in an occurrence common to us all. Strive with all your might to find a healthy outlet, and take as your guide Ephesians 4:26 and 27: “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” If you cannot do these things, it is time to get help.