John’s story, depression followed by the will to live


For those who are unsure that they will find another tomorrow, what power does faith have?

John Gallagher had attended Catholic school. He had been an altar boy. He earned an MBA degree from St. Joseph’s University. He and his wife raised their four children in their Catholic faith.

But when a deep depression settled over him, John Gallagher wondered where God was.

“I felt betrayed by God,” he said.

John worked in a high-stress career. He set high expectations for himself, and his family. But about 10 years ago, he learned that his company was downsizing, and he was likely to lose the job that supported his family and the lifestyle he’d built.

“I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache and heart palpitations,” John wrote about the night he fell apart. “It was horrible. I didn’t know what was happening.

“I felt like I was on drugs, like I was hallucinating, like a train was going through my head at about 100 miles per hour. I was scared. I tried to get back to sleep, but I wasn’t able to. It was like my brain was an electrical system and the fuse blew.”

Over the following months, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and high irritability were not diminished by antidepressants his family doctor prescribed.

He didn’t know what he knows now. “Chemical imbalances are like a power failure,” he said.He can share his experiences and what’s he’s learned with others, but he urges them to seek professional help.

In addition to various but ineffective medical treatments, John sought help from his pastor. “He didn’t know what was wrong with me,” John said. “He didn’t know the severity of my situation.” The priest encouraged John and his wife Patricia to pray together, to go to healing Masses. “People prayed over me. It never did anything.”

John’s written testimony shows his desperation: “The doctors can’t help me. I can’t help myself. I prayed to God every single night, and God has not helped me. Nobody can help me.”

“Once depression hits, you go to God,” John said. “You ask ‘Why?’ You beg for his help.”

John didn’t blame God, he said. In fact, on the night he jumped from the ledge of the hospital, some 40 feet from the ground, he believed that God wanted him to die. John landed hard, his bones shattered, and he gelt tortured by his failure to end his life.

As he mended, after surgeries and therapies with mental health care professionals, John saw things differently. “I honestly think that God turned my body around and helped me land on my legs, not on my head or back. God did help me. God did save me. God was there for me,” John wrote.

John remembered one night of his five-week stay in the hospital. “I was on my death bed, receiving last rites. I woke thinking that I did not want to die.”

“As I started to get better, I realized that I didn’t want to die without a reason for being on this earth. I want to know that I’ve contributed something,” John said.

With medical treatment and counseling, John refocused his life. “I don’t think God wanted me to hurt myself,” John now says. He talks about being the “sacrificial lamb” for his family, explaining that he had to go through his ordeal so that he could find the help he needed. He talks about finding the strength to speak about the dark secret that he and his family kept hidden for almost a decade.

John and his wife wrote a book about the toll John’s struggle had on the whole family, a struggle that broke his marriage and affected so many pieces of his life.

John reflects on his Catholic upbringing and his faith, which surrounds him even when that foundation seems to be crumbling from beneath him. “Never doubt that God is there,” he says now. “God has to come to my rescue. He didn’t come right away.”

John believes that God allows people to fall – and to get up again. “Don’t give up on God. At some point, he is there for you.”

John said that in the struggles and the failings, people can learn the power of God and the power of healing. That people can learn how to reach out, can learn how “ordinary, everyday people can help each other.”

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