“Jesus Still Had Holes in His Hands”: Anxiety, Depression, Perfection, and a Note about Mercy

Jesus still had holes in his hands after the resurrection.

In Summer 2015, I studied Spanish in Peru. I wasn’t excited to live abroad again, I wasn’t excited to learn Spanish, I wasn’t excited to live with a host family, I wasn’t excited to spend another summer away from home. I didn’t know what was wrong me, except that I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t happy, excited, loud, carefree.

About a month into the trip, I got food poisoning (don’t eat Mexican food in Peru, evidently) which turned into stomach flu which turned into a fever which turned into a “whole thing” with doctors and medicine and insurance and nearly giving my mother a stroke. (More about all that here).

I was glad to come home, of course, but despite being where I’d wanted to be all along, something was still awry. I noticed something peculiar: not only was I not “in a good mood,” there was simply no joy. I felt “blah” all the time; it was as if everything that once filled me with life had suddenly died.

This started a roughly year-long journey of trying to keep up the appearance of being the happy, funny, center-of-attention guy that I thought people expected me to be. I discovered that I had placed my whole identity in my ability to impress people, to make them laugh. I realized I’d been living a kind of “audition” life, feeling constantly evaluated by those around me (and ultimately by me) to be the best, the funniest, the most capable, the most important.

My self-worth was found in my knack for entertaining. Humor, especially sarcasm and cynicism, had become a mask to hide how I was really feeling: exhausted, sad, lifeless, alone.

Once school started again, I was diagnosed with moderate depression. This was a foreign concept since depression is not a “Ryan Adorjan Approved” reality. Me? Depressed? Isn’t that what happens to people when they lose their jobs or their kids die or they get broken up with? Surely happy-go-lucky entertainers aren’t…depressed, right?

There’s the old adagethe poet weeps for us all.

As we’ve come to see more and more, with people like Robin Williams or Louis C.K., the people who seem the happiest, the funniest, are sometimes the most unhappy.

Everyone has hurts in their heart. Call them what you want, but everyone has been wounded by a combination of their own actions and the actions of others. I used to deny this about myself, and told myself that I was fine…totally unscathed from the myriad of things that had happened in my life.

Little wounds usually come from some deeper place of hurt, which some people call “core wounds” and, again, call them what you want but most people have them in one way or another.

A huge place of wounding in my life is in the realm of relationships. My parents got divorced when I was 13, and until a couple of years ago I really believed I had (miraculously) escaped unharmed. After all, I wasn’t in jail, I didn’t flunk out of school, I wasn’t on drugs…isn’t that what happens to divorce kids?

Hell, I had two college degrees and was 3 years away from becoming a priest; pretty good place to be. Here’s the thing: that feeling of something inside being off never went away; I never got happy again.

Maybe someday I’ll write in more detail about how all this has looked in my life, but today is not that day.

In his talk at SLS18 in Chicago, Fr. Mike Schmitz summed up the way I had been living my life: talented people, he said, are in high demand often for their talents and what they bring to the table and usually to the detriment of their own personal lives. He said, “Gifted people are used to being admired; not known, not loved, but admired.”

I could make people laugh all day. Give me a room of 10,000 people to entertain or teach and I’m in heaven. But did anyone really know me? A few people, maybe, but what I discovered, through prayer and counseling, was startling: not many people knew the real me because I didn’t want them to; everyone liked me except me…and, I thought, if I showed people the real me, they’d all leave.

I realized that my M.O. in building relationships centered around one phrase: “please just don’t leave me.”

Ah, the divorce kid’s motto.

There’s something innate, something natural, in the mind of every kid: trust your parents, nothing will ever happen to them. That is the relationship that will teach me how to do relationships forever; theirs is a witness of what it means for two people to be “in it to win it”, til death do them part. Then, slowly, that all unraveled before my eyes. And, being 13, I had no idea what was happening.

At the same time, I started being bullied at school because, certainly, being a boy in band and theater means you’re gay. I had to ask my friends what “gay” meant. I remember being confused about why people would say that, and that I had always just tried to be myself. What did these other guys at school see in me that I didn’t? How could I be oblivious to this fact? I felt rejected for being myself.

Alright, then. If I’m rejected for being myself, then I better try to be someone else. And the mask goes on, and the fake personality comes out, and the self-renovation commences, and the death of the truest me I knew, the me I began to hate, takes place, so then maybe people wouldn’t leave me.

I went through high school with this attitude, and it paid off pretty well. On the outside, I had a lot going for me. On the inside, I was miserable. I began to experience anxiety about people thinking I was gay, and I hated being around certain groups of people because I had no idea how to act. If I could get the lead role, win the contest, become drum major, win Mr. Oswego…then I could prove myself.

What I failed to notice, partly because I don’t think I was able to receive it, was that people really liked me. I didn’t experience social anxiety, but “self-anxiety”; I wasn’t worried about other people disliking me…not ultimately, anyway. It was me who didn’t like me.

Enter Jesus.

I went to North Central College in 2010 with the idea of becoming a high school English teacher. I’d been picking lots of other things to do rather than listen to the tug I was feeling toward priesthood. But during the year at North Central, I couldn’t put off this call I’d been hearing any longer and decided to go to seminary in 2011.

Up to that point, I would say I knew a lot about Jesus but had never really met him. Great guy, 10/10, would recommend.

One day in the seminary, I was praying with the passage in John 10 where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and mine know me…I will lay down my life for the sheep.” I heard Jesus say to me,
“I know you. I know you. I know you.
I love you. I love you. I love you.
You are good. You are good enough.
Ryan, I hear your voice with all of its particularity.
Ryan, I see your life with all of its pain.
Ryan, I know your heart in all of its uniqueness.
I know you. I am still here. I love you.
I lay my life down for you.”

He said, “Behold, I stand knocking at the door of your heart. Come, follow me. Give yourself to me. I make all things new.”

I’d been living medicating the pain, placating the pain, hiding the pain, ignoring the pain. Never once had I considered feeling the pain.

So much pain goes unhealed because those who carry it never let themselves feel it.
Jesus does not come to fix or solve, but to transform.
Transformation does not mean being blemish-free.

The ancient Chinese had a custom of fixing cracked pots and painting gold leaf over the place of the crack. The broken thing will never be like it was before; that’s not possible. But it is worth more the way it is now, it finds its worth in its broken newness.

One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott (Hallelujah Anyway, Help, Thanks, Wow), quoting Carl Jung, ponders whether the pain we carry inside ourselves is ever really “solved” or simply outgrown. Lamott argues for the latter and says that only happens with a lot of “deep work.”

Another author I’ve come to love is Brene Brown (Daring Greatly, Rising Strong) who tells the story of one of her daughter’s teammate trying to hide a pretty bad sports injury. When her husband, a pediatrician, tries to take a look at the wound, the girl immediately recoils, wincing in pain. Brene’s husband whispers, “exquisitely tender.”

There are places in everyone’s life, Brene writes, that are and remain exquisitely tender, forever uncomfortable to the touch. There are wounds in everyone’s life that are so deep, so raw that they’re never really healed, only outgrown. The pain will not last forever, but the crack in the pot will. The image of a perfect, crack-free existence is not realistic.

I don’t need to be perfect, just me. My job today is to breathe, to be me, and to be okay. Not solved, not conquered, not understood. It’s okay to be just be okay sometimes, if that’s what’s real.

It’s cliche, and make fun of it if you want, but the greatest riches are hidden in the poorest places; truly wounds become a source of life for those who choose to remain in the pain, to really feel it, and to embrace the human experience in all of its complexity.

Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Remain in me, as I remain in you…Remain in my love.”

Remaining in the love of Jesus does not mean that I have no role to play in my healing, or that the grace of God is some kind of fairy dust that will magically solve all my problems. Remaining in the love of Jesus gives me the strength and power to do exactly what Jesus did, to become fully human. It means to suffer the coming of the Truth into my life, my heart, and my experience. Ultimately, it means dying to the false version of myself I have created or have allowed to grow; it means being cognizant of the lies I hear about myself, and the lies I tell about myself, and choose instead to believe the words I heard from Jesus so long ago: “I know you, I love you, you are good.”

Finally, a note about mercy in all of this. In Hallelujah Anyway, Anne Lamott tells the story of a friend going to his first AA meeting at a halfway house with a cast of some very unruly characters. At one point, one of the men in the group, apparently still drunk, poops himself. Instead of running away, the other men in the group take him to the bathroom, clean him up, and lend him their own clothes while his are being washed. Anne writes, “Somehow this broken guy was treated like one of them, because they could see that he was one of them. No one pretended he hadn’t been covered with shit, but there was a real sense of kinship. And that is what we mean when we talk about mercy.” Elsewhere, she writes, “This is the greatest mercy I know: a loved one hearing and nodding.”

Sin takes many forms, but one of its chief effects is the marring of relationships. The sins we commit, our tendency to prefer our own survival to our neighbor’s good, and all of the things we get ourselves into in order to protect ourselves or propagate our own version of the cosmos build barriers between us. Anxiety and depression are not sins by any means, but they are never cured outside the context of meaningful relationships.

The only remedy to sin, therefore, is mercy. Mercy is a kind of drawing near again on the part of God and, also, by us. Drawing near re-establishes relationships. The only reason I feel any courage whatsoever about being myself, about getting ordained, or about moving forward is because of the people in my life – men and women, family and friends, fellow clerics and the beloved people of God – have drawn near to me in my lowliness, and become the incarnation of Jesus; they are the ones who, by their concrete acts of love, by listening and nodding, have shown what it means that Jesus knows my name, that I am known and loved. Their presence, especially their presence when I am figuratively covered in shit, has convinced me that I am good, that I have something to give, and that I am able to receive the love of others.

Jesus still had holes in his hands after the resurrection. I am excited and humbled that I will get to be conformed to him in priesthood with holes very much present in mine, as well.

Please pray for me as I approach priestly ordination on May 26 and, if you are able, please come pray with me as I celebrate Mass at St. Anne’s in Oswego on May 27 at 11am.

Peace.