Another Depression Story













I've also written about a bout of depression from my early twenties. You can find that here:

My Depression Story


And here are what I consider to be some incredibly helpful resources on understanding depression:


Mental Health on LDS.org {please especially see Common Questions section}

Preventing Suicide on LDS.org

Depression by Rebecca J. Clayson, Ensign article, understanding depression's effect on the spirit

Dealing with Depression on youth.LDS.org

Understanding Suicide on youth.LDS.org

Choosing to Live: Overcoming Suicidal Thoughts, Ensign article





Hope




I rubbed his back as my two-year-old emptied his stomach into the bucket, trying to figure out what might have prompted this 2 am interaction between us. In my foggy middle of the night brain, I tried to sift through which meals we ate together, what he might have eaten that none of us did, or if it could be a stomach bug.

Sweet kid.

With every heave, every retch, I encouraged him.

“It’s going to be okay! I’m right here! Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry you feel so yucky. It’s going to be okay.”

Enough time and regurgitated food had passed that I was feeling quite alert. And with the awareness, came the sense of doom, the despair. Well, I told myself. While you’re sitting here, you might as well figure out what you’re going to do tomorrow to make this go away. This hopelessness is suffocating you. How long are you going to allow it to do this to you? How long is this going to have to affect your marriage? Your children? Tomorrow you have to beat it.

I know, I know, I agreed with myself. I cringed at the thought of a new day with the possibility of more suicidal thoughts. They made it so much harder to cope, to not melt down, to be rational. To feel safe by myself.

I’m an expert at grasping at shards of light, finding reasons to hope. During the past several months, I'd found them in scripture, listening in church, conversations with people I loved, even in movies and songs on the radio. Most of the time they sustained me for an hour, a few days at the very most before I would sink into despair again. But there was one about to be delivered that would cause a dramatic shift in the way I had been doing things for a very long time.

Look at yourself. Right now. Sitting here with your son. He's sick. Throwing up. He needs you. What would you expect a reasonable person to do in this situation?

Sit up with him.

What are you doing right now?

Sitting up with him.

That’s right. There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing you are not doing well enough or hard enough. You are living with untreated depression. THAT is why you feel so awful and life has been so excruciatingly difficult. Get to the doctor.

*****
Usually after the initial mess is cleaned up, I spend most nights like this pleading that there will be no more throw up sessions, that my sick child and I will be able to rest uninterrupted the rest of the night. 

This night was different however.

I laid there in the dark, smiling. I hoped my two year old would be able to sleep now, for his sake, but if I didn't sleep the rest of the night, I wouldn't mind.

I had used a handy ap to send a 3 am message to my doctor that I knew she would be reading in a few hours. While I had only been under her care a short time, the conversations we'd had during our two visits led me to believe I could trust her to provide the care I needed to finally treat this depression I had "managed" for so long. 

The natural spread of a smile across my face was something that had not happened in a long time.

Help and hope were on the way.

I think it's going to be okay.


Next Chapter: Treatment  



Summer Prayer



It was the last Sunday night of the summer. We had two cars parked at my parents' house for Sunday dinner because Danilo had gotten called in to the hospital during church and met us there later. Little girl rode home with her dad and little boy rode home with me. I was glad I had little boy, because he would pay less attention to me on the way home than his sister would, and I could do what my heart was longing to do.

Pray.

Heavenly Father, as summer comes to a close, I thank You for a beautiful summer.

I thank You for family and holidays and barbecues, for dinners on the back deck.

I thank You for sprinklers and water balloons and popsicles and not worrying so much about bedtime.

I thank You for little girl learning how to ride a bike and jump in the deep end.

Thank You for Bible Camp and friends of other faiths, thank You for Tennessee and the friends who live there and for country music.

I thank You for gardening and for flowers that bloom and for girls camp and campfires and camp songs and for meaningful relationships at church.

I thank You for summer morning walks and for high fitness.

I thank You for my marriage, for a loving husband, for precious children, for the love of parents, sisters, grandparents, in-laws, to be an aunt.

I thank You for the feeling of feeling alive again.

I thank You for your Son and for His life and gospel. I'm thankful to know You love me and You know me.

I'm grateful to be crying happy tears. I am grateful for all the sad tears I have cried because of who I am because of them.

I am grateful to know You have been there for it all.   



I Am a Sign



The treatment process is so delicate and everyone is different.

It requires patience that you may not feel you possess.

I know.

The first medication you're prescribed may not be the one you stick with.

Some people come back from therapy with really negative experiences. I have been in a therapist's office and I could sense her disdain for my faith and my background. That was when I was 20, and my parents and I kept shopping.

My therapist and I found out after the first 25 minutes that we share the same faith. We have an agreement that we can discuss things under the context of God and religion and misconceptions depression has caused me to have about them, and also how I find strength to press forward in the challenging face of mental illness through my faith. And it's nice to be able to talk openly in that way.

The neat thing about therapy is that it is one one one. I could tell you all the things I learned while talking to my therapist, but it would not be the same as discussing them in the context of your own fears and problems and experiences.

******

A little over two years ago, I published my blog, Much More Precious than Gold. It was such a satisfying experience in so many ways. I shared my experience when at 20 years old, I had stood on the edge and looked into the expanse of death and wanted it more than life, and then I had come back and lived a genuinely joyful life. The hardest thing that had ever happened to me could now be turned around to help people. I knew life beyond suicidal thoughts and feelings was possible and it was a message I wanted to share with the world.

I love writing, and I love speaking to audiences, and the kind reception so many people gave my blog gave me opportunities to do both.

I used to hope that I could one day craft the perfect blog post, or put together the perfect presentation that would gently lead people out of that dark place. My therapist was very frank with me one afternoon when she told me that I am not qualified to pull people out of depression. To charge myself with the responsibility of leading anyone but myself out would be unwise for many reasons.

I have been not so gently reminded through my difficulties in the past year that depression is far more complicated than that. And that maybe we are not meant to be pulled out, but to adjust the lens through which we see our battle with mental illness.

Together, my therapist and I scaled my job description waaaaaay down. I can offer my experience, lace it with words of hope, and like a sign, encourage people on the path to treatment. Then maybe someone who is suffering from depression will see a little bit of themselves in my story and find the courage and strength to get help.


Next Chapter: Summer Prayer



Jesus' Feet


The despair that comes from sin and the despair that comes from depression are two different things.

Coming to that understanding, combined with treatment (in my case, medication and therapy) have made it possible for me to finally feel like I am not being crushed under the weight of depression.

Without my medicine, at least at this stage, my thoughts become irrationally negative and my emotions overwhelm me. Without therapy, simple errors in my thinking land me again and again in places of despair in my mind. Those thoughts and emotions don't occur because of something I did or didn't do, they are symptoms of mental illness. For me to take personal responsibility for them, to berate myself for having them, compounds the situation.

For me to sit in my closet and beg Him to take the madness away is like me sitting there with a broken leg thinking that if I pray hard enough, He would heal it. Could He? Of course. He can do all things. But life has taught me He probably intends to guide me through it a different and more meaningful way. While it's nearly impossible for me to accept in those moments, it is a way that is better for me than releasing me from the mental anguish. 


******

"YOU."
"HAVE."
"AN ILLNESS."
"Why would you expect that with enough faith, you could make it go away? If my husband reads his scriptures enough, prays hard enough to show how much faith he has, is his diabetes going to disappear? NO."

A peace washed over me that I think I had waited 25 years or more to know. After a childhood peppered with anxiety, and having dealt with periods of mental anguish and difficult to process emotions since I was a teenager. After spending a couple of decades secretly wondering what was wrong with me. It finally clicked. It finally made sense, here in my therapist's office.

There was a reason behind the insanity. The insanity was the mental illness.   

As I continued to process this therapy session in the days that followed, the mental and emotional struggles of my whole life started coming into vivid focus. Oh how I had wondered why I failed so at the Savior's invitation to "fear not." I did my best everyday to press forward, but I was tormented by constant anxiety, fear that something really bad was about to happen at all times.

In my head I knew He had overcome the world, just as He promised. I knew at times I had known His peace to be a real thing. So why was I so racked with feelings of hopelessness and despair no matter how diligently I tried to follow Him?

"Because," I repeated to myself, as relief washed over me again. "This is an illness. You did not create this. It is not a flaw in your character. It is not that you have not tried hard enough. You have marveled at how others you have read about or even known personally have handled tremendously difficult challenges in their lives. This is yours. This is your really hard thing. You've navigated much of this life with fractured thinking and skewed processing of your emotions. And you have done very well on your journey." Somewhere as I reprocessed what I had learned in therapy that week, I do think the Holy Ghost had taken over and conveyed what my Heavenly Father wanted me to know. 

I had an understanding that Jesus had overcome all things. I had been filled with confidence after scripture study or particularly inspiring sermons at church that all darkness, all despair could be overcome through Him. I dared believe that included the dark corners of my mind, and the sense of hopelessness that often came to stay for long periods of time. I cannot tell you how many times I prayed in my closet, please, can you take this away now? And it would still be there the next morning.

It wasn't that He was cruel or was not listening. This was not a defect in my character that I needed to find and fix before He would help me. You wouldn't lay a migraine down at Jesus' feet. You wouldn't say, "Father, I am so sorry for the flaws in my character that caused me to develop a migraine. Please take it away." Because it's a migraine.

You know what you could do? Ask Him to guide you in your efforts to treat it and to help you bear it well.


Next Chapter: I Am a Sign



Rigid



5:40. Alarm goes off.

I slip out of bed and onto my knees for a morning prayer.

I exercise for 45 minutes.

I come back.

I help my husband get ready and off to work.

I help my daughter get ready for school.

I am so tempted to find out if that email I was expecting showed up during the night. But I don't check yet.

My daughter is out the door. I sit down with a bowl of cereal and my scriptures and I read. I hope the golden nugget of hope I'm looking for will be here today. I find a few passages that could be it. I hope they will stick and carry me through what has been a stormy battle with mental anguish lately.

Ten minutes later, I close my scriptures. Now email is allowed. And a quick stop at Facebook to see if I have any notifications. 

And I am satisfied. Everything was done in order this morning. Exercise. Check. Scripture study before social media. Check. Discipline in all things was what was going to save me. And even though I didn't feel better yet, I would keep searching for those areas in which I was not quite disciplined enough. And when I found it, the heavy emotions would depart. The mental anguish would ease. It had to.

I just needed to try harder.


******

In my closet at the end of the day. Because the closet was my best shot at uninterrupted prayer. My prayers could be longer, that I knew. And more meaningful. And so I would sit here and improve them each night. 

Because I knew praying the right prayer could fix this, could pull me out. 

Heavenly Father was waiting to give me what I needed most if I could just figure out what that was and pray for it. 

What is it that I most need help with?

Help me, when I'm overwhelmed with emotion, to still be able to function. 

Sometimes I feel so unstable. Just protect me please.

Bless my loved ones. Help my husband and children right now as I am not being who they need me to be.

I have so many painful emotions inside of me. I want to give them to Jesus and have Him take them away please. 

And help me to be faithful and true. 

With the closing of my prayer, I was satisfied that I had checked all the boxes that day. 

******

Depression takes you to a place where you are robbed of finding satisfaction in anything.

Determined not to let it win, I have pushed forward with my daily tasks, like a robot.

In many ways, this is a good thing. I am still a participant in life even while depression threatens to take that away.

But when it's still there day after day, it wears on you. Depression turns any kind of work ethic into a double-edged sword. If I am accomplishing things, I am of value. What about the days the mental and emotional air is knocked out of me? At the deepest point of despair I have ever known, I couldn't get out of bed for a day, which spread into a series of days.

While the darkness of mental and emotional anguish is a hard place to go, it has taught me the sweetest kind of lesson. He has proved to me that my worth is not in what I do. I am finally coming to understand, and even harder, accept, that even in my lowest point, when I am feeling most worthless, I am of value to Him.

******


Reading the scriptures, an ingrained ritual in my day, became a detrimental task. Because in my fractured thinking, I connect despair with wickedness and reconcile that's why I am feeling the way I am. I did not yet understand that the despair that comes from sin and the despair that comes from depression are two different things. So I put my scriptures away for a week. Which turned into a month. And then six. The 15-year-old me who vowed to read her scriptures every day for the rest of all time would be horrified. But He is not. He still loves me. I found solace instead in music that testified of God being a loving Father.

As my thinking, through treatment, became more and more rational, I felt more drawn to open my scriptures again. My perspective on these things has shifted in a beautiful way. Prayer and scripture study are gradually turning into a quest to come to know my loving Father better instead of exercises to win His approval.


Next Chapter: Jesus' Feet



Chronic


When she said it, I wanted to pretend she hadn't. I wanted to take that word chronic and stuff it in the cushion of the couch I was sitting on and hope from there it would sink down through the floor, through the foundation of the building we were in and disappear somewhere between there and the earth's core.

Or hope in this case she was wrong about me.

But as I left my therapist's office, that word came with me. And I tossed it around in my head for a few days.

I had been intent for at least the last year, and during every episode of depression before that that I was going to beat this. I was going to dismiss depression from my life, let it know that I would not tolerate its presence, and every time it tried to sneak back in, it would cower, anticipating the force of the door I would slam in its face.

Chronic, though. That changed everything. She told me in most cases, and likely in mine, where it continued popping up through the years, depression was a chronic condition. Like diabetes, I would learn how to properly manage it with treatment and changes in lifestyle, and a happy life would still be available to me.

******

During some downtime at camp, my friend Julie and I were the only ones in our tent and had a conversation that I think was supposed to be had. 

Julie had MS. "You know, it was hard to receive that diagnosis. It essentially was a life sentence. But I've learned a lot over time, you know. I've learned I can still enjoy life if I am consistent with my treatment and I'm smart about the things I learn. I know the sun can drain my energy really quickly, so that's why you most often find me in the shade here at camp. There are good days and there are bad days. I just have learned it's really, really important to take care of myself."

I couldn't believe she was here at camp. I could draw connections between her situation and mine and sensed I had just learned something very important. 

******

It was amazing how in tossing that word around in my head long enough, I had totally flipped it inside out. Initially it had sounded like a life sentence, but the truth was, it was a release from the choke hold depression had on me. 

Because there were weeks and months after an episode with depression that I believed I truly had it beat. I had fought depression and I had won, and if it ever came back I would send it packing with all I had learned about what it is and what it isn't. 

And every time it came back, that meant that I had been wrong about something. There was a chink in my armor, and I was going to have to figure out what that was so that this time when I dismissed it, it would be gone permanently. 

And so when I would feel depression eke back in with its insidious thoughts and heavy feelings, a sense of failure would creep in with it. 

It's back. 

What did I do wrong?

And the one that drains the most life out of me:
I didn't try hard enough.

Chronic, though, chronic gave me permission to have a bad day or a bad week and to know that things could get better. Chronic depression meant that a negative slew of unsettling thoughts or a heavy feeling of sadness that I just couldn't shake was not a sign that I had slipped or was lazy or was not on my guard. It was just a reminder that this was my hard thing, and a lot of my energy this week was going to go towards practicing the tools I had learned in therapy, making sure to take my medicine, and that I needed to be kind to myself. 


Next Chapter: Rigid



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