What's Working this Winter



So you may be under the impression that depression consumes my life.

There was one 12-month period, the one described in my depression story, where it absolutely did. A lot of the time in my mind, I divide my life into two periods, before, and after 2005. Grateful to have emerged from that severe bout with my life, I vowed that I would do whatever I could to help others who find themselves in that pit. That's why I describe what it's like down there in detail, to assure others that there is a way out.

Since that time, I have only dealt with mild bouts. Usually they are a few weeks long, usually just once or twice a year. And usually always this time of year.

However, this winter a collection of circumstances have come together to make a super pleasant January.

Number one. Little girl going to school has added blessed structure to our lives. Our day used to be divided into two certain events... waking up, and going to bed. Now we wake up and get sister to the bus. A few hours later we pick her up from the bus. We do homework. A few hours later, it's time to get dinner together. Bedtime follows not too long after that. I fill in the little windows with one-on-one time with brother and other things I want or need to do.

Number two. I spent over a thousand hours of my childhood either in lessons or practicing piano. So that I could what... dust a piano? This winter I have gotten out my piano books regularly, like a few times a week, and am trying to commit a few new pieces to memory. It is good for my fingers, and it is good for my brain. I can feel it. And filling my house with music makes me happy.

Number three. When I am depressed, I keep to myself. Sometimes choosing staying home over going out is okay, but getting out can be so good for mental health. I have a new church position that involves visiting a different woman from church in her home every week.  I have had the most satisfying conversations with women in all different stages of life. I have loved it.

I often think back to my days as a college student or a career lady and how winter never got me down. It was because life didn't stop for the weather. Sure I had to de-ice my car at the end of the day, maybe participate in three or four white-knuckled drives home, but otherwise, winter did not affect me much.

As a mom of little people, it changes your whole game plan. You go from the splash pad and parks from morning til night, to the house. All. Day. Long.

I think part of my job of being a mom is learning how to install the things that have made this January different, like structure, music, and friendship into all the winters to come.

My motto in past Januarys has been, "Survive 'til Spring."

Now it's more like, "Thrive inside."  

P.S. My bulbs are still there... just in case you had forgotten. ;)




Depression is Not the Hardest Thing


When you tell people about the hardest thing you've ever experienced, and don't leave out the parts that make you vulnerable, it makes people more prone to open up and share things on that level with you too. I've had a few people tell me their stories since I published my blog in September. I feel privileged to have their trust and had my eyes opened wide in awe to what these individuals have endured.

It made me finally want to cry out, on my blog where I write about depression, "Depression is not the only hard thing!"

Depression is hard. And not very well understood... and that is why I write passionately about it. In the hopes that it can be better understood, especially among people of faith. But it's suddenly become important to me to make it clear that there is no contest to decide whose hard thing is the hardest.

The hardest thing is whatever it is that brings you to your knees.

It's whatever introduces you to desperation and causes your soul to cry, "I am certain I can't do this."

Chronic pain is hard. Loneliness is hard. Losing a loved one is hard. Abuse in all its forms is hard. The list of possible hard things is long. Some are meant to be lived through under His care. Some, through His help, we will escape. But all of them have the potential to do two things for us.
One.

They connect us to people in ways that just wouldn't have been as meaningful because of what we have gained from our hardships. We are more compassionate. We realize more and more how much we are all in this together.

And two.

They help us realize just how much we need Him. We join the ranks of those who know that He really does have the power to exchange "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."

And there is no sweeter joy.



The Gospel Won't Pull You Out of Depression


I am grateful to readers of every faith who read my blog. This post is particularly written for people of my faith, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (to keep it easy I am going to refer to us as Mormons), but everyone is welcome to keep reading.

If your house were on fire, would you run outside, kneel down in front of it and insist that if you pray hard enough, you will be able to put the flames out? NO! You would get yourself and your loved ones to safety while making sure the fire department was on the way.  And pray.

I'm going to talk about depression in much the same way.

If you haven't been happy in a long time, if you are consumed with feelings of inappropriate guilt, worthlessness, or self-hate, if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others or killing yourself, you are severely depressed. Your mind is broken. And probably your heart, too.

Your mental and emotional house has essentially burned to the ground.

That sounds dramatic and serious, doesn't it? It happens to people more often than you ever hear about. For some, a stressful event sets it off. For others, brain damage from an injury causes them to sink into despair. Chemical imbalances within the brain can also be to blame. But depression is real

Depression is not a reason to be ashamed. It is not something that can just be "snapped out of." And please, my fellow Mormon friends, understand, it is not a question of worthiness.

My response when depression set in after a difficult break-up was to immerse myself in activities that demonstrated my faith. I did not know what depression felt like, nor did I think I had it. I was just very, very sad. Terrifyingly sad. If I could just show enough faith, everything would be okay again. So I tacked on an extra 15 minutes to my scripture reading. I made plans to be in the temple for baptisms once a week. I prayed hard.

I felt worse. Dark thoughts were growing in my mind. Time to work harder.

I sought advice and direction from my parents and bishops (from my singles ward, and my home ward). Fast Sunday was too far away, so I would fast now. I received priesthood blessings from my dad. When I continued to plummet, I quietly sought blessings from each of my grandpas, too. 

I started to question whether I was beyond help. Each attempt to demonstrate my faithfulness seemed to sink me deeper and deeper into despair and I did not receive the peace and relief I sought. Suicidal thoughts surfaced and what terrified me most was that they made sense. Surely I was dragging everyone who cared about me into my despair with me, and the future didn't hold any promise. Each day, despite my very best efforts, was progressively worse. Getting out of their lives would be, in the long run, the best and most selfless thing I could do for the people I loved.

I was attending church and institute regularly, and I was suicidal.

I thought my soul was in trouble, which is a common misunderstanding when people of faith are depressed. Actually, it was my mind that was sick. 

When you are under the grip of what Elder Holland has called "the dark night of the mind and spirit", the gospel alone won't pull you out.

You cannot pray depression away anymore than you can pray the flames of a burning house away.

You cannot bless it away with the priesthood.

You cannot fast it away.

You cannot drown it in the scriptures.

It won't even leave you alone in the temple.

Like a burning fire, it demands to be dealt with. 

When you are depressed, your mind is broken. Your brain is sick. That part of the equation must be dealt with. Do not abandon the time-tested true principles of the gospel. However, there is supreme danger in ignoring your mental health, even when you are living the gospel to the best of your ability. You need them both and one will not make up for the other. Ask those close to you to pray with or for you as you seek proper treatment and care for this mental illness.

The house is not burning because there is something wrong with the house. It is burning because it is on fire. You are not depressed because of some character flaw or defect. You are depressed because you are participating in the human experience and have been dealt a heavy blow.

*****

This post has been on my mind for a long time, but I struggled to give it a title. "The Gospel Won't Save You..." or "The Gospel Won't Rescue You in Your Depression" wasn't right because the gospel did save me in my depression. Once I accepted it was my mental health that was in trouble and was more receptive to treatment, I began to improve. But it was knowing there was nothing and in my case no one so broken that Christ could not repair which truly started to bring me out of the darkness.

Just as He would help me rebuild my life out of the ashes were my house to burn down, so He did with my broken mind and heart.

So He will do with yours.

And I bear testimony that we are under His watchful care through all of it.



He Told Me to Quit Reading the Scriptures: Untangling Depression and Faith


Depression seemed to break the rules about most everything I had understood to be true about life. 

The concept of a Heavenly Father who created this world and loved me and all the people in it made sense to me early on, and I cherished the understanding. As I went to church and seminary, I learned about His dealings with people in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances in the scriptures and clung to the fact that there was nothing life could throw at me that God and I couldn't handle together.  

When the gloom and despair of depression began to set in during my severe depressive episode, I amped up every way I knew how to demonstrate my faithfulness. I would read the scriptures for longer, I would worship in church as sincerely as I could. I would serve people. I would express gratitude for my blessings. I would attend the temple. I would do it all as long as it took.

Depression is a very scary scenario for people who have learned to rely on faith.

There is something you must understand about depression.  It clogs the channels that allow God to communicate with us--our hearts and our minds. Feelings of love, reassurance, peace, and comfort have a very hard time getting through. It is a condition of the body and mind however, and not an indication of the worth of a soul.

As I demonstrated my faith in those many ways I listed, I hoped to be blessed with love, reassurance, peace, and comfort. I felt nothing.

My spirit began to panic. I knew the drill for times of struggle, I had put it into action, and I wasn't receiving the peace I hoped for.

In the meantime my mind was becoming a madhouse. I was wrestling with the kinds of thoughts I was too afraid to mention out loud. They were dark and disturbing. I was formulating plans for killing myself. What during normal periods of my life would have been an entirely ludicrous thought now made more sense than any other option I had in front of me.

Surely the desire to live again can't be restored. I had reached the point of no return.

I had tried to be true until my heart had given out. It was still beating, but entirely defeated. My faith hadn't failed me. Somewhere I had failed my faith.

And the self-destruction continued.


 *****

With the monstrosities going on inside my head, it was hard to surprise me. But this blessed encounter did.

I had been given the opportunity to chat with a trusted friend of the family who was also a doctor and a bishop. Even in my depressed state, I found all these credentials comforting, but then he really got my attention. He said that as a young father in medical school during a serious bout of depression, he had laid out a suicide plan that ensured that his wife and baby would be taken care of, and better off, when he was gone.

No one had ever dared admit to me that they had been suicidal. I had thought highly of this man and his family for years. Light shined on my soul for a moment as I considered that a life, even an incredibly fulfilling life could be lived after suicidal thoughts. I was certain that this man's desire to live had been fully restored.

And then he gave me a peculiar piece of advice. "While you are going through this particular bout of depression," he began, and I smiled. Everyone thinks I have depression, I thought to myself. But I really respected this man and wanted to hear him out, so I played along. "Stop reading the scriptures."

What?

"If you're anything like me, when I was in there, every time I was depressed, you don't relate to the Nephis or the Josephs of Egypt. You relate to the damned, those in the lakes of fire and brimstone that are weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth."

It had been months since I had connected with another human so deeply.

It makes even more sense today. The channels that allowed God to communicate with me were jammed because of my depression. And so, reading the scriptures in my weakened state of mind was fueling my depression, my hopelessness, my despair, my deprecating thoughts.

*****

You'll hear depressed people of faith say things like, "I just have to show that I have enough faith."

And it causes me to shudder, because the path I followed with a mindset like that was a very, very scary one. Their faith and their depression are entirely tangled up in each other. Many of these people are completely emptied of hope, confused, and afraid, and this is what I want say to them.

Depression seems to break the rules about most everything you know to be true about life. But they are not really broken. It seems like it, because the channels you are used to using to communicate with and receive peace and comfort from God are jammed.

As downright adamant you are that it is not, this truly is a condition of your mind and body, and not a reflection of your soul. As Elder Holland has said, broken minds can be healed just as broken bones are healed. In those prayers you are saying that you feel aren't being heard, pray for help to know how to best find healing and health again for your mind.

I am not saying that every depressed individual should quit reading their scriptures, but make some kind of mental break between depression and your faith. They are not one in the same. Depression is a serious illness, not an indication of your standing before God.  

If you are suicidal, know you are not the first to walk this path and that your fate is not sealed. "Do not," as Elder Holland pleads, "vote against the preciousness of life by ending it. Trust in God and hold on in His love."

In the midst of my despair one day, my dad felt impressed to tell me that my Heavenly Father was near. That it was as if I could reach out and touch Him. I clung to that. As things got worse, I resented it. Because if He was, He was not making me aware of it. At least not in ways that I could see.

But I now know that as Elder Holland calls it, He was at work making repairs. 

As a result of this period of your life, you will know deep despair, pain, and darkness. But you will know compassion to a more satisfying and sweeter degree. It will have sunk in a little more deeply why your Father in Heaven sent His Son to Earth, and you will rejoice in that fact more deeply than you ever had before. 

Read my full depression story here

Every reference made to Elder Holland in this post is from his talk, Like a Broken Vessel.





Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...