To the Commenter Who Got Under My Skin



About a week ago, I was enjoying a very well-written article on how silence will not solve our nation's suicide problem. Experience has taught me not to scroll down to the comments section after reading something I like on a large website, because I'd rather not see it torn apart, but I was curious to read the conversation that would be taking place in relation to mental illness. And that's where I met you, my friend. You had some pretty strong words for the depressed and suicidal. You used phrases like "wishy-washy crap."   

You scoffed at the suggestion that talking openly about depression could do any significant good. Instead you instructed the depressed to take a firm stand against these feelings and fight for their lives.

You got under my skin.

I am not going to direct a post at you laced with synonyms for the word ignorant. I don't want to shower you with insults, shame, or disgrace. There's too much of that spewed all over the internet these days and it does nothing but make me feel terrible.

For all I know, you're a really nice person.

And kindness always matters. Even on the internet.

I am going to talk to you as if you were my friend. I don't know if we'll get anywhere, but I hope we do.

*****
My friend, I admire you for your strong words. Faith in God is something we have in common.  It is not the only thing we have in common.

It is especially easy for me to talk to you on this matter because I once took a similar stance as you on the topic of mental illness. One day in a college class, the topic of depression came up. I raised my hand and commented that if those who came before us could weather back-breaking farm work, starting over in a new country with nothing, the Great Depression and other such challenges, then surely we could "get over" depression as we sit in our comfortable air conditioned cars and houses.

My words were bold, but cold and unfeeling. They were the words of a person who has not been there. And so, my friend, are yours. I can tell. Had you been there before, if you knew of what you spoke, I promise you would not speak the way you do.

Had you been there, you would understand that living in a body with a severely depressed mind is like living in a madhouse.

It should work just as you said it should. You should be able to seize control of the situation with your willpower and fight your way through triumphantly. But it doesn't. If you had been there before, you would understand how depression hijacks and disables your willpower. It robs you of your sense of self. You think in terms of who you were and who you are now as two separate people. You hate the one for destroying the other.

If you had ever been there, you would know about the demonic voices that screech in your head all day long. Worthless, worthless, worthless, they scream. The noise is deafening. You would also understand the struggle to stay calm on the outside. Though you are in fight or flight mode, you fear what would happen if people knew what was going on inside your head. So you act as if you are fine.

I will not, my friend, tell you to go to hell. But I have considered how a quick trip there could help you understand. You've heard of lakes of fire and brimstone? A severely depressed mind continually runs tours there daily. You've heard of weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth? If a depressed person can ever get away to a secluded place, they find relief in their screams.

I would not want your visit to hell to last long, my friend. I did not know the meaning of the phrase, "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy," until I experienced a severe bout with depression. You and I aren't enemies anyway.

I just am trying to help you understand that black pavement roasting in the heat is to the feet what intense mental anguish is to the brain.

In this condition, had someone handed me a contract to sign away my arms and legs to have my sanity back, I would have snatched the opportunity immediately. In fact, I dreamed of a scenario like that daily. That's the way your powers of reasoning function in a body with a severely depressed mind. You hope for the kinds of things that only a person in another dimension would think about. Because that's where you are.

In a depressed mind, this state you are in is your new reality. You are as sure of that as you are sure of the day of the week. Even more so. Because Tuesday used to mean something. Saturday used to mean something, but everything seems to have lost its meaning.

And it is permanent. Of that you are certain, for you have exhausted your heart in your search for a way out.

I know you said the depressed need to fight, my friend. I told myself the same thing. What you don't understand is that that's what so many of them are already doing. They have fought until their hearts have all but quit beating. 

*****

If you have indulged me at all, friend, in trying to imagine what it is like to be severely depressed, I thank you. Let me lay one more scenario before you.

I was a twenty-year old girl with so much hope in the future that I bounced out of bed every morning. Before I was slammed with a bout of depression. After that, considering what the next day held caused me to shudder, forget the next year. My future had become a portrait of darkness.

But every Saturday, my dad would take me on a walk, and he would affirm his faith in me over and over again for the course of an hour. I could not talk him out of it, no matter what I said.

A neighbor stopped by with a pamphlet outlining the symptoms of depression. While I was certain I was dealing with a case of moral failure, reading the pamphlet was strangely comforting. 

Cards appeared on the doorstep, "You're going to be okay, I've been there."

"I am worthless," I told one trusted family figure. "Some days I never even get out of bed." And he went on to tell me about the times he would come home to find his wife curled up in a ball just where he left her.

And I will never, ever forget the day my doctor told me during his personal bout with depression a number of years earlier, he had had a suicide plan. He knew what it was like down there. His words told me so. And he had gotten out. For the first time, I felt real hope.

You see my friend, every time someone was willing to reach out and talk to me about depression, indirectly or directly, they handed me a shred of light. Over time, my collection became bright enough that I had not only the strength to get up and fight again, but this time I had hope on my side.  

The article was right my friend. Depression insidiously reigns over the minds and the hearts of so many because they are afraid to bring it out in the open. But oh how I can attest to the fact that each time you talk about it, its grip loosens ever so slightly.

*****
If you ever visit the place we have discussed, I will know. I will hear it in your words. If we ever chance to meet, I will see it in your eyes.

But should you never, and that is what I earnestly hope, with this little glimpse may you be among the ones that those who are suffering can trust will have a heart willing to listen and then encourage.

In so doing, you might save a life.



It's a Love Story


When this blog was just an idea in my head, I wanted it to do two things for people: (1) expose what depression can do to a person, and (2) demonstrate that an extremely fulfilling life can be lived afterwards. I wanted to create something that could have infused me with so much hope had I stumbled across it during that period of my life.

The scary thing about depression is that everything is permanently permanent in your head. I was certain marriage and motherhood were long-lost dreams. I would have been happy to live the rest of my life just not loathing myself anymore.

In the Book of Mormon there is a scripture where the prophet Alma talks of a time when for three days and nights he was "racked, even with the pains of a damned soul...racked with torment." I could relate to that scripture terrifyingly well. But in the weeks and months of my recovery, I could also understand these beautiful words: "...My soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain." 
  
And this boy who entered my life in the midst of it (making my parents a little nervous) played a major role in it all.

 *****

(For best results, read in a charming Chilean accent. Like instead of "Brittney", say "Breetney".)

For Valentine's day Brittney has asked me to write a "Love story" about how we met.

Before I begin with the story, let me tell you a little bit about myself.  I'm from Chile and I have been in the United States since I was 13 years of age. Since I immigrated to the Unites States, I've always been drawn to my culture, therefore I've always been involved and socialized with Hispanics.  With few exceptions, I've always dated Hispanic girls, so naturally I thought that's the type of girl I would marry.

My family was baptized into the LDS faith when I was 3 years old. I have been active in the LDS church all my life and served a full-time mission for the church from 2003-2005. When I came home from the mission my goal in life was to go to school and marry when the time was right. I was in no hurry to get married. I dated, had fun with friends, went to Young Single Adult activities and enrolled in school.

Brittney came out of nowhere.

I first saw Brittney during a Family Home Evening activity at a friends house.  Brittney was there accompanied by a mutual friend Vanesa.  A friend and I were leading the program and I noticed her and thought she was pretty.  I don't like to rush things or be pushy so I didn't talk to her at that time, but since I knew her friend, I knew I would see her again.

I saw her again during a fireside at a chapel in Kaysville. It was the perfect chance to go talk to her, and, since she was there with Vanesa, I had a way in. As I approached them I of course said hello to Vanesa, but then immediately drifted to this new comer.  I had to find out a little bit more about her. I found out that she is fluent in Spanish, has a beautiful smile and learned the language in college. She was enrolled in the teaching program.

After the fireside I invited a big group to come to my house and watch the movie "Charly."  I like to give girls their space and I was still feeling the situation out so I didn't sit next to her during the movie, but sat in between two other girls. My wife to this day still gives me a hard time for doing that.

I guess I wasn't indifferent to her either.  After the movie I sat next to her while I showed her a few pictures.  I remember she smelled nice and I also remember feeling little tickles in my stomach when sitting next to her.

We hit it off from the beginning and after a few days I got the courage to ask her to come Latin dancing me. It was an experience she'd never had. Later, she tells me that her dad asked, "Isn't that kind of dancing a little steamy?" hahahahha! Pretty funny stuff.

We were going to meet up with friends, but things worked out in our favor and we ended up being by ourselves. I led her by the hand to the dance floor. She was a pretty quick learner. I held her by the waist, laughed, twisted and turned, we had an amazing night.

We could talk for hours! it was like a part that had been missing in my life that didn't know was there was finally filling the void which I did not know it was even there to begin with!

How did you ask her to be your girlfriend you ask? Around two months after we met we had "the exclusivity" conversation. Brittney was dropping me off at the Macey's parking lot where I was parked. We were sitting in her car for a long time, after we had enjoyed some ice cream at Cold Stone. I don't know, during a moment of silence I found my self lost in her gaze, I leaned over and kissed her. After catching my breath I said, "Brittney, what have you become of me?" Right after and a little scared I asked her "What are we? Are you my girlfriend?" and she replied, "Only if you'll be my boyfriend."

Everything advanced pretty quickly from there and three months later we were married in the Salt Lake Temple.

We are not perfect. Merging two different backgrounds and cultures has not always been easy, but I can tell you that it has been worth it.  I love how much of a better man my wife has made me. I love the beautiful children that she has given me. I love how hard she inspires me to work in order to be a good provider for my family.  I love how my wife and children are attached to me for all time and all eternity.

Brittney is truly my forever after, my joy and my everything.

Happy Valentines mi amor.



On Bad Hair Days


It was one of those times you ask a question and you are totally floored by the response. I was a senior in high school getting my hair cut a couple of miles from home. My shoulder length hair and the way I styled it had become overly plain for me. I was tired of it and I wanted something new. So I asked. "What kind of hair would you recommend for me other than shoulder length?"

"Nothing," she said.

Wait wait wait wait.

"Nothing," she repeated. "Your hair is so thick, it would be bushy short and unmanageable long. You're going to have to keep it shoulder length all your life."

I wanted something new and exciting and instead I got a life sentence.

I never went back and on that day I was determined to prove she was wrong. 

*****

Long hair has always been good to me in all those years since. I can truly say I went a full decade without a bad hair day. Hair not working for you one day? Pull it into a pony tail, wrap it on top of your head in a bun. Braid it. It's hard to go wrong.

Truly the only complaint I have from the last several years is that it is hard to get a fresh new look. Every time I go in for a trim, the instructions are the same. Keep the length, just cut off the dead stuff. And when I come out, nobody bats an eye. And so then I come home and keep doing it the same way I have been doing it for weeks and months and years.

In January, I finally snapped. I wanted something new, something different, and since I like the color of my hair, it was going to have to be the length that I played with.

I told my friend and hair stylist that I wanted to my hair to be as short as it possibly could while still falling in the long hair category. So she took it from tickling my elbows to a couple of inches past my shoulders. 

She styled it and it looked fantastic. This was a good move.

And then a couple days later I washed it, and I was on my own during the styling process. When I was through, I bore a dangerously close resemblance to my senior class picture. And I panicked.  And I put it in a ponytail.

That had to be a freak accident, I thought. But the next time I curled my hair, I got the same results. And I cried a little. And tried really hard not to resent every woman in public who had hair cascading down her back."My hair is just as long as yours... in my heart!" I wanted to cry.

I cried the next time I did it, too. It finally occurred to me that the difference between the way I was doing my hair and the way my friend had styled it in the salon was that she had curled it away from my face, and I was curling towards it.

A few years ago, I mastered the art of curling hair with a flat iron. It takes a special flick of the wrist and when I'm done, not even I know how I produced a spiral curl with that flat-plated contraption. Somehow I was going to have to reverse the process so that the curl twisted the opposite way in the end.

I was pretty sure it involved standing on my head, but I would figure it out.

And I did.

*****

As I looked at myself, crying in the mirror over my hair last week, words from Elder Holland's talk, Like a Broken Vessel, echoed through my mind.  "When I speak of [depression], I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have. Everyone is going to be anxious or downhearted on occasion."

I knew I had made a pretty significant recovery from my serious bout of depression the day something trivial made me sad. I don't even know what it was. But I remember I was in the living room of my grandparents' house, living there while they were on a mission. 

Maybe I found out I could have gotten more money back for my text books. Maybe some plans I had been looking forward to had been cancelled. Whatever it was, I sat there, disappointed. And then the way I was feeling sunk in. And joy overwhelmed my soul.

I had never been so grateful to be sad. It was a regular kind of sad. The fact that healthy, normal feelings like sadness, frustration and irritation were registering inside of me again was extremely noteworthy.

On that day, a bad hair day would have been reason for celebration.

Isn't it amazing the way the things that happen to us in this life can completely change the way we look at things?

Or which way we curl our hair. ;)



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