After Elder Holland spoke about mental illness during October 2013 conference, I heard from a lot of people from my past. I’ve been fairly open about my life-long struggle with serious depression, and the talk came during a particularly challenging period. Later someone asked me to put some thoughts together to help her teach a lesson about the talk. MMM has had some great posts about depression and I’d like to add my two cents as a believer and sufferer.
If you are not depressed, it is hard to understand what it feels like because it doesn't make sense. When you are depressed, it feels like you have always felt this way and will always feel that way. One of the biggest things is a lack of hope or perspective. It feels like nothing matters because nothing will change it. That is irrational for a working mind.
In my life, I have always known that my Heavenly Father is real and loves me. That is what has kept me from killing myself time and time again. Even when I felt like I couldn't feel the spirit, I know it was there reminding me of this basic knowledge. Reading my scriptures, even when it seemed useless, built up my knowledge of how God has helped others in the past.
I took an antidepressant for fifteen years. It changed my life because I stopped crying every day. It didn't cure my depression. I still got sad a lot, but at least for reasons instead of just all the time. I think of it as taking the edge off. That seemed good to me but I now realize that it probably wasn't enough. I couldn't imagine feeling any better though. I was lucky to have a doctor when I first sought treatment who didn't worry about a label for my problems but tried lots of different things to try to improve my life. I will always be grateful for his gentleness with me.
During my adult life I have tried to go off meds three or four times, thinking that I would be ok. Every time it has been an unmitigated disaster. That has been hard because I would like to be better. I'm only now, on my way to 40, coming to terms with the fact that this is going to always be with me and I need to let go of hoping to grow out of it.
Even on medication I had severe postpartum depression. I needed more help but didn't get it because I felt like I deserved to feel that way. That's another big part of depression. None of us are perfect but your brain tells you that you should feel horrible for minor weaknesses or mistakes. I realize that this is the main way that Satan tries to influence me. I try to stay aware of that and recognize that doubt and self-loathing are not productive feelings that are working to make me be better. Instead these feelings keep me from progressing or feeling God's love, so I'm pretty sure they aren't of the spirit.
Advice for those without depression:
The things that help you feel better, like exercise or service, are good things but not enough. It is really hard to sit in church meetings and hear people talk about medication being against the Word of Wisdom, how you should pray away sadness, or stop thinking about yourself so much. I do an incredible amount of community service. It does take my mind off things, as does exercise. But the very second that I stop--seriously, the second--all the horror and dismay of my existence comes back.
What we need is loving kindness, like everyone else. If you are my good friend and I feel like I can trust you, I will not answer the phone or call you back for a few days when I'm having a hard time. I'll know I don't have to pretend and we will still be ok. So leave a message. Say you love me or are worried or just thinking of me. I will cry when I hear it but it will be a little prick of light. I will know that I can come back when I'm ready and you won't hate me.
When someone tells you about his or her struggles with mental illness, even if it scares you or you totally don't understand, recognize that he/she is trusting you with something that feels shameful. Say ‘thank you for trusting me’ or something along those lines. I have had varying experiences with this--some people just don't want to deal with the drama of a crazy person and I've been so hurt when they disappear from my life shortly after hearing about my problems.
Pray for us, and everyone, that we can feel of God's love.
When a depressed person wants to help or give back, let him or her. There's so much guilt in needing. Even if it is just baking or doing errands, setting up chairs or putting together the bulletin--anything makes the relationship feel more balanced.
The very essence of depression as a Saint, at least for me, is that I believe in the atonement and the plan of salvation ... for everyone except me. I know that isn't rational. But that is how it feels.
Eliana Osborn was raised on cold weather and wild animals in Anchorage, Alaska, setting the stage for her adult life in the Sunniest Place on Earth in Arizona. She grew up in the church and didn't know there were places where conformity was preached. She has a degrees. She writes. She teaches. She has some kids. She even has a husband. She's trying to do her best.
Image credit: Ajnagraphy (used with permission).