In the Tunnel

[ 26 ] Comments

by Paul

under the coversI have heard that those who suffer from depression often feel like they are covered in a blanket that they cannot remove.

I get that now. I’ve been covered by that blanket for months. And finally now I’m coming to realize it.

And I don’t much like it.

I do not have the energy I want to have. I do not have the focus I want to have. I do not have the drive I want to have.

It’s not that I am sad (though sometimes I am). It’s that I’m just not anything.

I get this, academically at least. I’ve watched some of my children go through it, and other family members as well. And I’ve had “blue” periods before, but none so pervasive.

And did I tell you I don’t much like it?

I know I’m not alone. And I know I’m not the worst case there is. And I don’t care. I am not comforted knowing there are others who feel (or don’t feel) the way I do. And I’m not helped knowing there are those who are worse off than me. I know there are plenty of people worse off than me.

I know there’s value in serving others. I know the Savior taught me to lose myself in the service of others.  Been there, done that. I know those blessings come. I have enjoyed them in my life.

I know that there is peace that comes through studying the scriptures. I’ve enjoyed the enlightenment that comes from gospel study.

I know that God loves me and that my family loves me.

I know these things in my head, and even in my heart (most of the time), but today, that doesn’t matter. Because today I can’t get out from under the blanket.

I also know that my feeling the way I do is not because of my personal unrighteousness. I hold a current temple recommend. I do my home teaching most months. I provide for my family. We read scriptures and say family prayer and hold Family Home Evening. I love my wife and kids and they love me. I eat healthy foods and exercise. I care for the poor and needy.

I do not feel the spirit the way I have in the past, or in the way I would like to. I do not know if this is self-fulfilling, but I have long suspected that my children who suffer from depression do not have the same experience with the spirit as those who don’t. I now believe even more firmly that they do not. The spiritual quickening common in my life – the inflow of ideas, the confirming peace of mind, the burning in my heart – is faint at best, but more often absent.  I still feel emotional response to some stimuli, but it is without the spiritual witness to which I had grown accustomed.

There is an excellent series on depression at Times & Seasons which has been instructive to me. Among other things, it lists a plethora of causes of depression, and it wonders (as I do) how any of us escape it.

The light / La luz

I want to have hope. I want to hope that I will find the end of the tunnel I am in. I have successfully navigated tunnels before, and I try to remember that I have.

I have some ideas about the causes of my own depression. I’m in the throes of a bout with significant anemia and am working with a number of doctors to pinpoint why and, more importantly, treat it. As the anemia resolves, perhaps so will my mood. (Certainly my energy will improve, at least.) I don’t get enough sleep. Of course the depression feeds that problem, and it makes it harder for me to move from one activity to another (like getting ready for bed). I’ll have another conversation with my doctor this week about how I’m feeling. And I’ll keep taking my iron supplements. And I’ll keep doing the good things I’m trying to do. And I’ll try to hope for improvement.

I’ll continue to try to connect the blessings of the atonement to my recovery, though it’s much harder now than it has ever been. I have seen the atonement work on me. I know what that looks like. But I don’t know what it looks like here.

I learned some time ago to move one step at a time, one day at a time. I’ll keep that pattern going.

photo by: ginnerobot

About Paul

Paul was a convert to the church with his parents and siblings when he was a child, and therefore has the great blessing of having some of his formative years in the church while still remembering his family’s conversion experience. He is the father of seven and husband to his lovely wife. He served an LDS mission in Germany and has lived in Latin America and twice in Asia for his employer; now he lives with his lovely wife and youngest two children in the Midwestern US. Prior to earning his MBA, Paul also earned degrees in English and Theatre History. He also blogs at A Latter-day Voice (see the link below -- in "Our Authors Elsewhere" section at the bottom of the page) where he writes, as he does here, of his own experience as a Latter-day Saint. He does not speak for the church but will speak in favor of it.

26 Responses to In the Tunnel

  1. Jendoop says:

    It is difficult to know what to say. You know a lot, you’re doing what you can. Endure. In the past you’ve written faithfully, believe your own words even if you don’t feel the same now. I’m sorry that you’re becoming acquainted with this trial, it isn’t what I’d wish on anyone.

    This post reminds me of our forum discussion, I’m Being Tried? I believe depression and mental illness are among the worst trials of the last days for all the reasons you listed and most of all because of the stigma and great misunderstanding in the church culture surrounding it. I’m sorry to say that the few things I’ve found from official sources about this specific issue aren’t very helpful. I’d like to know if anyone has found something specific to mental illness from our leaders that has helped them. I’ll check out your T&S link, BCC had a series on depression a few years ago also.

    • Paul says:

      Jen, I think you’re right about stigma, though it’s not limited to the church culture. I agree, however, that in the church culture we do have this idea that “losing yourself” is a good thing, and for someone who suffers mental illness, that is not necessarily true. Recently I have begun couching messages about service and losing oneself in terms of those who are mentally healthy or who are on firm footing, etc.

  2. Brittany says:

    I could relate to this post. I experienced anemia-related depression during my most recent pregnancy. I found a liquid iron supplement (Floradix Iron and Herbs) to be very helpful. It is said to be absorbed better than the pill form. My iron levels fluctuate with my female cycles now, and I’ve noticed such a big difference in how I feel when my levels are not low. I was also vitamin d deficient and found high dose supplementation helpful.

    I hadn’t realized, until it happened to me, that depression would be something you could not know you had. I guess I figured it would be obvious. I also hadn’t realized that depression is not necessarily feeling sad all the time, it can also be feeling overwhelmed, withdrawn, numb, etc.

    We are commanded not to judge because we never know what demons someone may be fighting. This may not help, but I can say I’ve been there, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

  3. Becca says:

    Paul, your post sounds strikingly familiar :)

    Sometimes I think that we get to have these experiences so we can know better how to serve our brothers and sisters. I have always been a happy person (my husband’s Stake President who interviewed us when we were engaged called me a “ball of inertia” – I think what he meant was that I was so high energy and so happy… all.the.time.) The past few years were really hard for me, because I went through quite a few low periods, which I had never experienced before, culminating with my somewhat disastrous experience last fall.

    When I was pregnant with my first, I got really bad carpal tunnel. So bad that a few weeks before I delivered my fingertips were all numb. My middle fingers were entirely numb. After I gave birth, it took a few weeks for the tingling sensation to go away (you know, that feeling your foot has after you’ve been sitting on it wonky). I’m relating this experience because although the feeling is back in my heart from my most recent bout with depression, I still feel a little tingly – I don’t quite feel normal, and my emotions don’t all feel the same as before yet. I suspect it will be a few months before I start feeling completely normal again.

    It was hard being in that place – under a blanket is a really good description. I don’t think I handled it nearly as well as I should have – but, you know, when you’re in that fog it’s hard to think straight and it’s hard to feel motivated to do the things you know you should be doing to stay afloat. A good support system is crucial, and I’m sure you have that in your wife. I had a lot of people in my corner (especially the authors here at Real Intent) helping to remind me of what was important and keep giving me reality checks when things seemed to be out of control.

    I like what Jen said.

    Endure.

    Sometimes that’s about all you can do.

    • Paul says:

      Becca, your suggestion that you didn’t handle it as well as you should have raises a flag for me. One thing I’ve learned particularly in the last four or five years is that we typically do the best we can at the time with what we know. Of course we can all improve, but we may not have been able to improve at that time.

      A friend advises me (and others) to wear the world as a loose garment. By that she suggests that we need to be comfortable with who we are, even if we are not where we want to be, and not allow our own self expectations defeat us. That’s a great challenge in a church that preaches the gospel of improvement. And I agree with the gospel of improvement. I’m coming to learn that I cannot improve myself, however; for that I need a Savior (and I’m grateful to have one).

  4. Bonnie says:

    I’ve found that the hardest trials for me have been the ones that occurred in my head and heart, because you are so utterly alone. Even when people around you want to help, you can’t perceive their assistance or feel encouraged by it. How efficient of Satan to have found such a foolproof method to alienate us from everything good.

    Coming from a long tradition of natural health, and having dealt with bi-polar my whole life, I have a theory that much, much of what we suffer is the result of living in a chemically toxic world. I think it’s hard to avoid all the unnatural and poisonous chemicals in our air, water, homes, clothing, food – everything. These chemicals alter our DNA, RNA, hormones, and subvert every function that occurs in our bodies. We experience physical, emotional, social, and even spiritual difficulties based on this polluted earth we inhabit. To be frank, one of the things I most look forward to in the Millennium is the cleansing of the earth and the removal of pollutions on it, with the resulting slow eradication of the diseases and conditions that plague us. It has given me great comfort to trace the genetic alterations that contribute to my own troubles, and to accept that it is part of my perfecting package. I know this: when I am resurrected, I will be free of it.

    I am so grateful for your courage to speak in the middle of this. Just being willing to speak would seem to indicate that you’re on your way up out of it. It’s so much easier to speak when we’re completely free of something, because few of us want to admit that we struggle. But reaching out, receiving the truth of our interdependence, that is healing. God bless you. I will pray for your peace.

    It’s interesting to me that my oldest son, nearly 19 and waiting to receive his mission call next week (and who also struggles with bi-polar) sat down last night to have another discussion late into the night. We talked about how consistently a hard experience, grinding in its length and depth, doesn’t really so much teach us as it sets things in our memory and spirit forever. Elijah spent 3 1/2 years during the famine largely alone with God, and emerged with the power to publicly stand for God and call down fire from heaven. Joseph was never the same after Liberty – a man of great power and confidence. In my own life, periods of overwhelming trial have set some principles and understandings permanently. It is grinding to endure, but it is a holy process, reminiscent of the Savior. Thank you for writing about it in the middle of it, for inviting us in and for showing others that they are not alone.

    • Paul says:

      Bonnie, I agree that being alone stinks. It’s one reason the covenant to mourn with those who mourn is so important to me. Sorting out who that is and how to help is the challenge.

      Love what you’ve observed about Joseph in Carthage. I’ve had similar thoughts, though never so well articulated.

  5. Paul says:

    I appreaciate the kind comments, and particularly the thought that perhaps my experience might give someone else some hope, too. Brittany, I appreciated your thought that experiences like these teach of compassion rather than judgement. I remember reading in Elder Maxwell’s biography that as he prayed and pondered about why he had leukemia, the answer came very clearly to him that it was so he could “teach with authenticity.” Our collective experiences help us, I believe, to learn how to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. That is the core of gospel living, and it is a good thing to learn to do.

    • MSKeller says:

      I know that in my life, my experience with depression has prepared me to help my own stewardship who also have struggled. Though it was no relief or help at the time, looking back, I am grateful for the experience. I learned more than I ever would have, had my life remained the perfect box of a Mormon bishop’s wife world.

  6. templegoer says:

    As I work through a period of mourning in my life, I reflect that I am not mourning one thing. No loss stands on it’s own, it joins with the others in our lives. All of the hopes that we eventually have to abandon, the dreams that have become beyond our own power to realise. It is hardly surprising when a build up of these events bring us to despair. Some things in life really take us beyond our own competencies. By our own lights, we fail.

    When we are sick, we take medicine. Without judgement,we treat our bodies, ideally, with compassion and realise that they need help with pain in order to heal. I view our minds in a similar manner, and understand that when there are not enough endorphin releasing experiences in our lives, for whatever reason, our brains are overwhelmed by depression producing chemical processes. No amount of self criticism is going to help us to change that, in fact quite the opposite. I of course speak entirely from personal experience.

    Some of us work too hard, dig too deep, mourn too much with those that mourn that our own defenses are overwhelmed. I think that we play an important part in the kingdom, but so do others. I have learnt that there are times when it is right for me to take time to dance in order to remain sane. That’s very hard for me-it’s extraordinary how compelling misery can be. So, I am starting on the medication, in order to be well enough to start dancing again, replacing the endorphins that have been leeched by the misery of my circumstances and my determination to face them unflinchingly. For some of us, the art of life is learning to remain on the surface of things.

    So, I have to actively seek delight in order to heal. But in order to experience delight, I’m going to need some medicine.

    • jendoop says:

      Wow. Templegoer, your comment hits on things that I struggle with as well. I don’t know what kind of proportion to have of dancing and working, mourning, going deep. Physical sickness is so obvious when it arrives, and often its cures. This is so much more complicated, the soul is a more complicated landscape than the body. I appreciate that middle paragraph of description, about the possibility of our brains being overwhelmed by a lack of endorphins. And in another area I identify, that some mourning seems to pile up, sometimes even resurrecting what I’ve put away. It makes me ask what we could be collectively missing if we see these things in common? Or is it just the lot of (wo)man?

    • Paul says:

      Templegoe, I agree that in many ways the process of mourning and working through a periodic depresson can be similar, or have been for me. For others who suffer chronic depressioin, it may be different.

      And the idea that we mourn lots of things (and often together) is insightful; sometimes it is the stacking up of issues that causes the break.

  7. templegoer says:

    I think it’s what we came here to do, in my better moments. In my worse ones, I berate myself for what I have not , am not and will not achieve. And so the cycle perpetuates itself. For someone like me, that’s a system that needs punctuating, either with medication or a strong alternative stimulus. For me that needs to be strongly physical and completely absorbing-thus dancing or market gardening. I do plenty shared experience, and I seriously doubt it’s effectiveness for me. I think it has it’s place, up to a point, as long as there is plenty of distraction from the self. I guess it’s all about balance.

    • MSKeller says:

      I Love that. . . “I liberate myself from what I have not and will not achieve” – Loosely quoted, Brilliant, and if I/we can get that into our souls, a lot of life will be a lot more joyfilled I expect.

  8. MSKeller says:

    Paul, I haven’t read the previous replies and for good reason, I don’t want them to color my impressions and response to your candid sharing.

    As a prelude, I’ll share that I was clinically depressed for over a year. I expect I lost my first eternal marriage over it in large part. (Though there were other factors certainly), I didn’t realize at the time that I was depressed, nor did I do anything more than bloodied finger-nail hold on through it. I didn’t realize I had the option. I’ve since learned that both my great grandmother and my father and even some children in our line suffer from this. I subsequently went back to school to obtain a degree in psychology. I learned a great deal through all of my experiences and my healing and my pain.

    What I learned was in large part what you have shared. As the adage goes, “I was sad I didn’t have any shoes, until I met a man with no feet” . . . it simply doesn’t change that fact that I STILL DON”T HAVE SHOES in the freezing cold. As you eloquently and simply shared, comparisons with other’s experiences are usually of little benefit, unless they share something that helped, and it resonates with you.

    Depression has an ugly face. It is one of those dis-eases that looks ‘normal’ on the outside, which precludes others from offering their support. Even now (though much better understood than a decade ago) it retains stigma and a certain guilt. “I should just get over it. . .”

    For some who may not understand what they are feeling, or why, some of the symptoms include a lack of joy. Tiredness, constant inability to get enough rest, no matter how long you sleep. Food no longer tastes good or brings pleasure. In fact most things that once brought joy, no longer have the ability to move or motivate. You mentioned the blanket or the dark tunnel, a fog of understanding, of motivation and of even relationships (with humans as well as the divine). Going through the motions, is prevalent.

    For some types of depression, it is a period. It comes, it stays for awhile (up to a year or more in some instances) and then goes away for the most part and the rest of life is relatively enriched by the experience and depth of knowledge.

    For some types it comes and goes almost without provocation that you can discern. It stays sometimes for a short time, and then dissipates only to return time and again.

    There is also a pervasive type that comes and never quite ever releases its choke-hold on the individual. The severity strengthens and weakens, but never really abates.

    I was lucky, mine pretty much came, did its damage and taught its lessons and moved on. However, what I can share is that the thing that helped me more than anything, was gratitude. Service didn’t – I didn’t have the energy nor did I feel capable of serving more than my seminary students or my family (what little I could) – but I wrote down five things a day that I was grateful for. For the first couple of months, it was a task, it was one more robotic thing I ‘got through’, but one day I noticed that I really was grateful for those five things I had written. Then I looked back at the hundred plus things I’d all ready recorded, and felt their power seep into my soul. The hourglass tunnel finally opened up. . . I found that the light was getting brighter and the dense fog was beginning to slowly lift. I daily felt more. I daily discovered item by item (the rule was I couldn’t repeat anything) – that my life was pretty incredible. Beyond intellectually, I felt it.

    I highly recommend the book by Karol Truman ‘ Feelings buried Alive Never Die” – I can attest to the principles and the power of her ‘Script” on a deep level.

    I too have had anemia from high school, I wonder about that connection as well. These days I am generally happy, upbeat and enjoy all that life offers. It is far from perfect and sometimes really scary, but that fog no longer binds me.

    Truly, my heart-felt wishes for strength, answers and an understanding about why you have this particular challenge at this time. I found that my world changed when I stopped asking “why me” and changed the question to “what does this require of me.”

    All the best.

    • Paul says:

      Marsha, a wonderful response.

      I think you (and others who have responded) illustrate one of the ways in which we effectively minister: we share our experience without admonition and without the expectation that our experience is universal — it simply is another data point for consideration.

      12-step groups live by that notion that the sharing of near-common experiences without advice or counsel is helpful to those who suffer similarly, and I have found it to be helpful to me in that setting, and it is helpful here, too.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      • MSKeller says:

        I guess that is all we can hope at times, that our pain will help someone one day yes? Thank you for sharing yours. Had I someone who had, my journey would have been much easier. I felt I was completely broken. I wasn’t, only partly so, and repairable.

  9. Becky L. Rose says:

    There is a specific bishop in Nampa Idaho that needs to read this. He stupidly thought that if one read and prayed there would be no such thing as depression. Hmmm…. Wonder why the Church as a “social service” organization! Still infuriates me and it’s been over a year.

    I’m sorry. I know of what you speak!

    • Paul says:

      Becky, I’m sorry for that bishop and those he serves. Of course LDS Social Services is always available to counsel with bishops to offer them just this sort of help, but the bishops need to ask!

      • jendoop says:

        I thought I heard recently that you don’t even need a bishop’s referral anymore, you can call them directly! Love that!

        • Paul says:

          Jen, I think you’re right about the referral. Of course many people start with their bishop anyway, seeking counsel in a time of trouble, so it’s also good for him to be informed. Since all of our bishops are volunteers, and not all of them have first-hand experience with these matters, and not all of them are close to an LDS Family Services center, it’s no surprise that some are better informed than others

  10. Cheryl says:

    I don’t have much to add, only that I understand how it feels. Sometimes, the despair of depression has been so over-riding, I didn’t know if I would ever make it out again. But I did. I do. There’s a long list of reasons why, but more importantly, that list includes Faith in Jesus Christ. No, I cannot “pray away” my depression –or rather, it has never been prayed away in my case. But I’ve learned how to rely on Him, how to trust in Him, and I’ve learned how to even thrive in my life with this mental disconnect. One could say, even, that I am grateful for my depression and all it has taught me. Without it, I would certainly not be as humble, nor as teachable.

    Good luck, Paul! I always say the first step to getting out of depression is to admit to someone that it exists (12 steps, eh?)…

  11. Ray says:

    I believe one of the biggest issues among church members is the mistaken notion that being “perfect” means not making mistakes and/or doing everything we think we ought to be able to do. That definition rests on unrealistic expectations and, in a very real way, actually denies the Atonement – but in order to deny the Atonement, truly, one must understand it is being denied. Thus, those who are denying the Atonement theoretically aren’t really denying it consciously – and, beautifully, the Atonement covers that, as well.

    I hope that was coherent, since it’s hard to articulate in a comment.

    I also believe the Plan of Salvation gets mis-titled as the Plan of Happiness. I accept that happiness (or, more precisely, joy) is the eternal goal of our theology and faith, but we tend to morph it into a measure of righteousness in the here and now. Thus, we give talks about how real faith leads unfailingly to happiness – which is interpreted by those who suffer from some sort of depressive tendency to blame themselves for that tendency. That is a vicious cycle, and it is insidious specifically because it can’t be recognized in the midst of depression.

    Fwiw, my mom is schizophrenic, and one of my sons is diabetic. My wife has struggled with unrealistic expectations, and that has been either the cause or result of depression at various times in her life. Being tired doesn’t help, and our church can be tiring.

    I believe we need to be much more aware of these issues and, at the most fundamental level, accept our Second Article of Faith’s implication that we will not be punished for the weaknesses we inherited as a result of the Fall – for our mortality, if you will – that the Atonement covers all of those things without price.

    Depressive tendencies and the actions performed in their throes fall in this category, imo – and that is the hope that animates the faith that sees the evidence of potential and acceptance often not seen.

    • Paul says:

      Ray you raise a great point about our weakness. Wendy Watson wrote a book about the notion that our human weakness is not our sin. I’ve not read that book, I confess, but the concept is really appealing to me, for all the reasons you’ve outlined.

      Our human weakness is just that. Sin is all about choices we make that transgress the law, not about our brain chemistry.

      In 12-step recovery programs, there’s a lot of attention paid to getting out from under shame and blame and on to recovery. Sadly, many people in my age group grew up in a time when shaming was a common parenting technique. In my own case, it has taken huge effort to overcome the tendency to do the same (and I admit that I’m not always successful).

  12. templegoer says:

    When I read posts and comments like these, I realise that the Spirit works with the broken-ness of our souls. In our vulnerability we reach out to others and they draw closer to us through exercising compassion as they try to understand and reach into their own experience. I’m particularly impressed by the vulnerability shown by my brethren and I realise that it can be particularly difficult when we live in a culture that values performance and winning. I love to see that the Spirit can inspire us to greater vulnerability. Sharing our weakness allows us to grow into greater intimacy with one another. We feel safer about our own expressing our own weakness, and we begin to be able to skill share . It becomes a virtuous cycle. Maybe we will eventually become able to normalise our depressive experiences as part of a normal spectrum of human experience, rather than requiring the hurting soul to stop harshing our own vibe.

    But I also acknowledge that this is a tall order, it’s nice to be around happy people so I do try to get over myself.

    Thankyou Paul for having the courage to share. I strongly feel that’s how we grow together.

    I’m hoping there are safe places for your feelings, brother. Having worked as a therapist for twenty years I might be expected to favour my own profession, but the longer you do it the more you realise how very little is universal and how much is unique and individual.

  13. Brad says:

    Paul,

    I’m sorry to hear that you are in the tunnel. I’ve been there for 10 0r 15 years, and it’s hard to come to grips with sometimes. I’ve been taking anti-depressants most of the time and done some counseling. It’s better sometimes and it’s worse others. I completely understand what you mean when you say “I don’t much like it.”

    The good news is that the odds are it won’t be long lived for you. It may have a medical cause like your anemia or be treatable with anti-depressants. But even if it’s not, lots of folks live with it. I’ve come to accept it as just another part of who I am. It’s not among the best parts, but it’s there.

    One day at a time works well for me. Thinking too far down the line tends to be overwhelming for me.

    May you see that light at the end of the tunnel soon.

    Brad

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