This essay is a part of our Peculiar Minds series.
I have Depression. It sounds so weird to say, using a verb as a noun. It’s like the financial blight of the early 20th century took up lodging in my gut or something. It’s an odd thing, which really goes without saying. If there is one universal about mental illness, it’s that it is odd. It is the very definition of odd: “Not regular, expected, or planned.*”
Sure enough, this is not what I had planned. I planned to get married in the temple, have children and live happily ever after. While I’ve been blessed with the first two, the third is lacking. Oh my land, how it is lacking in these cloudy Midwestern winter days!
My diagnosis came in my early 20’s and was actually quite a relief. I was ecstatic (not an emotion you imagine a person with Depression feeling) to find out that the greyness which I attributed to being tired and lazy was in fact, odd: “Differing in nature from what is ordinary.*” The giddiness came from learning that my life and emotions could improve; I wasn’t doomed to feel that way forever. Since then I’ve lived through many ups and downs, and I hold on for the ups when the downs are desperate.
I go through different stages of accepting this label of Depression, and accepting it is vital to becoming who God wants me to be. Early on my husband and I agreed that simplicity is important for me, so we’ve turned our backs on a lot of the usual suburban Mormon activities for our kids, like soccer, girl scouts, and dance lessons. Part of that simplicity is being careful what I let into my mind. When I say that I’m not talking about actual viewing, reading, hearing (while that does have its importance); I’m talking about what I hear, accept as true, and then try to incorporate into my life. I think the scriptures call it hearkening.
It probably goes without saying, because I’m writing on this faith-supporting, LDS-themed website, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is one of the things I’ve let into my mind. Through difficult experiences I’ve had to learn what, exactly, the gospel is and what it is not.
An example of something I did not let into my mind is a quote I heard last Sunday, which, despite it sounding so sweet and perfect at first, I threw it away:
“Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” –Catharine M. Wallace
My son talks nonstop about the endless minutia that is an eleven year old boy’s life, from the time he walks in the door from school until he finally quiets when the toothbrush goes in his mouth at bedtime. There is no way in the world I could accomplish anything, let alone maintain a positive mental attitude, if I listened to his every word like it was his confession to robbing a bank. My sanity demands filtering and quiet, and honestly, he needs to learn to think quietly in his own mind, to be alone with his thoughts. I’m sure his wife will thank me later for teaching him this.
Another thing, one that I hear so very often in religious conversations, that I can’t let into my mind is, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
My dear reader, there are many people to whom God has handed more than they can handle. Right this minute there are men and women, our brothers and sisters, in hospitals who have been given more than they could handle. And I’m not only talking about the mentally infirm, there are physical infirmities that are too great for us to handle. (Although mood disorders are chemically-based, and can also be seen as a physical infirmity.) Not to be overly morbid, but I assure you that there are multitudes in heaven who would say that of course God gave them more than they could handle, and it killed them.
In these situations the way a person who has been handed more than they can handle can survive is by depending on other people. Just as a person with a heart attack can’t make their own breakfast, or can’t make it to the bathroom on their own, a person with mental illness needs the help of others. Neither person looks very much different on the outside; a heart attack doesn’t make your nose glow orange, nor does mental illness change a person’s appearance. (If you don’t believe me look at the fabulous-looking people who wrote posts for the Peculiar Minds series.) Their illnesses are no less real because they can’t be seen by an outside observer; the fact remains that they need assistance. If you don’t know what this feels like, to be given more than you can handle, then you are one of the people who are called to assist those whose hands are full and hang down. (Heb. 12:12-13)
I’m grateful beyond my ability to express for those who have lifted my heavy hands by holding them in their own, and strengthened my feeble knees by feeding my soul. My family helped when God handed me more than I could handle, most especially my husband and my older sister. My extended family has played a role too, loving me and laughing with me (sometimes at me, and I laugh at them too). There are many professionals who’ve helped me carry what God has handed me: therapists, doctors, nurses, and even a cold psychiatrist that wasn’t very kind, was helpful. Friends are, and have been, very important, as are visiting teachers, leaders who lead with compassionate instruction, and teachers who teach the pure doctrines of Christ.
When I focus on those pure doctrines, the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ, life is simple. To me it sounds as simple as the testimonies I heard in the Spanish branch I attended years ago, “Jesus vive!” Because Jesus lives and his followers act as he would act, with compassion and without judgment, I have hope and still feel giddy with the knowledge that I can progress, including one day giving up this odd body to receive a resurrected body without this silly verb used as a noun, Depression, trapped inside.
*definitions from online dictionaries
The Entire Series
- Forum – Is Mental Illness a Latter Day Plague?
- Resources (research)
- Resources for Help with Mental Illness by Paul
- Understanding PTSD by Robin Grosland
- Anxiety Disorders, Including PTSD (research)
- The Diagnosis by anonymous
- Understanding Asperger’s by Kathy Ward
- Understanding Dementia by Cassandra Jones
- Different Issues for Children (research)
- Asperger’s and Autism (research)
- Simply Depression by Jendoop
- How to Help Someone Who is Depressed: an LDS perspective by Sarah Hancock
- Forum - Does Committing Suicide Consign Someone to Hell?
- The Well of Depression by Cheryl
- Panic, OCD, Grandma and Me by NotMolly
- Understanding Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and OCD by Robison Wells
- Free at Last by anonymous
- Forum - No One Wants to Hear They’re Wrong
- Understanding P0rnography Addiction by Dr. Kevin Skinner
- What is Real? Living Without Diagnosis by anonymous
- A Reader’s Story of Hope by anonymous
- Understanding Bipolar II Disorder by Tresa Edmunds (Reese Dixon)
- What is Bipolar Disorder? (research)
- Choosing Treatment through Revelation by Bonnie
- Overcoming Anxiety and Depression Without Medication by Aaron Anderson
- How Do We Embrace Those with Mental Illness by Jendoop
- What is Schizophrenia? (research)
- Understanding Schizophrenia by Judy Hall
- Understanding a Roommate with Schizophrenia by anonymous
- Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder by Melissa Horsley
- My Path Down the Rabbit Hole by anonymous
- Mental Illness FHE Lesson by Jendoop
- Healing by Michelle