Depression played a major role in my self-identity for a decade of my life, from about 7th grade through the end of my mission.
Life is good. In fact, life is great now. I’ve worked through my demons. No, that makes it sound like I knew what I was doing. Even now I can’t say why things have turned out as well as they have. Just lucky, I guess.
I remember the day I decided to be lucky. I was walking to school with a friend on one of those frigid mornings when you can see your breath. Things hadn’t been going well for me, and I felt like Murphy’s Law incarnate. But that morning I decided I was done with it. I decided to be lucky, and I’ve been lucky ever since.
(How does that work? Kind of like this: For the orientation session of my MBA program, all of us students took a personality test. I like personality tests. I find it comforting to have myself quantified, conveniently understandable. But, for whatever reason, I was feeling contrary the day I took this test, and I decided to answer all the questions at random.
The results came back and classified me as a “reformer”. That’s not the result I would have gotten if I had answered the questions accurately, but I liked it. I decided to own that assessment, and I’ve been a reformer ever since :) )
Being lucky is great. It makes a person optimistic and grateful. It’s especially useful when you’re depressed. That odd combination of optimism and depression has probably done as much to define me — to make me “Dane” — as anything else has.
The thing I remember most about when the depression was severe was how physical it felt. It wasn’t some abstract emotion. It occupied a space in me. It was an iron ball, and I could point at the particular spot in my chest where it sat. At its worst, it became an external presence rather than an internal one, and I could point at the space in the room from which it pressed down on me.
That depression ceased to be a controlling force for me, though, in a series of sacred events that occurred in my life over the space of two years. That doesn’t mean that everything is gone, cleanly washed away. I mean, some of it is. The guilt and self-incrimination are gone, as is the hopelessness and despair. But the pain isn’t all gone. I can still point at the place in my chest where that iron ball sat.
Even though the ball isn’t there anymore, its presence left a mark. But I don’t mind that so much. It’s a reminder to me of how good things are now. It’s a reminder to me that the people I meet each carry their own burdens, and that I would do well to treat them with care, love, and patience, since I don’t know what sufferings they currently endure. It directly influences my faith and theology. I suppose that my personal articles of faith were largely borne of those experiences.
So my questions for you today are — Do you feel that your pain has helped to define you? If so, do you see this as a positive, valuable force in your life, and how? If you’re currently struggling, what keeps you going? And if you’ve overcome it, what advice do you have for those who still fight it?
Great post! I suffered from depression through much of my high school years, during my mission, and during college and medical school. Like you, I seemed to have escaped its grasp by no particular effort, insight, or choice I can identify (although an undiagnosed infection I contracted on my mission had some contribution one point).
I remember I felt a very real visceral pain almost every morning. It was hard to get up and get going for so long. As I remember that I appreciate acutely how blessed I am now. I think people would describe me as a generally cheerful person, even back then.
Has it changed/defined me? I think so. I have undergone a period of continued growth as a result. I have discovered talents that I never would have found before.
Will it come back? I don’t know, but I do have the peace that Heavenly Father will consecrate my suffering for my benefit.
I’ve refused to let pain define me, though it is a constant question for many people in like circumstances to mine.
“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” :)
It’s a great question. Issues of mental health can be troubling in the church, because of the extent to which a sort of “Protestant free-will theology on steroids” underlies much of LDS thought. (Men are free to choose.) And yet, sometimes we aren’t free.
I remember reading that if you look out on the members of your ward, and assume that two-thirds of them are in the middle of a major crisis rightnow, you’ll be about right.
In the middle (I hope…or near the end) of that pain now. Military injury left me with constant pain and a severe change in physical abilities left me quite depressed. Has it changed me? Oh yeah! I consciously seek pleasure in new things – things I passed by before. Sometimes I find it and some days I don’t.
The wife and kids keep me going. Almost ended it several times, but wife and kids kept me from doing so and prompted me to find help. Wish I could be the father I used to be…but happy to be a father at all.
Do I find it valuable? Not yet, but hope to find some upsides down the road aways.
Advice for those still struggling… talk to people, and be honest when you do!
Yes, my pain and struggles have helped define who I am – but mine mostly have been learning to accept myself and my uniqueness amid people I love who think very differently than I do. Being heterodox can be hard, but being that way for as long as I can remember has given me decades to work it out productively and find peace despite difference.
Advice – especially for those whose struggles are related to depression or some other mental / emotional issue?
My son has diabetes. He uses insulin to stay alive and cope. Nobody in their right mind would tell him to stop using medication for those purposes. (So, yes, I categorize Tom Cruise and those of his philosophical bent as not being in their right minds.)
Depression often is like diabetes, in the sense that sometimes medication is exactly what is needed to help people stay alive and cope. It’s not the same thing; I know that; it is important, however, to keep that door open and try medical balancing in many cases. Don’t feel ANY guilt or shame or “faithlessness” if that is the case. Some things won’t go away with Priesthood blessings and prayer and faithful living. (I have given a blessing in which it was stated clearly that the recipient would struggle her entire life with what plagued her – which I found out later was depression.)
We live in the 21st Century; don’t fight that.
I wish there was a “like” button beneath each comment, if there were I’d check the box.
I have never battled with prolonged depression, but I have had moments of complete and utter despair, when I feel hedged in on every side without knowing where to turn. It is in those moments that I have to relearn to breathe, and to forge ahead. It is generally after the moment has passed that I realize that I was never really alone, but in fact was watched over the entire time.
Consequently, those moments are the ones that have shaped and reshaped me over and over again. It is the moment of clarity, born out of despair, that gives me hope for myself and my future, knowing that even in the darkest of times there is always light ahead.
Depression reminds me that God’s grace is the air I breathe, that my successes are His work through my hands, and that He will cradle me through my failures. Because of depression, I know that God is good, powerful, kind, involved, and mindful of us. And with all my heart, I consecrate my life to help carry others’ burdens, because our burdens hurt so, so bad.
Dane, this is lovely, but also dangerous. I fear that belief in the ability to just “choose to be lucky” is something that keeps many sufferers of depression from getting the medical help they need for what is, in part, at least, a physical illness. Sometimes, deciding to be lucky means committing to taking the medicine that makes such a choice possible.
I had and to some extent still do have depression but hopefully the worst of it is over. I think it started around 12 and ended about almost 2.5 years ago. The worst of it was from about 2005-mid 2009. I was divorced, no job, living with my brother had mounting debt, all my plans for my life had totally fallen through. I used to just lay on my bed for hours wishing my life was over, day after day. I went to see a group here for anxiety disorders because I had severe panic attacks, the whole thing. I tried going back to school but after about year of that my depression took over again and I just couldn’t be out in public. I lost jobs, money, everything totally fell apart. I was active in Church and had callings. I would have emotional breakdowns about once a year where all I could do was cry, not eat or slepp for about 3 days, I cried all the time during that time. For that period from 2005-the end of 08 I was a walking zombie, dead to eerything. Completely and totally out of the blue, a girl I knew from primary,whose family moved out of here in 1989, and I re-connected through facebook. It was an elephant that fell out of the sky, I remembered her as a little kid, our sisters were friends but i can’t say I knew her real well. We started talking and I talked my depression out, everything and I have been on a upward swing ever since and my depression has almost entirely lifted. I can’t even believe how it happened. I remember as I write this praying one night in the middle of that episode for a real, genuine friend, and God answered it and I stand completely amazed.
I think it has changed me and I can now relate to people that perhaps otherwise I could never and I went a HUGE learning curve in my twenties, I am 33.
I would say to anyone going through it to reach out and just talk to someone you can trust and pray to get your midn around the idea that Christ is in your reality
Kristine, I had the exact same thought about the “danger” of being able to decide to stop being depressed (which prompted my “advice” about mediation), and I really should have mentioned it in my initial comment. Thanks for pointing that out explicitly.
I read this post literally a few minutes after it appeared but have not been able to comment until now (Thanksgiving weekend travel). But what I was going to say was exactly what Kristine said.
I have gotten to know about depression a lot the last 25 years. My wife for years has been battling it, and a battle it has been. I am very glad for you Dane that you were able to “decide” not to be depressed, but I can tell you not all are so lucky. I agree *completely* with Kristine. By stating that your recovery was in large part due to a choice on your part, without any qualifications about the complexities of depression and that not all cases are the same or can be cured the same, I’m afraid it gives the dreadful impression to readers that if their neighbor/brother/spouse/child is depressed for some length of time that it gives them the permission to think that the only reason they are still depressed is because the depressed person just has to ‘decide’ to not be depressed, and thus the fact that they are still depressed is to a great degree their own fault.
Kristine, Ray, and Anon Today, I agree with you 100% and I am appalled with myself if what I’ve posted promotes the idea that a person can “decide” not to be depressed. I understand enough to know that medication and professional assistance save lives, and I believe that they are great blessings.
I don’t know much about depression, clinically speaking. I just know my own experience, and it was pretty awful at times.
I don’t think that anything I wrote in the post says that my depression went away because I somehow chose not to be depressed anymore. I said, “I’ve worked through my demons. No, that makes it sound like I knew what I was doing. Even now I can’t say why things have turned out as well as they have. Just lucky, I guess.” And it’s true, I don’t know why things worked out. But it wasn’t because I magically wished the demons away.
The choice I did mention was the choice to “be lucky”. But that didn’t solve my depression. It was orthogonal. It didn’t mean that I got to be lucky instead of being depressed. It just means I got to be lucky and depressed simultaneously, for about ten years. The two were more or less unrelated.
The depression resolved itself. I don’t want that statement to minimize what it was. Ten years is a long time (fourteen years, really, counting to the point in time that I look at as when things were fully resolved). If twelve-year-old me had known enough to pursue counselling, then that might have saved me years of pain, and I wish I could have taken that course. My post here isn’t meant to be prescriptive, just descriptive. It doesn’t demonstrate the ideal story, but it does convey my own story, for whatever that’s worth.
I hate pain. From my depression I didn’t learn any profound lessons or anything. Only that life is a load of crap for some people. I hate stories about people deciding to be happy despite being in a prison camp or something like that. I want to throw things at people who pull that crap out of their ears. For some people life is nothing but obstacles, pain, and frustration. Then you die and hopefully things will be better. If I died right now and Jesus was waiting on the other side I think I would ask him, “What the crap was that all about?” I would have preferred a life where you were actually rewarded for your efforts. Then I’d feel like it mattered whether or not you were actually good or bad. Right now it’s a coin toss. Some people get lucky and have a good life, and others get flushed down the toilet. Whether or not they make the right choices usually only determines whether or not they flush themselves down or if others do it to them. And, of course, there’s a lot of people who make the wrong choices and live a good life. Why don’t I end it all now? Because I don’t know that things will be better on the other side or if the other side even exists at all. I just hope it does.
Got the funny feeling #11 is my spouse. But it’s true. I wish I could wish or think or decide it all away, but I can’t. And I’m so ready to be over it, so sick of the debilitating moments. And so sick of the constant pressure to be perfect/busy/productive, ESP in Mormonland. Many days, when left to my own devices, I’m thankful to be up and dressed. I have come to know that my despair (and yes I am medicated and it has improved but is never completely gone) has given me empathy for others. I have come to view it as my own refiners fire, that helps me understand the Atonement just a little better than without this albatross around my neck.
As someone who has struggled with Dysthymia and regular major depressive episodes for the past thirty years, I can relate to your frustrations. My depression is something that can be curtailed sufficiently by medication to allow me to function, but no amount of therapy/prayer/obedience/service/blessings has succeeded in reducing it in any significant way.
I agree that I want to stand up and throw something when I hear about the cheerful type who maintained perfect faithfulness through two years in a concentration camp, served faithfully as a Bishop and Stake President, worked two full-time jobs while hobbling around on one leg uphill both ways ten miles to Church, raising six perfect little sprogs who all married in the temple and finally wound up giving his life carrying helpless people across a frozen river somewhere.
If that’s what it’s all about, I’ll be in the car.
One of the sayings I hate most in the Church is “You are living far below your privileges.” Please. My privilege is to be able to afford the 60 mg of Cymbalta it takes just to stumble out of bed in the morning and keep body and soul together at a job I hate.
What does this kind of pain teach? Precious little in terms of aiding one on the endless quest for ever more grueling obedience and exhausting righteousness. In fact, it badly hampers it. However, I have noticed that it does produce in better moments a gentle empathy for people who carry silent thorns in their flesh that never seem to depart. There has to be more to God’s love than this. There’s got to be more than just Sunday School answers. There has to be. Otherwise, why are there so many walking wounded whose maladies do not respond to the spiritual remedies prescribed by the Church, no matter how frequently and vigorously those remedies are applied?
But the trouble is this: empathy is good, but it’s not Righteousness!(TM). Most of the time I don’t have the strength (or even the desire) to keep enough of the commandments to qualify for that elusive valiant-in-the-testimony-of-Jesus status that we’ve all gotta have to get anywhere.
So I keep going to church (mostly because it would badly dismay my loving wife if I didn’t) doing what little I can and knowing that it’s nowhere near the bare minimum standards that the GAs assure us one must adhere to in order to have any hope of returning to God. Guilt or Obligation doesn’t move me anymore beyond fitful efforts that soon peter out. Sometimes I think I may be “past feeling.”
If the news winds up being bad at that “pleasing” bar in the future, I plan to just shrug my shoulders and say, “The rules are yours, not mine. Impose whatever judgment you see fit, but don’t patronize me with a long list of my failures now that I’m far beyond any hope of correcting them in a way that will make a difference.” One of the unfortunate side effects of debilitating depression is that it renders the Gospel into, in the words of one author, “A confusing system that seems to work against you at every turn.”
Forgive me for going on. It’s not often around this religion that you can freely say what you really feel.
I typed mine while you were posting. I couldn’t agree with you more.
You should also point out that your advice could be (I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, even though you expressly said Dane’s is) extremely dangerous.
As someone whose spouse spent the ages of 12-22 with several different therapists over the years, and being medicated in a variety of ways, who was classified as suicidal and locked-up (while she was having her dosages fiddled with to “see” how she responds), had her roommates tell her they didn’t want to deal with the stress of being in the same apartment with her while she was suffering, went through many different meds, different dosages, etc. she could tell you it is very dangerous to suggest a person should view medical help and medication as any kind of cure-all.
Even though your comment did not say it, it could easily run the risk of suggesting that all people who are depressed should seek medical help. Which could very well be dangerous as it nearly led to her death and the ruining of her life. It was only when she turned away from the doctors that things improved — while certainly still keeping some of their quality, practical advice in mind.
As it was, she simply decided to stop being medicated, after it was clear the several doctors didn’t really know what they were doing but were just trying out different drugs at different doses and seeing how she responded emotionally/mentally.
There is a very real risk of the pendulum swinging in the other direction, and judging by our ability to overuse and over rely on medication it seems an even greater likelihood.
Unless a person is actually being chemically analyzed, when they prescribe a drug to you, they really are taking a “let’s try this and see” approach. Consider the impact these drugs can have on your mental state, for good when they get it right and for very ill when they get it wrong, and you should be very careful about pursuing this approach.
Everytime someone points out not to forget about medication, it’s important to remember the other side of the coin.
My pain and depression were situational, not biologic. I’ve always felt that organic depression must be harder, since it strikes at your ability to cope and it is not something you “work through” like grief or loss.
It makes me feel very inadequate when dealing with people who have organic depression and pain, other than to feel so very sorry for them, but to be at a loss for words.
18– and that’s the thing that is so frustrating to me– this is NOT a problem that can be “solved” through “traditional talk therapy”, behavioral modification only goes so far, etc. You are simply left with the sensation of “I just want this to go away.”. I don’t want to be psychologically probed, analyzed, or otherwise violated so that someone can tell me I “just need to let it go” (which I have heard on different occasions from both a therapist and a bishop). I can’t pray it away, can’t “righteous living” it away, and acts of service help, but only for a while. It strikes at your core feelings of lovability, goodness, and capability. There is just this space where some of that warm-fuzziness should be. So. I continually thank God for SSRIs, which have made my life livable (and have taken away the daily contemplation of suicide and then the feeling of inferiority because I was “too chicken”). And I have found that age takes away some of the “self-pressure” and has given me a delicious perspective (although in some ways as you age, you just find other things to self-flagellate about- and I guess that was pretty much Erickson’s entire premise). The Gospel is my lifeline in two specific ways–1. The Atonement teaches me that Jesus also suffered this for me (and I pray for a way to submit to that), and 2. It will be better in the next world… If I don’t blow all my chances struggling through this one! (ack!! Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!). Thanks for letting me say this so brutally honestly–and for taking up so much space. Only the love of my life knows the depth of this. And really, that’s so sad. Most of us don’t hesitate to share our suffering related to severe physical infirmities. Why are mental/emotional/spiritual ones any different? I am trying to be an agent for change (and occasional brutal honesty) in my own small sphere, but it’s slow going.
In the choice/medication debate, we should remember that the needs of each person in overcoming or living with depression are different.
For most of my life, I have dealt with both depression and constant physical pain, neither of which is likely to be gone in my mortal life (though it would be nice). Medications have helped from time to time with the depression, but after a time they lose their effectiveness and another has to be tried, or try for a time with none at all. Its the same for the physical pain. I don’t tend to take pain medicine very often unless there is an unusual amount of pain because I know it stops helping if taken often. Some times I have a hard time continuing on task because of the depression, sometimes because of the limits of how much pain I can endure, but I do what I can.
I don’t mind the stories about people enduring through and doing amazing things being set as an example, because I’ve come to a bit of a peace in my limitations. Not that I don’t try and push the boundaries from time to time, and not that some days are mountains of impossiblity, but I know I can give what I can with what I have, and that is all that is asked for. The parable of the woman giving her two mites is about much more than money.
Please don’t take this as an admonition that anyone is not doing all they can, or “I have it worse than you”, or that anyone does not have enough faith. I only wanted to put out where I feel I am and how I deal in hopes of helping others.
I like this post. It’s very hopeful. :) I think both Kristine and chris (#17) have really good points. Both swings of the pendulum can be dangerous–it’s just important to consider all the options.
As far as my own pain goes, I empathize pretty well with comments 13 and 15. The thing that always frustrates me the most is that there are so many things I desperately want to be doing and learning, so much progress I need to make and so many ways that I need to grow–and depression keeps me from doing them. I’m dying to go back to school, both to finish the one semester I need for my degree, and just to be in classes and learning because I love it. I can’t, for several reasons, all of which are because of my depression and anxiety. We have a lot of financial problems, and we could get rid of them all if I could work a regular job. I can’t, so I’m limited to part-time nanny jobs that don’t pay very much, and make me feel pretty lame/unfulfilled/useless/incompetent/take your pick. I need to be kinder, listen better, acknowledge my own mistakes, be okay with who I am. I suck at all of these things because, on a large scale, I’m overwhelmed with just trying to function.
I think if I ever reach a place beyond the depression and anxiety, I might find that some growth and learning came out of it. Empathy, certainly, if nothing else. (Precious little, indeed.)
I like the distinction Stephen made, between organic and situational depression. You have to talk about them in very different ways.
I’ve never had depression for more than a few months, but I have found out that I am very sensitive to medications that can cause depression. Acutane as a teenager left me crying on the floor for months until I quite taking it. I went to see a counselor because I was so depressed about a year ago and felt entirely normal when I quit taking my birth control pill.
Based on my own experiences, I really caution people to look at what they are putting into their bodies that could affect them, but I acknowledge that every person is different and needs different things. For some it’s counseling or medication or time or exercise and diet. I just sincerely hope that those who are suffering from depression are seeking help, wherever they might need it. I am not sure that the OP is very helpful here. Not everyone can decide to change things, they need some external changes.