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Guest Post: Telling the Truth About Depression

(This post is by D’Arcy’s friend Jo (bio below). Since D’Arcy’s out of town,  I have the privilege of  introducing our guest blogger. I’m grateful that Jo has written about the reality of depression, which is especially important to me because many women in my life have these struggles.   -Jessawhy)

hi, i’m jo. i have a ba in humanities from byu and i used to work at the harold b. lee library. that’s where i met adventurous, compassionate, rosy-cheeked D’Arcy. i got married in 2002 and we had our first baby a year and two months later. shortly after, i was diagnosed with clinical depression (although i first started showing symptoms before i was even pregnant.) since that first diagnosis i have been on ten different anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medications, seen two therapists, two psychiatrists, and a handful of general practitioners. i’ve consulted with two different alternative health experts, read lots of books, and taken up (and dropped) yoga (although i’d like to take it up again!) i have two children, both who have never known a mom who isn’t dealing with depression in some form or another. it’s pretty safe to say that depression has affected every area of my life: my physical health, my relationships (especially my relationship with my husband), my ability as a mother, and my spirituality.

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sitting in church one sunday a few years ago i felt uncomfortable, anxious, and self-conscious, so it was pretty much a sunday like any other. at the end of sacrament meeting our kind bishop stood up and said that there was a family in our ward who was having a very difficult time and that we all needed to reach out and help them. he explained that the young father had a brain tumor and he became emotional as he talked about how good and strong this family was, and how much they deserved our support.

i couldn’t stop thinking about what the bishop had said, not during the rest of the meetings, and not on the way home from church. i felt truly sorry for this family and their trials, but that’s not why i was so upset. being as introverted and caught up in my own situation as i was, i could only think of how different and yet similar my own circumstances were.

we had told the bishop a couple of weeks before that i had severe clinical depression, that it was hard for me to go to church, that lots of times it was extremely difficult for me to take care of myself and my children. we had shared this with him so that he would know that i probably would not be able to hold a calling or be a visiting teacher, because my “bad times” were unpredictable and i didn’t want to commit myself to something and then continually let other people down. i think he might’ve asked at the time if there was anything they could do for me, but i didn’t know what to ask for. the issue had never been raised again.

i felt selfish and self-centered for thinking the way i did that sunday, but all i could focus on was that here was a family who had a serious trial going on in their lives, and here was a ward rallying around them and bringing them meals and praying for them continually. and i was heartbroken because i honestly felt that i needed that kind of help too. (not that i was equating a brain tumor to depression, just that i was in serious trouble and needed help.) but the nature of depression made me unable to ask for it, and the church leadership hesitant to talk about it. i couldn’t help thinking that the bishop thought of this young father as a brave, hard-working, faithful priesthood holder, and that he thought of me as an inactive, non-contributing, unfaithful woman.

now that i’m not in the throes of an overwhelming depression, i don’t think he actually saw me that way; he was a kind, excellent, concerned bishop, and i’m sure he wanted to help me. i think he just didn’t know how. and feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and shy, i wasn’t going to go out of my way to ask for help. just the thought of going to talk to the bishop was enough to give me a nervous breakdown. i wasn’t doing very well those days: i had lost my driver’s license because i was too overwhelmed and anxious to go renew it, my house was almost always a staggering mess, my very patient husband had to do the grocery shopping and a lot of the housework and understandably lost his patience sometimes, most days i had a hard time getting out of bed and taking care of my two year old daughter. i sometimes went for days without a shower, i never had an appetite and consequently only ever ate easy and convenient junk food, i had gained a lot of weight. i would look at the mess in my house and just feel beyond overwhelmed. sometimes just seeing all those dirty dishes in the sink would bring me to tears. other times i would look at my little girl and feel guilty for not playing with her more often. i would sob at the thought of how my depression was affecting her.

if i made it to church it would usually just be to sacrament meeting, i was really uncomfortable in relief society and sunday school and usually just skipped those meetings. i felt so guilty for missing church so often that i stopped praying, in general i felt massively unworthy, unlovable, of no worth to anyone,miserable, and unbearably alone.

i am only able to share a tiny part of my story and my feelings about depression here. i can tell you that there have been many times that i’ve wondered why anyone (not just me, but in general) had to have the trial of depression. i felt like it changed the core of who i was, in my eternal soul, and that it took away my agency. there were many times when i felt like i couldn’t control my overwhelming sadness or the anger that i felt. sometimes i would think, “who is this horrible person saying these things?” and i would think, “could it really be me?”

at different times in my journey through depression i have been desperate, hopeless, and suicidal. but there were other times when i thought, maybe this is somewhat of a blessing. depression is teaching me that everyday i have to choose to be alive, to stay alive and try to be here for my children and my husband. it’s also teaching me (slowly) that even in my darkest most horrible moments i can choose. maybe it sounds cliche but i can give into the darkness or i can choose to work my way out of it. maybe i’ll be clawing my way out, and maybe it will go extremely slowly, but i have the power to get out of it.

although things are currently a lot better for me,i don’t have any answers to share. depression has brought a lot of doubt and cynicism into my mind that wasn’t there before, but in a way i’m grateful for that, too. not the negative stuff, but the question everything, puzzle it out in my own mind stuff. i figure that everything that i believe after i come out of this will have been hard-earned, struggled-for, and will be that much more dear and true to me.

i feel like william ernest henley must have been feeling when he wrote his poem Invictus. henley, born in 1849, had his foot amputated when he was young and was ill for most of his life.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstances
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

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Jessawhy

Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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18 Responses

  1. Alisa says:

    Jo, I really appreciate you sharing your story and your struggles here. Also, I love how you were able to end with an emerging sense of self-empowerment that you sometimes feel. Coming from a family where both depression and cancer abound, I definitely see your comparison. In fact, sometimes the depression that came as a result of the cancer seemed worse than the cancer itself.

    I have had similar experiences with needing to remove myself from some of the sometimes-seeming harsh expectations when I simply lose my strength. I cannot run faster than the strength I have, but the good news is that my life ebbs and flows, and I have different abilities at different times in my life to grow and serve. Sometimes, that is stepping back and taking care of myself when I am not feeling well. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Carol says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with depression in such an honest and eloquent way. There are so many women–and men–who struggle with depression, and too often, their suffering is minimalized. I wish more leaders–and members– in the Church were better informed about mental illness. Because it is to prevelant among LDS women, I think it would be helpful if the RS and Bishop’s handbook contained guidelines on mental illness.

  3. Deborah says:

    Wow, Jo. Thank you so much for being willing to share. I think these online discussions go a long way to helping demystify and destigmatize mental health issues. At least I hope so. I remember — five years ago or so? — the first time Feminist Mormon Housewives broached the subject of post-partum depression. Seemed like the floodgates opened as people shared their stories and offered empathetic support. That was before other Mormon women group blogs had popped up (including this one) and it struck me that we were witnessing, truly, a virtual *relief* society. I contrast that to how isolated — and how uninformed — I felt years previous in living with family members with major depressive episodes.

    P.S. Kathy Soper wrote a similarly moving piece about her struggle with depression here:

    http://segullah.org/small-epiphanies/hide-and-seek/

  4. Deborah says:

    Just looked it up. The post-partum thread I was thinking of was actually started by Julie at T&S in 2005: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2005/04/post-partum-depression/

    And Lisa at FMH wrote this piece just two months later.

    http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=237

    They are somehow linked together in my memory . . . these are important stories and conversations . . .

  5. jo says:

    alisa, thanks. i think you make a great point about not running faster than you have strength and having different abilities at different times in your life. this took a long time to make sense to me. when i first got depressed i kept beating myself up for not being that girl who used to run everyday and introduce myself to every new person in the ward…you have a great perspective.
    carol, thanks for your kind words. i agree that there needs to be some kind of information or training available to leaders like bishops and r.s. presidents, especially since a lot of members turn to them for counseling.
    deborah,
    if nothing else, i’m definitely willing to share and be completely honest about my experiences. i feel like that’s the only way depression will lose some of its stigma. what you said about a virtual relief society is so true. i only wish that we could all feel more comfortable talking about it in our own physical relief societies. and thanks for the links; i nodded my head more than a couple of times.

  6. Angie says:

    I understand – I understand – I completely understand! I wish so much that I lived near you, that we could talk about this. Please believe me that I completely understand the internal experience of depression that you describe. You are not alone in your struggle. As my doctor said to me, “You are a very strong person to have struggled with this for so long.”

    I, too, have tried intellectually and spiritually to figure out the why’s, what’s, and how’s of depression. It is a uniquely horrible trial. I recently read an article about Abraham Lincoln and his lifelong battle with depression. The article said that Lincoln’s suffering prepared him to have certain strengths of character that were vital to his role in our country’s history. I liked reading that theory, and thinking that my particular challenge (depression) is preparing me to be particularly useful to God and my fellow man.

  7. Angie says:

    Okay, I’m going to try this:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200510/lincolns-clinical-depression

    That’s the link to the article about Abraham Lincoln.

  8. Caroline says:

    Jo, Thank you so much for sharing your story here. I think it’s important to get these stories out in the open and let people know that they are not alone in their struggles with depression.

    On a positive note… my ward’s Relief Society is trying to address important issues like this. They recently devoted a first Sunday lesson to the topic of depression. I don’t know how effective it was, but I appreciate the attempt to destigmatize the problem and talk about how common and how serious a struggle this is.

  9. jo says:

    angie,
    wow, thank you. and that article about abraham lincoln was like a revelation to me. i want to read the whole book now!
    caroline,
    i think it’s amazing that you actually had a relief society lesson about depression! wow. that’s a major step forward. thanks for your comment.

  10. Seraphine says:

    Jo, I can definitely empathize with many of the things you’ve written. I have bipolar disorder, and while it’s currently enough under control that I’m functional, I’ve had those weeks and months and years where I struggle just to do basic things.

    I think that the church has actually made a lot of progress when it comes to mental illness. While I still encounter a lot of bishops who aren’t sure how best to help, a lot of church leadership I’ve run into hasn’t seen depression as a moral failing, etc. (that attitude is still out there, but I definitely think it’s less prevalent than it used to be).

    And I’ve found when I’ve reached out to ward leadership and members to ask for help when I’ve been struggling (which, admittedly, is difficult), people have responded warmly and enthusiastically. For example, once when I was moving and was too depressed to clean my apartment I was renting by the date I had to turn in my key, I called my relief society president, and she had multiple volunteers at my house within a few hours who pretty much cleaned my house for me. And they were generous and non-judgmental even though my house was an utter disaster.

  11. Dan says:

    Good post. My mom suffered from Mental illness all her life. As a child I remember, visits to the Hospital, Family coming to stay, to help out. You mentioned worrying about your Daughter. From a man that experienced it growing up I learned good lessons that have helped me be a better more caring person

    It taught me to be more loving and compassionate towards others. To look more at what might be happening in peoples lives and try a little more to help them in what they struggle with.

    Even though my Mom passed away years ago the strongest memories I have of Her is knowing how much she loved me. With all the issues she dealt with and the pain she felt in her life , she had a tremendous ability to show me her love.

    From the post here I can see the concern you have for your Family. I am sure they can feel how much you love them. Stay strong!

  12. EmilyCC says:

    Jo, I’m so glad you’re feeling well enough to write this, even if it did make me cry 🙂 I think the stories of the depressed aren’t told enough because it takes so much energy to write them.

    Having a family full of depression has helped me to be less hasty in my judgements…I think in a ward context it’s so easy to jump to less charitable conclusions about why people don’t get their callings done or come to church consistently.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Blessings on you and your family as your continue to deal with this illness.

  13. jo says:

    seraphine,
    i think you’re right. i think the church has made a lot of progress toward a better understanding of mental illness. and i’m so glad that there have been so many leaders ready and willing to help you. that’s great. i guess my problem is feeling comfortable reaching out when i need help.

  14. jo says:

    emily cc,
    thank you. you’re so kind. in my experience people who have dealt with depression in their families are especially understanding and tolerant.

  15. Andrea says:

    This is a wake up call for me. I think we should all keep our eyes open for those who need us to reach out. It is tricky because people with depression usually shun company — maybe because they haven’t showered or cleaned their house. Hmmm…I think I need to check in on a few people.

  16. jo says:

    dan,
    thank you so much. it’s really nice to have the perspective of a child of a depressed mother. i really hope my children turn out as kind and sensitive to others as you seem to be.
    andrea,
    i think you hit the nail on the head. many people who are depressed usually don’t feel like they can ask for help. good for you for going out of your way to help others. wow.

  17. Kiri Close says:

    love this post.

  1. November 26, 2010

    […] Deborah: I remember — five years ago or so? — the first time Feminist Mormon Housewives broached the subject of post-partum depression. Seemed like the floodgates opened as people shared their stories and offered empathetic support. . . .   it struck me that we were witnessing, truly, a virtual *relief* society. I contrast that to how isolated — and how uninformed — I felt years previous in living with family members with major depressive episodes. […]

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