A few months ago I sat in a meeting where the speaker witnessed about the importance of being positive. She then asked something that triggered my mind to go into overdrive. It was simple really, and went something like this, ”Do you like to be around sad or depressed people?”
I had to plunge deep in to my heart strings to find the answer, but emerged with the understanding that, for the most part, I do enjoy being around those who are sad and down trodden.
My reasoning is this: In the presence of the heartbroken I have most always been given power to lift burdens, comfort the weary, and strengthen feeble knees. I can generally leave the presence of someone sad knowing that I have comforted, empathized, and offered compassion to them. If I only seek out those who will lift me, how can I possibly lift others?
Having had my own bout with “Major Depression” (as was diagnosed), I will share a portion of my story with the wish that it might give hope to those in emotional distress. Perhaps by sharing, this might even provide a gentle nudge to those on higher ground who can assist in offering comfort, and possibly even give guidance towards a rescue. This is one of the small ways that I am participating in the #LIGHTtheWorld initiative (i).
I would like to say that sometimes there is a true chemical imbalance, and at such times, medicine might be necessary. In no way should my words be considered medical advice.
“Let me… concentrate on MDD—“major depressive disorder”—or, more commonly, ‘depression.’ When I speak of this, I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have. Everyone is going to be anxious or downhearted on occasion… But today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking! No, this dark night of the mind and spirit is more than mere discouragement…
…Prayerfully and responsibly consider the counsel (professionals) give and the solutions they prescribe. If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders.” Jeffrey R. Holland (ii)
I would like to begin my story unconventionally, by telling you the end. You see, I don’t see myself as depressed any longer. Like everyone else, I can struggle with day to day situations and occasional sad or overwhelming situations, yet I consider myself to be healed.
My mind, once broken, has been made whole. I have no current need for medication, and haven’t for many years. I find joy in tiny details, and love my life. Emotionally I can handle most situations, and enjoy relationships with family members, friends, and especially Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ. While heartache, stress, and disappointment are not foreign to me, I have been able to get through such situations with the hope of a better future. In short, life is good, even when it is difficult.
While I don’t want to dwell on my dark state all of those years ago, a portion of the picture must be painted so that I can more accurately describe how dark, desolate, and agonizing I felt over 20 years now. Things looked just fine on the outside. For instance, I was actively involved in church and faithfully fulfilled assignments. I attended early morning seminary. A great blessing to me has been that I am gifted at singing, and participated in many competitions and some musicals. I held, and was successful at a part time job. I am the oldest of 10 children in a family that lives and loves the gospel of Jesus Christ. Life should have been wonderful, but it wasn’t.
I accomplished a lot, yet it wasn’t good enough. Nothing was good enough. I could not shake the feeling that everyone was talking about me. My schedule, where I rose around 5 am to attend seminary, go to school, participate in activities after school, then work proved exhausting. I was running faster than I had strength and could feel my mind slipping. Darkness overshadowed me, and I could not shake the sadness that enveloped me. I entertained thoughts of self harm, and eventually ending my life.
In one of my darkest hours I reached out to my mother. I told her that I needed help, and in her wisdom she agreed. She contacted a children’s hospital that treated mental illness (I was 17), and became concerned at my desperation when they could not admit me quickly. As faithful mothers do, she pushed the issue, and admission was given some speed.
The doctors soon prescribed for me an arsenal of medicine. They evaluated my situation and state of mind, but for the most part, being in the hospital was to treat an acute issue. It was necessary for immediate needs, but long term healing was found in other ways.
“Know that one day the dawn will break brightly…” Jeffrey R. Holland
I wish that I could report that healing had occurred instantly, but in fact, the damage ravaged quickly yet took years to heal from completely. I remember feeling “broken” and that I would never be back to the same level that I once was. It is a process that I have had to learn. In the hope that I can aid in speeding someone else’s recovery, I would love to share what the lessons I have learned over the years.
An angel was sent to me of the earthly sort. My friend was generous enough to share her own struggles of depression with me, and the key to her healing. She had participated in a program that changed thought processes. My friend said that the best part of the program was simply this; she carried around with her a notebook wherein she would write a positive thought to counter every negative thought that she had. She said that eventually she didn’t want to have negative thoughts because she didn’t want to get her notebook out.
I followed the council of my friend, and found out first hand the power of positive thoughts.
Years later I would go on long walks pushing my children in a stroller. During these walks, my mind began to consider my inadequacies, but this time I had an understanding of what I needed to do. I decided that I would turn my thoughts when derision arose by disrupting the process. In order to do so, I had a simple question for my toddlers, “How old are you?” Thankfully my sweet toddlers were both forgiving and forgetful, so I would ask them this simple question multiple times on our walks. In truth, minds can be distracted by songs, scriptures, positive thoughts, prayers, and more. When applied to negative thoughts, the result is the same; a mind trained to think positively.
Side note: I do not fall under the opinion that every negative thought is bad. Sometimes real issues and heartache abound. Glossing over serious issues does not provide healing to the soul.
DEALING WITH THE ADVERSARY
Speaking of Satan, the prophet Nephi teaches, “And thus he whispereth in their ears…” (iii) Unseen though they are, the devil and his angels roam this fallen earth. It is not the will of these devils that we succeed in life or find happiness. Recognizing this is sometimes critical because when we determine the source of our suffering, we can better find solutions.
My fellow blogger, Karen Forsnes Hansen is wise when she counseled, “Satan and his followers seek our misery. We must be vigilant and discerning to recognize which thoughts come from them and which come from the Lord. People need to know that discouraging thoughts (just like immoral thoughts) should not be entertained and that we should dismiss them immediately and replace them with revealed truths.”
Additional solutions on this matter come through a variety of ways, but especially through personal revelation. I would like to offer, though that the spirit of discernment is incredibly helpful. Where as the spirit of discernment is a spiritual gift, we can seek after it.
While we sometimes nit pick ourselves to death, guilt from serious sins must be dealt with to have peace of conscience. Godly sorrow, proper confession, restitution, and a complete turn from sins gives peace to the soul. Feeling the Savior’s love and the power of His grace is healing beyond measure, and a necessary step to be rid of inner turmoil.
Guilt that is unattended to can canker, bleed, and fester. Never fall for the lie of the adversary that it will simply dissipate over time. While the feelings might dull, they are still present. Like an illness that requires medical attention, sins must have the healing balm of the atonement applied to experience true freedom.
STRENGHTENING THE MIND
Perhaps your plate is too full, and something should be removed, however consider this:
In my early and mid 30’s I didn’t feel that my mind was completely whole yet. Despite this, the Lord started to fill my plate. When my tasks seemed overwhelming, I sought council through a Priesthood blessing. I was told that the Lord was making me into a strong woman. It was difficult, but I can say that the mountains before me were conquerable. Even if I didn’t know it at the time.
If during recovery you feel that there is too much on your plate, consider this before removing anything. Perhaps your bag of trials is too large, but never make this assumption until you consult with the Lord. I would not have experienced the healing that I now enjoy had I discarded my weights.
BURDENS MADE LIGHT
Recently my burdens did seem too much to bear. Big boulders seemed ominous, and were accompanied by the magnifier that is exhaustion. I worried that it might be too much for my mind.
Times like this are exactly what the atonement is for. Alma’s people were promised, “I will ease the burdens that are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs…” (iv) This promise was applied to me, and as a recipient of this gift, I stand as a witness that this promise can apply to you as well. We were purchased with the most Sacred and Holy blood to ever grace this earth, and by so doing, our Savior knows exactly how to comfort us in our afflictions.
While I can’t say that I know all things about the atonement, I have felt its saving power in both day to day and momentous occasions. I therefore know that it is real. I know that with it I can do all things and that without it I am nothing. My witness is that grace is at times nearly tangible. The enabling power of the atonement can strengthen us in ways that we can’t yet fully comprehend.
As daily service begins for those participating in the #LIGHTtheWorld initiative, I would like to suggest that part of our service efforts include encouraging words. Perhaps we can be the Savior’s hands by spending time with those who have a broken heart, and serving those who are lonely.
As we come to know the Savior by behaving like Him, we will be able to lift burdens in meaningful ways. We will feel of His gratitude for our efforts. Truly, when we are offering love to those experiencing sadness, we are “only in the service of (our) God.” (v)