On overcoming depression

I wrote the following article on March 9th and posted it at forum.newordermormon.org.  I think it’s worth sharing here on my blog, as well, for it chronicles details of my journey out of depression “peace by piece.”

“On Overcoming Depression”

I . . . served a mission and suffered serious depression during it. (You wouldn’t know that from the positive letters I wrote home, trying to “buck up” and be enthusiastic about the work.) I was a zealous missionary with little compassion for my companions, which I truly regret now. I believed God expected MUCH from me, from my companions, from the members, and from the investigators themselves. The self-criticism I inflicted upon myself and the judgmental attitude I held toward others were so damaging to my well-being and happiness, and to relationships. I was frustrated, too, by having my “success” depend upon the decisions of others. (That was difficult for me–so different from the reward system of academia I had thrived in.)

Returning to college after my mission was very fulfilling despite the pressure of papers and finals, and falling in love and then marrying [Erik] (who’d become my best friend) less than a year later brought me delight, comfort, and exciting plans for an adventure-filled life together. Not that he was perfect–some of his quirks were annoying, and he wasn’t as spiritual as I would have wished–but I needed him for a thousand reasons and thrived upon his love, support, and friendship.

Two years later we had a baby, and I chose to quit my job to stay at home. My depression soon returned. I lost myself as an individual as I juggled all the demands of a young baby, new house with unfinished yard, time-consuming calling in the YW, family finances, etc. The depression continued in various degrees for the next ten years as I added three more children to our family and felt completely overwhelmed by the demands of life and, especially, God.

But I never sought psychological counseling during that time because that seemed “weak” (I’m stubborn) and because I refused to be “officially” diagnosed as “mental” . . . (Ironically, I was just that–unwhole!) And I never entertained the idea that my religious beliefs were the source of much of my depression as a mother–believing instead that the culprits were feminism (making me dissatisfied with being a full-time mom) and my own inadequacies (I “deserved” my pain because of my many faults).

When [Erik] described to me three years ago the reasons he could no longer maintain a testimony of Joseph Smith nor his church (reasons such as polygamy/polyandry/duplicity, multiple First Vision stories, older revelations being revised to support later Priesthood restoration claims, the Masonic origins of temple ceremonies, magical thinking and treasure hunting–mormonthink.com stuff), I was worried! For him, and me. The threat of losing my testimony–changing my beliefs–felt painful, overwhelming, scary, and eternally risky, and I fought it tooth and nail. (Hadn’t I received many spiritual “witnesses” of the Church and its scriptures?! Wasn’t God testing our faith as members of his Kingdom– even of things hard to understand–expecting us to trust our heart, our spiritual witnesses, rather than our reason/intellect?!) God did NOT want us to lose our testimonies, I believed. Losing my testimony would be “bad” (!!!), I held.

For a time I prayed, fasted, and attended the temple weekly with an “assurance of things hoped for”: that the “beauty and majesty of the gospel” would be “unfolded in the eyes of [Erik’s] understanding,” per his patriarchal blessing–contingent upon his serious effort to “heed the admonitions and live for the promises” stated in the blessing. I honestly believed DH would come to believe again as I did, and I told friends and family as much.

For 18 months, [Erik] chose to love me throughout the slow, awkward process of my evaluating my inherited [LDS] faith tradition: my denying there were problems, insisting the kids shouldn’t know about the problems, hesitantly attending another denomination with [him] every other week to be supportive, endlessly discussing belief/salvation/purpose of life/truth/God after sermons or sacrament meeting, eventually being willing to investigate LDS history outside of church-edited sources, having to confront and interpret potentially damning details in the history, having to analyze my personal “witnesses” of the spirit and second guess their importance and meaning, attending the temple regularly just so I wouldn’t lose my testimony of it, losing my zeal for bearing testimony of the church and the need for missionary work, hoping to influence others in Sunday School to have a broader perspective on life/truth, worrying about “missing the mark” and failing the “test” of faith if the church happened to be true, and ultimately experiencing epiphanies that reassured me that God was okay with my change in beliefs.

[Erik] had believed that never in a million years would I come to see things his way (I was the most devout person he’d ever met). I had believed the opposite: that within a million years (hopefully sooner!) he would come to understand the truth and see things my way (despite his not being the most devout person I’d ever met–God is faithful!). The “beauty and majesty” he came to witness over the course of those 18 months was not that of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, the rightness of the doctrines he revealed, nor the authority he claimed for himself and his church. Rather, it was the “beauty and majesty” of the “gospel of love.” He learned that love prevails! Loving–acting in loving ways–is powerful! Not only did such love from him help our marriage survive the schism of differing beliefs, it had been what opened my eyes to trust in God’s mercy–for apostate DH, for imperfect/susceptible me, for all of His children “walking in faith” (and not knowledge) here on earth–which belief ultimately delivered me from my depression!

Here’s how love worked: [Erik’s] kindness, service, and loving acceptance of me during that whole process allowed me to trust that he was a good man (having acted with integrity and courage in rejecting the idea that God would ever condone or command ungodly and dishonest behaviors from church leaders), a good husband (a good provider, helpful around the house (our dishes guy!), a good listener, and a cheerleader who encouraged me to do whatever I felt I “needed to do”), and one accepted of God (despite DH’s rejection of the COJCOLDS, and despite his agnostic leanings). Love opened the door to my deprogramming and ultimate deliverance from depression!

I could mention several experiences I’ve had with God, but suffice it to say (for the sake of time) that I now trust that God is merciful toward us despite our weaknesses and ignorance! I wish that every member of the church who suffers from depression could understand that–that God is understanding, not exacting! He allows us to make mistakes and learn from them. He invites us to discern what is good and beneficial and to live deliberately, not fearfully. He wants us to be happy and to “go for it”–our dreams/desires–not to shrink in submission to irrational received wisdom! These new beliefs of mine have curbed depression! I still worry about what others think of me (working on that), and I can get overwhelmed and scattered at times, but I no longer feel a heaviness in my chest and the consuming feeling that “Life is just TOO hard,” “I am broken,” and “I’m not worthy of God’s love.” As Hampton and the Hamsters sing: “Life is good, life is great, for tomorrow I can’t wait . . . ” (Yeah I have small kids. Wink)

Sorry this is so long. I wanted to explore “out loud” how it was that depression ceased to be a debilitating obstacle in my life–how I came to smile more, be more flexible and resilient, and more charitable toward others. Best wishes in becoming who you want to become, believing what you want to believe, and breaking free from debilitating depression!

About Shaunalei

Sometimes working toward peace is a serious business; other times it's just a whole lot of fun. I created "Peace by Piece" as a storehouse for some of my thoughts. (Aren't you lucky to have found them?!) Enjoy!
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