Wednesday, March 26, 2008

God is in the therapy?

You know what I always wonder? If the devil is in the details, then where is God supposed to be? If He, in His mighty wisdom and eternal love, is not in the details, the absolute minutiae our lives, then where is He?

There are the obvious Sunday School answers: the temple, the scriptures, prayer. And those are all ways we can commune with God and His Spirit, but I don't really consider those the details of my life. What feels like the details--the little things that define a moment, the colors and the quirks that seem to change everything--are inside me. Those pesky details are in the thoughts that skitter tangentially across my mind as I change a diaper; the single line of a song that I can't get out of my head; the moment in a conversation that I revisit in my head years after it's happened. Those are the details. Those are the things that need to be organized, understood, for my life to make sense. And sometimes, especially when I am depressed, I can't feel God inside those things. I can't find what He has to do with any of it at all. The pattern only looks like chaos and the chaos is overwhelming.

A friend of mine, when the chaos of depression took over her life, found herself kneeling on the kitchen floor one afternoon clutching the yellow pages and praying. Her children were in their bedrooms napping and for a moment she was alone. She didn't know where her volatile anger had come from and she didn't know why she was so unmotivated. All she knew was that she didn't feel like herself and that her children were starting to imitate her way of yelling and throwing things. She knew that she needed help.

Earlier she had approached her husband about her problem and he had suggested she pray about it and read her scriptures more. Which she did. But her anger and desperation seemed larger than her prayers and out of the scope of her scripture study. She needed help and she wasn't sure where to find it. Which was why she was clutching the yellow pages and praying on her kitchen floor.

She honestly told the Lord her fears and frustrations. She asked him to point her to some help and as she opened the yellow pages her eyes fell on the name of a therapist. Here was the answer to all those prayers and the result of her faithful scripture study: a therapist. She immediately dialed the number and that was how Ann came into her life, and later, into my life.

I called Ann when I was feelings similarly desperate and not sure what to do with the chaos in my mind. I had recently weaned off my medicine and was newly pregnant with #3. I wasn't sure what was happening to me or what to do about the postpartum depression that I knew awaited me. I wanted to do what the Lord wanted, to be the mother He wanted me to be, but I couldn't manage to divine His will out of all the other chatter in my brain. That was where Ann came in.

Ann is a middle aged woman with a mellow, alto voice and a master's degree from Naropa University. She wears flowy clothes in earth tones and has a simple, short pixie cut that suits her small frame. She looks you in the eye and seems to smile even when she's not. In short, she's a very easy person to talk to.

Unfortunately, therapy is freakishly expensive and I wasn't sure how long I was going to be able to go, so before each session I would pray that the Lord would be with me and with Ann so that I could get the most bang for my buck. Now, Ann isn't LDS but is a spiritually open person who, I believe, often worked under the direction of the Spirit when she was counseling me.

An example: Since I am a people-pleaser, there was one Sunday where I had over- scheduled myself and I arrived at Church pretty stressed out. As I tried to juggle the sheet music for the musical number I was part of with the last minute Primary lesson I had been asked to teach along with our diaper bag and coats, I was less than reverent when I, through clenched teeth, told #1 and #2 to BE QUIET and SIT DOWN! The bishop, who was just entering the chapel and walking by, reprimanded me for using that tone of voice in the chapel and asked me to be quieter. Well, I came unhinged inside and I can only say it was a miracle of self-restraint that stopped me from yelling at him too. Instead I sat in the back of the chapel and fumed through the opening of the meeting.

Before I realized it the sacrament was on its way to me and I began to panic. I couldn't take the sacrament while thinking angry thoughts at the bishop, could I?!? I quickly began to pray that the Lord would take away my anger so that I could avoid the embarrassment of refusing the bread and water. Thankfully, in a moment, my mind was drawn to thinking about therapy and Ann and the things she had told me about anger and depression--about how anger feels strong and usually covers other emotions that we are afraid of facing. As the bread came at me, right hand by right hand down the row, a dam burst and I realized I wasn't angry. I was stressed. I cried and cried and gratefully took the bread knowing that God understood my heart even if I didn't.

I had an appointment with Ann the next morning and she and I talked about the experience. She marveled with me as I explained how her words had coincided with my frustrations at Church. She was blown away by how so many details--her words, a rescheduled musical number, a Primary emergency, and a well meaing, if not well timed, bishop and the thought patterns all those things would produce--had worked in concert to give me a breakthrough. It was from there that I began to understand my own motives and start to get a handle on my anger. It was then that Ann nad I were able to begin deciphering the pattern in the chaos.

Elder David Bednar's talk about tender mercies gets a lot of mileage in our ward--and I imagine it does everywhere else too. In his talk (why do we call them "talks" instead of sermons?)he told of how, when he was waiting to give his first talk as a general authority, he was comforted by the choice of his favorite hymn to immediately precede him. He said, "Now, the music for the various conference sessions had been determined many weeks before—and obviously long before my new call to serve. If, however, I had been invited to suggest an intermediate hymn for that particular session of the conference—a hymn that would have been both edifying and spiritually soothing for me and for the congregation before my first address in this Conference Center—I would have selected my favorite hymn, 'Redeemer of Israel.' Tears filled my eyes as I stood with you to sing that stirring hymn of the Restoration. . .Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence."

Some may count my experience in therapy as a coincidence, but I honestly feel that God was in those details. God, perhaps because I had taken the time to invite Him and because He loves me, was in the therapy.


Charlotte said...

Another fabulous post!! I so want your therapist. Do you think she does phone consultations?

Laura said...

She does, but it will cost you!

Heathie said...

I love your posts! You have such a way of writing that I envy. And I'm glad you found a therapist that understands how important the spiritual stuff is, too.
I've started a self-education program to learn more about depression since so many people in the family struggle with it. I just started reading "An Unquiet Mind" by Kay Refield Jamison. I'm going to get some of the books on your list to check out, too, but our little local library doesn't have much, so this is what I'm starting with (until I find out how to sneak into the ISU libraries).