Monday, December 24, 2007

Finding Happy

I may have depression, but I'm not unhappy. Perhaps, I'd better explain.

Depression is a nebulous thing. I have it but it's not like I walk around in black clothes wishing I could die--at least not most of the time. The wishing I could die part has only happened a few crazy times which I consider aberrations. Rather, depression is more like sleepwalking. Everything that happens seems to happen at a distance. It takes work and effort for me to connect to my surroundings. Depression makes me tired, apathetic, and prone to angry outbursts, but it doesn't make sad. At least not in a watery-eyed Kleenex-y kind of way. To be sad I'd have to be involved in life and I usually feel like I'm not. No, depression doesn't make me unhappy. It just makes it harder to find happy.

Here's an analogy: I had a friend in college who was born without a sense of smell. (The techinical term is anosmia, for those of you who were wondering.) She said it didn't usually bother her. She grew up on a farm and, for obvious reasons, not being able to smell anything made life much easier. "Mucking out the barn" was no problem for her! The only time she really missed it was when she sat down to eat. Most meals were no biggy, but when a special dinner or brunch opportunity came along she suddenly wished she could smell. Since there are only five actual tastes (sweet, sour, salty, savory, and bitter) most of what we think we are tasting is what we are smelling. To not have a sense of smell meant there was no tomato in her pasta sauce or onion in her soup. For pity's sake, she couldn't even register the chocolate in a brownie! It wasn't that she couldn't eat or get full or even enjoy her food, it was just that something that was a natural process for most people took work for her.

For me that what being depressed is like. It's not that I can't be happy, it just that it takes a lot of work to get to happy--I have to make a conscious effort to notice and catalog the good things around me, I have to get exercise every day so that my body will produce "happy hormones", I have to remind myself that most cars don't crash, that most dogs don't bite, that most people don't want to hurt me, and that most problems have solutions.

All of this has a huge impact on my spirituality. There's a popular scripture from the Book of Mormon that says, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25 The way we Mormons see it, a large part of the purpose of life is to be happy and happiness comes from choosing the right. As a Primary song says, "There's a right way to live and be happy. It is choosing the right every day. I am learning the teachings of Jesus. They will help me and show me the way." If we follow Jesus Christ and make righteous decisions we are, by and large, supposed to be happy.However, life isn't always that clear cut. Plenty of people who pay a full tithe remain poor. People who keep the Word of Wisdom still get sick. And people who read their scriptures, say their prayers, and magnify their callings can still feel empty--which is the case in my life. Now that doesn't mean the Church isn't true. It just means blessings aren't always obvious and sometimes, well, I have to work a little harder to feel what comes naturally to so many other Church members.

When I was little, one of our favorite songs to sing for Family Home Evening was "Count Your Blessings." I used to sing the first line over and over to myself: "When upon life pillows you are temper tossed. . ." (Since I was the youngest I just picked up the words by listening to my siblings.) I loved that image of having a temper tantrum and being surrounded by pillows to work it out on. And I guess that's how I still think of the emotional upheavals in my life. I may have depression and I may struggle with my relationship with God, but the pillows are still there to catch me when I need it. Even though I can't always see it or feel it, the Lord hasn't abandoned me. That's the first step to finding happy.