Monday, March 31, 2008

Every story counts

So I was thinking about Wendy, you know, the woman from the hack job article ran by abcnews, and how hard it must have been for her to share her story. She was pretty honest about her experiences with depression and the Mormon culture and I think that took a lot of courage. I feel like hearing Wendy's story (such as it was, sandwiched between those slabs of yellow journalism)broadened my thinking on these issues. I'd really like that to happen more.

So, in that spirit I've decided to start running short profiles of other depressed LDS people. Everyone's experience with depression is different. Depression occupies that netherworld where body spirit and mind meet and that can get pretty complicated. Hopefully, hearing other people's stories will help break down the stereotypes that currently pervade and distort the discussion of what it means to be depressed and LDS. (Note: I made up the questions myself and I haven't edited the answers at all.)

Here's the first profile:

Name: Charlotte
Age: 29
Location: Minnesota

1. Have you ever been officially diagnosed? How do you classify your depression? (i.e. post partum depression, anxiety/depression, clinical depression, etc.)
I don't suppose I ever have been "officially" diagnosed although I don't think anyone doubts that I've had at least 3 serious bouts of depression. I would categorize mine as anxiety/depression - heavy on the anxiety.

2.How long have you been depressed?
As long as I can remember? Seriously - I've always been an intense kid. Although if you are asking about this current bout of depression, maybe 6 months.

3.What kind of treatments have you pursued?
Therapy, drugs (I'm currently on Wellbutrin, have done Celexa in the past), and lots of other remedies like exercise, gratitude journaling, prayer & scripture study, priesthood blessings, eating more Omega-3s, getting 8 hours of a sleep a night, calling my sister 10 times a day. All that good stuff.

4.How have those treatments worked for you?
Different things have worked at different points in my life depending on the source of my depression. When my depression is situation specific (like now) then a combination of drugs & therapy seem to help best. When I just get into a funk (I swear I have Seasonal Affective Disorder), then the other stuff like exercise & service & lots of sex help the best (yeah, I just said sex.)

5.How do you feel your depression has affected your spirituality?
I feel less spiritual when I'm depressed. I feel like I'm living at the bottom of a well and only seeing life through a tiny circle at the top. Kinda hard to feel the spirit when you are focused the whole time on sitting in a dank puddle. That said, when I'm depressed I am more likely to reach out to those around me for spiritual support. It's as if I know I can't sustain my own spirituality so I ask them to help me. And it does help. I would also like to add that no matter how depressed I've been I've never lost my testimony. Just my will to improve it, I suppose.

6. What do you wish other people understood about depression?
That I need help even when I don't ask for it. That I may joke about it but it really does hurt. That my body often shows the signs before I'm mentally aware of them, so if you notice something you should tell me (is it weird that I have that little self insight?). That I still need opportunities to serve. Don't release me from my calling. Please do call me when there is a compassionate service need in the ward. That somebody truly listening is really the best thing you can do for me. Well, that and babysit:)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Talk about your stereotypes!

Boy, am I riled up! My sister pointed me to an article on Talk about your stereotypes!

Wait, before I get any further I want to say that I am not in any way expressing frustration with Wendy, the woman in the article. I am proud of her and moved by her willingness to share what is obviously one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. I applaud her for getting the help that she needs and for having the courage to go against her family. Wendy (not that there's any chance you will read this, but if you do), you go girl!

Now, back to my anger. Point number one: That journalist is a hack! M over on the Entreblog does an excellent deconstruction of the article and for anyone who is tempted to take the article at face value, read his post before you come to any conclusions.

Point number two: Why is it assumed that all depressed people automatically take issue with the Church? As it glosses over in the abcnews piece, people who actively attend church have lower rates of depression. Why would that automatically be different if you are LDS?

Point number three: Why does our American culture insist on making depression a two dimensional story? Depression isn't just about sadness and suicide. It's about a fundamental disconnect between our emotional selves and our physical selves--whether that comes about through a biological/hormonal problem or through a specific life circumstance. How that disconnect plays out is different in every person affected by the illness. And until we start understanding the individual stories, we will never understand the phenomenon as a whole. That article did little to educate readers. It simply took advantage of people's ignorance about the LDS church and a serious health issue.

Anyway, Utah has been "the most depressed state in the nation" since 2002 so I don't think these studies are saying anything new. I do think, though, that the red flag has been raised and we should start educating and supporting each other, especially in our wards and stakes. I hope my blog helps a little with that. I hope it at least starts a couple conversations--especially about that article and all its lies.

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.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

If I Could

A friend of mine is in the RS presidency out here and had the opportunity (if you can call it that) to visit a meth addicted baby in the hospital. Having four of her own children, one just a few months old, she was shattered by the sight of a strung out, five pound, eight week old infant. He's still in the hospital because they are still trying to wean him off the drugs. His mother has lost all rights to the child. She never even saw him. I didn't see the baby either, but he has been in my heart and prayers all day. As my friend told me about him my first thought was, "I'd adopt him! I can be his mother! I can fix this!" But, really, I can't. Even if I could adopt this baby (the baby's father and his extended family are there every minute in the hospital, on rotating shifts, so he won't be alone. The baby really doesn't need me), it wouldn't fix everything. Only Jesus and His infinite love can make it right. Anyway, this is what I've been pondering and, as usually happens with my pondering, I wrote a poem.

IF I COULD (a poem for a meth-addicted baby)

If I could,
The first thing I would do is feed you.
I’d lift your thin and shaking body and hold it to my skin.
I’d let my breath wash over you and to the thrumming of my heart
I’d cradle you against my breast, nourish you with warmth
Inside and out.

Then, if I could,
I’d look into your steely eyes,
I'd run my fingers through your downy hair,
I’d caress your cheeks, your toes, your impossibly tiny hands—
I’d hold them in my own.
I’d smell you and kiss you.
I’d revel in your newness and eternity.

If I could,
I would turn back all the minutes and months that are your life
and make them mine.
I’d be your mother and take you inside me.
I’d make you, protect you, start you all new.

If I could
I would be everything to you.

But I’m not and I can’t. I’m
a witness, a spectator, a bystander—
Outside your spirit,
Outside your body,
Outside your bassinette—
Your life, sterile, unmingled, is your own.
This is your struggle and I’m on the outside
Praying Something will make a difference,
Praying Someone will find a way in.

(this poem is copyrighted by me)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Two Poems worth Mentioning

Yesterday, A Motley Vision, was kind enough to let me post on their blog about my experience with the Church Cultural Arts committee and their yearly art contest. For the past three years I have entered pieces in the contest and found it to be a rewarding experience.

My first year (2005) I received an honorable mention for a play I wrote called Help Me Find My Way. Based on the true story of a friend's grandparents, it follows a young couple through World War II, their marriage, and conversion to the LDS Church. It is completely suitable for ward or stake use; if anyone wants to put it on I'd be happy to send you the script!

The second year (2006) I entered a poem entitled "Consecration" that received the Deseret Recognition award. And then in 2007 I submitted another poem entitled "Bread From Heaven" which also received the award. Since a couple people have requested those poems I decided to post them here!


Sometimes Holiness has a smell.
Clean and fresh and calm—
Like laundry folded fresh from the dryer,
Like cookies left on a doorstep,
Like a blessed drop of oil.

Holiness also has a sound.
Serene and hushed and unique—
Like a small voice singing,
Like the rustle of scripture seeking,
Like the breath before a testimony.

Holiness has a taste, too.
Light and crisp and clear—
Like orange juice on a Saturday morning,
Like a bit of bread dissolved on the tongue,
Like a tear kissed from a cheek.

And Holiness has a look.
Composed and creative and gentle—
Like a hymn book on a piano,
Like a crayon smudged family “portrait,”
Like two mirrors each reflecting the other.

Of course Holiness has a feel.
Keen and quick and real—
Like the gush of water breaking,
Like a whispered prayer on the lips,
Like a heart that flutters and a chest that burns.

All of it Holiness
Surrounding and moving and being—

All of it
Holiness to the Lord.

"Bread From Heaven"

When the children of Israel
entered the wilderness of Sin
They were hungry—
like a bowl left in a cupboard,
like a dog shut out in the evening,
like a blanket without a bed.
The children of Israel were hungry
And in their hunger
They yearned for slavery.
They dreamed of Egypt
Remembering only its flesh-pots and bread.
They thought their hunger would kill them.
And the children of Israel
in that wilderness of Sin
Were thirsty—
like a cup left in a cabinet,
like a bird without a bath,
like a garden without any rain.
The children of Israel were thirsty,
And in their thirst
They questioned the Lord.
They doubted the Lord
Asking is the Lord among us or not?
They thought they would die of their thirst.
The Lord answered them,
From without the wilderness of Sin
He answered them—
With bread from heaven
With water smote from a rock
And with a challenge.
The Lord gave them bread and water
Bread from Heaven
And Living Water
To prove them
To test them,
If they would walk in His law or no.
Hungry and thirsty, He could save them.
On Sundays when I enter
into my refuge from Sin
I am hungry and thirsty,
Hungry and Thirsty—
like a wandering spirit
like a sheep without a Shepherd
like a child lost in the desert
But I need to be hungry and thirsty
I need to condition my heart
To hunger for forgiveness
To thirst for righteousness
As I receive bread from heaven,
As I drink living water,
I see

Hungry and thirsty is the only way I will ever be saved.

(Both these poems are copyrighted by myself and by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you are going to use one let me know!)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Enna Burning: a metphor for one depressed mommy's anger

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, my depression is hallmarked by anger (and anxiety). Before I got help for my depression my eruptions of frustration and wrath surprised me, especially by their intensity. My feelings created tremendous mental pressure that I couldn't relieve until I lashed out. Whether it was screaming into a towel, slamming doors, or breaking things, the feelings swirling around inside me demanded some sort of destruction.

So when I read Shannon Hale's Enna Burning I immediately identified with the main character. (It seems a little pitiful to me that a YA novel would resonate so strongly with me, but oh well, what do you do?) Enna is a normal--almost stereotypical--girl, who discovers the power of fire by watching her brother blast opposing armies with it. However, she also discovers the danger of fire as she watches her brother burn to death. As she examines his charred body she discovers the secret of fire and begins down the same path, all the while promising herself she won't let the fire consume her like it did her brother.

Like Enna, I am a pretty normal Mormon girl. I married young, in the Temple, finished my degree, and started having kids. I had been a moody teenager and had brief moments of anger, but they usually passed and Ididn't think much of it. Then, when I was pregnant with my first, I found myself getting hysterically angry (and sad, too) and didn't know what to do. I had seen family members struggle with anger and knew it could be destructive. My own capacity for anger surprised me, but I wasn't especially nervous. I thought I had it under control.

In the book, Enna quickly discovers that managing fire is not a simple task and it isn't long before the itch to burn is taking over her life. Enna eventually burns not only small tents but people, enemies and friends. The fire is constantly wanting to burn and Enna frequently rationalizes her actions to mitigate her feelings. She knows the burning is destructive and wrong, but it feels so good to be doing something. It makes her powerful and power is not easy to walk away from. However, power usually comes with a price and Enna is paying for her fire abilities with her peace of mind and her very spirit.

When I am angry it feels like burning inside me. It itches and swells. It makes me feel hot and jittery. It makes it hard to focus and as much as I try to ignore it, the anger wants action. I need to do something--anything--to move the heat outside my body. On one particularly destructive day my anger had been welling up inside and I put my daughter in her room and proceeded to break a kitchen chair, just to let out the frustration inside me. At the time I remember feeling almost high with the prospect of the crashing noise that surrounded me. I felt clear inside, powerful, as if I had risen above all the uncontrollable things inside me. In that moment I felt I was finally, truly, in control. It wasn't until I saw the horror on my husband's face that I realized how out of control I was.

My anger makes me feel powerful. Depression, feeling sad and apathetic, makes me feel helpless and weak. Being angry takes away those helpless feelings for a moment and that feels good. Unfortunately it's only a temporary fix and the more anger I let out, the more often I get angry.

And then there's the guilt. Anger always has fallout. Getting angry never brings about positive change. (Well, I suppose there's such a thing as righteous anger, but I suspect that most of the time I am angry it's unrighteous.) Angry usually frightens my children or makes them rebellious, is offensive, and rarely solves the problem. All it really does is make me feel bad. Being angry was destroying my spirit.

Since this is a YA novel this book has a happy ending. Enna's friend is able to teach her wind power and this brings balance to Enna's inner being. She goes home and all her crimes are forgiven. Which is good. Some books out there should have happy endings, even if is a tad unrealistic. But then so is controlling fire, so I guess I can suspend my disbelief just a little bit more.

In my life, my anger doesn't have such neatly tied up ending. I went to therapy to bring balance to my inner being. It took a long time for me to learn how to identify the early signs of anger and to find positive ways to work out that energy. I am doing better now. But every once in a while my voice will get that edge in it and I'll see my kids get a wary look on their face. My four year old will slink out of the room and look for something soft to cuddle. My crimes are not forgotten. They are ingrained in my family's memories. I hope to crowd them out with positive memories, but the scorchmarks of my outbursts aren't easily erased--especially in my children. I have to be aware of my anger and work on it everyday. But it's a battle I can win. There's too much at stake for me to lose.

Book Update:11 books down, 39 to go

I have now read two more books in my book a week challenge.
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

Could I have found another pair of books to read closely together that were more opposite than these two? The House of Mirth is one of those literary institutions: beautifully crafted, filled with compelling charcters, and sad. Very sad. Edward Tulane is, well, happy. Imagine it this way: what if the velveteen rabbit had a happy ending? That's what Edward Tulane is. While Wharton's work is all about being lost and unable to accept or find love, DiCamillo's book is all about learning to love. I did enjoy both books and I would recommend them to anyone.