Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Depression, Intuition, and The Spirit

For me, one of the hardest things about being LDS and depressed is listening to the voices in my head. I mean, really, I've got a lot of traffic rattling around in there.

The depressed voice in my head is always throwing out things like, "You idiot! I can't believe you did that!" or "Oh, now you've really screwed things up. How on earth do you ever think you can make it right?" or "You are such a *&%$#" Thankfully, that part of my mind is not too creative and I've learned (yay for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)to tune it out.

My intuition voice is also pretty noisy. Unfortunately, since I am a mother of three children, my intuition is usually attuned to things like "She says she washed her hands but you'd better smell them to make sure she used soap" or "The beloved blankey has been stashed behind the wheat in the food storage cabinet" or, my personal favorite, "You'd better get off the computer because someone is sneaking candy!"

And the last but certainly not least voice, the Spirit, is, reserved for spiritual things, like: "A soft answer turneth away wrath." (Since I have so many anger issues it makes sense the Spirit would address those!) More often than not though, the Spirit feels like an urge to do something and doesn't manifest itself as a concrete thought.

And that's where things start to get complicated.

I've learned to manage my depression on a cognitive level and I've kind of figured out how to listen to my intution and the Spirit, but some days I have a hard time telling which is which.

For example: after Number 1 was born I was quite anxious (and depressed, but I didn't know it yet) about her getting kidnapped. This is a pretty normal new-mommy fear, but my anxiety took it to a new level. Not only did I worry about this in public places but I constantly had visions of someone sneaking in her into room and stealing her from her crib while I was in the bathroom. Now, we lived in a third floor apartment but I was still convinced. Whenever I left her out of my sight, which I only did to use the potty, I tried to mentally calculate how long it would take the baby thief to scale the balconies up to our floor, sneak through our sliding glass door and down the hall to her nursery, grab the baby, run out our door and down three flight of stairs to his getaway vehicle. I actually would argue with myself about how likely the scenario was and what I would do if I ran into the thief.

Eventually my worry got so intense I didn't want to leave the house. Every trip to the grocery store (since that was the only place I was still going) was full of stress. I began to develop little rituals to ease my mind. I always parked in the same spot. I always went through the store in the same order. I never walked more than an arm's length away from the cart. I always kept one hand on the baby (that way if someone tried to take her I could tug back). And I never turned my back to her.

I now know that most of the paranoia and need for ritual was linked to the post partum depression, but at the time I wasn't so sure that it wasn't the Spirit trying to warn me of some tragedy that was waiting for me down the next aisle (or at the cart return, those things were so scary to me!). After all, the Spirit communicates to us in our minds and in our hearts and my brain and my feelings were in constant agreement that something bad was going to happen. There was a part of me that knew my worry was excessive but, then again, maybe this was the "mommy mantle" so many women talked about. Boy, was I surprised when I started treatment for the depression and all those "impressions" disappeared!

I still struggle with it though. Like on days when I wake up feeling like garbage and I don't want to get out of bed but I do because my kids need me and then I yell at them and the thought "No success can compensate for failure in the home" goes ringing through my brain and I feel worse than I did before. Was that a spiritual reprimand? Or, was it my depression mocking me and trying to discourage me? Or maybe it was my intution telling me that I am a failure and no matter what I do nothing will make up for the way I'm screwing up my kids. Or maybe it's some bizarre concoction of all three. . . Either way, there are plenty of times when I can't tease out the depression from the Spirit. Or my intuition from my depression. Or my intuition from the Spirit. All the urges seem to run into each other and trying to distinguish one from the others is like trying to keep track of which hat the magician put the little ball under. They just keep moving faster and faster and my best guess is only a shot in dark.

And really, I guess there's no real way to know--well, maybe in the next life the Lord will explain it all to me. Personal revelation is one of those tricky things about our Church. It's a gift from our loving Father in Heaven, but it certainly takes effort to figure out how to interpret it and use it. If I ever figure it out, I'll let you know!


SilverRain said...

Thank you for this site! It is nice to see a serious problem tackled in an up-front, faithful way. It is scary to talk about these sorts of things, especially online.

Thank you for your efforts.

Coffinberry said...

Yes, this is why I wrestled/pushed-back so hard when a young missionary tried to tell me at dinner that perfect love casteth out all fear, hence if I was fearful, I didn't have enough love. Hmph. I still wrestle with this stuff (you would be amazed how many times my mind--apparently all of itself--tells me to "go to hell").

But on the other hand, I can tell you that with time and practice, moments of clarity from the Spirit do come. Write them down and hold on to them for the times when things aren't so clear.

Tim Malone said...

Hi Laura,

I echo the comment from Silverrain. Thank you for blogging about this difficult subject. I intend to keep coming back here. Post more good stuff about how you are dealing with this affliction, successfully or not.

I'm sure you already realize this but you are not alone in dealing with the daily battle of depression. While I cannot relate to the difficulties of being a depressed Mormon mommy, your insights on how you handle the voices are most helpful.

Interpreting the voice of the Spirit among all the other voices has always been a struggle for me. Yet I can tell you that with time (I am 51 years old) it becomes easier. The clarity of careful thought can and does silence the accusing and fearful voices, at least for a little while.

Are we blessed or cursed because we are more susceptible to "hearing" those voices? Maybe we just have better verbalization skills than most. For those who do not suffer from this sensitivity, even those closest to us who love us, it can seem that we are just "crazy" or "weird". I reject that thinking.

As coffinberry confirmed, it takes a lot to cast out these fearful voices. Oh how I have prayed for this gift or perfect love. Alas, the Lord knows what is best for me. I have developed a measure of peace as I express love for others, but in no way has it been perfected.

Inspiration is real, intuition is real, the whisperings of the Spirit of the Lord are real. But nobody can tell me that there aren't other kinds of voices or that they aren't just as real. The real trick is learning to distinguish between them. Remember, we are here to learn to act for ourselves and not just to be acted upon.

I look forward to your future posts, even if they are written in between the demands of being a not unhappy Mormon mommy. Cheers.

Laura said...

Wow! Thanks for your support, guys and for stopping by. I hope you all come back so we can keep the discussions going! I think it is important to talk about how our depression works with our spirituality because of stories like coffinberry's. I know the missionaries mean well, but sometimes I wish they'd admit that life can be complicated.

I really like the ideas to write them down and what Tim says about prayer makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the thoughts!

Charlotte said...

Excellent post Laura. I love what you said about your intuition telling you to smell your kid's hands. Hee - I totally do that too!

I see a lot of myself in your post. Especially in trying to discern what is an actual "warning" and what's just my paranoia. Something that helps me is to remember "by their fruits ye shall know them." I ask myself what is the result of this worry - like keeping one hand on the baby at all times. Would it actually stop someone from stealing your baby if they were so inclined? Probably not. Does it bring down your general quality of life to have to do the ritual all the time? Probably.

And if that doesn't convince my brain to shut up already then I mentally say a prayer "giving" my child to God. I know that God is the only person who loves my babies more than I do and sometimes I have to trust His instincts over my own faulty wiring.

One thing though that makes all this harder is when people talk in church about how bad things wouldn't happen to people if they just "listened to the Spirit." For instance, one man, upon hearing of an instance of child abuse in our ward said, "If the parents had been close to the spirit, they would have been warned and been able to protect their child." This is utter crap and comes thisclose to victim blaming, in my book. Bad things happen to us not because we aren't close to the spirit but because we need the experiences to grow.

Sorry for the long comment!