Sunday, March 14, 2010

Depression and Spirituality (more from BCC)

So I am horrendously late (in internet terms) when it comes to blogging about
this. But we've been busy (Sell house? Check! Find other house to buy? Check! Do all the mortgage junk? Check! Oh, and since Baby #4 is due in 9 weeks, see the doctor all the time? Check! Do all the normal life stuff? Check!)and now is the first chance I've had to get back to it.

They covered a lot of ground, starting with how some versions of Mormon thought promote black and white thinking patterns that exacerbate depression and then moved on to how depression has actually changed their religious lives. I hope you'll go over and read the whole post, but I wanted to touch on a few things here that I identified with.

"Depression can be a completely different animal than any other type of adversity, because it screws with your ability to access God. And you know God could break through that wall if he really wanted to, so you’re left with the conclusion that he didn’t care to."

The biggest way depression seemed to interact with the BCC-ers depression was in their connection with God. Most of them couldn't confidently assert any thing more than a tenuous connection with their Heavenly Father--and that made them feel like they were bad Mormons. This has been absolutely true in my life. When I am at worst is when God is hardest to access. Praying, fervent focused pleading, does little to no good. I don't know if it's because my brain blocks out the spirit (I firmly believe there is a link between our physical conditions and our abilities to discern spiritual matters) or because it is somehow God's will that I not feel Him, but when I am down I cannot feel His love or access Him. That's one of the most obvious signs of my own depression: sitting in testimony meeting and seeing that everyone else is feeling it and not feeling it myself. I've come to expect this spiritual loneliness now and don't take it personally, but in the beginning it was vastly disorienting for my Mormon perspective. I mean, God loves us and is supposed to be there for us when we need Him, right? But sometimes it doesn't feel like He is. Or maybe I just haven't learned to see His hand. Either way, it's lonely. And scary.

"It seems to me that we have become more comfortable in Mormon culture about talking about depression, precisely because it has been medicalized, and we can explain it in comfortingly technical terms like 'serotonin re-uptake' and 'dopamine receptors.' What we still can’t do is talk about the spiritual aspects of it–it’s ok to stand up in testimony meeting and say 'the Lord has helped me recover from postpartum depression through priesthood blessings and medical care,' but it simply isn’t ok to say 'I feel abandoned by God. When you talk about your close relationship with Him, I wonder why I can’t feel what you do, and it makes me feel terrible.'

We countenance talking about grief, depression, and anger only when they’re safely in the past tense, or when we can explain them away as a physical, brain-based phenomenon. It’s understandable, of course, because it is painful and unsettling to see someone suffering and have prayer or priesthood blessings seem not to work–'mourning with those that mourn' can be (perhaps must be) a genuine challenge to the faith and testimony of the comforter, as well as the comforted. What does it mean to bear one another’s burdens, when one of our brother’s or sister’s burdens is despair, or the absence of hope and faith?"

This is something I have struggle to articulate and one of the reasons I started this blog. Since I've been depressed, I've come to believe that as Mormons we sometimes spend too much time thinking about the end of the road and not enough about the path we take to get there. We're all about the tree of life(which isn't necessarily bad) and sometimes forget about the mists of darkness and the clinging to the iron rod part of it all. Being righteous doesn't always mean that our lives will be without trouble. We wish it did. But it doesn't. Life is going to be hard and when we forget that I think we neuter our spiritual growth because, really, you can't get to the tree of life without the long walk through the mists of darkness. I'm glad the folks over at BCC owned this and said it out loud.

A lot of the discussion also centered around how being depressed has caused people to rethink their testimonies. Several contributors said that their testimonies were smaller now--stronger but smaller. For almost all of them there came a point where they felt they might need to leave the Church, but they decided to keep working at it. This is true for me, too. I'm not comfortable saying that I know all the things everyone else in the congregation knows. I feel like my spirit has been shaken to pieces and my testimony has been rebuilt from the ground up. But the things I believe are truly mine now because I have gained them through experience.

"I’m starting to realize that one of the greatest gifts we can give another human being is to be willing to reconsider our version of reality for their sake, to make uncomfortable shifts inside ourselves in order to make room for them."

This was beautiful to me. This is the thing I think I need the most sometimes. I just need to know that other people aren't dismissing me simply because my reality makes them uncomfortable. That attitude is the heart of successful, Christlike parenting and marriages. I think it's that idea that shaped the Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching programs. The ability to "reconsider our version of reality" for someone else strikes me as one of the most loving things we can do and is what it means to be true disciples of Christ.


Kelly said...

To "reconsider our own version of reality" is probably the hardest thing I can think to do, although it is probably worth the effort. I find it hard to really get what other people are thinking because I really only know what's going on in my own head and heart. And I think we all sometimes wonder how anybody could possibly think differently or view the world differently than we do.
For me personally, it has been helpful to have friends who can call me on some of the things I think that don't quite mesh with their versions of reality. The friends who challenge my thinking, and help me to see things from a different perspective are the ones who help me "reconsider" different realities -- like understanding what it feels like to be single in Relief Society when the lesson is about strengthening marriage and family; or,yes, what my good friend with depression might think about this Ensign article on depression that I just read. But those are the friends I value the most.

Unknown said...

Thank you for being willing to share what you are going through. A friend recommended your blog to me and it has helped to have someone voice waht I am going through. Thank you again.

Charlotte said...

Thank you for this! I love how they point out Mormon's tendencies (or maybe everyones?) to only talk about trials after they are over. You and I have talked about this a lot and I think it does everyone a great disservice.

Dianna said...

I just found your blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights about the monster of depression. I too struggle with it and have for most of my life. I plan to keep reading your posts.