Saturday, March 28, 2015

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Facing Depression

Tonight I talked with a dear friend who has been suffering from depression, and my heart broke all over again for what she's going through.  It took me back to the first days and weeks of wrapping my head around the word, "depression."  It made me feel old and wise.  I've always been too big for my britches that way, and I know got long-winded when I was talking to her, but I still don't feel finished.

 I will never forget what I went through to figure out that I needed help with my depression.  The memory of those months and years of suffering still fills me with sadness.  I had three kids under the age of four.  We had moved from our beloved college town to far-flung Wyoming, where we didn't know a single soul. My husband was deeply involved in building his career, and was often gone from dark to dark on weekdays, or even a whole week at a time. My beloved daughter had suffered a long illness which took her closer to death than I ever want to see my children again, and which culminated in a ten-day stay at Primary Children's Hospital.  I was trying to learn how to feed my newly-diagnosed celiac kids food that would not kill them.  I was potty-training my oldest so that I would have only two in diapers.  I was far from my family in sunny St. George, I was freezing, and I was very alone.

When we talk about clinical depression it's helpful to look for triggers, and boy, did I have triggers at that point in my life.  Does that mean that my life was meaningless or that I had nothing to be grateful for?  Absolutely not.  I was building something that I was sure would bring me joy.  But the problem was that I felt nothing but anguish.  All the time.  I felt extreme anxiety and constant guilt for my failings as a mother and wife.  Even when my darling babies kissed and hugged me, no ray of happiness could penetrate.  I was dead to everything but pain.

At church I felt I was just going through the motions.  I fulfilled callings, served ward members, visited with those who needed help, all because I knew I should--but without the attendant feelings of closeness with God I had always enjoyed.  I prayed to a God who was no longer speaking to me and read His words even though they didn't seem to mean anything anymore.  I wondered, after all the witnesses I had experienced in my life, was it possible for me to lose my faith just because being a mom was stressful?

I remember checking out a stack of books about depression in our small-town library, blushing at the thought of what the librarian was thinking of me.  I did not know that she would later become one of my  mentors through the illness, having experienced it herself.  I remember a conversation with TJ in which I confessed my devastating discovery: that I was broken, without hope of repair.  He told me we would get help for me, no matter what.  He said I would feel better.  I remember calling my sister and admitting the shameful truth.  She was not surprised, but supportive.  And then I called the doctor.  And then I filled my first prescription for medication.  And then I called the therapist.  And then I started feeling that there was hope.

If I could have a conversation with the 25-year-old version of myself tonight, I would start with a big hug.  Young Self was such a brave person in the face of such a bewildering host of troubles. And she felt so alone, unworthy, and guilty.  She felt hopeless.  I would love to tell her how many thousands of healthy days she has ahead of her: how many breathtakingly beautiful baby kisses will sink straight into her happy, healthy heart.  I would love to tell her that God is counting her tears and will repay them a hundred-fold.

And I would give Young Self some great advice.  Because I always give advice.  And sermons. Those who love me just listen patiently, and since this is my daydream, Young Self will have to do the same.  Here is the advice I would give her, not necessarily in order of importance:

1.  Learn all you can about clinical depression.  The internet's a great place to start, but even if you're not a huge reader, invest the time necessary to get an idea of what you're dealing with.  Knowledge is power!  Especially pay attention to the neurological explanations of what depression is.  It is so important for you to understand the physiological underpinnings of this illness to give you the strength you'll need to reach for healing.  Here is what I consider to be absolute required reading for those who are suffering from depression or who are long-suffering with a loved one who does:

"Like a Broken Vessel" by Jeffry R. Holland

Reaching For Hope: An LDS Perspective on Recovering from Depression

The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Treat Depression Without Drugs

2.  Talk to loved ones, and listen to the ones who are committed to help you find healing, no matter what that entails.  I hope, so much, that one of these people is your spouse.  If not, keep talking.  But find those who will back you up when even you think it's not worth trying.  Because you will need their help to get better.  Talking is part of the therapy.  Talking is part of what will heal you. So talk.

3. Get ready to reach for help.  Fight hard against the destroyer!  Exclamation point! Right now, he will pull out the shame and work you over with it.  Don't be ashamed of your condition.  It's called mortality, and everyone has it.

Do you need a therapist to help identify unhealthy patterns in your life and replace them with good ones?  Of course, you do.  In my opinion, everyone does.  Why is it that most Americans would not undertake to fix the brakes on their car because they feel under-educated or unqualified--and yet they feel the intricacies of the human mind are easy enough to tackle alone?  I would much rather risk a car accident than risk a lifetime of unhealthy relationships and generations of suffering.  Wouldn't you?  Find someone who has studied these things.  Find someone you can trust to help you.

Do you need medication to start your healing process?  I will never forget the day my Zoloft kicked in.  I was on the phone describing my day to TJ, who was on a trip.  I wasn't expecting the medication to work for another week or so, but as we talked, I realized that it already was.  I had told TJ how much fun it had been to make sock puppets with the kids--the type of project I never initiated because it was too overwhelming.  And as we chatted, I described the beautiful new flower screensaver on the computer, and I felt real happiness.  I had not felt that way for so long, it was stunning even in its simplicity.  I had enjoyed a healthy day for the first time in a very long time.  I felt like I was the person I had been pretending to be.  I felt like a good person.  I felt like a normal person.  I felt like myself again.

How could that be a bad thing?

Don't let the destroyer keep you from healing, no matter what.

4.  Keep a sense of perspective.  Remember my dear librarian-friend?  In one long, long, conversation she told me that if she got to choose a trial--if all the trials in our town were put in a basket and she could choose one--she would choose depression.  Only after a few years of dealing with this disease did her comment make sense to me.  As real as the suffering is, in my case it is limited to what goes on inside my brain.  My husband is faithful and kind.  The kids are healthy and happy.  We always have food on our table.  When someone is sick, the doctor fixes it.    Depression is curable.  Depression is manageable.  I would much rather my trials all happen inside my head, thanks very much.  Remember that most of the craziness happens between your own ears, and that your loved ones usually are too wrapped up in their own lives to read your troubled thoughts.  Isn't that a good thing?  You are not tainting the world by your suffering.

5.   Hang on, with both hands and all ten fingernails, to your faith.  Keep praying.  You can't hear Him.  It is part of your condition.  It is not because you are unworthy, and it's definitely not because He has stopped listening.  He is closer than ever, but you won't be able to see that until you start getting better.  In the meantime, hold on.  And nurture your hope.  God did not put you on this earth to fail.  It is impossible to fail as long as you keep getting up and trying again.  He does sometimes let us battle it out alone.  But even then, we are never alone, and someday, He will recompense every loss.  He will even make up for your weaknesses in the lives of your loved ones.  My kids are amazingly healthy despite being raised by a crazy woman.  Because of the Atonement, I know that each one of my precious babies will have exactly the experiences they need to lead them back to Him--because of my weakness and His strength.  Hold on.  Trust on.  I promise it will all make sense someday.

For so long I felt that I was on autopilot in my faith.  I kept going because of the memory of faith.  I kept going because I believed I wasn't seeing the whole picture.  Sometimes when people would talk about trials as these great spiritual experiences, I would wonder what was wrong with me.  I couldn't feel the Spirit in my life--did that mean I was handling my trials all wrong?  I have come to see that it's just part of the depression package.  And I'm so glad I held on even when all the warm fuzzy spiritual feelings were not there.  To me, that is what faith really means.  It means pushing the boundaries of our vision by walking past it.  Now I can see back and I'm so grateful I kept going. There have been innumerable blessings along this road.  And I believe there are still so many to come--for me and for you.


MyDonkeySix said...

All wise and true advice. #5 is so true and crucial. He is listening and close by even though it seems the exact opposite. Thank you for sharing. Love you!

The Bailey Family said...

This is so wonderful, Kari! It makes my heart ache, but also swell with happiness that you've learned so many great things. It's amazing that you were able to hang on to your faith without feeling God's love-- and I think you're right, that that is the very definition of faith. What a beautiful story.

Mattie Adair 44 said...

I loved this so much! Thanks for sharing. I know the feeling about zoloft. I feel like people get so afraid when they find out your taking it, even my husband hates that I have to take it but I remember a couple weeks after starting it having the urge to go outside and take a walk, something that had in the past seemed impossible. And thank you for the perspective on the saviors love for us. I'd never thought of it that way and it is easy to feel abandoned and unworthy of love even though it's just the depression talking. Faith can be hard to muster.

Spencer said...

Yeah boy did you have triggers. It reminds me of my mission. A mess of spiritual highs and lows, apathy and exact obedience, failure to find, teach, baptize, and of course missing home. I'm glad I had help. My mission president recognized my symptoms and set me up with the mission psychiatrist and he prescribed medication that helped a lot. But I also learned a bit about myself, namely that I'm very introspective, and have a tendency to dwell on the negative. Being aware of it helped me to fight it, and without anyone ever telling me I could cure my depression by thinking positive, I pretty much did, almost. I still get overly weighed down with disappointments or setbacks, I still have to guard against a negative outlook, and I still try to remind myself constantly of the sage advice of our mission mom, "Move your feet, your head will catch up". Depression can come in various shapes and sizes, and it can come and go at various stages in life. In addition to all that you shared, one thing I think can apply to almost all of us, is to keep moving. That shouldn't be confused with the business is happiness model, or the idea that constant activity is a cure for sad thoughts. I'd also hate to see any depressed person taking on challenges that overwhelm instead of just moving. To me, moving is much more literal. Exercise and fresh air gets the endorphins going, and being outside gets you vitamin D and perspective! There's nothing that calms and heals my soul like being outside, something I think all of us Monnett's have Dad to thank for. Moving changes the type of thinking you are able to do, from reviewing feelings to looking forward to events and daydreaming. For me, because I naturally tend to sit still and think about the past, this is a welcome change. Keep moving. To me it doesn't mean fill your life to the brim, but it means being anxious and engaged in my life. Right now my life plan provides plenty of time locked inside, sitting and studying, and worrying that I won't make it to the end goal. So I'm constantly trying to get outside, to not think about how I might fail but just move on to the next thing I know I can control and improve. Sorry for the long comment. I really appreciate your thought provoking writing and perspective, as you can see, it helps me work through things! I love you so much Kari!

Karen Dick said...

Love you, Sue! I'm glad you are reading, it's almost like hanging out. George, sometimes I wonder if you ever see anything new in my posts, since I always narrate my life to you in real-time. Thanks for reading and cheering me on, anyway! Mattie, I'm so glad you commented. I really feel it's important to remove the stigma attached to antidepressants in order to promote healing. I hate the memory of all the shame I felt when I was taking them. I'm proud of you for doing what is best for you! Spence, I love your long comments. "Move your feet, your head will catch up," is something I've heard you say before, and it really does work: according to studies cited in the 6-step book, consistent exercise (half an hour, three times a week) consistently outperforms antidepressants. I know from experience that sometimes you need the antidepressant to get into a state where you can even think about exercise, and that's a good first step. I never thought about "keep moving" outside of exercise, but I've found that concept to be important, too. As president Monson said, "Work will win when wishy washy wishing won't." Work is the best antidote I know for anxiety.

Leigh said...

This is wonderful wonderful wisdom. Thank you for sharing. I so appreciate your book recommendations and am half way through the Depression Cure and am learning a lot which is great. (I thought I knew a lot having dealt with depression for the last 20 years). So much to learn and so much wonderful authentic wisdom. Thank you.

Spencer said...

Thanks Kari. I love that President Monson quote. I realize this morning one more key part of the movement thing, as Nike and Spencer W. Kimble said, just do it. Too often I wait to feel like doing this or that, waiting to feel ready for things I'll never really feel ready for, like studying, or waking up early, etc. Exercise has been like that for me, I can't wait to feel ready, but once I get moving I feel pretty great. I also appreciate what you said about medication changing your outlook, to make more things like exercise seem doable. Feeling overwhelmed is such a crippler, and medication can help remove a lot of that anxiety.

Nacole Heywood said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I so wish I could write like you! I also suffer from depression and anxiety. Its nice to hear I'm not alone in this struggle.

Sarah said...

Thank you. This is beautiful.