been thinking about all the different ways we can experience a depression and
the different forms it can take. How difficult it can be to recognize a
depression for what it is, even when you’re the one experiencing it. There are
different ways to heal, different lessons to learn. For myself, I have had
three, perhaps four, distinct bouts with depression, and they have taken on
different forms. These are some of the things I’ve learned from my various
The first one
was the worst. It came when I was 15, a fairly common time for mental health
disorders to show up, but I wouldn’t say that it was purely genetic. There was
a boy that I blamed my depression on because he began to bully and torment me
when I was about 14. At first, I was angry at him and I told other people how
much I hated him and how mean he was. But no one believed me. They told me I
was the mean one. It took me years to understand how this happened, but he was
saying things about me too, and they believed him over me.
After a while,
I learned to keep my mouth shut. Trying to talk to people about it only got me
in more trouble. They told me I was too sensitive, I needed to let it go. I was
too naive, if I knew more about boys, I would understand. I was too selfish, I
needed to think about things from his side and stop trying to pull him down. I
started to believe them. I blamed myself for everything and I was stupid,
worthless, and horrible.
By the time I
was 15, I had bizarre physical pains in my stomach that did not have any
diagnosable source that the multiple doctors I went to could find. But I was
also severely depressed. I was sleeping all the time, refusing to leave the
house, watching TV for hours, unable to read, but also obsessed with solving
puzzles. I would also fantasize about dying and committing suicide.
people, I was still a selfish girl who wanted attention and my illness was not
real. I just needed a firmer hand, some believed, a push out the door, and my
mother was being too soft. My mother just wanted me happy again. She took me to
a counselor and a psychologist and kept trying to help me. My medications and
the counseling started to work. I did start feeling better and oddly enough,
all of the pain and hatred I had for myself started to turn outward again. I
blamed that boy and all the people that believed him instead of me.
depression, I learned several things. One, emotional pain will sometimes
manifest itself physically because the body does not know how to interpret it
or fix it. There is a connection between the physical and the emotional that
cannot be denied though it’s also not entirely understood. Two, my mind and
body shut down as much as possible when depressed. I need to be vigilant in
noticing the warning signs of when I feel the desire to turn-off. Three, anger
is felt on the way into and on the way out of a depression but is often not
present during the darkest part of the depression. Because depression is often
a desire to shut down, it is characterized by very low energy emotions—apathy,
lack of focus, disconnection, despair—and anger is a high energy emotion which
can be a good sign though it’s also important to not stay in anger for too
Unfortunately, the bullying and abuse that centered in this depression occurred largely at church. One of the best things I did when my depression was bad was to stop going to church, and one of the best things I did to complete my healing was to go back to church. When I was doing better, getting back to my angry self, my mother told me that if I thought there were bullies at church then there would be others that felt the same way. “Go look for them,” she said, “be with them, believe them, and they will be your friends.” She was right. The others I found that were being marginalized and bullied became some of my best friends. I also remembered the spiritual feelings I had when depressed (see “A promise of light” for one example) and realized that if I liked praying, reading scriptures, and going to church because they brought me the Spirit, I shouldn’t let someone else keep me from being where I wanted to be. If God wanted me at church, who were they to kick me out?
me for quite a while, but it couldn’t fix everything. I went with a desire to
be there and a fear that someone would notice I was an imposter. I tried to sit
in some unnoticed corner, I had panic attacks, I spoke very little. I realized
that I loved the Church, but I didn’t much care for other Mormons. It took a
long time (not until the end of my mission truthfully) before I felt
comfortable with other Mormons without fearing them.
depression came after my mother’s diagnosis with cancer. My fear of losing her
and being alone was profound and I again started sleeping a great deal and
wanting to watch TV. I went to counseling sooner and found a psychiatrist. I
was able to keep up with my studies at school, but I didn’t attend church as
much. Those at church that knew about my mother’s diagnosis were very nice and
supportive, but I didn’t really let them help me much. I did have fabulous
friends at school that helped me a lot. Lessons from this depression: don’t be
afraid of medication and counseling, take it, the sooner you do the better it
goes and let people help you, you are not a burden to your friends, they care
enough to sit with you even when you’re sad.
I struggle to
call this next one a third depression because it did not go to the extent that
I needed counseling and medication, but it was difficult. I was with a companion
as a missionary that I could not leave, we needed to be together all the time,
and she had very exacting standards. I started to feel that I did everything
wrong, that I was not good enough to be a missionary, I cried a lot, felt tired
all the time, and wanted to go home. Being mostly isolated as we were, there
were few options for finding support.
President had given everyone a talk from President Benson entitled Beware of
Pride, and in this talk I found my coping mechanism. I thanked and praised
my companion for something every day. When I did this, she was nicer to me. I
don’t recall her thanking me or praising me in return, but she was less
critical, and doing this for her made it easier to do it for myself. I will not
lie and say this was wonderful—it was hard. I don’t think I could have done it
if I had not known that we would only be companions for a few more weeks, but
it did work.
I learned from
this experience that I need to be nicer to myself. One of the reasons her
criticisms were so hard to combat was because she did not say anything to me
that I did not already say to myself. To have it confirmed by another person
made it ten time worse, but I began to ask, why was I so critical in the
first place? She and I were similar in one regard—we were both
perfectionists. She is what I now call a high energy perfectionist, someone who
can pay attention to the details and follow through with her grand ideas
because she has enough energy for it. I am what I call a low energy
perfectionist. I see the details, I have grand visions of what I want to do,
but I don’t always have the energy to do it all which is why I always fall
short of what I want and always feel like a failure. I used to wish I had more
energy to go with my perfectionism, but my experience with her has taught me
that moving that fast often leaves you blind to the things around you. I prefer
my slower pace now; I see that I can do more than what I’d originally envisioned
because my vision is broader. It is now my goal to fight off my perfectionism
and be kind to myself.
My last depression was when we lived in Michigan, far away from friends and family. I was going through several intense struggles (see Problem 1, Problem 2, and Problem 3 for more details) and began to hate myself, God, and the people around me. Looking back on it, I’m surprised I did not recognize it for what it was. I was tired all the time, but I blamed that on my new baby. I started off with anger and it wasn’t until my anger started to turn to despair and I began to fantasize about leaving, shutting down, that I realized I had a problem. I went to God and took my healing seriously, but I didn’t seek counseling and medication. I can’t say why, this was a poor decision, and I do not recommend it. Perhaps it was because I kept blaming other things and thought I just needed to fix this or fix that and then I’d be fine. It’s possible I didn’t trust that anyone else would understand. Maybe I was afraid that people would blame me again or be dismissive about my pain. For whatever reason, I didn’t think of this as a depression until years later when I was finally out of it enough to see clearly.
One thing I
learned from this one was the need to talk to other people. I think my husband
knew I was depressed before I did, but because I saw him as one of the problems
that I needed to fix, I wasn’t listening very well. I got mad at the people at
church because they were more concerned about my husband than they were about
me. They wanted to answer his questions and help him feel welcomed at church,
all very good. But there is no magic answer or silver bullet for someone like him
and friendship does not equal belief.
Meanwhile, as I was feeling very lonely and questioning my future, no
one asked me if I had any questions or whether I needed more fellowship.
Neither my Home Teachers (male ministers) nor Visiting Teachers (female
ministers) ever came.
I began to get
a bit resentful. I felt invisible, taken for granted, and far less important
than my husband. I remember trying to make a friend by going to a Relief
Society dinner and then crying the whole way home. I started to think of them
as shallow, stupid people. And my panic attacks came back in full force. Just
like when I tried to go back to church after my depression as a teenager, I
would panic in Relief Society, sit by myself in Sacrament Meeting, and say
nothing in Sunday School. I loved the Church, but I hated Mormons.
When I look
back on this depression, I think my biggest lesson was that forgiveness is the
final healing. I needed help desperately but because I hadn’t really forgiven
those first Mormons who had hurt me as a teenager, I didn’t allow the ward
members in my college ward to help me, and then I didn’t trust the people in my
I can’t say
that I was wrong to avoid church until I was firmly on the road to health. I
needed separation from the ones that were hurting me. But holding on to anger
also held me back from finding new allies. I’ve been working more on forgiving
those that didn’t understand and didn’t see what was really going on. I think I
understand them better now and it’s helped me find new allies but also to be a
better ally for someone else.
these lessons from battles with depression, but I think they’re useful for
everyone. Our bodies and spirits are connected, let them strengthen each other
and don’t ever build one at the expense of the other or they will both fall
apart. Deal with your anger, it can be very useful, but don’t use it for too
long and don’t hide it away or it will destroy you. When you feel yourself
turning off find ways to connect and engage. Slow down and be kind to yourself.
Find those people that will support you and forgive those who don’t know how.
I’ve met a lot
of people who don’t understand what the big deal is. Everyone needs to have
good friends, so why is that so hard for depressed people? I had a lot of
friends before I was depressed, afterward I had one. Friendship is not easy for
me, it’s frightening. But because I’ve struggled with it and worked at it, I
think I know more now about how to be and find good friends than those for whom
friendship is easy. Because forgiveness was hard, I know more about it. Because
my mind and my heart are sensitive, I’ve studied how to take care of them.
People who think these things are easy may mistakenly believe they’re stronger
or smarter. But I warn you, we who have struggled are wiser and stronger than
Don’t stop fighting, it’s worth it.