Hannah submitted this guest post on her struggle with depression. It illustrates the pain and desperation that seems to accompany mental illness, and reminds us of the dark cloud of misery many people live under. A poem by Sarebear follows. Again, please: anyone suffering out there need not suffer alone.
I am a woman in my early twenties and have been diagnosed with both major depression and general anxiety disorder. I have been on and off of medication and in and out of counseling.
Sometimes I feel nothing; I do not feel sad or depressed, just a bleak nothing. If anyone has ever lived near a wildfire where the sky filled with ash clouds and rained ash, it is something like that. Everything turns sluggish and grey. I do not feel motivated to get out of bed and do not care what happens to me. I do not care about my work or my friends or my family. I do not want to do anything–nothing seems appealing. It is hard to eat. Sleep is a relief, so at times I will sleep all day. It can seem as though not existing is preferable to such a world of grey and ash.
God is hard to think about at all, as it seems that nothing glorious or great or good could exist at all. If I do think of Him, he seems so far away…as though a vast, bleak wasteland separated me from Him. It is (nearly always) impossible to feel the Spirit–the shafts of joy and peace and love do not pierce the clouds of grey ash.
Sometimes it feels like despair. It feels as if something heavy is dragging me down, I am sinking further and further and no matter how hard I fight, I am still drowning. It feels as though my life is doomed and that I am beyond the power of God’s love and Christ’s Atonement. I feel as though no matter how good I try to be, how hard I pray, no matter what good times I may have had, that the bad will always be there as my final destination. Times like this, the emotions are overwhelming and very present. I might cry for most hours in the day. I might cry so hard I throw up or my nose bleeds.
Sometimes there is a lot of self-hatred. I have tried to kill myself. It is hard to talk about this now, because I feel removed from the self I am when I get to that point, but there is this sense that nothing matters, certainly not an individual life, that I am not fit for the kingdom anyway, and that even a life in the Telestial Kingdom would be infinitely better than suffering on Earth. (I am noting with interest as I type this, how so many ideas I’ve had when depressed get expressed in religious ideas and language.)
Sometimes death seems as though it would be a relief and a release from suffering and that God would be forgiving. I have prayed for God to take away my life, to relieve me of the burden of being alive. I have prayed to God to forgive me for such sinful and weak thoughts. I have prayed for the strength, through Christ’s Atonement, to overcome weakness.
I do not remember when I first started feeling depressed, but I remember that when I was about 14, I felt as though it was a problem that had been with me for years. It is difficult to determine, because when I am in the throes of depression, it feels as though that is how I have always felt and how I will always feel. From a very early age, though, I felt very intense negative feelings. So much so that I wrote my first suicide notes at the age of seven.
I rarely talk about my experiences to members of the Church (except for friends I have who have also struggled with mental illness–somehow birds of a feather flock together) and have never spoken to a Bishop about them. This is because I am afraid that people would not understand. I am afraid people will assume that I have brought this upon myself through sin. I have heard so many people say things like, “If you are faithful, you will be happy,” or “If you pray, you can be healed,” and I am not doubting that this can be the case for some people, but it has not yet worked for me.
I do not believe it is because I have been unfaithful or that I have removed myself from the scope of God’s mercy and love through sin. It is hard enough to deal with this without feeling judgment and misunderstanding from other people. I read Elder Alexander Morrison’s book, “Valley of Sorrow: A Layman’s Guide to Mental Illness,” and was so grateful that finally someone in the Church had said something that made me feel as though it wasn’t my fault that I am the way I am. I recommend the book.
I used to feel so terrible, so worthless, because I couldn’t pray my depression away. I would pray and pray to God to please just let me be happy, to let me feel some of His love and His light [a dear friend of mine left the Church after struggling with depression for years because he never received answers to his prayers for mercy and peace]. When nothing would happen I would start to search through all my actions and thoughts to see where the sin was. Since I am imperfect, I would always be able to find something, so I blamed my depression on that. This led to a lot of self-hatred that I can only imagine furthered the problem. It took me a long time to realize that I was dealing with something beyond the negative effects of minor sins (I do not believe that months of misery are the natural consequences of fibbing to a parent or thinking mean thoughts about a classmate).
It was hard to believe that I had this part of who I was, the part that (to a large degree) determined what I thought and felt, that was so negative and so beyond my control. It is hard to reconcile my view of God’s plan for me (and for his children) with this struggle. It is hard to pray to feel God’s love, to pray for God to heal me, to pray for peace or release or mercy and to not feel anything as an answer. I am grateful that I have been able to feel answers at times (even if only rarely), because I doubt I would be strong enough to keep a testimony otherwise.
It was (and is) very shameful for me to know that I was struggling with a mental illness. Growing up as a part of a Church that asked for its members to strive for perfection, I felt deeply flawed. I felt as though I were a failure, and that being mentally ill made me a disappointment to my family and to my God. This has made it extremely difficult to turn to either my family or my God with this particular problem, because I feel so ashamed of myself for not being “normal” or “whole.” For not being able to meet the demands of life. I feel ungrateful and unworthy. I still see my depression (and some of its effects, such as attempted suicide) as sinful. I don’t know how to talk about something that feels so far from the Gospel with people who are a part of the Church. Furthermore, I feel like one way to describe depression is an inability to feel the Spirit (or to feel love or peace). Though I believe that the Spirit brings us joy and comfort, I think that depression (and other mental illnesses) act as a block against or minimization of the effects of the Spirit. It is very isolating and lonely to be cut off from this.
One last thing I wanted to add is that, though therapy and/or medication can be helpful, there are no cures for these diseases. Relapse rates are high, medications can become ineffective (and many have undesirable side-effects…that’s a whole other story there!), therapy can be ineffective. Some people are lucky and find the right treatment or combination of treatments and it works for them for life, some find something that works for a while and then ceases to, some never find anything that works. I hesitate to give advice, but I guess my suggestion would to be to keep shopping around until something works.
I believe that there is hope and room for improvement on how mental illnesses are addressed in society as a whole and particularly within the LDS community. As we reach out to people with more understanding, love, and compassion, I think that great strides can be made in treatment and facilitation for those with mental illness.