Living with Depression, Part III: Depression and Spirituality


Welcome to the next installment of our conversation about clinical depression amongst nine BCC permas. Parts I and II can be found
here and here. If you haven’t already read the series overview, please do so before proceeding. If you’re experiencing symptoms of clinical depression, contact a health care professional without delay.

Today we’re pleased to begin our post with some thoughts from Michael Peterson, LCSW, a mental health professional in Los Angeles. We know him around these parts as Mike in WeHo.

All-Or-Nothing Religious Thinking Can Lead To Depression

What is the connection between depression and religion?  It has long been observed that religious faith can help heal emotional pain.  Even the most secular therapist will encourage her clients to explore their spirituality as part of recovery.  Yet at the same time, religion and depression often seem to overlap in an insidious way.  Religion can calm a troubled mind, yet the religious mind can be troubled.  How do we make sense of this seeming contradiction?

As we seek an answer, let’s first look at one of the most effective treatments for depression, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 1.  CBT is based on the premise that our thoughts, feelings, and actionsare interconnected.  A person who is severely depressed will also usually have distorted thoughts such as “I’m a failure,” or “Nobody would care if I were dead.”  Painful emotions and distorted thoughts lead to unhealthy actions such as isolation and substance abuse, which reinforce the whole problem.  Round-and-round we go, in the downward spiral of depression.

CBT acknowledges that we do not have conscious control over our feelings.  We do, however, have some control over the other two areas.  We can try to minimize depression-reinforcing behaviors.  Most importantly, we can challenge distorted thinking.  Replacing distorted thoughts with the truth is the core of CBT.  “I’m a failure” becomes “I’ve had a setback but I’ve bounced back before.”

There are certain common thought distortions experienced by individuals who are depressed.  A primary distortion is ‘all-or-nothing thinking.’  It is also described as ‘black-and-white’ or ‘either/or’ thinking.  A good student who gets one D and tells himself “I am stupid” is engaged in all-or-nothing thinking.  Prom date rejections lead many to think “I am ugly.”  All-or-nothing thinking forms the basis of perfectionism, and cannot tolerate ambiguity or uncertainty.  The problem is, life on earth is full of ambiguity and uncertainty.

Understanding the problem of all-or-nothing thinking helps answer our original question.  Religious faith can acknowledge that we live in a world of uncertainty and provide comfort therein, or it can insist that reality is black-and-white and keep us trapped in all-or-nothing thinking.  The latter is a path to depression for many.  Evangelicals who divide humanity into the saved and unsaved are engaged in this thought distortion.  Closer to home, at times Latter-day Saints engage in the similar thinking:  “The Church is either completely true or the biggest fraud in history!”  When I hear Mormons make this kind of statement I wonder what lies ahead for them.  Those who cling to all-or-nothing religious beliefs often fall the hardest later on.  At times, they fall into clinical depression.

How do you see the connection between religion and depression?  Have you engaged in all-or-nothing thinking about your faith, and if so how has it affected you?

  • Butler AC, Chapman JE, Forman EM, Beck AT (January 2006). “The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: a review of meta-analyses”. Clin Psychol Rev 26 (1): 17–31
  • Beatrice: In the past I’ve thought about religion in black-and-white/all-or-nothing terms like Mike described, and it was depressing intellectually, but I wouldn’t say it contributed to my clinical depression.  My worst faith crises occurred after I had moved past this all-or-nothing mindset re church.  I don’t spend much time fretting over whether or not the church is true–whether it’s all true or whether it’s only partially true.  What’s true theologically is going to be true regardless of what I think or feel about it, so I confess I don’t think that much about it.  At this stage of my life I’m concerned mostly with doing good and not doing bad, and what concerns me and depresses me is when I don’t live up to moral expectations and the fact that I don’t have a close relationship with God, that I can’t access divine guidance and comfort the way other people do.  I do feel adrift spiritually, and that is depressing.

    Mistress Quickly: I haven’t struggled so much with all-or-nothing thinking in terms of the LDS church’s authenticity. (I loved Tracy M’s “Pillars of My Faith” essay on this topic.) But it’s definitely an issue for me in other ways. For many years I interpreted the gospel in a way that led to destructive expectations of myself and others. I struggled with various types of perfectionism (as do many women I know) and had little tolerance for the failure, weakness, and other difficult vehicles of growth that are an inevitable part of life. Treating my depression has enabled me to break free of a mindset that really hurt my family life and my spiritual development. I know my depression is ramping up when I fall into certain thought patterns about how a “good” person lives. Whether the thoughts cause the depression or the depression causes the thoughts, I can’t say for sure–I think it works both ways. But I do know that cognitive therapy does nothing for me if I’m significantly depressed. I need to be in a pretty good place mentally and emotionally to clearly identify, evaluate, and change my thought patterns. Likewise, spiritual “therapy” such as prayer, fasting, scripture study, temple attendance, etc. typically does nothing for me when depression is in full bloom.

    Beatrice: Sometime while I was pregnant with my second child and suffering a particularly bad depression, I was praying in my daughter’s room because my daughter was sick with something I didn’t even know what it was and she kept screaming during the night (my husband was out of the country at the time), and at the time I just wanted some confirmation that God was there and he was mindful of me, as the saying goes.  But no, nothing.  Not a thing.  And I remember thinking, “Unlike me, the imperfect, lacking-perfect-knowledge parent, who wants to comfort her screaming daughter but just doesn’t know how–God is ignoring me.”  And at that point I stopped crying and stopped petitioning and I just said, “You know, one of these days I’m going to be well again.  I’m not going to feel this way anymore.  I’m going to be normal and do all of the things I used to do, but I will never forget that at this moment, when I was begging for your help, you left me alone.”

    And I never have forgotten it.  I like to think that I’ve matured since then, and I’ve had moments of insight and I’ve “forgiven” God, that depression is just my thorn in the flesh or whatever, blah blah–but that experience is burned into my memory.  I don’t turn to God for comfort when I need it because I simply can’t believe I’ll get any.  It’s pride, sure, but it’s all I have, so there.  I don’t really do petitionary prayer on my best days, but on my worst days I would no sooner pray to Heavenly Father for comfort and/or guidance than I would consult tea leaves or apply banana peels to my plantar warts.  It feels that silly to me.

    Mistress Quickly: That might sound really harsh to some LDS, given how much we emphasize the power of prayer in times of adversity. But again, 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.

    It’s a huge shock to realize that the portal to the divine you’ve always counted on is closed. I don’t think you ever get over that, entirely.

    Portia: Beatrice’s excruciating description of feeling abandoned or ignored by God brings up something I think is important, and that happens right at the intersection of brain disorder and spiritual crisis.  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?

    Mistress Quickly: I think it means a lot more than we’ll feel comfortable giving. I don’t know about you all, but I construct all kinds of paradigms in my mind to help me feel safe, and I feel threatened when someone’s experience doesn’t fit. I will do all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid having to question the paradigm. I’d much rather blame a person or situation than face the possibility that the way I think things work is not how they actually work.

    I think we have so many of these paradigms in our church culture–equations and charts and diagrams that are supposed to explain how God or life works–that there’s very little room for anything that isn’t neat and tidy, like despair. We’re quick to come up with ways in which the suffering person is responsible for her own mess, because we don’t want to believe that such things could happen to us without fault.

    This year I’ve formed relationships with a group of people whose experiences have pulled me out of my comfort zone, people for whom my usual answers don’t work. Their reality challenges mine. 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. Especially, to give them the benefit of the doubt and not assume they’re struggling because they’re losers in one way or another.

    Viola: I’ve had some problems with black and white thinking in terms of perfectionism and massive amounts of guilt but the biggest religious problem from my depression is the relationship with God. Through some of my own construct and some from Mormonism, I believed deeply in a very personal and intimate God. Very involved, aware. Giving me blessings and lessons and arranging things just for me. I believed he was that kind of God to everyone and would only occasionally run into problems with that when I’d think about the ‘blessing disparity’ in the world but mostly that didn’t enter into my thinking. (I’m self-focused like that.)

    In my first depressive episode, like Beatrice, I felt completely rejected and felt in fact that God was not personal, mostly uninvolved and when he was involved he was capricious. This was the devastating part to me and I had to rework everything I believed about God, Jesus, the Atonement, my relationship to them. I felt like I had a new vision worked together okay but when all the complicated things went wrong in my ward, I found that there was nothing left keeping me. The personal relationship with God and Christ was now impersonal (it was the only way I knew how to deal with what I had seen, felt, experienced) mixed with the bad practical experience (my ward) was too much and I stopped going.

    Mistress Quickly: This reworking you describe is at the heart of my experience as well. It’s still in process, and will be for a long time, I suspect. It’s hard, and frightening, and lonely, and most of all, disorienting. It’s like suddenly realizing that 2 + 2 equals 5, and having to redo every mathematical equation in your repertoire. But everyone else doing math keeps insisting that 2 + 2 = 4, and you can’t give 4 as the answer anymore without shredding your integrity. And every time you bring up the number 5, everyone around you looks at you like you’re crazy, or an infidel. And a lot of the time you wonder if maybe you are.

    Ophelia: And it takes a tremendous amount of personal strength hold onto what you know, if the face of everyone else shouting 4’s at you. And in a sick twist, it’s that personal strength that is so lacking when fighting a depressive period, and the spiral continues down.

    Falstaff: I hope I can write this without it being taken the wrong way, but at times like this I’ve never found God or prayer particularly useful. He vanishes with my good feelings. (I once rewrote the “Footprints in the Sand” story to end, “My son, I never left you. I was on your back.”)  In fact, it becomes a source of frustration because he ought to be there by everything I’d been taught and believed. But in the darkest moments of my life I am abandoned. I know this is not true for many people. But those times I have really suffered I’ve also been forsaken.  Notice I don’t say, “I feel like I was forsaken.” I am forsaken. People try and convince me that I only felt that way and God was footsteps-in-the-sand-ing me. If someone is not there, they are not there. I’m sounding bitter but I I’ve tried to come to grips with this my whole life. God will help me find a lost wrench but to get help when things are really tanking seems to be beyond his interest. I would not write this but I’m trying to lay it all on the table. In short, my prayers have come a bit like conversations with someone in a chat room. They can give me insight now and then, but they aren’t going to help me otherwise and should I ever need them, really badly, they’ll be logged off. I feel bad writing this. I feel like it can’t be true and I’m just not looking over my life in the right way. But there it is.

    Mistress Quickly: Recently I read Valley of Sorrow for the first time. It was a step in the right direction as far as bringing LDS culture into this millennium regarding perspectives on mental health, but it’s only one drop in a very large bucket… Anyway, one line that stood out to me was something close to this:  “Sometimes the pure love of God is the only thing that sustains those suffering with mental illness.”  Which made me respond with something close to this: “Pffft.”

    There are other quotes in the book that acknowledge how abandoned mental illness can make you feel, including one about “trodding the winepress alone” that I appreciated, yet the underlying message is still “you’re not alone; God never abandons you.”

    It’s another aspect of the trap of depression: the time you need spiritual communion the most is the time you receive it the least. Whether it’s a matter of being unable to discern the spirit, or a matter of the spirit withdrawing, or a combination of the two, it’s awful.

    Ophelia: There are days I think God is the worst Father there ever was. If I ignored the pleas of my children, if I left them in abject silence, if I was distant and mysterious, yet expected them to be obedient and love me before all else- how on earth could I be considered a loving parent? There are days when I am so mad at God I want to spit and curse Him. Then I feel guilty for even writing that sentence. Then I wonder if maybe the atheists are right and there is no God.  I’m still terrified that God is not there- or like Viola said, that he’s distant and capricious. And that terrifies me more. But then I remember some of the more powerful experiences I’ve had and I know better. Then I wonder if I’m just emotionally mannipulating myself and there really is nothing after all. And round and round it goes.

    I can’t believe I just told someone that.

    Falstaff: What’s so surprising to me is how so many of you have had this experience. I was reluctant to share it even here, where I feel safer than I ever have before, in expressing my feelings honestly. Our discourse in the church does not touch or acknowledge this experience and I wonder if we stood and told these stories in a testimony meeting how many people would stand up weeping and say, ‘yea, verily!’ Thank you all so much for sharing.

    Rosencrantz: I found myself in a position where I realized that when it came to the church and the gospel, I only believed about 5% of what I had believed previously.  I had to make a decision to either leave, or to rebuild my testimony pretty much from the ground up.  Obviously I stayed, but my testimony is much smaller than it was before, although I do think it is now more authentic and stronger.

    Mistress Quickly: That’s exactly where I am right now. I’m definitely not leaving. But I’m letting go of a lot. You know at the end of Return of the King, when Barad-Dûr collapses, and the ground under the armies’ feet falls away, except for a small patch where the men are standing? That’s what it feels like. It scares the crap out of me, to tell you the truth.

    Falstaff: I’m just glad that I have others to hold hands with on that little patch. I feel just a little more secure.

    Ophelia: Maybe this IS perfect faith- are we not all hoping for things unseen and unproved? It’s the Hope that’s the important part. The part of being willing to believe. At least that’s what I’m holding to. I am not blessed with *the gift* of faith. So I have to make that leap- and remembering that faith is laid out scripturally as a gift is important. Lacking in faith is not a character flaw- it is something that requires different work from us.

    Viola: I felt exactly, exactly what Beatrice did about God during my first breakdown. I felt so deserted. Prayers were meaningless, in fact I think I gave up praying during that time. The only constructive religious thing that came out of that was to realize how poisonous I had let my own guilt become. So I decided to let it go, in the very same way that you’re taught to get a bad thought out of your head by singing a hymn or something. I would feel guilty about not reading my scriptures or not liking my bishop or for just generally being a terrible person and then I’d sing a hymn and distract myself from the guilt. Now I’m a far less guilty person and I like that.

    Mistress Quickly: I lived many years as a guilt sponge. I vividly recall sobbing to a friend on the phone one afternoon because I couldn’t get my kids to eat whole wheat bread. Shortly thereafter I had this experience where I envisioned myself in a small-ish boat which was rapidly sinking due to all the cargo. I realized if I didn’t let go of some things I would die. Literally. I was pretty sure God was deeply disappointed in me for a thousand and one reasons (beginning with the white bread) but I felt strangely certain that he didn’t want me to die. I decided I would chuck some of the cargo overboard, temporarily, just as a survival technique. I figured that if it was legitimate guilt it would wait for me, that God at least was merciful enough to wait until I was strong enough to face it. So I postponed a whole bunch of guilt. I don’t know how I did it. It must’ve been grace, because I was utterly incapable of “letting things go” before that point. Maybe it was just a fight-or-flight instinct that kicked in when I hit major danger. In any case, I have let go of a LOT of things–some that I should probably pick up again sometime, many that I now realize were pointless.

    I am a big, big believer in doing what works. It wasn’t working for me to care about x, y, and z even though they were worthy things to care about. It doesn’t really matter how important it is to care about certain things if caring about them puts your life in danger. God doesn’t want me to self-destruct. That one point I am straight on.

    Beatrice: Mistress Quickly, I like your boat analogy. Unloading cargo was the only way I survived the month of September.  I’m doing better now, largely because I am still postponing guilt.  I do wonder how long I can get away with postponing it before I start to hate myself again, though.

    Viola: I say if you’ve postponed guilt now, it’s really best to postpone it indefinitely.

    Ophelia: Guilt is deadly. It will sink you and kill your spirit faster than a thousand poison-dart-frog arrows. That might be easy for me to say, as it doesn’t happen to be one of the boulders on my back. But I have seen what its crushing, debilitating weight has done to loved ones. It’s a bad, bad thing.

    Rosencrantz: My first round of depression settled on me when I was bishop of the ward.  It was a really weird feeling to spend 4 or 5 hours in the bishop’s office trying to help people with their problems — sin, marriage up in smoke, crazy teenagers, you name it — and at the end of the evening to realize that I was undoubtedly in worse shape than any of the people who had sought my help.  I felt like a major hypocrite, trying to offer hope to others when I felt none myself.

    We had a GA visitor for stake conference and he wanted to interview the HC and bishops.  I decided to just be brutally honest with him and hope that they would release me.  When I told him what I was struggling with, that I thought I was failing in my calling, and that I was seeing a non-LDS professional therapist, I started to cry.  He surprised me by getting up from behind the desk.  He came and sat in the chair next to me and put his arm around my shoulder, and cried with me.  It was about the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me, and totally unexpected.

    Anyhow, he told me not to worry unduly about my depression.  He told me he personally knew some GAs on anti-depressants, and that the pain and hopelessness I was feeling sometimes would make me a better servant because I would have more empathy and compassion for the flock.

    And he was right.  My experience with depression has helped me appreciate our LDS teaching about this life being a time of testing and growth.  Obviously the testing part is a lot harder than I ever wanted or expected it to be, but at least the way we teach about the second estate give me a framework which helps me make sense of my life.

    Part IV of this series, Successes and Challenges of Treatment, will be posted Thursday. Today we invite readers to respond to Mike’s questions as well as the other points brought up in the permas’ conversation.

    Next in the series: Part IV: Everything Else for Now


    Comments

    1. Thank you. The worse thing is feeling like you are the only person who feels as you do. Thank you for the bravery of your sharing.

    2. Thank you for this series. I don’t suffer from depression, but your sharing has helped me understand friends and relatives who do.

    3. Stephanie says:

      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.

      This is very true.

      He told me he personally knew some GAs on anti-depressants, and that the pain and hopelessness I was feeling sometimes would make me a better servant because I would have more empathy and compassion for the flock.

      I really, really hope this is true. This concept is what keeps me from feeling completely useless.

    4. I too have felt the abandonment. Whenever I hear a story about God helping someone find their keys, I wonder why they get help like that, yet I get nothing for contemplating suicide.

      That said, there have been two times in my life (that weren’t depression related) when I have felt that God knew exactly where I was and what was happening to me and He stepped in to help. Those two instances have sustained me through my life.

      This post actually helped me shed some light on my most recent depression. When I put my children to bed at night, they want me to stay with them until they fall asleep. Sometimes I do, but I know they need to be able to do it on their own, so most times I have to go downstairs so I won’t hear them cry themselves to sleep. I think that sometimes God is like that too. He never wants to hear us cry, but for whatever reason, I have to believe it’s for our good.

      It seems to me that the whole point of the “Footsteps” story is that the man was surprised at how much help he had from the Savior. I believe that most of us will also be surprised at how much help we actually received.

      Of couse, the next time I am in a depression, I will be angry with God again and wonder why He’s not helping me. So the circle will go on.

    5. Martine says:

      Readingt this series has been such an absolute relief. Struggling with what I’m fairly certain is clinical depression has left me identifying with many of these comments. I have recently let go of much of the black and white thinking I was raised with, and having to redefine my understanding of LDS theoology with no support is excruciating and frightening. But, as was mentioned, I think what little testimony I have is now more authentic.

      Hilariously, I taught RS yesterday on RG Scott’s talk on Receiving Personal Guidance and felt like such a hypocrite; instructing women on how we can receive inspiration when I haven’t received any in months, despite a lot of fasting and pleading.

    6. I have a few things I want to say here. I was surprised, first of all, that so many of you feel abandoned by God. I thought there might be more balance as far as different sides of the issue. I guess maybe I am very fortunate that of all the things I battle with, believing in God’s love is not one of them. I grew up believing in an angry God, of sorts. I believed He was always looking down on me saying, “tsk tsk” (or worse) if I didn’t do everything right. This is the God who sends down lightning bolts and destroys cities in one fell swoop, right? Over the course of many experiences, too lengthy to mention, I have come to know God as a loving God. And we don’t have to earn that love, we all have that love simply because we exist. It is like a parental love, but so much deeper and beyond our comprehension. As a parent, my kids sometimes drive me crazy, and they disappoint me and sometimes do stupid things, but that doesn’t mean I love them less. Maybe they don’t always feel that love from me, but it is there nonetheless. When I am most down, I don’t battle so much with the concept of God being there, or does He love me, but rather the feelings that I don’t deserve blessings from Him. It is something I still struggle with, but through great counseling, lots of reading and studying, and some personal experiences, I do better with that than I used to. I don’t mean to diminish what has been said in this post – I don’t want to invalidate your feelings or say you shouldn’t feel that way. Your experiences are very real too, and I am glad you are sharing. I just want to share a different side, I guess. For me, when I have struggles with depression, I don’t always get the answers I want or feel an overwhelming love right away. Often I am so caught up in the downward spiral that it is harder to feel the Spirit. But, I keep trying. What I usually get are little tender mercies along the way. The right conversation, a friend who I can talk to, a talk or lesson or book that comes along at just the right time. And I believe that is evidence of God’s love. He doesn’t always make the troubles go away, and sometimes I feel very impatient and frustrated and do the “why me?” thing. But I don’t believe God has abandoned me. His existence and His love are probably the strongest parts of my testimony.
      I also think there is a difference between the gospel, and the Mormon culture. Some of the two go together (like in Utah there are fewer activities, sports, etc that happen on Monday because there is such a prevalence of members here), but there is so much to the Mormon culture that is not actually a gospel principle. I grew up outside of Utah, and now I live in Utah. I have been shocked to see how over the top everything has to be. Every activity has to have decorations and handouts and cutesy stuff and lots of what I call “fluff”. I can assure you that in Africa, they are not doing things like this, yet here it seems to be so ingrained in the culture that we think it is a commandment: “Thou shalt always stress thyself out and put on a show of being perfect because if thou doesn’t do this, thou art a shame to our community” It is something that really bothers me. There are people in our neighborhood that I have never met but I know their names because they are worshiped for being “perfect”. “Oh, her kids are perfect, her house is always clean, she is so crafty and she is a great cook, etc etc” First of all, she isn’t perfect, she is just hiding behind that facade. It puts pressure on her – I certainly don’t want people thinking that of me. Second, it makes the person saying it feel bad (Oh, I could never be like her) and third, it makes the people around feel bad too. Since I have been in counseling, my eyes have really been opened to this. I used to get more caught up in all the fluff because I felt like I had to – that is just what you do. And that quest for perfection would bring me down. It still does sometimes, if I don’t watch for it. But now I look at these women (and men too, but women do it more than men) and I see people who are stressed out and insecure and trying too hard to fit a mold that they just don’t need to fit into. There is a woman in our ward who I just love. She swears, she talks about sex out loud, and is a bit irreverent, but she is one of the kindest, most selfless people I know. She is always doing things for others behind the scenes. Most people don’t know it, don’t see it, but she doesn’t care what they think, because she isn’t caught up in the fluff, she is caught up in what really matters. So, in a long, roundabout way, I am trying to say that I think our cultural expectations often contribute to depression. We miss the whole point because we are so afraid of appearing as less than perfect. Relief Society activities (or any other church function) are not supposed to be about showing off who has the best homemaking skills or who has the strongest testimony. It is supposed to be about meeting together, sharing, lifting, and supporting each other, but many people I know walk away feeling worse about themselves because of the culture we live in. Sorry to be so long winded. I just wish we could overhaul the mindset and everyone could open up and say, “hey, I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, and you aren’t either, and you don’t need to be, and it is all okay” We pretend to say it, but we still haven’t made that shift in applying it. It would certainly lift a big burden we place on ourselves and each other.

    7. Wow, this was so helpful! This is exactly how I felt while grieving the loss of my child. I still do occasionally. I don’t really pray anymore. Just like Mistress Quickly said, it feels as ridiculous to me as putting banana peels on a wart. If He didn’t save my child, if He didn’t comfort me when I needed it most, why would He help me with anything else (and do I really want that help anyway?!) In fact, there’s a part of me that would feel betrayed to know *now* He’s there…where was He when I needed Him most?

      But again, now that I look back, I am able to see some small things that perhaps were “tender mercies”. But when you’re feeling so much pain and anguish, it just doesn’t even begin to cut it. Its like a band-aid on a gushing wound. It just doesn’t matter. Like you’re drowning and someone’s all, hey, here’s a cookie. What?! I need a life preserver! I need someone to swim out and hold me up, to bring me to shore! I don’t need a cookie!!! You’re so overcome by the waves that you can barely notice the cookie anyway! So how is it supposed to sustain you through those dark times?

      Its so frustrating when others just assume that you are not humble enough, or you’re doing something wrong…otherwise you’d be able to feel Him. It must be our fault, not His. Just like that post on unanswered prayers. If you can’t feel His comfort or presence in your life, if you aren’t being blessed, its your own dang fault. Hmmm, thanks a lot. Like I didn’t feel horrible already.

      I think too many people just honestly don’t WANT to bring themselves down to this level. They are happy, and they want to stay that way. They don’t want to muck it up in grief and depression. So they’ll create any justification they can to avoid it. They don’t want to feel guilty about abandoning you, so they tell themselves its the person’s own fault, so what can they do about it if they want to feel bad? They could feel good if they choose to, but they don’t. They tell themselves, nothing I do will change anything, so I won’t do anything. When no one is asking them to change the course of time and physics, they just need someone to give them a hug while they cry. Its that easy.

    8. Stephanie says:

      Just wanted to say that I really appreciated reading Mike In WeHo’s comment at the top of the OP. It helped me to realize that I don’t have to dwell on the feelings. That should seem obvious, but I’ve been so concerned about having them that I didn’t realize, “Oh, I can think about something else now”.

      I also appreciated Helena’s thoughts. That gives me a lot to ponder over. And amen to Sarah!

    9. StillConfused says:

      This is the section in the series that I have been waiting on. I run a post crisis education center for women and it is surprising how many of them have church-related depression… the feelings of depression and despair from not fitting into a perceived role of what is expected of them.

      I am interested to hear how those who have had this problem have rid themselves of it so that I can share these experiences with the ladies.

    10. The most recent published statement on Depression by a Church authority was this:
      “:Allow me to be clear: severe depression and thoughts of suicide are not trivial matters and should be taken seriously. I urge those who suffer from depression or thoughts of suicide to seek help from trusted professionals and Church leaders. If you know someone who is thinking of suicide, be a true friend and make sure he or she gets help. Please know that we love you and want you to be successful and happy in life.”

      The Reflection in the Water
      President Dieter F. Uchtdorf Nov 09

      http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=81e3f5036e881210VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=43d031572e14e110VgnVCM1000003a94610aRCRD

    11. For me when I’ve struggled with depression-especially post partum depression, it’s a glass ceiling on my emotions-or even any sort of physical pleasure. There are times when I know I should be feeling the peace, joy and love of the spirit, I can tell other people are feeling it, but I feel nothing. It’s like feelings above a certain level just aren’t possible…so I can cognitively know the spirit is present, but not feel it myself…know that this is a time I would feel the love of God, but it’s just nothing-empty… Seeing my child blow a bubble, or kiss a sibling, or help someone, or open presnets and have a birthday part-nothing-.

      It’s very isolating…

      It becomes difficult to reconcile the all powerful God with-his spirit doesn’t even crack this glass ceiling I’ve got going on.

      It becomes difficult to force myself to believe what I know..remind myself of all the times I have felt in the past, other experiences where I have felt the love of god-know it’s real-and yet I jsut can’t always feel it.

      Normally in life the bad or hohum experiences outnumber the good-but the good outweigh them-the spirit and joy just outweigh any pain or sorrow…but with depression-for me-the experiences are similar but my ability to feel the weight of the good is completely gone

      Another analogy I’ve used before is a desert of emotion-in a normal climate-I can handle the dew and rain of the spirit-it’s useful and wonderful and helps me survive other droughts..but in the depression desert the dew is gone before it hits the ground and the rain quickly turns to flood instead of nourishing moisture…

      I’ve never struggled horribly with the perfection aspect-I figured thats what Jesus is for…for me al lthe commandments and all we’ve been asked to do are just to prepare to receive…kinda like giving children chores-it’s not so they earn their rent, and food and clothing and …they could never manage-they would never come close to a fraction of the mortgage…it’s just to prepare them to receive with more gratitude and enjoy the family more..

    12. My ongoing crisis of faith is largely separate from my depression yet obviously they intersect. Because I suffered from depression as an adolescent, my testimony has always been largely intellectual precisely because I couldn’t count on the spiritual/emotional response. As I’ve aged, a lot of that intellectual junk just does not seem rational anymore. Where does that leave me? At bare bones basics of hoping there is a God and that is about it.

      I’ve stayed in the church largely because it is the place I feel most comfortable exploring my spirituality (when I’m up for that sort of thing) and because I rationally know that the last thing I need to do is push away community. The only way I can stay there, however, is to postpone/leave ALL guilt… to say “I know what I need to do to stay well/alive and if that doesn’t fit into cultural or even some perceived doctrinal expectations, so be it.” It is the only way I can let go of that black-white thinking with which Mike opened the post.

      One thing that no one brought up is temple attendance. Even before I came to a place where I was ok with a very bare-bones testimony and had more of a traditional belief structure, temple attendance was super problematic. Going when I was struggling meant that the brain fog of depression made it hard for me to remember what I was supposed to say and do. This in turn made me VERY anxious, resulting once in a near full on panic attack. I’ve been back for an endowment once since that incident (a family member’s). I just can’t bear to put myself in that situation anymore.

    13. If your child asks you for a red balloon, give it to her. One day she will not want one, and you will forever be deprived of the joy of giving it.

      I only started looking for God in earnest when I finally accepted that He was not here. It was like a baby waking from a nap and finding the house empty when I was hungry. While waiting for “Dad” to return, I have cleaned the house, gotten married, and set out to be a good human being (if no longer an elect one). One day, I moved and left no forwarding address.

      Now I am a man and have put away childish things. The beginning of wisdom for me is to seek, not to find (that is the end of wisdom). I now accept the possibility that God never was a personal god, only the distillation of human wisdom, both immanent and communal. It is enough for me. I no longer to seek communion with God and the Holy Spirit. Instead, I find the essence of god in the company of holy spirits, including the wonderful people participating in this discussion.

      Should Jesus one day appear to me and ask why I have not believed, I will tell him I feel twice deceived: You left me with depression, and now you come back in the form of schizophrenia?!

      What can God do to prove to me He is real? Forgive me anyway, though I am not contrite. Perfect me, though I no longer seek perfection. Give me eternal life, though I have accepted being mortal. Believe in me, though I do not believe in You.

      Who then can save such as me who has given up all hope of being “saved”? Jesus said, “for God all things are possible.” For both our sakes, I truly hope so.

    14. travelin' companion says:

      Our first covenant with God requires us to “mourn with those that mourn”, then we set about convincing ourselves that living the gospel properly will eliminate all deep sources of mourning, or at least will teach us how to deal with them effectively using personal prayer and meditation. I think #7′s comment was very accurate:

      “They don’t want to feel guilty about abandoning you, so they tell themselves its the person’s own fault, so what can they do about it if they want to feel bad?”

      One of the most disturbing stories in all scripture for me is in Alma 14 where Alma and Amulek are forced to watch the destruction by fire of women and children. Amulek is desperate to call down God’s power to end the suffering; Alma claims that the sufferers will receive glory while the torturers are sealing their fate. This whole scene baffles me completely as impossibly unjust, but as I read the comments of those who feel abandoned by God, I see a parallel (and fear for my soul). Can we liken the torturers to these cultural pressures that send us spiraling downward? Is your lonesome suffering going to condemn my lack of mourning with you? An over-the-top analogy to be sure, but what are we doing to make sure our ward culture and personal attitudes ease the pain instead of add to it? Again, fearing for my soul.

    15. Earlgirl says:

      Thanks so much for your candor. Trying to imagine feeling so abandoned by God fills me with horror. You’re right, my first instinct is to try to find a way that this is your problem and it could never happen to me. Reading this series has opened my eyes about what depression really feels like. I thought I’d been depressed before, but now I know that was nothing. I hope this makes me more aware and better able to be a support.

    16. Thomas Parkin says:

      Just want to pop in and say how excellent this discussion is. It is helping me to think through some things (not depression … not mine, anyway). I very much appreciate the exposure of these realities not only for practical help fellow-feeling will be for some, but also because it is advancing my own understanding of God in some ways that I’ve been just on the threshold of.

      The only new thing we ever CAN come to understand, at any given time, is that thing that has been just over our own horizon. If I have any faith at all, it is that we eventually find those answers if, and this is a might big if, we continue making our way, running, walking, crawling or dragging ourselves, towards that horizon.

      I have always remembered Neal Maxwell saying that only in that moment when Jesus experienced the abandonment of God, for no knowable reason or just reason, a total irony, and cried out in it, that He became a “fully comprehending Christ.”

      Best to all. ~

    17. Recently, the bipolar husband of an acquaintance committed suicide. It has made me so incredibly sad. The family was Christian (but not LDS) and she has been quite public about the situation and her grief and his disease and their faith. I was considering sending her one of the recent church-produced videos about faith or hope or something – not at all by way of “missionary work” but only that maybe it would give her some comfort. As I looked at different videos, though, there just wasn’t one that seemed right. While some seemed like they might apply to her grief – about God’s comfort and love – I couldn’t help thinking that they almost seemed to mock the horrible suffering her husband had endured. That if for even one of his last moments he had felt one glimmer of God’s love, or hope, or faith, he surely would not have done what he did, could not have left his wife and small children that loved him so much and who he clearly also loved. It compounded my sadness so much to realize that somehow he was left completely alone. How can we make sense of this?

    18. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

      Thank you for those thoughts, Thomas. I’m reminded of the ultra-orthodox Jewish father in The Chosen. The father is a tzadik, a master rabbi and leader of a congregation. But he seems to be a terrible father because he’ll rigorously quiz his son in spiritual matters, and speak to him briefly about practical things when necessary, but he won’t engage him in any sort of emotionally significant conversation. He remains completely closed off and silent. And the son doesn’t understand why. He feels completely rejected and abandoned by the one person he needs closeness with the most.

      At the end of the story, the father explains to the son that the constant silent treatment was his way of preparing the son to be a tzadik. He says a tzadik has to know anguish in order to be able to serve his people. And the son gets it. He says that in that silence, he could feel the pain of all humankind. And he understands why that connection is necessary for a spiritual leader.

      Now, I certainly don’t believe that people with depression have been chosen to be spiritual leaders. In fact, I don’t believe God purposefully singles out certain people and zaps them with major depression in order to teach them any lesson, however valuable. I believe depression is one of thousands of hard things people are randomly and genetically subject to in this mortal sphere. But I believe all of those hard things have potential spiritual significance for the sufferer, in due time, and if she so chooses.

    19. One thing that should be mentioned is that on occasion, depressive disorders (or artifacts of improper treatment such as abrupt medication withdrawal) can cause the strongest feelings of spiritual and religious ecstasy that can possibly be imagined.

      This can be problematic if the person concerned feels overwhelmingly inspired to do things that he or she would consider wildly irrational under any other circumstance. Like dig for gold in a certain spot, or make extraordinarily bad financial decisions.

    20. The role of chemicals on the brain in determining our experience with God has always been troubling to the skeptic in me. I’ve heard plenty of anecdotes of people experiencing spiritual feelings through drugs, strokes, exhaustion, etc. Fasting seems like a similar thing, and it works for me. Makes it hard to trust one’s feelings, actually.

      On the other hand, when I was a little kid, God and I were tight. I really felt He answered my prayers by helping me find things and get out of trouble, etc.. I had no doubt He was there. But then our relationship changed. I was on one of my first scout trips when I lost my contacts. My eyesight was so bad it really limited what I could do. My leaders suggested we say a prayer to find them (the sort of thing I’d done many times before), but this time was different. Instead of the warm “everything’s going to be just fine feeling” I always had when I was little, I got the distinct feeling that God wasn’t going to help me this time. I sobbed like a baby (much to my scout leaders disgust), but I wasn’t sobbing for the lost contacts, I was sobbing for the lost relationship.

      I’ve always wondered if God was teaching/warning me through that experience that I was going to have to deal with some tough things on my own. I’m not sure if I’ve had “clinical depression” because my own “episodes” don’t sound as severe (eg., I was always mostly functional, suicide more of a constant fantasy than a realistic option), but I sure felt isolated from God. And yet, even after experiences where it seemed He’d abandoned me, I’d have other experiences where I’d feel Him close.

      The skeptic in me wants to just chalk it up to brain chemicals, but the believer in me simply can’t give it up. I like the believer better. He’s a better husband and father. I choose to listen to him rather than the skeptic, even though the skeptic seems to have more answers. Plus, I think listening to the skeptic would make the dark much darker, and I think he could lose me in there.

    21. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

      Yes, Mark, those behaviors are a hallmark of the manic phase of bipolar disorder. And some antidepressants can trigger or exacerbate mania in those who are predisposed. This happened to me, to a moderate degree–enough that I had to change medications (which was a nightmarish process). I’m extremely grateful that I’ve never experienced psychotic mania. Suicide rates for bipolar depression are much higher than for unipolar, and that makes a lot of sense to me now.

      I’m also grateful that for the most part I can function well enough without having to take antipsychotic medications. They are much more difficult to tolerate than antidepressants.

    22. Hopeful Dad says:

      Again, thanks to all of you for sharing. I know this is tough, because my son, when he is willing to talk about it, says how tough it is. He has gone through many of the same kinds of thoughts expressed by many here of abandonment by God. We’ve tried to avoid the “all or nothing” attitude about the church, and emphasize with our children the reality of the many gray areas, and the times when they would just have to deal with things on their own. But we can never be sure how they have received that, especially the one who suffers from anxiety and depression. I will have to admit that even as optimistic as I am most of the time, there are times that I have felt alone, and that the heavens were brass.

      That’s why I have tried to always remember those times when I’ve had significant spiritual experiences, as something to cling to when the going gets tough. It has worked well for me; as a poor journal keeper, this is a list I have written down and actually will update and look at from time to time. I just don’t know how many of those type of experiences my son has had, and if he can even remember them when he is “in the pit” as we describe it.

      I also think that it is significant that so many of us, myself included, are using pseudonyms here. It just speaks volumes about the attitude towards depression amongst church members.

      rl, thanks for the Uchtdorf link. That is so helpful, when compared to the really discouraging January Ensign article I referenced here last week. Rosencrantz, your experience is hugely comforting to me, both as a member who’s had to sit in similar situations, and also as a father to one who is struggling with depression right now.

    23. Thank you for this series. I never allowed myself to consider the possibility of suffering from depression until I read all of your brave words. I still don’t know if I’m clinically depressed, but I think it is okay if I am.

      I’m comforted by Rosencrantz’s final story. Even in the midst of feeling abandoned by God I have found Him in the friends and family that held me up when I couldn’t hold myself up. This series is so powerful to me because it makes me feel a connection to community that I often miss. Even if God completely forsakes me, I can survive with understanding friends. But the first step is for me to open up to those friends. Too many of us are hiding behind a visage of “everything is fine.” Thank you, thank you, thank you for this honesty and first step.

    24. I sometimes wonder whether Mormons (both those who suffer from depression and those who don’t) would benefit from a spiritual narrative that included room for “the dark night of the soul”?

      I think not only of St. John of the Cross, etc. but of Mother Teresa’s collection of letters — where she spoke of years of deep despair and feeling abandoned by God; it is a bracing but deeply deeply moving book.

    25. Mark D. says:

      I’m also grateful that for the most part I can function well enough without having to take antipsychotic medications. They are much more difficult to tolerate than antidepressants.

      I think that depends on the medication. There does appear to be a major trend away from using traditional antidepressants for people with bipolar disorders, because while extraordinarily effective in the short run, in the long run they appear to make the problem for such individuals considerably worse.

      And as it happens, the primary alternative as of late is the group of medications known as atypical anti-psychotics, some of which appear to be doing a bang up job at treating the problem, even though that is not what they were originally intended for. Some of them (lamotrigine for example) don’t seem to have much in the way of side effects either, perhaps even less than SSRIs.

    26. Mark D. says:

      Why Google bothers to index articles that hide behind pay walls or perverse registration requirements (especially erratically and deceptively) boggles the mind.

    27. MikeInWeHo says:

      Hey Mark D,
      I hate to correct others but your med comment is incorrect. Antidepressants have never been used as a primary treatment for bipolar disorder, because they can trigger mania.

      What have been used are mood-stabilizing medications, and you’re correct that atypical anti-psychotics are now coming into use for bipolar disorder as well. Lamotrigine (aka Lamictal) is not an atypical; it’s an anticonvulsant used for both bipolar disorder and seizure disorders.

    28. I don’t think we should be discussing specific med recommendations in this forum. It will take us off the rails, and might wind up being misleading. We all know that the only place to get accurate information on medication is TV. :)

    29. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

      OK, good point, Mike.

      Deborah, I really like your point about LDS needing space for “the dark night of the soul.” Along those lines, I was struck by the ironic truth in the first paragraph in #14:

      Our first covenant with God requires us to “mourn with those that mourn”, then we set about convincing ourselves that living the gospel properly will eliminate all deep sources of mourning, or at least will teach us how to deal with them effectively using personal prayer and meditation.

    30. I agree with Rosencrantz; I would never want to go through this again but in the end I’ve noticed how much it has changed how I look at other people and I’m grateful for that.

      And as far as the doubting because of feelings of abandonment goes, I take comfort in the words of Tennyson:

      You say, but with no touch of scorn,
      Sweet-hearted, you whose light-blue eyes
      Are tender over drowning flies,
      You tell me, doubt is Devil-born

      I know not: one indeed I knew
      In many a subtle question versed,
      Who touch’d a jarring lyre at first,
      But ever strove to make it true:

      Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
      At last he beat his music out.
      There lives more faith in honest doubt,
      Believe me, than in half the creeds.

      He fought his doubts and gather’d strength,
      He would not make his judgment blind,
      He faced the spectres of the mind
      And laid them: thus he came at length

      To find a stronger faith his own;
      And Power was with him in the night,
      Which makes the darkness and the light,
      And dwells not in the light alone,

      But in the darkness and the cloud,
      As over Sinai’s peaks of old,
      While Israel made their gods of gold,
      Altho’ the trumpet blew so loud.

      But who knows, maybe I’m interpreting it wrong…

    31. I liked that, Milly. Thanks.

    32. Neal Kramer says:

      During the first three years or so of my worst depressive time, the most compelling loss was the emotions I had associated with the presence of God. My worst moments were accompanied by a longing for God and an acute awareness of His absence. I was desperate for help and could find no evidence of the help coming.

      I remember physically collapsing in my front yard the day one of my daughters was to be endowed. I was so exhausted from not feeling anything and struggling with medication that I wanted to be taken.

      Even in the temple that evening, I still struggled. I collapsed again on the way out. Somewhere during that time, I now believe I was being carried by Christ. Someone who really cared for me anonymously and quietly left a small poster with the poem “Footprints” on it. I wept as I discovered that my footprints were nowhere to be seen.

      As I reflect back on that time, especially to what my wife was doing, I now see tiny pinpricks of grace allowing a little light into the darkness and understand that tender mercies come from sweet people who care enough to reach out and to include those of us who are ill even when it’s terribly inconvenient and sometimes downright frightening.

    33. Kaylana says:

      Thank you all so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts. This segment hits really close to home for me. I have and continue to feel abandoned by God. So many of your experiences are similar to mine. When I went on my mission I felt so guilty and depressed all the time and I felt nothing from God, no comfort, peace, revelation, nothing. When I need him the most, he’s nowhere to be found. It’s hard to care about the spiritual things anymore, like scripture study, prayer, church attendance, temple attendance. So when I’m so depressed it’s hard to care. And then the guilt starts packing on since I’m not “doing” those commandments and don’t feel that peace that everyone at Church seems to be feeling. Within the last few years my black and white view of the Church has been shattered and my testimony is kind of just hanging there on a precipice right now so that’s not the most nondepressing feeling out there. It seems like spirituality within the church right now only is more cause for pain.

      Then I think about my brother who has schizophrenia and he can’t read or do anything related to God right now because he starts hearing the voices again. So he’s separated himself from that for now and he actually is doing better.

    34. When I’ve had depression it has seemed harder to “feel the spirit.” I have never felt abandoned by God though. I have always “intellectually” known he was there.

    35. I’ve always considered the “my God, my God why has thou forsaken me” as a very interesting thing… it wasn’t “my God,you aren’t as close as usual, but I know you’re there so it’s all good” Jesus felt forsaken…that’s not a casual-just not around right now, kind of word. -give up, renounce, deny, reject, abandon….

      Jesus really did feel completely abandoned…forsaken.

    36. I was waiting for this section of the series. I have four close family members (two of them my children) who have left the church in connection with their depression. Some of them have expressed that they felt they had lost the connection with God, and others suffered under “all or nothing” thinking that they perceived in the church.

      The insights of the OP have been a great gift, along with the comments. Thanks.

      But the big surprise gift was Rozencratz’s closing comment about his experience as a bishop. When I served, I was sensitive to depression (and other mental health) issues because of my own family’s experience. But I did not recognize it in myself at the time.

      Fortunately I had a kind and compassionate stake president who also understood because of his family experience, and he was able to guide and help me.

      I am disappointed that some feel there are not those who will mourn with us when we mourn. All I can do, I suppose, is to work to be certain that I am available to do so.

    37. I feel very concerned for those who are experiencing profound health challenges as described in this post.

      I am writing the following to those who believe in God’s mercy, but are struggling with enduring.

      Without telling my story of these kinds of challenges I would like to express something I’ve learned about accessing God when you’re in the depths of difficulty or a crisis.

      First of all, He is there. Even when we can’t “feel” His presence, He is there.

      I’m not just saying this because I think or believe strongly this way. I’m saying this because of sacred experiences that have moved me from a state of belief to knowing.

      I’ve experienced ministering of angels (unseen, but heard), visions, dreams, and etc. I used to think everyone had these kinds of experiences, but just didn’t talk about it–so I didn’t either, I realize now, that my experiences are not typical. It doesn’t have anything to do with some superior ability at keeping the commandment either. I used to have much more in common with Alma types (both of them) than I did with Nephi types. But like Alma the younger and older, because the gift of the atonement, I have come to know God in a special ways.

      As I have grown in my understanding of how to access the Lord in times of need, I have learned the following simple, yet powerful Spiritual truths:

      1. God loves all of His children, but those who make covenants, and sincerely (Alma 33:11) seek to keep them, are favored.

      2. Our sincerity can be determined by our willingness to change. Change is another word for repentance. Never stop trying to change/repent.

      3. When we are in the grip of a crisis–of any kind–ask God what He wants us to learn from it? Then listen–ask for strength to endure.

      4. Have a frank conversation about your feelings (anger, doubt, and etc) with God, but do your best to realize/remember you signed up for what you’re going through.

      5. Ask God to help you understand your relationship with Him. When you get to the point where you feel that taking counsel from Him is better than counseling Him, you’re making progress.

      6. Seek to understand the Book of Mormon’s teaching about the Doctrine of Christ. Understand that when you were baptized it was so you could obtain a remission of your sins. Receiving a remission of sins is what this life is about for those who desire to follow the Savior (Mosiah 27:25).

      7. Seek for, and exercise faith in priesthood blessings. Ask for permission to have someone record, or write down notes from the blessing. Read it daily, pray about it daily, and seek to do everything you can to live up to the counsel and blessings. I always sought multiple blessings.

      8. When you feel the worst (pain, disbelief), persist in prayer, scripture reading, and talking with people of faith. Stay away from those who write or speak the language of disbelief.

      Based on my experiences, the veil will become thinner, blessings will come, the Lord will support or deliver you from whatever is the cause of your crisis (Alma 36:3, 38:5).

      I love you and I’m just a man. Think of why the scriptures declare that God is love. I’ve felt His love at times to the point that I didn’t have anymore room–I was filled.

      I look forward to the day when I can come into His presence.

    38. Steve Evans says:

      Jared, did you never receive any revelation about being a pretentious windbag?

    39. Jared (37), your counsel is good and well reasoned and based on your experience.

      I have struggled when in a position to offer counsel (by virture of my assignment at the time) to those who suffer with depression when I recommend similar steps to those you outline and the response is (as it often is), “I’ve tried to do these things, and they don’t work,” or, “I get no answer,” or “I cannot feel what you feel.”

      I have compassion at times like those and wish I could transfer some of what I have felt to the other person.

      I have wondered, for instance, if the lack of seratonin affects the ability to perceive spiritual promptings, or if anti-depressants interfere with that process.

      I do not pretend to understand brain chemistry or spiritual chemistry, so I cannot speak with any authority except my own experience.

      It is difficult for me to suggest, “Just keep at it; someday it may get better.”

      It is even more difficult to suggest in some cases that repentance is the key to alleviating depression. While I do believe for some that may be true (because living a life counter to eternal gospel principles will remove us from spiritual influence), I don’t think that everyone who suffers from depression does so because of sin. Like other illnesses, the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

      Again, your comments are based on your experience, and they are valid, and I do not wish to suggest anything else, except that although what you write may be true, it may not be universal for all sufferers of depression.

    40. Sorry — I see the comment I responded to has disappeared.

    41. Anon for now says:

      Nothing to add to this, but thank you. Thank you for sharing these stories. Reading this post has been something like a testimony meeting for me, hearing my experiences told in other words, with other voices. Thank you.

    42. #38 Paul

      I think a lack of serotonin can dampen one’s ability to perceive the Spirit. However, it won’t hinder a blessing from the Lord.

      “Just keep at it”, is a commandment–endure to the end, not just on our won, but with the Lord’s help.

      Regarding repentance–I don’t believe that depression is always connected with sin. Repentance is a commandment for all of God’s children, including the prophets. I’m not suggesting that repentance is necessarily a cure for depression or any other aliment. However, it is the key to obtaining a remission of sins though. And that’s an important Spiritual goal that opens up access to the Lord in special ways.

      In my opinion, crisis of all kinds can be turned into blessings if we’ll allow the Lord to intervene because of our “faith”.

    43. Jared,

      I find great wisdom in your injunction to “just keep at it” (or as my grandmother used to tell me, “do it anyway”). This is also good practical advice that limits the damage I do to others when I am depressed.

      Sadly, the rest of your exhortations are lost to me. You show no weakness, no doubt, nothing I can grab onto, relate to, or be comforted by. If you want to reach me, you need to come down to my level to extend your hand, then pull only when you have a strong grasp of my situation.

      I think your (apparently deleted) advice that those of faltering faith should surround themselves with the faithful and avoid those who “write or speak the language of disbelief” is well intentioned but very unwise. I tried this myself repeatedly and it did not work for me. It just left me feeling hypocritical, alone, and defective. I find instead that hearing about the hopes and doubts of others makes me feel less lonely and strange. True, it may not immediately show me God’s love, but it makes me feel more loved and lovable. I derive strength from the courage of others’ testimonies, not when and because they are “true” but when they are heartfelt, authentic, and honest. Later, when I am stronger, then you can preach to me. Right now, I wish you would just listen.

    44. MikeInWeHo says:

      In AA they say “Fake it ’til you make it.”
      Basically the same as “just keep at it.”

    45. Jard,

      Commandment or not, if a person who suffers from depression does not have the spiritual enlightenment that accompanies enduring to the end, it can still be a long and painful experience, and, as I said, I ache for those people (some of whom are very close to me).

      I admit that in some instances my faith is weak.

      Sorry to have misinterpreted your now missing comment, though I could have sworn you did in fact say that repentance would bring one out of depression. My experience is that that is no more true than the suggestion that repentance will cause cancer to go into remission.

      While repentance indeed brings remission of sins, and it may bring spiritual blessings, it is not a cure for mental illness, nor is it a substitute for competant medical care.

    46. Mommie Dearest says:

      Some random scattered thoughts:

      I have this long time suspicion that we are all uniquely individual in our spirituality, and seeing these comments lends more confirmation to that. Another reason not to judge another’s approach to the gospel. As if we needed more reason to suspend judgement on one another.

      I don’t have many issues related to church doctrine, which I separate from church culture. That way I can differentiate the degree to which I take them seriously.

      I think some who have been dealing with this long term have a lot of experience with endurance. I cannot say why some do and some don’t, but to “just keep at it” is a form of endurance.

      And I was encouraged to see a mention of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in the OP. I have a referral in hand for a CB therapist. Maybe I should try therapy again. Maybe this one will be effective for me. Maybe I’ll give them a call tomorrow.

    47. Prom date rejections lead many to think “I am ugly.”

      Not to make light of this very serious subject, nor Mike’s contribution, which I greatly value, but I can’t resist telling a funny story.

      Not only did no guy(s) ask me to Senior Prom, but even after I took it on myself to ask the guys, I went through 4 (!) before finding one to go with me. Yep, I really am that pathetic. (there are 4 whose names I can think of for sure, I supposed its possible there were 1 or 2 more I’m forgetting)

    48. FWIW, I have been on both sides of the fence. I know what it feels like to feel abandoned by God, but I also know (I know!) from experience that I really never have been abandoned.

      To be learning that by experience, over time, has been very, very hard. I have had those moments of crying out and not getting an answer… SO HARD. But I answers and help have come…just sometimes have unfolded over time rather than come in that instant. Those moments of desperation, though, have been some of the most difficult times in my life.

      I share not to taunt or preach, but to share the experience of having felt that hopeless, abandoned feeling and yet being in a place where I can say that I know now that I was never abandoned…as a hope that it might be of some hope/help to some.

      I am realizing more that God sometimes really does work in very unexpected ways….that sometimes my greatest pain has opened up the possibility for some of the most profound answers — AND even healing. (I hate even writing that because while I want to learn more, I would never choose to experience the kind of intense pain I have experienced again to learn what I have learned! …and yet, I am believing more in the principle of “all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.”) It’s hard when pain is the teacher. I have found myself mourning that reality — I’m still coming to grips with the reality that God’s love isn’t always manifest in an easy path or even in relief as I would want it.

      My heart goes out to you who are in the thick of the darkness. It’s an awful place to be. Even if you feel alone in relation to God, I hope you can feel in the sharing here that you are not alone in relation to others who also struggle. It’s frighteningly easy to feel like everyone else has it all together when in that dark place. When I have been there, my husband has helped me take a mental walk around the neighborhood. Even though we don’t know so much of others’ lives, we still know enough to know that there is *a lot* of pain and struggle out there. That simple exercise has helped me realize that I really am not alone.

    49. Mark D. says:

      Antidepressants have never been used as a primary treatment for bipolar disorder, because they can trigger mania.

      Never approved as a standalone treatment for bipolar disorder. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t actually happen, and in some considerable part due to the epistemological problem of diagnosing the correct disorder in the first place.

      And of course, such medications (SSRIs) in particular have been jointly prescribed with other medications for bipolar disorder for years now. That is what I was referring to – the trend away from prescribing them (in combination) for people with bipolar disorder at all.

      I am not going to advocate one or the other, I was just questioning the proposition that anti-psychotic medications are more difficult to tolerate than anti-depressants. As far as I know, with regard to atypical anti-psychotics at least, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

    50. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

      While repentance indeed brings remission of sins, and it may bring spiritual blessings, it is not a cure for mental illness, nor is it a substitute for competant medical care.

      Can we put this in neon lights somewhere?

      Also, I want to revisit something Falstaff said in the OP: People try and convince me that I only felt that way and God was footsteps-in-the-sand-ing me. If someone is not there, they are not there.

      I’m grateful for those who have shared their personal knowledge that God is always there, meaning he never stops existing and never stops caring. I don’t doubt that in the least.

      But I don’t think that’s what Falstaff is getting at. Even those of us with passionate testimonies of God’s proximity acknowledge that there are times he withdraws his immediate presence. It may be for a wise purpose, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t actually withdrawn.

      And again, if depression creates a barrier between man and God that God could penetrate but doesn’t, that means man is sometimes literally left alone. God may be waiting on the other side of that barrier, anxious to embrace us when we emerge, and he may help dissolve that barrier through various means in due time (although he doesn’t always). But let’s not mince words: for a time, the aloneness is real.

    51. #44 Paul

      I don’t know why my comment is awaiting moderation.

      Paul said: Sorry to have misinterpreted your now missing comment, though I could have sworn you did in fact say that repentance would bring one out of depression. My experience is that is no more true than the suggestion that repentance will cause cancer to go into remission.

      Sorry to have misinterpreted your now missing comment, though I could have sworn you did in fact say that repentance would bring one out of depression. My experience is that that is no more true than the suggestion that repentance will cause cancer to go into remission.
      —————————————————————————-
      Paul–I never said that repentance would bring one out of depression. That thought never entered my mind.

      My comment was written to those are willing to seek God’s help. Not everyone is willing to do that, but many will.

      It seems to me that the post only included those who said they didn’t receive help from God. Correct me if I’m wrong. If that is the case, then I hope that the author will find balance by including those who have found help by exercising faith.

    52. #49 Kathryn Lynard Soper said:

      While repentance indeed brings remission of sins, and it may bring spiritual blessings, it is not a cure for mental illness, nor is it a substitute for competant medical care.

      Can we put this in neon lights somewhere?
      _______________________________________________
      I agree 100% with this statement.

    53. Kristine says:

      Jared, consider the possibility that real clinical depression frequently involves an inability, for whatever reason, to feel loved by anyone–family, friends, and God. Then consider that the post is describing the personal experiences of a few people, and makes no claims to exhaustively explore every possible spiritual experience of depression. Then read the post again, and notice how many people said that they WERE helped by God, although it was hard to recognize it at the time. Then read it again, thank heaven you (obviously) have no personal experience with the severe form of depression being described, then take three or ten deep breaths and decide if you _really_ still want to judge whether people you don’t know have sought God’s help in the degree you think is requisite and make that judgment public.

    54. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

      Jared, I think your thoughts are hurtful and counterproductive. Should we conclude that amputees are faithless because God hasn’t miraculously restored their missing limbs? If not, then why conclude that the absence of other kinds of miraculous healing is a sign of faithlessness?

    55. Kristine–

      I don’t want to get into a debate with you. I related my experience with the hope it might be useful to some of the readers of this blog. End of story.

      J. Nelson-Seawright–

      I can see no relationship between my comment and your #53. I never suggested anything about a miraculous healing in my comment.

      My comments are based on experience. Not only my own, but through many family members. I’m on the phone every week talking with loved ones about the issues of depression.

      My comment, that is in moderation, is based on what I’ve learned about depression in the last thirty years. My comment won’t appeal to everyone, but there are many others who can relate to it.

    56. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

      Jared, you missed the point, I think. If God helps with or removes depression, that is a miraculous healing. Any implication that people who don’t receive such miraculous help are not “exercising faith” is judgmental and unhelpful — indeed, wrong and probably a source of harm to people who suffer from depression.

    57. Kristine says:

      Jared, I think if you had related your experience, as _your_ experience, it might have been helpful. Instead, you began with “Without telling my story of these kinds of challenges I would like to express something I’ve learned about accessing God when you’re in the depths of difficulty or a crisis” and proceeded with a 10 point disquisition on how other people should handle their depression. I assume that you are not a psychiatrist, and no one’s bishop who has commented here, and you are therefore unqualified to dispense either spiritual or medical advice. The problem was with the prescriptive nature of your points, and with the not-terribly-subtle implication throughout that increased righteousness is the best cure for depression.

    58. #55 Kristine: Thanks.

    59. I’ll be content to leave the discussion at this point.

      I think the post is representative of the faith typified by the glory of the moon in LDS theology. I am seeking the faith typified by the glory of the sun, and I hope the same for all others.

      Now I’m sure some will take my last thoughts as being condescending. That is not my intent. Each of us as the ability to apply a terrestrial or celestial kind of faith to the problems we are required to deal with. It’s a choice.

      After I finish this comment, I will pick up the phone to call a man who was recently diagnosed with lou gehrig’s disease. I’ll discuss the points I related in my comment that is now in moderation.

    60. J. Nelson-Seawright says:

      Jared, you’re a prince. Please be much kinder to the guy on the phone call than you are with random strangers on the internet. Better yet, drop the phone after referring him to a competent professional, before you do harm.

    61. Kristine says:

      Fortunately, Jared, you have your own blog, now copiously linked with your comments here–you can put your comments up there, and people who feel your words are the sort that might be helpful to them can go read them there. You’ve really said more than enough.

    62. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

      Yes, Jared’s had his say. Time to move on.

      For others who may feel compelled to “help” in like manner, please revisit the series overview, which clearly states the purpose of this discussion:

      to offer a measure of companionship for readers who live with depression (diagnosed or not), and a measure of perspective for those who don’t.

    63. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time to several of the comments, especially Falstaff’s ending to “footprints in the sand.” I remember those feelings too well. I still struggle with the very impersonal relationship I feel I have with God and with antipathy toward personal revelation because, at a critical junction in my life, I feel I was led astray by listening to what I thought was personal revelation. There are so many possible solutions to my situation, and I’ve tried them all on mentally at different times. The best I’ve come up with for me is accepting my testimony only encompasses a little bit of what’s taught at church, but that testimony is sure and has been tested to its breaking point and survived. And that doesn’t make me a bad person or an unfaithful servant, but it’s still often a struggle to remember that last bit.

      Thank you for sharing these thoughts and experiences. I’ve never been diagnosed with depression–I never had *all* the symptoms, just some and I was always able to muddle through. I never thought I was that bad. Then the unhappiness went away and I realized it was that bad–not as bad as some people, but bad enough.

    64. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kristine. I, too, have had some bewildering experiences in which I thought I was receiving revelation, but in retrospect I realize I wasn’t. This happens mostly during my manic times, but also during my moderately depressed times when I feel very maudlin and think I’m grasping the True Meaning of Life. The muddled boundaries of emotion and spirit can lead to some really confusing situations.

      I appreciate you using the phrase “bad enough.” I hope those readers whose depression isn’t as serious by comparison to others don’t delay getting the help they deserve. The time to prevent suicide is when you’re still in the fantasizing stage and not in the take-action stage.

      I need to respond to this comment from Jared:
      It seems to me that the post only included those who said they didn’t receive help from God. Correct me if I’m wrong. If that is the case, then I hope that the author will find balance by including those who have found help by exercising faith.

      Let me state clearly that while some personal details have been edited from the conversation in the OP, I did not edit out or otherwise exclude group members “who have found help by exercising faith.” I’m well aware that the tone of the OP may seem “unbalanced” to some readers, but that’s the truth of our group’s experience as reported.

    65. MikeInWeHo says:

      r: 47
      “Yep, I really am that pathetic.”
      A cognitive-behavioral therapist would call you out on that kind of negative self-talk, Cynthia. Sounds to me like you were demonstrating persistence and tenacity in the run-up to senior prom.

    66. LOL. You’re a gem, Mike. In retrospect, I just wish it had just occurred to me to go by myself, or with a friend of mine who also didn’t have a date and went by herself (I was probably too focused on my own pity party to notice her situation and come up with that idea). In any case, it was a total blast and great memories and I am glad that I had the persistence and tenacity (!) to go despite those setbacks.

      Also, in fairness, two of the guys initially said yes but then had to back out when it turned out they had other commitments for that night (choir concert he was soloing in, and his own school’s senior prom, respectively).

    67. I’m not sure my experience fits this particular thread, but perhaps it does.

      I know that I’ve found it valuable — especially when I was deeply depressed, recognized it as depression, and had to find a way of dealing with it — to declare my condition simply a function of bad brain chemicals, take my meds to help adjust the chemical recipe, and get on with life. I found it useful to be very dualistic when it came to the way I considered my “subjective” mind and my “objective” body. In that mode, I typically concluded that my subjective unhappiness was an unavoidable result of defective operations of my physical body. And that was a good way for me to set aside the otherwise daunting and troubling relationship between my subjective experience and my body’s clearly disfunctional way of operating. Sometimes, triage and getting stable via whatever works can be enormously important. It was for me.

      But that same mind-body duality came to characterize my religious faith and my spiritual life, as well.

      Because in the years before I was diagnosed with depression, my experiences with God, which had been fulsome and varied in earlier years of my life, completely dried up. I found myself praying beside an open window, just so I’d feel connected to something, even if only the out of doors. At that stage of my life, I was also becoming increasingly analytical and intellectual about my religious belief and spiritual life. I took all the guidance I received — pray more, read scriptures more, go to the temple more, scour your prior actions to see if you need to repent of something or other, dive into your calling. I tried to live that way, but it yielded nothing.

      In that existence, to maintain what I understood to be a true LDS view, I increasingly had to divide my mind into a believing part that allowed me to operate fully (or mostly fully) within LDS and family circles, and a more critically thinking part that I gave full rein only to subjects outside my LDS faith. Of course, it’s hard to maintain such boundaries, and when I’d find my intellectual mind starting to gnaw on a faith-made bone, I’d quickly suppress it, but each time feeling that the foundation I’d built my testimony and my family and my worldview on was a little bit more threatened than it had been before. That fear gnawed at me, though I did what I could to keep the fence in good repair. But maintaining that duality affected everything. Just as I wanted to preserve my own faith sense from my threateningly critical mind, I didn’t want to threaten other people’s faith either, so I didn’t tell anyone what I was thinking. And I began to live, in essence, two internal lives.

      I became subjectively dishonest with myself and with those around me. Mind you, I’m the last to think it productive or even plausibly justifiable to preach my own thoughts from the rooftops. First of all, though at times I’ve been convinced that I was right, usually that certainty dissipates over time. Second, I just think it’s wrong to strip a blanket off a cold person without having something warmer and better to offer as a comfort. So while I wasn’t honest with myself, and while I toiled with increasing effort and decreasing success to present a faithful image to others, I tried to avoid undermining the faith of the faithful.

      But being duplicitous carried a heavy toll on my mind and heart. I became more withdrawn, more introspective, less communicative, less happy. Depression or just coping? Was my depression simply a chemical imbalance that manifested in such faith-eroding thoughts and feelings? Did the erosion of my faith lead to the chemical imbalance? I haven’t any idea how to answer those questions. But the one question I’m reasonably comfortable answering is this one: could the depression be alleviated without addressing and resolving in some way the concomitant spiritual problems? My confident answer to that one: no way.

      Once I got myself into a no-longer-self-destructive mode via meds (which took about two years for me, including a nightmarish experience trying to taper down off antidepressants, looking for bridge abutments to drive into, realizing with surprise that that was what I was doing, and then getting back on the meds for another second year or so), I was fortuitiously introduced to and began to explore meditation and yoga. They provided me with a small tool kit for beginning to deal with my diminished spiritual experience by finding and probing the connectedness of my mind and heart and body.

      I have been deeply fortunate on that path, which has enabled me to discover a different dimension of spiritual living. Mind you, I’m quite a misfit in many ways when it comes to LDS tradition, albeit a fully active one. I just no longer try to persuade myself (or others) that I’m a traditionally-believing Mormon. The path I’ve followed didn’t lead me back to my spiritual Garden of Eden. But it’s enabled me to find my heart again.

      A few months ago, a Sunday school teacher in our ward who happens to know more about my path than most was starting his class by asking if there were visitors who could be introduced. He glanced my direction, and added, “Well, other than [greenfrog] — from a philosophical perspective, he’s kind of a permanent visitor.” I burst out laughing, but he looked a little nonplussed for realizing that he’d said that out loud.

    68. Mommie Dearest says:

      I have read here a wide variety of peoples’ thoughts and experiences about trying to be close to God, gain access to God, frustration at being unable to detect God, even rumors of admonitions to repent so you can better feel the peace of the spirit, etc. One of the sources of my own depression, and I suspect perhaps many others’, is that I recognize and accept the separation from God that is the reality of this fallen world. He is not here with us and we cannot go to where he is. I can barely frame my thoughts because it is so rarely talked about that I don’t have any terms to use that I am confident that everyone will understand. Instead our rhetoric is all about how close we are (or can be) to God, when that’s not the case at all.
      Some people can readily manipulate their access to the spirit, and other’s can’t, and the rest of us fall somewhere along the spectrum. Some of us are more acutely affected by this than others, for reasons that we don’t begin to understand, and cant be suitably explored in a blog comment.

      I have had help from God over the years. It’s just that those experiences are very personal and I’m not comfortable using them as a counter argument to someone who thinks there’s not enough balance here from those who find help by exercising faith. I would characterize those experiences as receiving comfort and relief from symptoms temporarily, but I don’t think that exercising faith is in any way a replacement for authentic medical intervention.

    69. Kristine says:

      “He is not here with us and we cannot go to where he is.”

      Just so. In my earliest attempts at describing depression to myself, I think I framed it as a sort of unbearable homesickness. The odd thing is that joy feels like that sometimes, too.

    70. Lawyer Lady says:

      Okay, I’m no longer LDS and I have not visited this site before today. Also, I have never suffered from depression. Please forgive my intrusion and please feel free to delete this if I don’t really belong as a newbie. A friend who I repsect a great deal directed me to this post becuase of discussion she and I have had about feeling that God abandoned me in my darkest hour and deepest longing of need.

      I told her this is one of the most powerful posts I have ever read in relation to spirituality. I want to change that statement. For me, this post is THE most powerful post as it relates to my spiritual journey.

      The raw honest nature of it caused me to weep as I read it. I thought I was the only sincere, devout Mormon that felt completely abandoned by my God. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced, but it was more real than I could ever describe. I coud never articulate it the way the folks in the OP have – but I felt as though some of them had plaigarized (sp?) from my journal – that’s how much I could relate.

      And it resonated with me so much that I’ve been unable to think about anything much else today. Thank you to you brave souls who have spoken straight. I have never said anything like this before and I’m frankly afraid to say it, but I felt a certain closeness to you today. It was actually akin to love. I felt a feeling of genuine love for those of you who went through the dark, lonely “hour” that I did. And more than that, you have the integrity to admit it. This post today changed something in me. Thank you.

    71. Ophelia says:

      Lawyer Lady, you have brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for your sincere comment, and for sharing your thoughts with us. What you describe is exactly why we volunteered to do this, I hope you will feel comfortable commenting again, should you ever feel so moved. Thank you.

    72. Well met, Lawyer Lady. You are welcome here.

    73. Lawyer Lady says:

      Thanks, Ophelia.

    74. LL- hearts and hugs to you! Glad you wandered over to BCC!

      Mommie Dearest, I love your idea of: “He is not here with us and we cannot go to where he is… Instead our rhetoric is all about how close we are (or can be) to God, when that’s not the case at all.”

      It’s not a perspective I’ve really considered before, and something I’ll think about. Thanks!

    75. I’m late to this, but I wanted to thank you all for what you’ve said here. Great stuff; important stuff!

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