Welcome back for Part 4 of my Mental Illness Awareness Series. Today I am sharing the final portion of the manuscript, which you can get background information on at the beginning of my Part 1 post. As explained in Part 2, this was originally written for women with Christian beliefs, particularly Latter-day Saint women. My hope is that you will find this post helpful regardless of your religious background.
I have not made any changes to the original manuscript, which was completed two years ago, making my battle with mental illness close to ten years now. It’s hard to believe I have struggled with this for so long, but each year I have greater insight. I look forward to sharing my current feelings next week, as a follow-up to this final portion of the manuscript.
It’s been nearly eight years since I first experienced depression. I am still on the same medicine that helped remind me three-plus years ago that I can stand up straight. I have attempted to wean myself off of my medications a couple times only to find that my family ends up bearing the brunt of my illness. My family’s happiness and stability is worth more to me than the perks of the highs of my emotions that I once enjoyed. Perhaps someday, as the pressures of being a mother to young children are eased, I will be able to successfully get off of medication. And if I can’t? That’s okay, too.
It may sound contradictory that I long to be off of medication after I sung its praises earlier. I have reasons why I would love to be medicine free. One is that the medication comes with side effects that I would love to do without. The predominant side effect is that I often battle with feelings of numbness. The point of the medicine is to lessen the extremes in emotions. The problem is that it blunts the highs as much as the lows. In addition, as I mentioned before, medication is not a cure-all. I still have to battle my illness as the cycle takes over. I have yet to find a solid pattern in my highs and lows, but my lows are a tangible reality in our home. With the medicine the lows are not nearly as dark, neither paralyzing nor as frequent, but they are still ever-present. I have a friend who read a self-help book once and she expressed her frustration with some contradictions in the author’s remarks. As she told me this, I thought to myself that I have a tendency to contradict myself as well merely because I am capable of feeling two extremes. What I feel during a low is so disheartening that, on multiple occasions, I’ve asked my husband if I should go to a mental hospital. That’s how isolating, dark, hopeless, chaotic, and sick I can feel. Yet, during my highs, I have a healthy and positive grasp on my life. I can see clearly and it’s near impossible for me to comprehend that I previously felt such defeat. My hope is to eventually get to a point where I can reduce, if not eliminate, my medications and the negative side effects that come with it. Thankfully, I’ve learned that each high and low I have faced has strengthened me and equipped me for a healthier future.
In my years of experience with depression, as a psychiatric disorder, I’ve also seen times in my life where it has been exacerbated by physical pain, circumstances, distorted thinking ingrained in me, and side effects from the very medication that was supposed to help alleviate my depression. I even realized at one point that I was holding on to my depression as a safety blanket. The idea seems crazy, but this is why an understanding of the Gospel and the tools set in place to help us are so crucial to our success in dealing with depression appropriately. Sure, I had Bi-Polar II Depression, but I also had acquired irrational thinking patterns throughout my life that called for those years of therapy. And that irrational thinking had somehow worked out in my head that I would be safe from other heartaches if I had the depression. Let me explain.
My mom passed away in the midst of my battle with depression. My knowledge of the Plan of Salvation prevented her death from intensifying my depression. But, as I mentioned, her passing changed life as I knew it. Even though I knew that I would be with her again, her absence left a void that I grew weary of bearing day in and day out. Then, as our family grew and I read heartbreaking stories of parents losing their children, I became continually anxious of having to endure any additional heartache, such as losing a child, on top of my Mom passing. I was confident that Heavenly Father would not give me more than I could handle. As a result, my subconscious began to hold on to the depression with the understanding that if I was battling depression, then I would not be capable of handling any more tragedy. It took a while before I realized that I was perpetuating the depression even when I was not experiencing the drastic lows. It took even longer to admit to my husband that I was doing so.
I had basically deduced that I was trying to control the hardships and trials Heavenly Father could give me by making myself less than capable to handle anything. My husband, completely inspired, reminded me of Lehi’s family’s journey through the wilderness (1 Nephi 16:9-29). Then he likened the Liahona, as a tool in the wilderness, to my Spirit in my journey through mortal life. Lehi had to continue to travel through the wilderness regardless of whether or not the Liahona worked, just as I have to travel through my life. The Liahona could serve as a tool to their benefit, based on their faith. I, too, could use my faith and let go of my depression, thus allowing my Spirit, or Liahona, to work for good in my life. For some reason, I thought that if I held on to the depression it would somehow make me exempt from the journey I was intended to go on; a journey that I now see is richer than I could have imagined, because I really do have the “capacity to be happy.”
Exactly a year after my “darkest hour,” my Dad pulled me aside and had me listen to a voice-mail. It was me. It was hard to make out the words through the sobbing, but it was my call for help on that dark night. He kept it. He kept it that whole year with the intent of replaying it to me at a later time; a time that he knew would come. He played it for me in a time when I lived amongst the light again. I felt sick to my stomach hearing that voice-mail. Those feelings are still so real. But I appreciated the simple point that he made. There is always hope. Never give up, because one day your reality can be better than you believed you were worthy of having.
Your journey through the wilderness can be guided and directed if you hold on to your faith. There are times when it becomes so debilitating that it’s near impossible to feel anything in life, let alone the joy of the Gospel. But, I know that through our Savior, Jesus Christ, all things are possible. I also know that we are given additional tools to help us along. Those tools come in a variety of different ways for different individuals. I attribute my healthier outlook now to the aid of appropriate medication, years of constructive counseling, the support and service of loved ones, and the knowledge that my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ know me, love me and have created an Eternal Plan of Happiness that includes me being made whole in the next life. It’s these pieces that have strengthened me and given me renewed hope when I was certain all was lost.
Check back next Wednesday for my final part to my Mental Illness Awareness Series.