“My Battle with Depression,” Ensign, Feb. 1984, 12
After I spoke at a stake women’s conference, a woman approached me and asked, “Don’t you ever have a bad day?”
Somewhat glibly, I responded, “Sure I do, but I do my best to turn it into a good one.”
Later, as I drove home reflecting on her earnest inquiry and my ready reply, I realized that my battle with depression was succeeding!
Ten years ago I began my quest to overcome the nightmare of depression. In those days—the “dark ages” of my life—I had to fight daily for the determination to simply get through the day. I had everything—the gospel, a beautiful family, no devastating health problems or financial concerns. Yet nothing could cheer me. My children were puzzled and saddened that their mother hardly ever smiled. I wanted to be happy just for them. But, although my depression was not constant, for ten years I suffered this nauseating, helpless feeling much of the time. My life seemed bleak and dreary, and I saw little hope for change.
Indeed, the change did not occur overnight, as I might have wished it to. Rather, it was a gradual transformation that came as I received a few simple insights and began to use them in my life. I do not claim to know all the causes or cures for the debilitating condition we call depression. But, for those who may be groping about in its deep gloom, I offer the insights that brought light to my life.
We were having a casual conversation when my friend remarked, “Mollie, you will never be able to maintain the Spirit in your life until you learn to pray continually.”
After we hung up, I snarled, “Who is she to tell me? How does she know I don’t pray enough?”
After my feathers smoothed down, I realized she was right! As I honestly evaluated my life, I realized that seeking the Spirit was not really a priority for me. I seldom prayed in the morning and often skipped evening prayers. It wasn’t that I was lazy. I spent a lot of energy every day—worrying, planning, rushing from task to task, feeling guilty when I continually fell short of perfection. But I took very little time to confide in Heavenly Father, to seek his comforting peace, to ask for his guiding Spirit in my life.
The Apostle Paul taught that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” (Gal. 5:22–23.)
Not surprisingly, all of these delicious fruits were notably missing from my life. In fact, I was starving for them. An important reason was that I was not faithfully seeking the Spirit day by day, and the price I paid was constant turmoil and frustration.
Another clue came one morning when I was having a “bad day.” By 11:00 A.M., I still hadn’t completed the basic household chores. In frustration, I went to my room to ask for Heavenly Father’s help. As I knelt down beside my unmade bed, cynical thoughts came into my mind: “Why am I praying? He never answers my prayers when I’m having troubled days. It doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference.”
I felt like giving up. I got up, then lay down on the bed in total discouragement. Without thinking, I reached for the scriptures, which were lying on the headboard. My mind retorted, “Oh, yes, now read the scriptures. As if you don’t have anything else to do.”
My fingers turned the pages to section 101 of the Doctrine and Covenants. My eyes dropped to the seventh verse:
“They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.
“In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me.” (D&C 101:7–8.)
As I read those verses, my heart rejoiced that the Lord would give me this insight. Perhaps he could not help me on the bad days because I was not also praying on the good days.
It was true. I sought his help only when I thought I needed his intervention, when in reality I needed his Spirit every day!
For me, the most important insight in overcoming depression was this. When I have the Lord’s Spirit with me, I have greater joy in my heart, whatever drudgeries and difficulties life may bring. And praying faithfully—on good days and bad is a key to making the blessings of the Spirit a more consistent part of my life.
An ulcer how could I be getting an ulcer? I was only twenty-six! Yet this was the doctor’s diagnosis. I just couldn’t believe it.
Then, one evening after dinner, I sat down on the floor to play ball with my two year old. After just a few minutes, my pleasure was arrested by this thought: “You don’t have time to play ball; you have more important things to do.” And a whole list of unfinished tasks paraded before my imagination.
Then a quiet impression came into my mind: “This is why you are sick; you will not allow yourself to relax.”
Of course, it is not always easy, particularly in our culture, to learn to take time to play. In fact, it is as difficult for many adults to learn to play as it is for some children to learn to work.
When I joined the Church, I cheerfully determined to become one of the busiest bees in the Deseret beehive. I took real pride in winning the race of accomplishment each day. It did not matter whether the floor needed to be swept again; I did it every day. I was firmly convinced that I could work my way to heaven.
Taking time to play required me not only to change my own rigid expectations of myself; it required me to risk my image as the perfect productive housewife. One afternoon I abandoned my daily work routine to kick up my heels to a snappy tune on the radio. While I was thus sprinting about the room, leaping into the air and twirling about, my visiting teachers knocked at the door. I did not hear them. One of them, realizing that I must be home, came around to the kitchen door, knocked, and walked in. She must have stood there for some time before I noticed her.
Looking a little surprised, she quickly said, “Oh, don’t let me bother you. We were just doing our visiting teaching, but I can see that you are fine. See you next month.”
But it was my reaction, not hers, that was more interesting. I could not have been more embarrassed had I been caught in the act of stealing. When I realized that I would not have felt embarrassed had I been scouring the sink, I decided I needed to change my way of thinking about play.
An incident that occurred five years after my insight about play reveals a basic change of approach that has been very healthy for me. One Saturday morning my neck was feeling tight, and so was I. Life seemed too full, too demanding. The children were taking their inner tubes to the creek. I grabbed the last tube, ran to join them, and floated away the Saturday on the slow moving spring stream. The trees overhead glistened with new lime-green leaves in the clear sunshine. The children and I played dunk’m and hide-and-seek in the scrubs that hung over the creek. As we dragged our tubes up the sloping hill to our home, my soul sang out, “Thank you!” I had learned the lesson that simple play can often lift from us the cares of this world.
“Why do you always have a headache?” my little one asked.
“I don’t always have a headache,” I countered. But it was true. For some reason, I seemed to get one every afternoon.
After medical tests and my own experimentation and observation, I discovered that my body was extremely sensitive to several foods that others could freely partake of. For me, wheat and sugar cause not only headaches and fuzzy thinking, but also contribute to depression. As I learned to give up these substances, I found not only freedom from headaches, but also a more serene and cheerful nature.
Chemical imbalances, as well as allergies, can cause real mental anguish when they go undetected. But doctors are learning how to treat some of these problems. If you suspect that your depression may have a biological component, by all means seek the advice of a competent doctor.
Whenever I went to one friend’s home, it was immaculate. She seemed to have it all together, when I was barely able to put the first two pieces together. Her craft projects looked like they came from the local florist; mine resembled my son’s Cub Scout projects. Her bread was high and light; mine was flat and heavy. Her husband had a nine-to-four job, mine a six-to-six.
Reason told me that everyone has strengths and, even though mine may be less visible, I am nevertheless a valuable person. But whenever I indulged in comparing myself with this friend, I came up short on every count. And discouragement inevitably followed.
I learned that much of my depression resulted from my own negative comparison making. Comparing myself with others was always destructive. Even if I could find an area where I felt slightly superior, comparing was not positive because it made me feel smug and self-satisfied. Mostly, though, it left me feeling hopelessly inferior to the people around me. I found that either conclusion is harmful. And just the process of comparing ourselves with everyone else keeps our attention constantly focused inward. This frame of mind makes love and service very difficult indeed.
Our goal is not to compete with or imitate anyone on this earth, but to use our unique gifts to serve other people. By focusing on our commission to lift other people, we lose our fear of falling short of them. As we do the work of the Savior, we feel a sense of his approval. Only this sweet assurance can calm the soul troubled by the need to compete. Each of us has a unique set of gifts and talents to contribute to the work of the Lord, and relying on his Spirit will help us discover them.
Naturally, simply recognizing how destructive the habit is of comparing ourselves with others does not make the problem disappear. But thought patterns can be changed. We are meant to be in charge of our thoughts, not to be victims of them. A good exercise is to take note whenever you are thinking negatively about yourself or someone else. Label this thought for what it is—destructive. Then, as if you are weeding a garden, remove it. Say something to yourself like, “That may be true, but I won’t waste my energy worrying about it.” Then turn your attention consciously to a positive aspect of yourself and how you could use that asset to help someone else.
“What are you so upset about?” my husband, Norm, asked.
“I have so much to do this week, I don’t know how I’ll get it all done,” I replied.
“Well, I assure you, you won’t get it all done at once. Take care of today’s cares today and tomorrow’s cares tomorrow.”
“Good counsel,” I complimented.
Heavenly Father did not create the earth in a day. He finished one task before moving to the next, and finally, in time, it was all completed. It is marvelously liberating to say, “I will worry about Tuesday’s problems on Tuesday, and today’s today.”
A few months ago, Elder Paul H. Dunn came to our stake to speak. After his initial address, he turned the time over for questions and answers. One woman asked, “Do General Authorities ever get depressed?”
He answered, “Of course we get discouraged, too. But so much, and so many, depend on us that we really don’t have time to get depressed.”
I thought that was an interesting response. I, too, have found that when my attention is firmly focused on Heavenly Father’s work, I can rejoice in the accomplishments of the day and ignore more trivial problems. If my house were on fire, for example, I would rejoice in getting the family out safely, not fret over a leak in the plumbing. Thus, when I remember that I am involved in the great and urgent work of building Heavenly Father’s kingdom, I can overlook the daily cares that would otherwise overwhelm me.
The insights I have shared have enabled me to live mostly free from the plague of depression. My life is not perfect. I still struggle daily to live the principles that I know to be true. I become discouraged when I undercook the meat and overcook the vegetables. There are times when I cry as I fold the mountain of clothes. Children still baffle me when they hide dirty socks in the back of their drawers. Some days I long to escape the day’s demands. But, for the most part, I can tackle these obstacles one at a time—without languishing in the darkness of depression.
I expect to experience trials, challenges, and heartbreaks as I travel through this life. At the same time, I rejoice in the realization that through the Spirit, and through following principles of correct living, I can find light in the midst of it all.
Again and again, I have recorded in my journal, “Another beautiful day! Can life possibly be sweeter?”