Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Second Chance

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from a woman in Canton (who got my number from good friend and mentor, Linda J.), asking if I would come and speak about depression at their Relief Society Enrichment Meeting.  I am home from church this morning with a sick baby, and working on my lesson, which I will give this coming Tuesday, the 29th.  The last time I spoke about depression in a church setting (May 2007, Ann Arbor Stake RS Conference), I had planned to cover two sources that have helped me battle depression.  The first is David Burns' work on the 10 cognitive distortions associated with depressed thinking (see previous post).  I covered that rather well in my May talk, but ran out of time before getting to the second source which has helped me.  That second source of help is a group of articles I've collected that address spiritual perspectives on depressed thinking.  I felt very sad after my May presentation that I never made it to discussing what I've learned from those articles, and I am happy that this coming Tuesday night I will have a second chance.

In preparing for that second chance this morning, I am re-reading an article by Steve Gilliland: "'Awake My Soul!' Dealing Firmly with Depression", published in the Ensign magazine in 1978 (a link to the full text of this article is in a previous post).  Here are the parts of Gilliland's article that are particularly meaningful to me:

1. "I'm aware, from my experience with people, that they can change their lifestyle and take the steps of repentance without having peace of conscience.  Many times the Spirit of the Lord has spoken to repentant and worthy persons, but like the Lamanites converted by Nephi and Lehi, 'they knew it not' (3 Nephi 9:20)."  

I (Potato Girl) have felt unable to sense the Spirit's presence at times when I have been depressed, and I've spoken with others who have experienced similar feelings.  It feels like God has withdrawn himself from me in disgust, and I used to believe that was the case.  I know now, however, that that is never true.  I used to believe that the feelings I was having about myself were the same feelings that God had about me.  I have said "prayers" acknowledging how much God must hate me, and telling him that I wished he would kill me and send me straight to hell. At these times in my life, I was doing everything I could to live in accordance with his will.  I was not sinning in any egregious way that I was aware of.  My sin, it seemed to me, was that of existing.  My sin was being a horrible person (but in a general way, not being able to identify any specific horrible behavior that needed to be changed).  

I have a dear friend who has struggled to pray and read her scriptures daily, for years, without feeling any sense of God's love, or any whispering of the Spirit's voice in her heart.  I remember a time in my own life when I went to the temple weekly, hoping to find the refuge and peace that so many feel there, only to spend each 90 minute session consumed by thoughts of putting a gun to my head.  

Depression can make it very hard to hear the Spirit, and untreated depression can go on for years.  Can you imagine what it would do to your soul, to your faith, to your relationship with God, if you were trying to be a good person and you were feeling nothing but self-loathing? Can you see how easily you might come to a mistaken belief that those horrible feelings were coming from God?  It was during my mission to the Philippines that I first began to imagine that my assumptions about God's hatred of me might not be accurate.  That was eleven years ago, and I am very happy to report that I now know, without a doubt, that God and his spirit are NEVER the source of those dark and ugly thoughts and feelings we have.  This leads me to the next section of Gilliland's talk that I love:

2. "Each of us has many voices within, criticizing and praising, encouraging and discouraging, desiring and warning, reasoning and disregarding.  We've all wondered at some time which voices were from the Lord and which were from Satan, which came with us from premortal life and which we've acquired since birth."  

Gilliland goes on to describe the way many of the voices in our head come from our childhood, from the things parents, teachers, and others said to us in our formative years.  In my own case, I remember a childhood filled with love, praise, and support from the adults in my life.  The negative voices in my head, I believe, are a result of the twisted thinking habits that I developed during the years I lived with untreated depression.  

Regardless of where the negative voices may be coming from, I like what Gilliland says: "You cannot easily erase those destructive voices from the past, but you can recognize what they do to you and turn them off.  You can rid yourself of these voices by replacing them with positive feedback and experiences that build self-esteem."  

Now I'm out of time and energy, so I'll just include the rest of the statements I especially liked without commenting on them:

3. "Discouragement is not the Lord's method--it's Satan's.  Satan emphasizes your weaknesses; the Lord, your ability to overcome.  Satan urges immediate perfection to make you feel inadequate.  The Lord leads you toward perfection." 

4. "If the voice you hear leaves you feeling weaker, more doubtful about your capability of overcoming sins, if it continues to remind you of past mistakes and sins that you have already repented of, then it is not of the Spirit of the Lord.  The Lord seeks to strengthen you, to give you the power to overcome problems.  He wants you to recognize your weaknesses and then do something about them."

5. "Suppose you're thinking about a mistake you've made.  Ask yourself: Is this helping me deal with the problems I'm now having or is it making me feel more inadequate?  If it's dragging you down, push it out of your mind or crowd something else in front of it."

6. In answer to the rhetorical question, "Isn't there some value in punishing myself enough that I won't repeat my sins?" Gilliland writes, "No! Nowhere in the scriptures do I find any license to punish myself...It's much better to reward ourselves for what we do right.  This helps us focus on our strengths and moves us more in that direction; punishment focuses on our weaknesses and doesn't teach us any new behaviors.  If I immediately start tormenting myself for my weakness when I find myself dwelling on an unworthy thought, I don't have enough strength or determination to resist the next temptation. If, instead, I thank the Lord for showing me that the thought is unwholesome and helping me shift my mind away, I leave the situation closer to the Lord, grateful for the strength I have, and praying for greater strength in the future."

7. "Ask yourself, what are these thoughts and feelings doing to me?  Are they helping me improve?  Are they leading me to repent?  Can I help other people when I feel this way?  Are they making me feel weaker and more inadequate?  If the thoughts aren't productive, then really fight back...Instead of being angry at yourself, be angry at those discouraging voices. Satan may disguise them as the voice of conscience, but they're really his.  Turn them off.  You'll need the Lord's help doing it.  Pray for strength to cast them out of your mind..."

8. "Search for your good qualities, your strengths.  Think of the good things you have done and those times when the Spirit has whispered peace to your soul.  (Fight off that satanic reflex that says, 'Yes, but you didn't do...') Enjoy the good that you are.  Express your gratitude to the Lord for these good things.  As he helps you cast out evil, defeating thoughts, fill the vacuum with productive memories."

I hope some of these thoughts are helpful to you.  They have been very helpful to me, as long as I can remember them.  I need to be reminded of them often.  Wish me luck for Tuesday night!


DTR said...

I think the conceptualization of our conflicting thoughts and emotions as "voices" is a useful one. It's relatively easy to ignore an obnoxious person and to disregard their unfair criticisms, but much more difficult when the voice of criticism is internal.

Summer said...

I felt inspired by your words and really appreciated your voice on depression.

heather said...

Good for you for sharing your story! I have found my experiences have been a huge stepping stone in helping others and you are an instrument in the Lord's hands to help others not feel ashamed. Keep it up!

The Rackleys said...


I'm glad you were able to share this with people. Really great quotes and your voice in it all is so helpful and reassuring. I think, in one form and another, all women battle with these feelings (some more than others), but it is so helpful to see someone else combat them so well and look to correct sources for strength. Thanks!

Southern Spud said...

Wow. Thanks. I'll have to read through that and list the things he said that I benefited from in my own depression journal. Again, thanks.