Sunday, January 5, 2014

I Said It In Sacrament Meeting

I gave a talk in sacrament meeting and admitted that I struggle with depression. Yes, it’s true. I said it in front of everyone- men, women, and children. And the response was interesting.

When I give a talk, I often feel like an observer myself and when I sit back down, I come back to myself. It’s a strange feeling and difficult to explain. In the middle of the moment, my only focus is getting the correct words out of my mouth in a logical way. I'm so fixated on that, that I'm not very aware of anything else. My point is that I do remember the feeling in the room when I started talking about being depressed, because it changed. I said:

"I have suffered with depression occasionally. There have been times when I have looked out the window and it’s beautiful out there. But I just knew that the moment I walked outside, it would all fade to gray. I didn’t know how that could happen. I only knew that it would. I’ve been afraid to go to sleep, I’ve been afraid to wake up. I have felt hopeless with no reprieve. I have had loving people all around me and still felt lonely and hopeless, despite their love and encouragement."

I didn't delve into any specific experiences. I simply shared that I struggle. As I prepared the talk, I envisioned the whispers and conversation that would likely ensue. “Did you hear what Sister Brown said? Did you know Sister Brown is depressed?” But I felt strongly that this was the time to talk about it and I was rewarded with an outpouring of the Spirit. When I acknowledged my own experience with depression, the energy in the chapel changed.
The quiet but animated chatter of children seemed to hush for a moment and a feeling of focus overcame me. Clarity entered my mind and I felt as if I were talking to each person in the chapel individually.
My husband mentioned it to me right after the closing prayer. He’d felt it too. And then sisters began to approach me and thank me for saying what I did. The unseen wall of secrecy and shame surrounding depression had been broken for us. I was taken aback by how many members talked to me, not just during the church block, but throughout the rest of the week. Some knew others who struggled, some struggled themselves but everyone seemed relieved to talk about it.

As the week progressed I couldn’t help but wonder why it was such a big deal for me to talk about depression in sacrament meeting? Why do we work so hard to hide depression behind fake smiles and closed doors? I, myself, must admit to working hard on my skill to hide my own depression in a charade of “I’m fine.” When I feel myself sliding down into depression, I plaster on my own perfected mask of all-is-well-in-Zion and hide behind the mundane motions of motherhood. I can put on a good show at church, carpool or playgroup. The show holds up OK until I find myself crying in the shower or asking my young children to fix their own meals while I crawl back into bed. Then it becomes evident that I need help. The very help I should have openly asked for from the beginning, from my husband, my neighbors, or my extended family.

The fact of the matter is, I trick myself into thinking I’m good at hiding my depression. I’d like to think that I can pull it off and everyone thinks I’m doing fine, until I hit my breaking point and the truth comes out despite my best efforts.
After my third child was born, I struggled quite a bit. The slide into depression was subtle, slow and easy. So easy, I didn’t even know I was falling. Early one summer afternoon, my emotional reserves were already spent and I sent my two older children outside to play, so I could cry in private. All too soon, I heard a knock at the door.
Wiping a fresh pool of tears from under my eyes, I answered the door to find my smiling neighbor.

“If I don’t give these away, I’ll eat them all myself,” she said, handing me a plate of cookies. “Are you OK?” she added, tilting her head, looking at me too intently for my comfort.

“Yes,” I smiled, nervously, unsettled by the confused looked on her face. “Yes, of course.”

“Are you sure?” she asked again, smiling wider.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” trying my best to mimic her smile. I placed my hand on the door, indicating it was time to go. She took the cue.

“Let me know if there is anything I can do for you,” she said and I recited along with her the well-worn line in my mind.

I closed the door and let the emotion wave over me again. Five minutes was too long to put on a show today. My eyes drifted to my reflection in a decorative mirror in the entryway and I stared, paralyzed. Squinting, I leaned in to get a good look at the reflection. Red eyes stared back, blank and baffled. When I dried my eyes, I had forgotten to wipe my face. Mascara still ran down my blotchy cheeks. Despite my smile and assurance that I was just fine, the truth was running down my cheeks, calling my bluff in dark, wet streaks. I had been caught in my own deception.

Help was standing on my doorstep and I had turned her away. Looking back, I’m sure it was no mere coincidence that she had knocked on my door with cookies during the middle of my cry. God had provided help. In my refusal, He also provided an experience for me to learn how useless it is to reject help and insist on hiding behind my charade of being “fine.” Hiding my depression from others only makes me feel worse and actually separates me from those who care.

There was another time God knew I needed intervention. This time my help wasn’t just on my porch and I was an even worse actress. The day before my newborn turned one month old, I was notified that he was not covered on our health insurance plan. It seemed like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. After dealing with lost emails, broken faxes, and disconnected long-distance phone calls, I completely lost it. I felt so empty, drained, and vulnerable; I could do nothing but fall apart. As if my body were made of a delicately balanced puzzle, pieces began to fall and I began to crumble. I couldn’t stand for anyone to see the mess I knew was coming. I ordered the children outside and told them not to let anyone in the house. “Just tell people I’m not even home,” I blubbered, barely holding it together. I then collapsed on my bed in body-racking sobs. They were loud and physical, the kind that no one should ever see or hear. What I didn’t know until later was that my neighbor, and close friend was in the hallway and heard everything. She quietly took my children to her house and gave me the privacy I needed. Again, I had been caught when I was trying to hide.

Of course-there are many other experiences, too numerous to count. They are scattered through the history of my life like clouds across an expansive sky. Almost every time the clouds darken and the downward spiral begins, I am tempted to hide the struggle and depression that drowns me. I am learning that, not only am I a terrible actress, I limit my relationship with others and isolate myself when I hide. Instead of being open to the support and strength of caring friends, I sink deeper into the gray, desolate confines of my depression.
So the time has come, for me, to talk about depression, whether in sacrament meeting or the walls of my own home and stop the charade. Sometimes it’s hard and embarrassing to get the words out at first, but the response is always receptive and warm. When I am honest about my human experience, and put away the shame and embarrassment society has heaped on depression, I am stronger. My relationships are stronger. Love and support are rendered in both directions.
I’m a believer that knowledge is power. Admitting and recognizing I get depressed was a freeing process. When I finally labeled it and I talked about it, I was free to ask for help. I was able to recognize when I was getting seriously depressed more easily and start to do something about it before it got worse.
Asking for help is the strongest thing I can do to help myself. The very act of asking shows extreme faith and trust in the person being asked for help and in my case, they respond in kind. Our relationship becomes stronger, just as a braided rope is stronger than a single strand.

Let’s support each other. Stand on the doorstep or in the hallway and say something. More importantly, let’s ask for the support we need. And if you see mascara on my cheeks, you will know I am up to my old charade again. You’d better say something, if I don’t say it first.

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