I used to think about my depression this way:
"I'm depressed and miserable. I'm barely functioning. I feel sorry for myself and I want everyone else to feel sorry for me too. I want everyone (in my family, friends and church community) to notice how low I am and to see that I'm drowning. No one else has ever been this low. I'm the only one going through this so it's a big deal and there's no way I can do this without someone rescuing me. Everyone should know that I need help without me saying so, and I want those people to swoop in and take care of me. Take over my responsibilities. They should take care of me and coddle me because I am too debilitated by this depression to do it by myself and I'm definitely too proud to ask for help."
Or something like that.
I've had this mentality for at least 12 years.
I've always placed great importance on my relationships with people around me. Will they notice when I'm struggling and help me without me having to ask? Will they notice when I'm happy? Will they confide in me and trust me? Do they want me around? And I often come away feeling just as disconnected and unsure of myself as I was before. There was (usually) never an amazing connection and no one seemed to want to know the deep desires of my heart. No one was going to tear down the walls that guard my most vulnerable thoughts.
I'm working on a new mentality. A few unrelated events and conversations all happened at about the same time, and it gave me an epiphany and a new way to think. Here goes.
The first instance was when we ran into a family that we know at a restaurant. We hadn't seen them in about six months, which was when we attended the funeral of their four year old daughter who had just succumbed to cancer.
In the spirit of friendship and to gauge whether it was okay to talk about their loss, I simply asked how their family was doing. To my surprise Brian began energetically and unreservedly telling me about how hard its been and how much they miss their daughter. He cried as he talked about what it would be like to have the holidays without her. He seemed at peace with her death and remarked on the irony of one life ending and another beginning, referring to his wife's surprise pregnancy. He shared his firm belief that their family is eternal and they would see their daughter again. Now we were both crying. I apologized for bringing up such a sensitive topic, but what Brian said next was eye opening to me.
He said that sometimes people ask him how he's doing but they don't really want to know. They just expect a one word answer and then they move on. But when people ask Brian that, he tells them. He tells them if it was a good day or if it was a bad day and that they missed their daughter a lot and cried a lot. And the other person turns out to be genuinely interested. Brian would have told them this painful and deeply personal thing, and then they would turn around and tell him some deeply personal thing that they're going through. Brian was surprised to find out that other people wanted to open up about their loss and heartache too. Now he and this person-who he only knew superficially until just then-they've just had an amazing conversation talking about the really hard things they're both going though. They've just connected on an emotional and personal level and cried together. Everyone has hard stuff that they're going through and even though his is different from theirs, they now have in common that they can talk to each other about it and feel sorrow together.
You have to be personal with someone in order to connect with them. And you have to connect with that person in order for your relationship to be meaningful and satisfying.
I definitely want meaningful and satisfying relationships.
The next epiphany came from my two year old daughter. Since a quick visit from my sister's family a few months ago, my daughter always asks about her little cousin, "Where's Caroline?" In the car, at the store, at bedtime, "Where's Caroline?" I would look at the clock and try to imagine what they would be doing in Illinois when its 7:30. "She's probably getting ready for bed" I'd say.
And then one morning at breakfast Audrey prayed that we could play at Leslie's house today.
Well it hit me: these are opportunities to connect with people too. I can call my sister and tell her that Audrey thinks about her sweet little cousin every day! I can call my friend and tell her that Audrey wants to play with Leslie and we should get together soon. That paves the way for more personal communication.
The third thing is that my parents are leaving the country this week for a two year church service mission in Nicaragua. Two years. Aside from my husband, my mom is the top number that I call on my phone. On my way to work, at the store, for cooking tips, for sewing tips, for parenting tips, to vent about husbands, to cry about potty training, and again to celebrate potty training success, you name it. I pretty much call my mom about everything. And now she will be away for two whole years and I will only get to talk to her once a week for maybe a few minutes at a time.
I thought about writing in a journal every time I wish I could call mom. I considered that I could send her emails whenever a thought came up I wanted to discuss with her(several per day), but then I realized that with her being away and less reachable, this is a good opportunity for me to reach out to the people around me for help and friendship and connection. My sister, Leslie's mom, Brian's family, my best friend who lives too far away, people in my circle who have heartache they want to share with other people and together lighten the burden a little.
So my new way of thinking goes something like this:
I am not unique in my depression. I am not the only one going through something that seems impossible to overcome. And no one is going to take care of me simply because I feel sorry for myself. There is no shame in asking for help. Asking for help will give someone the chance to serve me. No one can read my mind and know I need help unless I tell them. Everyone around me has a story, and we all want to share them and mourn together, comfort together, cry together. Because when we can truly connect to each other by sharing our heartaches, then we will find our relationships are more meaningful and satisfying and we will put down our walls and forget about feeling vulnerable and instead we will genuinely laugh together and cry together and love together and celebrate joy.Mosiah 18:8-10 summarizes my thoughts, and adds that as we serve and comfort and mourn with one another, we are witnessing of Christ, serving the Lord, and will have his Spirit poured out upon us.
It says: [...] And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort [...] Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being [...] a witness before [the Lord], that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
So in the process of forgetting about myself and reaching out to others in friendship and compassion, I hope to put my depression in the past. A fortunate side effect will hopefully be a closer relationship with the Savior and a better connection to the Spirit, which some would suggest might have been the problem and solution from the beginning.