Thoughts on Depression, Addiction and Being a Mormon (Part 1 of 3)

I am a Latter-day Saint and I thank God every day that I am. I love being a Mormon. The hope in my life and pretty much all the joy and happiness I’ve experienced are closely linked to my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Double Whammy of Depression and Addiction

photoI also happen to suffer from depression. And I’m a sex and pornography addict. If I’m not careful, these two latter characteristics of mine can play off each other in some pretty miserable ways. They actually did fight a major war inside my head for a couple decades until one by one, I was able to identify and deal with them.

During my wife’s chemotherapy in 2008 (a pretty rough time for our family), I shook my head one day and realized that I had been staring at the wall across from my office desk for several hours. I then realized that I had actually been staring at the same wall all day long for at least several days before that. I couldn’t function.

I made an appointment with the psychiatric department of my healthcare provider and went in for an evaluation. The diagnosis was quick: depression. It wasn’t just the helplessness and sadness of trying to cope with my wife’s illness. Apparently, I had suffered from depression for most of my life. I didn’t know it of course. I just figured this was how life was going to be–mentally painful and bitterly disappointing. I grew accustomed to thinking that I should just plan on falling into a pit of despair every time something big (like cancer) came along. I just thought that’s how life was.

Depression is Tough to Spot Especially if You’re Depressed

If you’ve been depressed for your entire life, I suppose that in a way, it’s similar to being blind since birth. If someone tries to explain colors to you and you’re blind, you can’t relate, having never before seen colors. If the only joy you’ve ever felt is the muted, greyish half-happiness of the depressed, you simply don’t know what to make of the happy people around you. It’s like they’re from another planet with their laughs and contended sighs and playfulness and expressions of appreciation about anything and everything.

Depression hurts.

Depression hurts.

Depression really does hurt when you experience it. Depression is the product of a broken mind. As a lifelong Latter-day Saint, I knew that God makes available to us the promise of His peace in this life. And yet I hurt all the time. It didn’t seem like there was truth in advertising. Still, I felt like I had a pretty strong testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I felt like I understood it. If I wasn’t feeling happy, I needed to change things. So I thought I would get happy just by being happy.

Turns out you can’t do that when your brain is broken. I needed help. I had been trying and failing to get happy by being happy. I needed a healthcare professional finally to look me in the eye and say, “You suffer from major depression. You need to work with us to find a medication that can help you.”

Learning to Do God’s Will

For some reason, I felt like I was taking the easy road with the medication, that I was selling out, that the Lord would somehow be disappointed that I was going to start taking pills. Finally, someone pointed out that Mormons take insulin and heart pills and pills to stave off infection. Nothing in the Word of Wisdom in its modern interpretation proscribes medication for dealing with a health problem. Depression is a health problem.

I found the right medication. In case you’re wondering, it didn’t change things so that I now heard angels singing in the background–or saw little green men running around. It just changed the way my brain worked so that I was able to experience appropriate emotional responses to the events in my life. When good things happened, I started to enjoy them in a genuine way. When bad things happened, I felt sadness or anger or bitterness and then quickly set out to make things better. I no longer felt like I was wading through molasses. With medication, I had acquired the ability to feel and experience life in the way God had intended.

In hindsight, I realize that I had been trying to deal with depression in the same way that I had tried to deal with addiction. I took my Christmas wishlist of demands to Heavenly Father (who in my mind had developed an uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus) and told him what I expected of Him. I expected Him to fix my unhappiness with a flash and a POOF, like a magician.

At no point did I ever say, “Thy will not mine be done. I will do what you want me to do. What would you have me do?” When I finally asked the question, the Lord spoke through a still small voice and told me in my mind and heart what He’d been waiting to tell me: “Get help. You can’t do this on your own. Quit trying.”

Pride + Depression = Mormon Misery

Who would have thought that I had such a huge problem with pride? Too much focus on others’ motes; not enough attention to my own beams–enough to build a big barn and a couple outhouses. I was willing to “exercise my massive faith” so God could fix me. I was not willing to humble myself to ask Him what He wanted me to do. Finally, however, I hit rock bottom with my wife’s cancer and became willing to do whatever it took to deal with my misery–even if it meant uttering the words that terrify the prideful: “Not my will but Thine be done.” Even if it meant taking pills.

End of Part 1.

Image credits: pill: Andrew Pipanne 2013; headshot of woman: By Larali21 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

About Andrew+

Latter-day Saint, sex and pornography addict in recovery, dealing with depression, returned missionary, father of a bunch of kids, graduate degree, self-employed, Book of Mormon reader, writer and thinker. Working on understanding and overcoming resentment, the number one killer of addicts.

Comments

Thoughts on Depression, Addiction and Being a Mormon (Part 1 of 3) — 7 Comments

  1. They way I look at it is that medications are a blessing from God. If you think back in the day before anti-depressants people were miserable that were depressed because they didn’t know they had a chemical imbalance.

    Medical science has dramatically improved over time to be able to treat our chemical imbalances. And here is the home run that hit me: chemical imbalances in the brain does not mean we are different and weird.. Thankfully through medical science medications were created to help us.

    Like my mission presidents wife would say, I couldn’t function without them! They are a heaven sent blessing from God!

  2. Thanks for the post. My father has suffered from severe mental illness all his life. It’s one of the roots of my sex addiction. I’ve wondered why God would allow agency to be impaired by mental illness. Isn’t that why we were sent to earth? To exercise our agency? Someone told me once that perhaps God allowed it because of what it would teach those around my father. People like me and my siblings. For me it meant 20 years of sexual insobriety, yet my illness and my Dad’s illness have finally led me surrender and a happiness I might otherwise never know. I was a missionary. I’ve gone to church all my life. We never miss a week of church. I’ve held several positions of responsibility in the church, and yet it is mental illness and sexual addiction that are causing me finally to believe everything I have “known” for all these years.

  3. After years of not being willing to look at my own depression, and chalking it up to “that’s just how I work”, I had a very inspired therapist ask me this question: “Are we here on earth to see if we can make it through without medication? I thought we were here to do our best.” That statement changed my perspective on medication forever. I do not believe that we are here to simply get by, managing as best we can without medicine. I believe that medication has increased my agency, allowing me to finally have the ability to freely choose my direction and keeping me out of the depressed abyss that I would regularly fall into that so limited my agency.

    Thank you for the post. I have found in my short journey into recovery that many addicts use to escape the crush of depression.

  4. Pingback: Mormon Looks at Addiction and Depression | Fixing One Won't Fix Other

  5. Thank you for this article. I am trying to find way to help my husband who struggles with depression. I am unable to find part 2 and 3. Do they exist?