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To have Bitten off the Matter with a Smile

Today’s guest post comes from Jes S. Curtis, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and two children. When she isn’t throwing starfish back into the ocean one at a time, she blogs at squeezetheuniverse.com, edits creative nonfiction for JuiceBox: A Journal of the Ordinary, and tutors writing with Smarthinking. You can read her most recent online publications here: http://journal.segullah.org/winter-2009/god-sees-the-truth-but-waits/ and here: http://www.literarymama.com/creativenonfiction/archives/2008/04/erosion.html

Hi. My name is Jes. I was recently diagnosed bipolar.

I’ve wanted to say that out loud for a long time—but there never seems to be the right moment. Not when my new Relief Society president is sitting across from me on the couch. “Are you settling in?” she asks. And I want to say, “I just found out I’m bipolar. I mean, you know, obviously something’s been wrong. I’m terrified. I don’t know what that means. I need help. I need friends.” But I don’t. It’s just so weak to tell someone right off the bat that I am not well. I don’t exactly want to be on the list of troublemakers in the ward; you know who I mean, the people who take and take and take, with some feeling of entitlement and not enough gratitude. No, you don’t want to be on that list and neither do I. I don’t want to be cast as the crazy woman before anyone even knows that I teach killer Relief Society lessons, have perfected the cheesecake, know quite a bit about the early church in Kirtland, and give a great series on writing personal history. The truth is, most days I’m just like everybody else. I get up and get on with things.

My diagnosis (I call it mine, but it still feels so completely other–something that happens to other people, people I don’t know) was a long time coming. I’ve had the hypomanic episodes: writing for hours at a time, glowing, feeling like I’ve managed to harness the universe. I’ve had bouts of crazy depression, but I always got out of it one way or another. I’ve had vague thoughts of suicide on a couple occasions, but no serious planning.

And then I had my two children. Suddenly my little problems weren’t little anymore. Suddenly they weren’t just between me and my mind anymore. I had this whole family to run, and I was incapacitated. One of the more unfortunate side effects of bipolar disorder for some, and especially me, is postpartum psychosis. After those nine months and hours of labor, I didn’t even get to sit and snuggle my little ones, enjoying their smells and coos reveling in the bliss of motherhood. I was insane. I heard voices. I was gripped with such panic that I held down waves of nausea. I was in such physical and mental pain that I would look at other families in church with pews of children and hold down the tears, wondering what made them so much stronger than me. What did they feel that I didn’t? Or, perhaps, what didn’t they feel that I did?

And now I’m riding the medication waves. I take one thing, then another, facing side effects that seem worse than the disorder itself. I’ll be fine for a few weeks or months and think everything is solved, and then I tank, hurtling down so fast I can barely breathe.

I suppose if I lived near good friends, near my mom and dad, near people I could trust, it might not be such a problem. But, in reality, I’ve signed up for a life of hauling myself and my problems across the country every few years, following my Air Force husband. The stability my condition needs the most is the thing I know I will never have.

It leaves me wondering, are there other people out there like me… Is anyone else afraid to trust their own brain? Afraid that they might not be able to take care of their family? Trying to keep and make covenants when they go for weeks or months at a time without being able to feel anything? Trying to enjoy the life of their little ones when most days they just want to hide? Is there anyone else denying the reality of their diagnosis? Anyone else who clings to faith, afraid to be open about their mental troubles in case they get holed up somewhere they don’t belong?

37 thoughts on “To have Bitten off the Matter with a Smile”

  1. Yes, there are people like you. People who know how it feels to just want ti hide, to withdraw from the world at times, but cannot because of responsibilities that sometimes seem to explode from the molehills that others seem to manage so well into mountains that cannot possibly, but must be scaled.
    People who are afraid to publicize their problems for fear, a very legitimate fear that no one will understand, because this is something that one has to experience to really understand. Even very good people with all of the best intentions and very kind people who have not experienced problems cannot really understand and all too often chalk up the problems to immaturity or selfishness, etc.
    It is distressing to know that medications that seem to work for others feels like it is going to kill you, or to be on a medication that seems to work for a while, then suddenly drops you stone cold, and even feeling the worse for the experience because you felt "normal" for a period of time.
    There is much more, and I do not know how comforting it is to know that you are not alone. But faith is the one bastion that can get you through, that one last vestige of sanity that can keep you afloat. Prayer does help, but you will have to fight that feeling, an actual aversion to pray to the one person who really can understand.
    I hope that your husband and family will be uncritical, loving, helpful and supportive, even if they cannot understand. It does make it easier if someone is willing to step in and lend a hand, give you some space and time to regroup when you need it.
    My prayers will be with and for you.

    Glenn

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  2. Hi Jes– I'm not bipolar, but 10 years ago was diagnosed with clinical depression, something that if I don't manage correctly, can drastically affect my life.

    Sometimes I am afraid to trust my own brain, especially when I am feeling particularly suicidal. (No hyperbole there–it is a real feeling with terrifying thoughts.)

    Yes, sometimes I want to hide, and sometimes I do.

    And I don't open up about my own diagnosis.

    You are not alone.

    After my diagnosis, my therapist at the time told me that the brain is an organ, just like the kidneys, lungs, heart, intestines. Yet people are willing to open up about diseases that affect those organs. It was a small comparison that helped me accept what was wrong with me and why I had to take medication to make it better. It was no different from high blood pressure meds or dialysis. My brain needed a little help.

    I second what Glenn said about prayer, and fighting the temptation to not pray. Sometimes, my prayers are me, on my knees sobbing, and I can't formulate words, but the act of trying brings comfort, even if only for a little while.

    I will pray for you…

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  3. Glenn, thank you so much. Knowing that there are others out there is exactly what I wanted to know – exactly the thing that comforts me. I've peeked into online support groups occasionally, but they always left me feeling more empty. Even if we had the same diagnosis, we had nothing in common. I've long wanted to feel connected to those of faith who are also dealing with problems in their brains. You sound very brave to me and I hope that you continue to have the strength to be brave.

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  4. Julie, thank you for telling me about your struggles. I've had quite a few major depressive episodes and I know what you're up against. I hope and pray that you do have people around you that you can trust.

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  5. Oh Jes, there are so many people like you! It is extremely hard to open up about mental illness because you don't want to be THAT person. I suppose that's why I am SO open about mine (I have clinical anxiety and depression), I want the stigma to disappear. I don't want to feel this weight of uncertainty when I tell people that I struggle with mental illness and MUST take medication or am sent into a suicidal spiral.

    Like you, I knew there was something off since I was a child, but it wasn't until having children that things really went downhill. Just last year I had a mental breakdown. I mean, planned suicide and all. Mostly because I hadn't been accurately diagnosed, which makes things extra hard (as you well know). It was a scary time for my husband, kids, and family. Of course, in my mind I was a failure. It was awful.

    I am lucky that my husband completely understands and relates (he has his own anxiety and depression to cope with). I am also lucky that my medications have worked miracles since I started taking them.

    But I want you to know that I understand. I want to hug and comfort you right now, face-to-face, because I know how hard it is.

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  6. Jes,

    You're not the only one. I married a man with Schizo-Affective Disorder, a kind of Schizophrenia. It's characterized with similar symptoms with Bi-Polar disorder…depression, manic episodes, auditory hallucinations (hearing voices). We've been together for 11 years, and been married for 8 of those. He's been medicated almost the whole time.

    You're right, the side effects of the medication are sometimes worse than the illness. DH's meds gave him Grand Mal seizures, which he now has to take additional medication for. That medication gives him tremors, making his hands look like an octogenarian's. So, there's more meds for that.

    But I know that for all that, the meds are worth it. I know that because I've been with him through the dark times when he went off them. They are times I prefer not to think about.

    Still, he goes through the same things as you.
    Afraid to trust his brain…he tells me I'm the only real thing in his world sometimes.
    Afraid he can't provide for his family…we're so lucky that he has a boss who understands when DH can't come into work until noon or later when he's had a bad night.
    Afraid that he's a bad Mormon because he dislikes going to church and the temple is a real problem…when you hear voices in your head, outside noise is a must and quiet places are anathema. 3 Sundays out of 4 he's home right after Sacrament Meeting.
    It's taken 9 years (since his diagnosis), but he's finally open about his illness. He says "If my experiences can help someone else feel like they're not alone, then I'll share them with everyone I meet."

    Jes, you should know that it's hard, but it can be done. We have two kids (and are done), but as they grow older they're so good for him. They give him something else to focus on. Our little girl is a ray of sunshine that can always make him smile.

    Sometimes he sleeps 12-15 hours a day because of the meds or a particularly bad episode. Sometimes I worry that the kids don't understand why he ignores them for the computer or sleeps through their school play, but someday they will understand.

    If you ever want to talk to someone about what you're going through, my email address is jessamyn (dot) thurston (at) gmail. I'm so happy to talk about this anytime. That goes for anyone who needs to talk!

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  7. Hi Jes,

    Thanks for your post. From my personal experience, it can be extremely difficult to open up about mental illness. I have had some bouts with anxiety and clinical depression during college (and a few years beyond). It took a couple years of my husband's gentle insistence before I went to see a counselor. Opening up to her was extremely difficult, but being open helped the healing begin. Since then I've had ups and downs, and starting medication later on also helped tremendously.

    One thing I've found is true for myself is that my natural inclination is to be very private about these things–I've always been much more comfortable asking others questions about themselves than answer queries about my life. I'm very introspective, too, so it is easy for my internal mental state to take on a very vivid, private nature of its own. I've found that this can be a negative thing when I'm at a low point with my mental health, because I withdraw into myself; the world I inhabit swallows me up and I accept its counterfeit reality because it's the only one I'm immersed in.

    Thus, for me, talking to others is really important; the more open I've become (selectively so, at times), the more I see that what feels like my only reality is often, in fact, not completely real. It also makes it easier for me to feel support and make sure that I'm not living an entirely secret, quiet life of desperation. This authenticity bolsters my own feeling of self worth. I've also never had anyone reject me for what I've shared–some have understood more than others, but all have been sympathetic.

    Kudos for being open about something that is so difficult. I hope that you feel accepted and embraced here, because you are!

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  8. I suffer from depression. Depending on which meds I'm on, I don't feel anything. Which is a nice change from feeling so sad that I can't even function. Plus, for some odd reason my blood pressure tanks when I'm depressed and it's kind of scary.

    So I sit through church and watch people around me crying and I feel nothing. I joke with my husband that I'm a Cylon, because most of the time I don't cry, or laugh.

    It's hard to keep going to Church when you don't really feel the spirit, but I keep trying.

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  9. GlennPrayer does help, but you will have to fight that feeling, an actual aversion to pray to the one person who really can understand.

    JulieI second what Glenn said about prayer, and fighting the temptation to not pray. Sometimes, my prayers are me, on my knees sobbing, and I can’t formulate words, but the act of trying brings comfort, even if only for a little while.

    These words are so comforting to me somehow, to discover that it's not just me that struggles with this. I've had life-long guilt because of this very feeling of not wanting to pray, particularly during my darker times of depression (eg: this past couple months). It is the hardest thing to reconcile for me, because there have been a few, very direct, specific answers to prayers in my life, so it seems like I should know better or not wrestle so constantly with praying. But most of the time I feel nothing and it's very hard to get myself to that place where I "connect".

    I try to tell myself that God understands, but I feel so cut off because of my (inability? unwillingness? paralysis?) when it comes to a regular, prayerful relationship ala the talk Elder Bednar gave on it (which was so excellent, yet I still can't find my way to that place!).

    I bumble along, assuming it'll get better and someday this weakness will turn into a strength, but I generally feel like it will never get better. I say prayers, but praying (more than just saying words in prayer) is so hard for me. It never occurred to me that it might be so directly related to depression. Having some kind of explanation helps. I have noticed it's worse when I'm feeling especially low, but not at rock bottom (which is when it sometimes actually works best).

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is comforting to feel like other people I have a high regard for have similar struggles, but have found a way to make something beautiful of their lives. I'm still trying to find that in mine. ♥

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  10. (ps: sometimes, when i've been really unable to verbalize them, i have typed out prayers…like writing a letter to got. it's therapeutic and can help get me past that particular blockade in my communication with God.)

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  11. Jes,

    Definitely not alone. I've been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. I've been on medication and in counseling for eight (goodness! eight!) years, and I have to say that this combination has been extremely helpful. I've had four depressive episodes–one in college, one right after my mission, one in grad school, and one last year. In the past, I've felt really angry that I had to deal with this, really guilty that I couldn't feel the spirit or have the desire to serve or attend the temple, and really proud of myself for my little victories. I think I must be coming to terms with this part of my life, because during the last depressive episode (which was the shortest and mildest yet! hooray!), I was really patient with the whole thing. I'd gone through enough of these to know that things would be better–that the darkness was like driving through a tunnel rather than living in a cave. Also, I knew what I needed to do to take care of myself.

    I will also say that everyone I've opened up to about this has been extremely supportive–my boss, my bishop, ward members. Of course, choose your confidants carefully, but don't doubt that there are people who will care and want to help. A lot of people have had loved ones go through depression or bipolar or something similar, and are pretty matter-of-fact about it and willing to help.

    And on the matter of the difficulty of tending to spiritual matters while your brain is struggling, here's my experience: I found it difficult to hear the guidance of the spirit, but not to feel the comfort of the spirit. Scripture study was often unproductive, so I skipped it. Sometimes the Ensign was more accessible. Hymns were good. Do what you can and trust that the Lord understands, and don't worry about whatever you can't do. I know, easier said than done. I wish you the best! You can do this!!

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  12. Thank you for explaining this. I know several people with bipolar but I really had no clue to what it is all about. Now I feel I'm educated a little. My heart goes out to you and all the many who suffer with this. I'm so sorry.

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  13. My mom told me about this article and I just wanted to say that I'm LDS and I've got a bipolar II diagnosis (and avoidant personality, ADHD, and other stuff.) I spent years denying my diagnosis, telling myself I was "over it," that it wasn't that big a deal, that it wasn't interfering. It was TOTALLY interfering. And I totally get the stuff you're talking about here in terms of covenants, showing affection to family, etc.

    There's actually a group of LDS folks with mental illnesses (I mostly associate with the depression/anxiety/bipolar crowd) on Tumblr. I put my blog address on the website line – hopefully it goes through!

    By the way, having an anonymous email address to be able to talk about stuff like this online but also stay in contact others = very helpful and reassuring. While my family and my bishop and HT/VT know about my diagnoses and my issues, most people just don't need to.

    Last thought: you should look into the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and National Association for Mental Illness. Both have in-person and online support that are really really helpful; you should NOT go it alone just because you're far from family.

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  14. Demeter showed me this article on Tumblr. I don't think I can be as helpful as she is, as I've only recently been diagnosed bipolar AND baptized LDS. (I was finally diagnosed officially bipolar last spring after being in and out of therapy and trying different medications since I was twelve, and I've been a member of the church for just under a month.) But you should know that you're far from alone in this. Even if you're afraid to talk to your RS President (I… don't even know who mine is), maybe you could talk to your bishop. Mine has been fantastic, and he DEFINITELY doesn't think I'm crazy. Don't feel like you have to hide yourself from the people around you.

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  15. Yes, there are others like you. About 14 years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression, mild ongoing with several major episodes. Most of my siblings have been diagnosed with it as well, with bipolar and anxiety mixed in. I've done well to manage my depression and it has largely hidden for the last 10 years.

    Also like you, I just moved to a new place. There are a lot of thoughts about how you want to be perceived, trying to put your best foot forward because you want a positive start while also missing people and being lonely. At times like these I worry about the demon returning. I've had lonely times that scare the crap out of me, feeling that depression is just waiting on my doorstep.

    As I prayed about all of this a few weeks ago I had a strong answer to rebuff the dark hopeless feelings as soon as they appeared. To do anything- food, friends, service, calling my husband in the middle of the day, get out of the house, anything! – to keep that feeling at bay. It hasn't been easy, there was one day I had plans to stay in bed all day. Then I felt strongly that there was someone I should call. I eventually gave in, we got together and talked for hours. I came away with a new hope.

    I agree with what someone else said, take care of your basic needs, sleep, food, peaceful atmosphere, good conversation; then you'll be equipped to battle the beast.

    At those darkest times I don't feel the Spirit either. But I can remember the times that I have. I cling to those, knowing that even if I can't feel it at the moment, the truth is still the truth and God is still in his heaven carefully crafting salvation for me, his flawed daughter.

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  16. Sometimes I've wondered if I struggle with depression from time to time. I don't know. It is hard to know if how I feel is how others feel too or if what I am feeling is related to my circumstances in life or if I would still have these "psychological battles" if things were different in my life. I don't know. But I do know that (for me) the most difficult battles I fight are in my own mind. I was feeling really overwhelmed and "crazy" a few weeks ago–like there was so much demanded and wanted of me that I simply couldn't function. I finally prayed but I was so stretched that I didn't think I would be able to perceive an answer if the Lord sent me one right then so I told him that I knew I needed help but couldn't "hear" it now and would he please send it to me when I had calmed down? (I did this once before and I woke up in the middle of the night with the answer "written" in my mind.) Then I went to bed. The next morning I woke up and as I was lying there all calm, I "felt" the answer–as if the Lord were smiling as he gave it b/c he likes me–"If you ever feel that way again, read the scriptures and pray." I am grateful that he tailored his response to my [mental] needs.

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  17. Hi Jes. You are not alone. You are loved. There are lots of us out here who know at least a bit of what you are going through. I have felt the frustration and fear of dealing with a brain that feels out of control, of feeling like you will never feel the spirit again. I think you are amazing and brave to be so open. Across cyber space my heart is reaching out to you and sending prayers your way.

    I recently "came out" in my ward after living in a new place for 3 years. I wasn't ready to be open with my issues with mental illness until I felt like people knew me a bit. It feels good to be open finally. It has taken a lot of years and work on my part along with help from the Lord.

    My the Lord bless and protect you, even when you can't feel Him.

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  18. Amber, thank you so much for the hug and support.

    And Jessie, I'm so glad that you are such strength to your husband. It would be so easy to give up and run away when things get scary. It takes a lot to stay and keep loving.

    mel h, I wish you were my neighbor and I could help you along. I remember an especially dark time after my mission when I would kneel down every night and just tell Heavenly Father that I didn't feel like I could talk to Him anymore. At least that was something of a conversation. The darkness will end, it has to.

    m2theh, I'm so sorry. I know the feeling of swinging between paralyzing sadness and complete apathy. Sometimes just surviving makes you a hero.

    Laura, seems like our major depressive episodes coincided. maybe that's like being blood sisters or something. thank you for your kind words.

    And Grandma Honey (everyone should have a grandma honey!) if you want to really be immersed in a bipolar experience, read "The Unquiet Mind" by Kay Jamison.

    Thanks, Demeter. I knew there had to be a group of LDS people struggling with brain stuff somewhere. This is the first time I've ever met an LDS someone who is bipolar II. Hi! We should talk.

    Heather, another brave person to add to the list. I pray you will be blessed as you navigate your faith and your head.

    jendoop, I'm on my seventh move in the past eight years, so if you ever need to vent, let me know. And I agree with you, God is waiting and wishing all the time that He could hold you in His arms and make all of this go away.

    Blue, I know exactly how you feel. Really. And I think there is nothing more beautiful than writing out your prayers. He hears you. Even when you don't know what to say.

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  19. I went through one extremely scary episode of psychosis nearly a decade ago. It ended up that I was one of the 5-10% of people for whom a thyroid condition (easily managed once discovered) first manifests itself in craziness. It took me years after the physical healing to finally feel like I was healed spiritually and emotionally, and I still think back on those few weeks with terror and heartache.

    It's been nearly a decade for me with very good health, but still I know from that experience just how hard it can be when you can't trust your own brain. I feel for you and what you're going through.

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  20. Thank you, thank you for your beautiful, honest writing. You are extraordinarily likable in the way you express yourself, Jes, and I'll admit to spending an hour in bed this morning reading both your essays and the last year of your blog.

    I've come to know that demon depression all too well; I've loved reading the insights here, especially those on prayer.

    I believe you have done a great good in writing so openly. May you be blessed in all you do.

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  21. In my experience, there are an awful lot of people who deal with mental illness. I am one of them, and it can be very hard. You are not alone!

    I'm coming to feel that this is yet another example of the fact that we are simply fallen creatures. That alone to me helps me accept it all a little more and try to work with it and learn from it, rather than let it become a label that makes me want to put myself in some corner labeled 'broken' or 'different' or 'hopeless.' I think mental illness can leave us feeling on the outside of the 'normal' when in reality, we are all 'broken' simply by definition of our mortality. We all need help, and we all definitely need Christ's healing power.

    I loved what jendoop said about challenging the dark thought patterns and trusting the anchor moments and times when I've felt the Spirit. One of the things I appreciate about getting older is that I've had enough of those positive experiences to KNOW they are real, and it's given me more courage to challenge the traps my brain can get me in. (This, of course, can be hard because mental illness can cloud our ability to analyze and act…but I do think that it's often a skill we can develop. The brain is a bit like a muscle and we have to work it to retrain it.)

    In fact, I was just talking with some women about this today after church. I'm coming to believe that part of faith for me is learning to at least acknowledge when I'm 'stuck' — even if I don't know how to get un-stuck, I can at least realize that "this is not how the Spirit feels, this is not God's voice that is yelling in my head." And I can try to wait on God and try to do my part to invite another anchor moment. And you know what? They always come, even if sometimes not as soon as I want them to.

    So, I will reiterate again that you are not alone.

    p.s. I loved this: "I don’t want to be cast as the crazy woman before anyone even knows that I teach killer Relief Society lessons, have perfected the cheesecake, know quite a bit about the early church in Kirtland, and give a great series on writing personal history."

    But I still hope you will reach out for help. Although it's hard, I have found great strength in talking and realizing how many people — really amazing women, btw! — struggle with some form of mental illness.

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  22. I have my struggles, but I am raising a son who is bi polar. The diagnosis in children is contribersal and not widely accepted. we are deeply in the world of living with mental illness. I have no issues with it any more than I would with cancer. But I am not sure he would see it that way. We are very open with school folks, family and people who need to know for daily interaction. I am hoping because he is so young and this is something he will always know ( therapy and meds) he won't feel so bewildered and alone with this particular part of hid package. Thanks for your word. The moving thing is the hardest part. Routine tends to help my guy and you just don't get that fir any long amounts if time. Thanks fir sharing. Together our community can hopefully share the burden and lessen the stigma.

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  23. I have social anxiety and depression. Sometimes I feel numb, like I don't care about anything. Sometimes I hate myself so much that I can't function. Sometimes I'm really grunpy and sharp with everyone. Sometimes I don't want to pray because I feel like I'm bothering God. All I can do some days is keep going, trying to improve and cut myself some slack. Sometimes I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and sometimes I can only hope that the light will come soon.

    I believe it is genetic because so many others in my family have some of the same issues. When I was diagnosed I was so relieved to know that I wasn't just crazy. That there was actually something wrong that needed to be fixed. I talked to everyone in my family about it and some of them were able to get help also. We've talked about the medication we're on, therapy, and coping strategies. And we are all better informed because of the openness.

    Another reason why I like to tell other people about it is because of my children. Since I believe this sort of thing runs in our family, I want them to understand mental illnesses and how to help those who have them. I don't want to keep this in the closet. If they are having problems, I want them to talk to me about them, not shove them down inside like I did when I was young. So I show them that I am not embarassed to talk about it with other people.

    Now, I don't just throw it out there when I first meet people, but if it comes up in conversation I am not too shy to discuss it. There have also been occasions when I have told someone because I felt they needed to know my limitations or what might happen if I was pushed too far. My husband is a real help with this because sometimes he tells people for me. I've also mentioned it in sacrament meeting talks.

    I'm sure that most people don't understand or don't care, but the response is usually positive. There have been one or two who have come to me for advice and some that I have sought advice from. Those of us with mental illnesses are a very empathetic group.

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  24. Ana of the Nine Kids, just reading your handle gives me heart palpitations. 🙂 I've had many of the same questions as you: maybe I wouldn't feel this way if my husband wasn't in such a demanding residency, if the kids didn't have chronic ear infections, etc etc. For me the answer turned out to be that even though outside trouble may exacerbate my inward trouble, it doesn't create it.

    Thank you, Jennifer. I had a suspicion that saying a lot of this out loud would help me, and it has. It is so reassuring to hear so many people being so kind.

    Michelle L., thank you so much for the lovely compliment. I don't think there are better words for a writer to hear.

    Michelle, I think I've spent a lot of time pretending that things are going to magically get better – that all of this will go away. As time goes on, however, I think it becomes more apparent that it is what you say, a world full of broken things, including ourselves. I am looking forward to becoming whole. I can't think of a bliss more complete than finally being at peace with my mind.

    handsfullmom, thank you for telling me about your little brush with psychosis. during a particularly crazy time, i remember praying that i could just be depressed. depression seemed so normal and safe compared to what was happening. i hope it never comes to visit you again.

    Bek, thank you for being so understanding and supportive of your son. my life would have been completely different if i had gotten the help that i needed earlier on. i can't say i regret not having help because struggling through those experiences really formed my character, but i wouldn't have refused help if it had come.

    Tay, i haven't looked at statistics in a long time. i didn't know the rates were so high!

    Jennifer, i'm so glad you have the support of family around you. i have a really understanding family too and that is what pulls me through the bad times. and i think it is true that those with mental illness are some of the most compassionate, empathetic, deep-feeling people there are.

    i should add too, as a postscript, that i've been on a med combination for about six weeks now that, as my psychiatrist said "knock on wood", has completely changed my life. i do the dishes and it's no big deal. i do the laundry and it's no big deal. i am reveling in a time of peace after nearly five years of constant unrest. thank you for all your love.

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  25. Thank you for writing this. I have a former beehive advisor who is now a dear friend, be diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. It has been such a painful thing to watch her and her family go through so many difficulties because of it. Thankfully for the last 15 years she has been on medication that has quite literally changed her life. She is grateful that she has this medication because she knows her life would be drastically different without it. She knows she cannot bless her life and those of the ones she loves without the medication. After being in denial for a while she has accepted the fact that she has a mental illness. She has continued to be a source of strength and inspiration for me. I will always love her and I too am thankful for the medication.

    Please continue taking your medication and please continue to talk about your disorder. The more people know the more that the myths will be dispelled. May the Lord continue to bless you.

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  26. I guess you don't need to hear from someone else that you aren't alone, but I will say it anyway. My wife suffered from PTSD as the result of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse starting when she was around 3. Among the other conditions that accompanied PTSD were depression and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID–used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder). For several years we thought she was safe disclosing the DID, until she had a severe episode and people we had trusted thought she was faking. We eventually had to move.
    As a result of the previous experience, she didn't even tell her closest friends in our new town about the DID. She told the bishop and that was pretty much it. She was afraid that things would go bad again and that her new friends would abandon her like the old friends had.

    Because DID is so unusual, there are even medical practitioners who don't believe in it. As a result, she was misdiagnosed for years, and treated for symptoms she didn't have, but what the doctors believed she had. I feel terrible that she had to go through some of the things those misguided doctors did to her. Be grateful that you've been diagnosed, because you can't really treat something unless and until you've got the right diagnosis.

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  27. You are anything but alone (which has obviously been evidenced by the list of comments!) I feel very much the same way as you. I have anxiety, and some days I wonder if I might actually have depression. I don't have children yet. The only thing I want in the world is to be a mother, but part of me is terrified I will be completely mentally incapable. I feel like that would break me almost beyond repair. But yes, I cling to faith. I pray for guidance and for understanding. I pray for the ability to be obedient and to take care of my body and mind like I know I need to. I pray for the ability to endure, and I optimistically look forward to the day when my body AND mind are perfected and I can walk side-by-side with the Savior in peace. That day will come for you, too.

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  28. I have PTSD, clinical depression, and generalized anxiety disorder. Did I also mention that I have a son with developmental delays and that I'm a pastor's wife? I swear that God has a sense of humor!

    I've found that it does take some time to find a medication that works. It took two tries to get me on one (and at a dose) that works for me and it was really bad when I first found out that I was pregnant and they tried weaning me off. I almost ended up on a psych ward and thankfully my doctor knew what was up and found a high-risk doctor to work with on how to deal with it. (They ended up putting me back on it and tapering me down a little bit to the lowest therapeutically beneficial dose.) Overall, I've found that as long as I'm eating/sleeping/taking my meds, any depression or anxiety will pass after a day or so.

    I also find that making to-do lists for myself on my laptop is a way of helping myself trust my brain. It also doesn't hurt that my mom is a project manager and is more than willing to help me figure my life out over the phone.

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  29. I'm not you. I don't have your diagnosis. But I do deal with my own bouts of depression (thank you, freakin' PMS) that leave me knowing I should have been on medication through it.
    I have no answers for you, but wanted to add my voice to yours, because I feel there is strength and comfort in communion of experience.

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  30. We are almost 18 months into our quest for the right medsfor our boy. It can be a long process. the last tweak we made has been very interesting. Instead of having a kid who is cloudy and worried and angry all the time, I see happiness. The negative self talk is tapering. He sings at the top of his lungs. He doesn't act like life is such a misery. At the age of 6, he is already a pro at self harm and has shown unlimited capacity to love his sisters but always started prayers with " dear HF, please bless our while family, except for me". Six!!! This week I heard " bless our whole family, including me". Che my heart breaking. Anyway, I pray we will continue to find a combo that works for him and dread the tines when meds stop working. I hope that someday soon, there will be more stigma about meds ( we do t feel that way in our family at this point) I don't get why it exists. Life can be hard but shouldn't be a misery. I could kiss out doctor for helping my son figure out how to find joy in his world.

    More advocating. More words. More teaching. Our burden and privilege is to educate those who know us. That is how we change attitudes.

    Thanks for all the stories shared. It helps me be hopeful about my sons future.

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  31. Jes,
    While not mentally ill myself, I have been married for 33 years to a wonderful, artistic and caring man who happens to have schizophrenia and depression. Of our three children, one has schizoaffective disorder, one has bipolar disorder, and one has mild depression. My oldest daughter by a previous marriage has epilepsy and depression. Through all of the downs and ups of dealing with loved ones who truly have little control over their thoughts and actions when their illnesses overcome them, I have leaned on the Lord for understanding and strength. His blessings to me and my family of strength, comfort and insight have been manifested time and time again.
    When I read your blog, my first thought was a scripture from Esther: "…and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" The incredibly difficult challenges you and many others face are part and parcel with living on a fallen and mortal plane, but I know our Father has a much greater plan in mind than we can ever conceive of. Your willingness to continue striving for mastery of your mortal weaknesses, and your opening up to others on such a public forum is engaging in His work of teaching, blessing and caring for His children. You, and each of those posting here, are making the world a better and more understanding place. May the Lord continue to bless you, until we all stand before Him and He says to us "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."

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  32. Paula, it's good to hear that you're being such an understanding and constant friend for your beehive advisor. I think one of the fears that rolls around in my mind is that people won't trust me once they know that I have trouble with my mental health, so it makes me love stories of unconditional friendship.

    CS Eric, I have to disagree on one point. The more voices we have together, the more we realize our own strength. The more we can draw on the commonality of experience to climb our own mountains. And tell your wife that I would be her friend.

    Hannah, my heart breaks for you. But I believe that motherhood can be your blessing — you are one step ahead of the game because you have an understanding of your own limits, and i'm guessing here, but it sounds like you're getting help. We are all broken in some way and that doesn't mean we're denied the joy of being a family. (It does make it a little harder sometimes.)

    Beth, freakin' PMS indeed.

    Bek, you and your family are in my prayers. It took over two years (two hellish and terrifying years) to find a combination of meds that seems to be working. (I'm still holding my breath.) Keep trusting that your son is inside somewhere and I promise that one day he'll walk into the sunshine with the rest of you.

    Chibby, let's hear for bipolar II. I think we're the most interesting people, anyway. 🙂

    Rita, thank you so much for your comment. It made me cry. I was really hesitant to see this little piece go out to the world but the generosity of all of your comments have overwhelmed me. I wish that there was more helpful, healing, supportive talk for those in our community who suffer from mental illness. Maybe I can be a little bit braver after today and talk a little bit more. Your children are blessed to have such a sensitive and perceptive mother.

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  33. God Bless You All. I am a very publicly open LDS man with a family history replete with mental health issues who has suffered and been successfully treated for depression for almost 20 years. In that time I have served as Bishop, Stake President, Missionary and Patriarch. With every calling I am amazed that Father could/would choose/use one such as I, so I have used these platforms to try to educate, comfort, understand, and bless others. Only once have I felt misjudged by anyone. I feel sorry for him and hope he never has to experience mental illness in order to understand it. I am medicated for diabetes, heart disease, thyroid, blood pressure, bladder, depression, and a male problem. It's all part of my health package; what's the difference? Thank God for modern medicine and His many other tender mercies.

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  34. Wow, there are so many comments here and it is encouraging to see this discussion.
    Just so you know, my Mom is bipolar and she is the best Grandma that could ever be. She teaches school to second graders with fun fervor and love. She wishes she could cry, she has regular blood tests to have her lithium levels checked, but other than that- she leads a life that is full and seemingly unaffected by her illness, most days. Love her so much and think she is brave and amazing for carrying on. You are too!!!

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  35. I love this discussion! I read a previous series on depression here on Segullah right when I was diagnosed and it was so helpful!
    I have been treated for depression (that could be bipolar) on and off for years. I get manic when I am on too high of a dose of antidepressants.
    For the comments regarding life circumstances vs. brain disorder- I lean toward both. In high school mine was definately a brain disorder almost exclusively. As an adult, I had my step-father and grandpa die within 1 week of me giving birth after I had spent my whole pregnancy caring for my stepdad. I had a social worker in my room every hour telling me I needed help because I was "high risk for postpartum depression". I wish I would have just started on some kind of meds to curb the eventual crash (uncontrollable crying) that did happen due to not processing my grief. My second bout with depression (I was just plain mean and SO negative and uncaring!) was when we were building our house, had snakes infesting our rental and family stress was at a high. So, in short, for me- it is definately both but there is just something more than "average" sadness or stress!
    I hope and pray my family isn't upset/worried/scared that I am expecting again. I on the other hand, am scared to death of what may happen in my mind postpartum! Luckily, I will be on meds throughout my pregnancy and I have much more support regarding my depression.
    Thanks for the support!

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