Monday, March 31, 2008

What to Do When You're Depressed

I'll put the disclaimer first so as not to get anyone's feathers ruffled. I'm not trying to tell everyone that my thoughts on depression are the only way to go. I'm sharing what helped me. There are so many different types and stages of depression. There is no one answer. But the answers I found are not common, which is why I wanted to share them. Chances are there is someone else out there who will read this and find tools they need to overcome this challenge.

1) Go to your bishop. I put this first as opposed to "seek professional help" because professional help is expensive. Even LDS Family Services is $70 per hour. If you or your spouse is working, there is a chance the company might have free counseling for employees and their family members. If not, however, the church is there to help. If you are the independent sort, you might feel a repugnance towards taking the Church's charity. But this is part of what Fast Offerings are for. If you are a full tithe payer, especially, feel no reluctance to use this resource should the bishop suggest it. You can always repay it in increased fast offerings over a longer, more manageable period of time.

I know how hard it may be to approach your bishop. Do it anyways. When you are going through this challenge, you aren't thinking straight. You need someone with perspective to help you. Even if your bishop isn't easy to talk to or there are other issues that keep you from going to him, go anyways. Don't think about it, just take a deep breath and go. No one will be able to help you if you don't go to them.

2) Find a friend if you can. Counselors are great, but if you can find a trustworthy, real-life friend, you can begin to build a real relationship of trust with someone. Be cautious, though. You want to make sure the person you find is wise and forgiving and won't broadcast your problems to anyone else. In a future post, I'll discuss how WE can BE that friend. If you can't find a friend, write in a journal. It's not for posterity, it is for you.

3) Pour over the scriptures. It sounds trite and seminary-answerish, but when you go beyond simple reading and seek, the Spirit will come into your heart and will heal you over time. There is no quick-fix answer for what you are going through, but the Spirit will help you speed up the process a little. Find a quiet place, even if it's for only five minutes. Read slowly and thoughtfully, even if it's just one verse. It makes more difference than you think. There is no substitute for reading actual scriptures. The Ensign is fine for what it is, but it (with the possible exception of the First Presidency/Apostle messages) is not the same, in my experience. From what I have found, there is something about the poetry of ancient, time-ripened words that can resonate more deeply.

4) Discuss options with your counselor. Venting is sometimes useful and usually necessary, but make sure you also pin your counselor down to a real course of action. This can do wonders in taking control of your life. When you have a plan and know what the goals are, you can work for them. If part of that plan includes medication, get a second opinion. I know the current vogue is to accept medication for depression, but each medication has its own set of side effects, many of which are often not understood. If you are to take medication, do your research. Know what to expect. Don't just let your counselor prescribe you something without knowing what it can do to you. Some of those side effects are pretty alarming. You need to know what to watch out for. Don't be afraid to ask for a prescription change. Make sure that medication is accompanied by a plan to get off of it, or if that is impossible, know why you will never be able to get off of it. Make sure it's for good reasons. It's your body and your mind. You need to understand what is going on.

5) Reinforce boundaries. Sit down and evaluate your life. Often depression can stem from (or at least comes hand-in-hand with) a feeling of inability to cope with the world. Decide what you will allow from other people and what you will not. Figure out what is most important to you and what can wait. This is another step in taking control of your life. Work out these boundaries with a trusted friend, a bishop and/or your counselor.

6) Create a catch phrase. Whenever the voices in your head start telling you how worthless you are, be prepared with a phrase or a line of hymn to combat it. "Yes, I know Heavenly Father loves me." "I am a good listener." "God is faithful, who will . . . make a way to escape." "God will make weak things become strong to me." "I am a child of God."

It doesn't really matter what the line is, so long as it is positive to combat the negative and easy to remember. Then, when you catch yourself having negative or empty feelings, you have something to fight it, something to fill it. If it gets really bad, it can help to repeat it to your reflection in the mirror. When you look yourself in the eyes, you can sometimes be shown the spark of your own divinity.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why Depression Strikes

Due to the new "Happy Valley" documentary-type movie coming out, there has been a wash of talk about depression and Utah Mormonism. I know that not all with depression are the same, but I've gone through bouts of dark feelings myself. I've found that depression comes from one main source: an inability to cope with the world and the feeling that there is nowhere to go for help.

In my experience, there are several possible contributing factors and several possible solutions. One contributing factor is that "depression" is a buzzword. Most people don't understand it. Depression is not being sad. Depression is being disproportionally sad in either length, depth or frequency. Unfortunately, that is a bit subjective as different people cope with things differently. In my experience, however, even when I'm sad, I can ask myself if an event or circumstance is truly causing my sorrow, or if the sorrow is coming from a more nebulous source and is crossing the boundaries of normal.

Another contributing factor is perfectionism. This is where Utah culture might come into play. When expectations are set far beyond possibility, it needs to be counterweighted with a healthy understanding of one's own humanity and mortality. The gospel emphasizes both the divinity and nothingness of mankind. Reliance on the Savior reconciles this apparent dichotomy. Unfortunately, while the divinity of mankind is easy to understand (leading to pride in the extreme), and the nothingness of man is easy to understand (leading to depression in the extreme), it is incredibly difficult to truly understand the Atonement. Therefore, many people get left in either extreme. Since pride is more obviously denounced in the scriptures, usually people are left in depression.

Sometimes in order to gain proper perspective, we need another person's viewpoint. This leads us to another major contributor: society's increasing hindrance of meaningful interpersonal bonds due to the glorification of the Self. Therefore, although the first and most obvious solution is to find help, most of us are uncomfortable with depression and don't have the necessary interpersonal bonds to listen to someone who needs us.

My experience with depression is necessarily one-sided, so I'd appreciate any thoughts on what else might contribute to depression. (I'd prefer thoughts that deal with social mores and/or paradigms, not specific institutions or groups. I plan to deal with that later.)

In my next post, I want to explore depression in order to find a few ways to become someone who can help, as well as touch on other ways to overcome depression (such as an increased understanding of the Atonement).

By the way - Happy Valley actually rests in Oregon.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Blog Comments - Not Worth the Trouble

When I first began exploring this strange new world of LDS blogging, I almost never commented on other blogs, preferring to get the lay of the land. I became excited about the prospect of intelligently and respectfully discussing topics which bothered me, or which I had thought a lot about, or which were entirely new to me. Then I started commenting profusely, whenever a topic interested me.

After time, I realized that blogs do not necessarily represent an opportunity for intelligent and respectful discussion and that they more often resembled verbal food fights. I never did like food fights. Realizing that what I say makes little real difference, I stopped commenting altogether for a time. After some prayer and pondering, I felt guided to continue to comment despite the frequent disappointment in doing so, but to comment more judiciously.

Now, I use the Spirit as a measuring stick. I try to never comment without first asking the Lord if I should. If I can't comment with feelings of the Spirit in my heart, I pass on the chance, no matter how interesting the topic seems to me. I've found that this makes commenting a far more pleasant experience for me. Though I read many posts cross-sectioned from many blogs, I rarely comment. Sometimes I don't comment because I don't feel I could add anything to the conversation. Sometimes I don't comment because I'm not yet sure how I feel about a topic. Sometimes I don't comment because I don't think it will do any good. There is no point sharing an opinion that will only offend people without any hope for positive influence on them or on myself. Sometimes I don't comment because of the blog the post is in, and the history of commenting dynamics I have observed on that blog.

So, what inspires you to comment? What keeps you from commenting? Why do you blog/comment on blogs in the first place? When you comment, do you have any rules for yourself?

What Exactly is the Feminist Ideal?

I'm thoroughly confused. One one hand, we have an expressed desire for no gender in the world and on the other, we have an agenda to push gendered language. What exactly is the feminist/liberal's true ideal? This is one I'm having trouble understanding without some help.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Preach Principles, Live Love

Realizing I'd never tagged my posts, I went through them yesterday and tagged them all. I realized that many of my posts might seem rather preachy and that most of them deal with the seeming tension between faith and knowledge. There is a reason for this.

I'm beginning to realize that I'm a rather odd sort in that most of my life has been lived under extreme self-criticism. Although some of this criticism has been destructive (hence some of my sadness in the past), much of it has been beneficial in the sense that I am constantly examining my actions, trying to understand my motives and how my behavior might affect others, and then trying to figure out how to increasingly follow Christ and to make others happier. Sometimes, in doing this, I go through periods of pain and exhaustion when I just don't have the energy to keep trying so hard. I often find myself envying others who seem to be free to live their lives without the burden of constantly analyzing themselves, wondering what they are doing wrong and if they may have hurt someone's feelings. But in this process, I have changed so dramatically and found so much more joy and awareness that I long to share it. Even if it makes me seem foolish to most of those who read my words or listen to me, if I can inspire one person to try a little harder and to trust God a little more, it's worth appearing foolish. That isn't to say that it doesn't hurt when people make fun at my expense, but it is a price I've consciously assumed.

What comes of all this is an excitement for those principles I have learned which help me find peace. Specifically, finding a place between faith and my insatiable curiosity to know has come to the forefront time and time again.

I'm not a naturally obedient person (just ask my parents). I'm the sort that always has questions and is not afraid to ask them, ad nauseam (just ask my teachers). I spent years struggling with certain aspects of the gospel, struggling to overcome an almost genetic anger, struggling to preserve my uniqueness when surrounded by others wanting me to be the same, struggling to form real friendships when I had no faith in friendship and no time to try. I have spent years hating the concept of being "nothing more" than a mother staying at home and raising snot-nosed, graham-cracker-and-urine-smelling children. I am still struggling with postponing my own further education (I love school!) at the expense of furthering my husband's, though he isn't terribly excited about school himself. I served a mission when I didn't feel I had to—even the Spirit told me it was entirely up to me. I went through a few years of exploring other religions and faiths, trying to discover which was true. None of this is to brag, but just to show that I discuss the things I do because they are difficult for me, and I hope to share what I've learned with those who also find it difficult.

As I have slowly uncovered the truest principles of the Gospel in actuality and not only in name, I have changed in ways I wish I could describe. When I talk about faith and obedience, it is not in an attempt to condemn but to inspire. However, as important as obedience to the Lord and His Prophets is, charity towards God's children is the most important.

Here, I try to discuss the principles of what I have learned and found true. But when I'm done typing about what should be done to unify with the divine, it is vital that I leave the keyboard behind and live charity. I must try to apply the principles to myself while allowing others to do so in their own way and time. I am sorry if I have made anyone feel judged and condemned in writing out my quest for knowledge and understanding. It is far from what I wish to do. Faith, hope and charity are all necessary for salvation, but the greatest is charity.

I hope I never forget that.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ye Whited Sepulchres

Increasingly, I have heard those who are careful with the details of obedience referred to as Pharisaical, particularly when the speaker believes an item of obedience to be pointless (such as the skirt-wearing which I previously discussed). I've realized, in thinking about this, that the sin of the Pharisees was twofold and that neither aspect of their particular sin was their careful obedience. Most interesting to me, it is those sins that allowed them to be only nation that would crucify their God.

The first aspect of their sin is they created law which transgressed the law of God and then expected everyone else to live it. Multiple times in the New Testament, they watch for Jesus and His disciples to transgress the man-made law in order to deem them sinners. Take-away message 1) if you choose to follow a stricter law than that which the prophets have set forth, do not insist that all others follow that same law.

The second aspect is that they then used their created laws as a substitute for true righteousness and judged themselves more righteous than their neighbors. Judgment belongs to God. Take-away lesson 2) worry about your own righteousness, not others'. (Though that isn't to say not to preach God's principles, just not to judge application of those principles to another person unless God has specifically called you to do so.) Also, as important as it is to be obedient, obedience alone does not qualify a person for righteousness. Obedience should be a natural outgrowth of charity. Charity encompasses the weightier matters of the law Christ referenced. Take-away lesson 3) obey in love, not in resentment.

Obedience without that charity is empty. When a person is truly devoted to the Lord, they will long to obey the words of His servants, no matter how trivial they may seem at first. They will seek for things they can do to demonstrate their compassion and to purify their souls. As they strive for obedience, they will find the Spirit cleansing them and making them white, both inside and out. Not all who are white are whited sepulchres.

So, to those who love to accuse the carefully obedient of being Pharisees, I challenge you to find in your heart that charity and understanding for which you so constantly beg. You cannot see another person's heart. You cannot possibly know if they are truly whited sepulchres or if they are pure in heart, and woe unto you should you judge wrongly.

The only way to gain understanding and to judge righteously is to obey the voice of God's servants, no matter how tough it is to do so. Obedience is not easy, but it is a harsh and beautiful process. Through obedience, we are purified. Once purified, the windows of heaven open and we can finally understand. The Lord does not make excuses for His commandments, but He blesses those who obey.

"What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What is Eternal about a Skirt?

In the course of a conversation over at FMH, (something I've avoided for quite some time, but for some reason chose to engage in again for once,) I've come to some conclusions I thought worth gathering into a post here.

For some of us, wearing a skirt to Church is a sign of humility and devotion and there is nothing wrong with that. If the woman wearing a skirt wears it to show respect and humility, then that is what it means. Although some argue that a skirt is a sign of oppression, a skirt degrades a woman only if she believes it to do so.

You can’t say that a symbol means a specific thing and then deny a person’s ability to say it means something else to them. Isn’t that at least part of what feminism is supposed to be about, defining our own symbols and what they mean rather than letting others define our symbols for us?

The skirt is only a symbol of repression because a person chooses to see it as such. The idea of wearing a skirt or dress is not a sign of humility and devotion only to the woman in question. The Church asks us to wear skirts and dresses to show respect. There are also groups of people who say that skirts and dresses are signs of repression. Therefore, there are two entities with two very different symbolic meanings behind the dress. You cannot intelligently take one person's meaning and apply it ham-handedly to another person's symbol and say that A must mean B's interpretation. It would be like saying that the symbol of stars on the temple is a sign of devil worship. That is not why the stars were placed on the temple. That is not what they mean.

Some women choose to accept a skirt and/or dress because the Church leadership has asked us to do so as a sign of respect to the Lord and His house. You cannot assume that means repression if it does not mean repression to that woman, just like you cannot automatically assume that a woman who does not choose to follow that request is doing so out of defiance.

To answer the question in the title:
There may be nothing eternal about the physical skirt itself, yet there is everything eternal about the decision whether or not to wear one to church or to the temple. That decision is between you and God. Either way, no one else can accurately judge your, personal, reasons for your choice. (Although there will be people who try. The mature thing to do is to realize that and not worry about it. That is between them and God, ultimately.)

In the path of discipleship, Christ often asked people to sacrifice something. He did not ask everyone to sacrifice all their possessions, but He asked it of the young man. Why? It is because the young man's riches were important to him.

45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

THAT is what is required of discipleship. That is required when making any decision like this. For me, I am seeking salvation. Now that I have found the way of salvation, I will gladly sell all that I have: my own feelings of comfort, my own sense of understanding, my pride and my pain for it. To me, wearing a skirt might seem uncomfortable and silly, but it is worth membership in that Church with the true Gospel of Christ.

And isn't a sacrifice that pinches a more poignant symbol of devotion? To the woman who finds a skirt comfortable and would wear a skirt anyway, the sacrifice is a meaningless one. But, to a woman who feels it is a sign of humiliation or degradation, being willing to wear a skirt on the word of a fallible (male) human, simply because the Lord Christ has shown His support of that human as His mouthpiece, is a beautiful and powerful testament to her willingness to humble herself before God and do all that He asks. And, as those and similar small offerings of sacrifice, humility and devotion are made, the soul of that woman is changed in ways she had never dreamed. Her sacrifice becomes strength, her questions about her worth in the eyes of the Lord and His servants become answers and she truly learns what it means to be His daughter and what it means to be a woman. She learns that no mere skirt can lower her into the dust, for God Himself has made her His Glory.

That is what is eternal about a skirt.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Finally! - Mormon Women

With so much opportunity to share their voices, many LDS women find it hard to know where to start. Now there is a great place to unite in faith, even if your web skills are not the best., sponsored by the More Good Foundation, is (to me) an exciting though fledgling discovery.

Almost entirely unique in the LDS 'Net world, Mormon Women seeks to unite the voices of faithful Latter-day Saint women in showing who we really are. The site is inspired by recent counsel from LDS leaders to "unite and speak with one voice," to be "strong and immovable" and to make our presence known on the internet. There is enough complaining. There are enough voices telling us how we should feel and who we are. It is time for us to take the reins and show who we are as women and as daughters of God.

So, get out there and tell 'em who we are, ladies!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Beautiful Post

I don't often shout out other posts, but this one by Eve at Zelophehad's Daughters is pure beauty, and it correlates with my last post. She always has such a soft way with words.

Thank you, Eve!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Faith is a Choice

I came across an interesting post the other day. Although it may sound "smug" and "uncharitable" as one commenter says, the meaning behind the post is quite true. Far too often, we try to lay the responsibility for our behavior at some other feet, whether it be nature or nurture, the actions of others, the stances of the Gospel, or raw circumstance. When we attempt to label a "cause" of our loss of faith, we rob ourselves of one of our most precious attributes: our agency.

Agency is about more than choice, it is also about responsibility. We cannot have one without the other. It is true that genetics or environment may include a host of factors we cannot control that influence our personalities and decisions, but there is always a core of something more. That is what makes us children of God. That something is the kernel of divinity within each of us.

Yes, in the end everything we do is a choice, even faith. It may not be an easy choice. It may ask us to fly for a time in the face of contradicting evidence. We may have to temporarily suspend our logic in favor of our intuition. That is why it's called a leap of faith.

While those who have decided to abandon their faith may point derisively at the naivety of those of us who, in the end, choose to believe, any who have walked for a time in the darkness and found the incredible joy and light on the other side know. You cannot find that knowledge without first acting on faith. It is not a scientific knowledge, or one that would be admissible in a court, but it is a valid knowledge, and one that brings more enlightenment than imaginable.

That is not to say that, once gained, such knowledge will never again be tested. Once a child of God has gone through a short span of darkness, another time of testing will always come up again. Each time, reliance on the Lord is deepened, faith is expanded, and pride increasingly morphs into humility. The "faith club" is not one of superiority nor one of exclusivity. All are invited, and all within are motivated by love and the Spirit to share.

The other side of doubt is beautiful. It takes faith to get there. Faith is a gift of the Spirit, but it must be desired and worked for to be received. Rather than spend all your time chasing your tail, trying to find the cause of a loss of faith, look for reasons to just believe.

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