Jones’s post a while back about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel really resonated with me. In fact, I wrote a whole guest post about how I had decided that I need to choose happiness now while my husband is in school for the foreseeable future (up to 10 years), and talked about the specific efforts I am making in that regard. But I didn’t like it. And as I thought about it for the next few days, I realized that there was one particular underlying skill that I have developed in the last couple of years that has contributed much more to my happiness.
My family has a history of depression and anxiety, and I recognize a lot of those family traits and tendencies in myself. I wouldn’t say that I have been truly depressed with the exception of some post-partum depression after my first baby, but I definitely go through down spurts. I usually know it happens when I realize that I have been uncharacteristically irritable or angry for an extended period, or my husband comments that he has noticed that I have been happy lately (in other words, I recently was not so happy). The most important thing I have learned through counseling with my husband, my mom, and the Lord is that my thoughts, and even many of my feelings, are not facts about me.
On any given day, I will have innumerable thoughts. A great many of them will be things like, “I am not good enough,” or “I can’t do something like other people can,” or “I am not lovable for this reason or that,” or “I wish my life were this way or some other way,” or “This thing that someone else does makes me unhappy.” I usually try to brush them off, but on occasion I find myself drowning in them. What I have learned is that I can step back, externalize my thoughts, evaluate them for their merit, veracity, and whether they reflect my true feelings, and then categorize them as worthy of development or dismissal. Sometimes (not always) I can pin down when the thoughts began—last night they began when I wasted an hour on the internet and put off doing a huge pile of dishes, knowing that I would have to stay up late to do them even when I was already exhausted. After having my first baby, they began while we were essentially quarantined to our apartment on doctor’s orders for months on end so that the little one wouldn’t get sick between surgeries. Then I realize that the thoughts are not truths about me, but rather symptoms of something else that I can address.
Perhaps more valuable was learning that acknowledging that I am depressed is not a shameful, binding thing. It is a wonderful, freeing thing! If I can recognize that I am down or depressed while it is happening, it is like a weight is lifted off of my shoulders; I am not a horrible, faithless, irritable, moody person. My feelings are not defining facts about me. I am me, feeling something that most people deal with at some point or other in their life, and I can externalize it, address it, and take action against it (things I have found that help me specifically are getting outside and being social even when I really don’t feel like it). The fog doesn’t necessarily immediately, but it is much more bearable when I can see it for what it is. Here’s a quote from an old Boyd K. Packer address that I rather enjoyed:
“It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal.
“Teach our members that if they have a good, miserable day once in a while, or several in a row, to stand steady and face them. Things will straighten out.”
The phrase “a good, miserable day” makes me smile. Being anxious or depressed, and even being a failure are normal parts of life! They do not define me, they refine me.
Now, of course, a disclaimer: note that Elder Packer spoke of some depression, etc. If you are chronically depressed and having a hard time fighting it off, and especially if you ever have thoughts of hurting yourself or anyone else, get help! Part of self-reliance is knowing when and where you should appropriately seek relief. Like I said, acknowledging is freeing in part because you can take action, and often that means getting outside help.
Even if you really don’t get depressed, I think these are helpful life skills (“I am not my sleep-deprivation-induced crabbiness!” “I am not my PMS/pregnancy hormones!”). They are essentially a way of stepping back and remembering my true identity, purpose, and reason for being here (a child of God, to have joy, and to prove myself faithful through trial, respectively. President Monson’s conference talk this month is a good reminder of those basic truths.). Mostly I hope that this might strike a chord with others, since dealing with moodiness or depression isn’t something we talk about on our blogs or brag about to our friends. And what I know more than anything else is that God sees us, knows us, and loves us more than we will ever realize.