Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Another thought on Depression and the Spirit

If you suddenly had a profound but temporary deafness, and your hearing came back slowly, it seems reasonable that you would first hear the strong, loud, brash noises, and would slowly progress to hearing the soft, quiet voices, right?

I wonder if the experience is the same with when a person finally starts to heal from a profound depression.  I have heard often that anger comes back first. Anger is a loud, brash, strong emotion.

 It seems like if you lost all ability to feel emotionally, you would be angry anyway. So while you were trying to heal, if the strong, brash emotions came back first, it would be pretty intense to have anger come back first.

And then, I suppose, it would be reasonable to assume that the healing process would involve re-learning to comprehend what you were feeling, and also what to do about that, how to respond. And, it seems reasonable that the still small emotions associated with the Spirit would be among the last to be felt, and you'd have to re-learn how to recognize them and what to do about that.

Just like any recovery from a catastrophic injury, it makes sense to let it happen slowly and foster the growth and recovery. But you wouldn't expect someone who had to re-learn walking after an accident to skip from bed to professional ballet dancing, and we shouldn't expect someone recovering from a catastrophic mental illness to jump from nothing to all the finest, most elusive details all at once, either.

Thoughts about Depression and Prayer

So I watched that movie about depression the church just released (and cried through the whole thing), and then later today read Hilary Pope Erickson’s blog here: http://www.pullingcurls.com/2015/11/how-to-find-hope.html. She’s an old friend from Timpview and Tim’s ward growing up, and her family has struggled with her husband being a band guy and being inspired to quit his job in a neighborhood she loved to get a Master’s degree in music, and his job cutting his hours to half, and they’re living where she doesn’t like living, and now he’s completely unemployed and they’re living off her blog income and odd jobs, and that’s not really enough...and he finally got an interview for a job she really, really wanted him to have, back in her home town, and he didn’t get the job. And she was devastated, having begged Heavenly Father to not let her get her heart set on something she couldn’t have because it’s too painful, and she immediately sank into a crushing depression, but didn’t identify it as that. She identified it as being dead inside. Which is what depression is. But here’s the interesting thing--she talked about praying and getting nothing, when she felt like she had been getting answers before, and about being angry at God and yelling at him and then apologizing and still getting nothing. She found solace in hoping for hope. That’s a neat little trick there, and effective.

But the not hearing God anymore thing really struck me. Third time I’ve heard that same story from depressed people. No, fourth--first time was on my mission when I realized you had to have hope to have faith and so depression makes faith nearly impossible. Once from Tim, once from Hilary, and once from a lady who wrote an article that was published in the Ensign (here: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/02/depression?lang=eng). All the same story.

So I had a lot of thoughts about this all evening.

Here are my theories: Depression makes us deaf to emotion, so we can’t feel it ourselves or hear it in others.

We are trained our whole lives to “feel the Spirit” and so when Depression strikes, and we become deaf to feeling, we can no longer feel the Spirit either, and can’t feel God speaking to us. So then we think He’s not.

But what if He still is and we just can’t hear it anymore? 

I had this idea on my mission (or just after): What if the Holy Ghost speaks to our individual spirits, and they understand each other, but the words and sentences don’t reach through our mortal limitations, and so the result is we feel the emotions evoked by the message without actually hearing the message itself because of the limitations of our mortal brains and bodies. We learn to identify the feeling, the vague impressions, the snippets of ideas as "the Spirit" because that's all we actually consciously experience. But what if there is more to it than that? What if the "feeling" the Spirit experience is actually the side effect of the interaction the same way feeling happy after getting good news is not the actual experience, but just a little piece of it?

I have no idea if that is what is actually happening, but if the feeling part of the experience associated with communicating with God is the only way we learn to “hear” that God is speaking to us at all, and that is taken away, we would think He is not speaking anymore and He must hate us or something. The familiar tag that says, "God spoke to me and I should take it seriously" is just plain missing, and we feel Nothing, so we assume that, therefore, God has shut up His mouth and doesn't want anything to do with us anymore.

But what if He is still speaking to us? What if He keeps talking and answering same as usual and we just don’t know it? What if He does go about intervening in life, and giving us instructions, and leading us down the right paths, and we just lack the familiar experience of hearing? What if our spirits can hear even if our bodies can’t, and so the message just doesn’t get through consciously, and we are left unaware that an experience even happened?

I have watched Tim for three years now following promptings of the Spirit without knowing he was doing it, completely unable to recognize the promptings consciously because the feeling was gone. All feeling was gone. I marveled that God was speaking to Tim “in stealth” so that Tim didn’t even know (but, to his credit, he obeyed anyway, perhaps because somehow his years of training in knowing God's voice still worked, even if his brain and body couldn’t hear.)

It reminds me of Benji learning to read. For a long time, if I said, "Please read this to me," he couldn't do it. But if I was reading something, he would stand over my shoulder and say nothing and then suddenly ask questions about the text I was reading, even though I hadn't said anything either. He couldn't read if he tried to read. He couldn't understand that he could read. BUT...if he didn't know he was doing it, he could read just fine. 

If Tim didn't know he was hearing God, he could do it just fine. But under the pressure to feel an answer in prayer, he got nothing. He couldn't do it. Just like Benji trying to read.

If it were the case that God kept talking but we lacked the ability to hear, wouldn’t that change the way we prayed? Instead of yelling at God and being angry and then feeling abandoned and stopping praying, perhaps we would ask instead to recognize how God was speaking to us now, now that things were different--you know, like asking someone to speak to you in sign language because your ears no longer worked. You'd have to learn sign language, too, but perhaps that's the point--when depression strikes and we can't feel the answers anymore, perhaps we should assume God is still speaking and ask Him to teach us sign language, to help us understand His messages anyway, even if we have to learn a new language of hearing the Spirit in order to do so. 

Or perhaps that we would pray to know what to do even though we couldn’t hear it at the moment. Or perhaps for the patience and faith to keep praying even though we were deaf to the answers. Or perhaps for ways to see and "hear" God's love for us even though we could no longer feel it? Or perhaps for ways to obtain and hold on to Hope--the doctrinal Hope Elder Holland talked about--even when we are not capable of feeling the emotion of hope. 

Still, can you imagine how hard it would be to keep calling your parents on the phone even if the phone was broken and you couldn’t hear them talking back to you? 

Gives me reason to be patient and kind if someone is depressed and saying God isn't talking to them. The last thing they need to hear is "Of course He is. You're just not listening." Perhaps they really, truly are incapable of hearing the way we've trained everyone to hear. It's not a choice to not listen if your body is incapable of hearing. 

But knowing we might just be incapable of hearing, and not having something to repent of or something that's just wrong with us that is a character failing, perhaps that's enough to give us patience and help us approach the issue from new angles, without losing all our faith and going farther from healing and hope in our frustration and confusion.

One thing I've learned about depression in the last three years is that it is a profound breakdown in the body's ability to process and feel emotion. And, like learning to walk again after a catastrophic accident takes a long time and hard work, learning to feel again after a catastrophic depression can take a long time and hard work, and it seems reasonable that if we spent all our lives learning to recognize God's voice by our feelings, we have to re-learn that experience, too.

I don't know if it's even necessary to feel to recognize God's voice. That's the way we do it, for sure. I have no idea if it's the only way. It might be. It might not. It certainly is a test of Faith to keep speaking to and obeying a God who we cannot hear, and trusting a Savior is helping bear our burdens if we ask Him to when we cannot feel that. 

We do have a promise from Elder Holland (who lived it, so he knows), that things will get better, and we’ll be able to hope again. I suppose that means we can learn to hear again, too. It's a long but not permanent spiritual and emotional deafness? So perhaps, like Hilary hoping for hope, the answer is to hope for healing, even if it takes a long time.  

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Did I just read that?

"Your eyes are setting foot where man has never been before, at least not for a very long time."  Roger Tomlin, about looking at Roman inscriptions from the first decade of London's existence. (http://www.ksl.com/?sid=40012114&nid=235&title=2000-year-old-handwritten-documents-found-in-london-mud)

Because eyes have feet.

And because man has never been where he wrote things down.