Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Depression and the Spirit: Take Two

Last week's quick post, "Depression and the Spirit," containing a few thoughts from my morning study, generated the most thoughtful comments both on the blog and in private emails from friends that any of my blog posts have yet elicited.  It seems the topic is ripe for some attention from many sources.  For my part, it prompted me to begin thinking of making it the topic of another book at some point.  At least for now I respond to the thoughtful comments:

Lisa - yes, as I have witnessed it, non-episodic depression (and sometimes even episodic) is generally genetic.  As Sidney Nar indicated so beautifully, I think it is more difficult, but not impossible, to feel the Spirit at this time, perhaps in part because something about depression makes us more susceptible to other, usually evil, spirits.  Why, I don't know, but I welcome more commentary - could those who suffer from depression comment on why they think this is so? 

The bishop I mentioned said that the Spirit is closely connected with our ability to feel and whatever mechanisms are associated with emotions.  So when depression flattens our ability to feel, it impacts our spiritual receptors. 

I would love to see and understand the science behind this - I've generally wondered what the physiological, biological process of feeling the Spirit is since I began to learn science as a schoolgirl.  Perhaps BYU scientists can take this on?  Would it be too difficult to do neurological testing of people while feeling the Spirit, maybe while reading their scriptures?  Would be fascinating, no? I have always thought this is one of the first classes I want to sign up for on the other side.

Regarding how depression compares to physical ailments, I have struggled with both, and I have had loving parents and now a spouse tell me to slow down with both - and why not?  I often get sick when run down.  It's a natural process.  We should never judge in either case, but we can encourage loved ones to prevent collapse.

I have never experienced bi-polar or other kinds of mental illness, so I can't comment on how they interfere with the Spirit.  However,  I'd love to hear more from others who have experienced these - again, loved Sidney's comments.  Sidney, does the manic side of bi-polar disorder interfere with the Spirit?  I would imagine it enhances it.  My sister who struggled with it believed at times, as others similarly afflicted, that she was Christ incarnate.  Do these types of imaginings correlate with super-spirituality? (And apologies for implying that you might suffer to the extent she did - I know bi-polar disorder exists on a spectrum.  I believe it is safe to say that my sister, who passed away in 2003, had an extreme case perhaps mixed with another mental disorder.)

Katie -  Excellent article!  For those who missed her link, there is an article in the Journal of Mormon History on George Albert Smith's three-year bout with depression and other somatic issues here (at page 120):  I particularly liked the quote from President Smith's 1911 letter to Elder Andrew Smith in Switzerland:

"If you feel discouragement at any time,...go to some quiet place and kneel down and pray to the Lord and ask him to rebuke the evil spirit, for you may always know that discouragement and despondency are the result of an evil influence.  Some of the best men in the world have been attacked by it and only by persistent prayer and faith have they been able to rebuke it...A man cannot be unhappy while the spirit of the Lord is burning in his bosom."

Said by a man who knows.  It also dovetails beautifully into Sidney's comments, addressed below.

(As a side note, the author believes the turning point in President Smith's depression was when he let go - when he bottomed out and accepted whatever the Lord had in store for him.  She analogizes this to the Addiction Recovery Program (one of the most inspired in the Church).  Interestingly, this is one of the main points, if not *the* main point, of my book, The Other Side of Charity.)

Sidney - Thank you so much for your candor and all that you shared.  I hope everyone reads it.  It saddens me that you have not been embraced by those who should serve you.  I am hopeful, however, that understanding will grow with new generations of leadership.  I do wonder the effect of universal access to information on the doctrinal understandings and cultural expectations of my generation and those younger than me (hard to imagine that there is even one, let alone more!).  Perhaps, for whatever downsides it has, the reality-TV and open-everything generations as church leaders will generally not seek to subvert the issues--mental and otherwise--that beset us.  We will deal a little more openly and honestly with the challenges so many of us face.  I say this not to criticize the generations of church leadership before us, but I am cognizant of the fact that the Lord gives to us what we can handle, and sometimes what we can handle is predetermined by our culture and context.  It is one reason for a living prophet and continuing revelation - so that when His people are ready for greater blessings (or less, as the case may be), the Lord may bestow them.  

Thank you so much for your insights on whether we can feel the Spirit while depressed.  Extremely helpful, and, I believe, true.  It sounds like it is possible for people to feel the Spirit when depressed, it just requires much more fine-tuning and sometimes there is interference with the signal.  I know discussing other kinds of spirits is not popular, but, as indicated by President Smith above, altogether too common.  This isn't something that can only be cast out be priesthood power, however.  I believe anyone who has gone to the temple is blessed to know how to do this.  I wish it could be discussed more, as it is a powerful application of God's power.  It is one reason I love the Addiction Recover Program so much - it is a place where God's greatest power is experienced not in years past or for someone else, but now, to you.  I believe all church members should go through the program and use it to change whatever ails them - I found great benefit in it for allowing Christ to change some of my controlling tendencies (unfortunately, His work there is never done)  and other co-dependent tendencies.

One more thought: I believe that depression and other mental maladies can often be caused by unresolved internal strife.  As we work these out through pondering, prayer, and asking to be healed and changed through the power of Christ's Atonement, we can be healed.  Sometimes this healing balm comes by application of reflection and leaning into our pain, sometimes through the blessing of science both western and eastern, but always through the grace of God's Son.  As Lehi tells his son Jacob, we are redeemed "because of the righteousness of [our] Redeemer."


  1. I would be thrilled to see you tackle this in a book! There is mental illness in almost every person's family history. It should interest us all. I was especially moved by Sydney's TRUE statement about the Relief Society mobilizing in your behalf for a cancer diagnosis, but being uncomfortable in your presence if your illness is bipolar disorder. I have actually witnessed this. I won't say where, or which wards, but it really does happen. On two different occassions that I witnessed it, it ended in suicide. Surely for those sisters, the dark spirits overcame her ability to feel her Savior's love enough.

    I appreciated the article shared by Katie. I think it's incredible that we haven't taught more about President Smith's struggles to our members. There is a terrible stigma surrounding mental illness, one that suggests mental illness is simply mental WEAKNESS, and that only the strong deserve our sympathy and support. I have seen family members of victims of mental illness become resentful, saying things pike, "Can't she just pull herself together for her children's sake?" Which seems to me as an accusation of selfishness, of not loving your kids enough to just kick depression to the curb. So it is powerful to see that mental illness was not a weakness enough to stop George A from becoming worthy to serve the Lord as Prophet. We should spread things like this more around the church.

    Again, thank you Lorianne (and Sydney and Katie) for your insight into this intriguing topic. Very important. Very compelling.

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  3. Thank you for your additional comments and your thoughts. I know my comments were rather lengthy but I guess it was just something I really felt like sharing.

    You asked about the manic phase of bipolar disorder, and I thought about writing about that in my last comment, so I will share my experience with the manic phase and how I perceive the spirit in my manic phase. Many people are familiar with depression and the depressive phase of bipolar disorder but few people talk about the manic phase, usually because in the manic phase the person is feeling very happy, energetic, and in many cases invincible. To put it in terms that we can understand it is in almost all ways the exact opposite of depression. Just as someone has little or no energy when depressed, in the manic phase we have an overabundance of energy. I knew someone who also had bipolar disorder and on one of his manic phases I watched him proceed to do 100 pull-ups (I counted, normally he could only do 10-20). So a manic phase is more than just a feeling of more energy, it *is* more energy.

    So how does this affect how I connect to the spirit? It is like turning up the volume on the radio. If there is static then turning up the volume will just make the static louder. If there is music then the music will be louder. If there is music and static then both will be louder, but in many cases when the static is minimal with the volume turned down, when the volume is turned up the static can override the music. It is the same with the spirit. If I am feeling the spirit when I enter one of my manic phases then the spirit is amplified greatly. Some of my most spiritual and revelatory experiences have come when I am on my manic phase, but just as depression can override the feelings of the spirit, the feelings of my manic phase can just as easily override the feelings of the spirit. Going back to my radio analogy it is not just an increase in volume, but the frequency or the tuner also tends to drift in my manic phase so it is just as easy to lose the feelings and promptings of the spirit when I am in my manic phase as it is in my depressive phase.

    You mentioned that your sister would believe herself to be Christ incarnate. I can very definitely tell how that feels. Thus I have learned that if I feel what I think are promptings of the Spirit while I am in my manic phase then I try to verify the same feelings and thoughts when I am not in a manic phase. I found that this deliberate approach to sorting my own feelings from the feelings of the spirit has kept me from falling into error and mistaking my own feelings for promptings of the spirit. I have frequently received assurances through the Spirit that God is aware of my limitations and thus takes extra care to ensure that I am carefully lead to distinguish what He wants from the sometimes random noise that I can produce in abundance.

  4. Thank you for sharing some of your experience and Andy and FSN

  5. I decided to tackle some of your questions this morning, and posted them here: I'd love to hear your feedback and any insights you have from your own study or communications with others.