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): http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1056&context=mormonhistory. 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."