Friday, February 27, 2009

"To Stay Our Minds On"

[Note: I love to laugh with you all. There is nothing I enjoy more than the thought that someone's day is just a little funnier because we had a chance to chat. This is a different kind of post. Not unpleasant, I promise, just different. However, if you were looking for a reason to say, "Gosh, that DeNae is such a dork!" why not visit some of my earlier posts - you know, the ones I wrote before we met? Here's the first one I did; it kind of explains my blog's title. And this one is a chance to get to know me a little better (in case the "Don't You Hate It" post didn't do that for you already!)

And I promise, as soon as something crazy happens to me, I'll blog about it! Sadly, that is such a regular occurrence, I may have something up here within the hour! Have a wonderful, laughter filled day!]

Choose Something Like a Star”, by Robert Frost, is one of the few poems I know by heart. I love good poetry, possibly because it is often all the things I’m not. Poets manage to say a lot of things while saying very little. I say things to death and still end up looking at a lot of confused faces. “Do you know what I mean?” is a legitimate question in my world. And often the answer is, “Nope, but we heard you the first six hundred times you said it.” How I manage to both over- and under-communicate at the same time is one of the many mysteries that are me.

This won’t go down in history as my finest post. No belly laughs today. But no tears either. And definitely no rants. I’m not one for dumping my stuff onto others’ plates, at least not here. I’m pretty sure your plates are full enough.

No, I just felt like talking with you about something I think maybe one or two of you might need to hear. It has seemed to be filtering through from your blogs, or e-mails, or phone calls, or by whatever means you and I connect. Who knows, maybe it's the February blahs. Or maybe it's something a little more worthy of attention.

Anyway, this is just one of my stories. Kind of a big one, but by no means the only one. I hope hearing it helps someone, somewhere, even just a little. And if not, well, at least you know something about yours truly you didn't know before.

“O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud -- It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.”

Lehi talks about “mists of darkness”. I’ve lived there. For eight years I suffered from undiagnosed, butt kicking depression. We all have our crosses to bear, this one was mine. Long story short, I did all the things we’re told to do – served, worked, loved, sacrificed – until doing so finally cleared the debris of duty and responsibility away from my life and allowed the truth about my condition to emerge from obscurity in a way that was both mundane and miraculous.

I got help. Things got better. The lights came back on. And I was a more compassionate, more understanding person than I otherwise might have been. The obscurity of ignorance and near-despair eventually gave way to the light I needed to save me and my family from any further heartache.

Dark brings out light. It is uniquely suited to do so.

“Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.”

I will never understand people for whom “questions” are enough. Paul’s Athenian audience was all agog when he seemed prepared to offer them “some new thing”, but was just as happy to drive him out of Dodge when he presumed to offer answers as well.

I needed answers. When you’re in pain you’re in no mood to philosophize over the purpose pain serves. Talking about hurting doesn’t stop the hurting. The last thing you would tell someone with a broken leg is that what they really need is just a better attitude about legs. “After all,” the not-helpful-at-all say, “Some people don’t even have legs. You should be grateful for that wonderful, beautiful leg.” They don’t want to know that in its broken condition, you would gladly wrench it off and give it to those lucky souls with no legs at all.

Depression is no different. It is not about being lazy or selfish or weak or ungrateful. I look back on those years and marvel at how incredibly strong, how unbelievably optimistic I was in the face of those mists of darkness. I hardly missed a beat. My house was a constant shrine to the gods of clutter and chaos, but what home with four little kids isn’t? I had 40 piano and voice students, was teaching Gospel Doctrine and Relief Society, was ward choir director and stake choir director, volunteered at the school, taught Weight Watchers classes (yes, this was some time ago), took aerobics, even did a little writing.

All this while living 800 miles from any family, and my husband was Elders’ Quorum president and on a surveillance team at work that took him out at all hours and often for days at a time. Pre-cell phone.

Did I mention this was Seattle, where it rains 14 months a year?

So I needed something real, something I could ‘learn by heart’, something that would give me whatever ‘aid’ it could, and tell me ‘something in the end.’

“And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,”

My answer was both medical and spiritual. And it came through the same channels that other blessings in my life have always come. Gut wrenching, soul searching prayer, and all the listening and seeking, and yes, tears and frustration that often go with it. A newspaper article. An unexpected conversation with a near-stranger. And from somewhere, the wherewithal to call a doctor and take the necessary steps toward healing and better, brighter days.

If I have spent time wandering in Lehi’s ‘mists of darkness’, I have also been rescued by Nephi’s ‘tender mercies’. The constancy and steadfastness of a loving, living Father, who, without ever stooping from His place as Creator and God, reached out to rescue and save me and bring me to that place of light...but....

“It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,”

...I had to reach back.

I needed to find real, meaningful purpose in the new life I was being offered. I had to make my peace with my role as a wife and mother, as a teacher and homemaker. It was time to stop listening to the voices that were saying I wasn’t good enough or strong enough or worthy enough to access that joy that was supposed to be “the object and design” of my existence. But I also had to stop listening to the message that I was too smart or too talented to be ‘merely’ a wife and mother.

The crowd never gets it right. For good or ill, even the best-intended of loved ones can never fully comprehend the unexplored country of the human heart.

No. I needed to look higher, and deeper, for the purpose and understanding that would be required of me. Science could keep the worst of my physiological demons at bay – and God bless the people who created anti depressant medications – but it would be faith and perseverance that would give my life meaning and value. Those three C’s of discipleship – Commitment, Conversion, Consecration – would pick up where the limits of medicine left off.

And they have. My life is rich and full. There are good days and not so good days, and even the not so goods are pretty darn good, weighed in the balance. I’ve come to a place on the road where I feel I’m making a difference in ways that matter, where I have something worthwhile to offer, and where I have no stake in keeping any of it to myself. I’ve found that height, that perfect Star, that settles me and gives me peace....

“So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a Star

To stay our minds on and be staid.”


sheela said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


TheQueen@TerrorsInTiaras said...

This was a great post. I like the combination of the poem with the examples from the scriptures. I have been struggling with daily migraines for some months now, and while I can't say it's been easy, I can say that those 'tender mercies' happen daily. Christ's atonement is real, and we can rest in Him when things don't go as we'd planned. I thank God for this opportunity I have to grow closer to Him. It's nice how life works out for our good, even when we wouldn't have picked the path we are on sometimes. Thanks for sharing your story today.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

God's been teaching me a lot lately about what you call here "‘unexplored country’ of the human heart." I could ramble on about that for a long time, but this verse from the hymn sums it up for me,
"Who am I to judge another
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can't see.
...Lord, I would follow thee"
And you've helped to clarify for me why that is so important. Thanks.

and p.s. The combination of your life experience and your talent with words gives you a gift DeNae. I love to laugh, too, but posts like this are refreshing as well.

Melanie J said...

Wow. You're a powerful writer. I love how honest this is. Thank you for sharing.

Kristina P. said...

I have to say that I have never experienced this kind of depression, and for that I am grateful. But, I have had issues with anxiety in the past, and sometimes, you think it's never going to end!

Thanks for sharing this!

Brooke said...

Great post. It still made me laugh (I think you could somehow make the phonebook funny). But it also made me think, and appreciate again how blessed I am.

I think a discussion of the realities of depression should be mandatory in the R.S. curriculum each year. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Devon said...

DeNae, that post was beautiful. That particular poem is also one of the only ones I have memorized. I love it. And I loved your post. I needed to read it today. Thank you.

InkMom said...

The boys and I just put up glow-in-the-dark stars on the walls of their rooms. I let them do their own designs, and they turned out wildly different. Now, they look forward to the darkness so they can see their stars shine.

I have a favorite book of poetry -- it's called "Enduring Ties" and it's compiled by an LDS professor of Asian studies. I know him personally, and I appreciate greatly the sentiments shared by this broad collection of poems connected only by their reference to family life. I think you would enjoy it a great deal.

Tender mercies, indeed . . . I'll be posting about that one shortly.

Thanks for sharing.

Lisa Loo said...

I echo the phonebook comment. And that is high praise!

I think my demons know your demons--except that mine invited a friend called bipolar--he is small but really adds to the effect.
I really do wish this topic could be addressed and validated more within the church and the world. The next person who tells me to be grateful for my leg might need to use theirs to run.

Thanx for sharing!

Lara said...

I also love that poem (and choir piece!), but haven't thought of it in a while.

I loved reading your thoughts. Definitely things I need to hear.

I have a friend who struggles with depression and has devoted her blog to overcoming her struggles through Christ and the Atonement and the Gospel. I have always appreciated her thoughts, because while I don't suffer from depression (unless you count the February blahs) I do have a lot of physical issues that keep me from doing/being all I want.

MS Anita said...

Thanks Denae for sharing that. ANd just a little note that you give so much to my life as a student in your institute class. I so look forward to that hour and a half to share the gospel and it's messages that you bring to us.

You are WONDERFUL!!!

Amber said...

Such a great post, sister. I'm not surprised to see the comments that say this is just what they needed to read today. I know it was definitely what I needed.

You're amazing. You really are. I'm so lucky (and we both know I really mean blessed) to have you for a sister.

Again, awesome post, DeNae!

Hel said...