Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, January 23, 2009

Valley of the Shadow of Depression

by Kerry Blair

According to Sunset Magazine, traditional Southwestern décor is once again in vogue. (At least it is here in the Southwest. Maybe don’t adopt it in Hawaii or Massachusetts; Navajo rugs do not come in tropical colors, nor do cacti thrive in snow.) This trend is heartening to me because somewhere along the way my surroundings have strayed from shabby chic to Early Monument Valley. Monument Valley, for those of you who have never been to Arizona and/or seen a John Wayne movie, is a vast stretch of red dirt and scrub brush broken up by the occasional miracle of geology – towering sandstone monoliths. They formed slowly, over millennia of time. My own monoliths of great expectations are almost as high, but formed much faster.

Perhaps “monolith” is too kind a word. While it’s true that the piles of quilting fabric that obscure the dining room table may be monoliths of great expectations, the rest of my towering stacks of stuff are mere monuments to procrastination and sloth. This morning I spent ten minutes clearing six square inches of tabletop – just enough to balance a laptop so I could blog. I haven’t seen my computer since we moved it into a spare bedroom just after Thanksgiving. It’s probably still in there somewhere, albeit buried under the six hundred books, eighty rolls of almost-gone wrapping paper, and assorted other “treasures” I hold onto in case we ever need them. (Doubtful.) Mercifully, my husband closed the door to that room a couple of weeks ago and I have yet to open it. Maybe if I wait long enough it will become a mysterious and romantic memory, like a closed-off wing of a mansion in gothic literature. Everyone who passes by the locked door will wonder what lies within, but no one will dare to enter until after my death. (And then the snooper will be buried alive in an avalanche of junk and the room will become even darker and more mysterious. I like it!)

I don’t really need the computer since I haven’t read e-mail in two weeks, but I would like to have the desk. Flat surfaces are at a premium around here. Weeks ago I moved a broken antique table into the family room until I got a chance to repair it. The inlaid top has disappeared under mail I am absolutely going to answer, thank you cards I am certainly going to send, magazines I will surely scan, coupons I will indubitably clip, Cub Scout materials I am about to organize, and Whitney books I will indeed read by the end of the month. (Fortunately, the books are the only thing with a deadline. My tried-and-true routine with coupons is to stack them up, wait for them to expire, and then recycle the paper so we can start the process again. I figure if I leave the Cub Scout stuff there long enough I’ll be released and can throw it all into a box for the next victim . . . I mean den leader. As for the magazines, well, one dates from 1902 – yes, really, and, no, I haven’t read it yet – but the rest are slightly newer. Plenty of time to get to them.)

If only time, or the lack thereof, was my problem. What I lack nowadays is the strength and oftentimes the inclination, to accomplish anything. How did a nice girl like me end up in a valley like this? I wish I knew. I sat in my oncologist’s office recently and sobbed. I told him I felt like I was being sucked into quicksand. (I am very much into simile and metaphor as you all know.) You would think that a guy who’s been dealing with cancer patients long enough to charge $75 a minute would give me my money’s worth, but no. “Perfectly normal,” he said, and even had the nerve to look me in the eye and smile when he said it. (The man keeps no letter openers nor blunt objects on his desk; now you know why.)

I’m here to tell you there is nothing “normal” or “perfect” about feeling this way. I owe half the people who read this blog an apology and an explanation. This is the apology, but the explanation is harder to define. I’ve searched the scriptures. (Jonah found more light the belly of the fish.) I’ve re-read inspiring literature. (“(S)he also serves who only stands and waits.” Bah.) I’ve eaten better and attempted to exercise. (Being in chemo and struck with an exacerbation of MS, “exercise” is often defined as making it all the way from the bed to the bathroom to a chair in the living room.) I’ve even perused a couple of self-help books. (Which were beyond doubt the musings of men mingled with the oh-so-rare glint of wisdom.) I did not sink so far as to watch talk-TV, but I was getting there.

I’d have probably attempted to climb one of my monoliths and jump, but I just couldn't summon the energy.

I’ve never been depressed – clinically or otherwise. In fact, while this is harder to confess than admitting I voted for McCain, I’ve long suspected that depression is to medical conditions what the Bunny is to Easter. I think now that I may have been at little hasty, and harsh, in my judgment. Perhaps—gasp!—I was even mistaken. Time will tell. For the last year I’ve poured poison into my system to save my life. Over the last decade I’ve taken gallons of medication to slow the progression of MS. Why then is it so much harder to even consider taking one tiny pill a day to perhaps save my sanity?

I don’t know, but I’m working on it. Even alluding to depression today was an unbelievably big step for me. (Hopefully in the right direction.) If you’ll please forgive me for the past couple of months I’ll let you know how the next few work out. And if you don’t hear from me, well, just assume I felt better and opened the door to that terrifying room after all.


At 1/23/2009 12:48 PM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1/23/2009 1:12 PM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

Kerry, as someone who also suffers from depression, I have an inkling of how you feel. My advice is: Take the pill. Feeling better is definitely worth it. I wish you all the best and wish I could do more to help you.

At 1/23/2009 1:21 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Dearest Kerry, please take the medication! Don't let yourself suffer needlessly. Taking care of your mind is as important as taking care of your body. When help is available--accept it!

Love ya!

At 1/23/2009 1:36 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, your problem is you are a mother, an enabler, a Relief Society President, a den mother, a service provider. It's in your genes to take care of others, to love them no matter what, provide maid service, clean up other people's messes and to fix things. I'm not sure there's a cure. Whether you know it or not other writers have piles of paper, sometimes boxes filled with piles of paper, books wedged every-which-way in book cases, stacked on surfaces, under sofa cushions, etc. We have projects too that we never quite get around to. Stop being so hard on yourself, even healthy most of us can't keep up with you. Everyone has bouts of depression, some have clinical depression, and some like you and other chemo patients have a right to feel depressed. If the pill helps, take it. If you ignore emails (except mine), so be it. Just do what it takes to get well; your friends and fans will wait--so will all the books, papers, projects, and clutter. You matter; things don't.

At 1/23/2009 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry, I've spent so much time in that valley, I purchased a time-share.
My feelings are; if we spend mega bucks to prolong life, but do nothing to improve it's quality, what are we accomplishing?
Depression immobilizes us not only physically, but mentally and spiritually (not to mention it's affects on everyone around us.)

I won't presume to tell you what to do, because that has to be between you and your maker, but please do something.

Chemical imbalance can't be alleviated simply by getting a new hairdo, or devouring that crate of ice cream,
...and it's impossible to be "anxiously engaged" in good causes, if we can't even muster the desire to roll out of bed.

Thank you for sharing these most personal feelings,
You are loved,


At 1/23/2009 2:33 PM, Blogger Michael A. Cleverly said...

Kerry, having struggled a bit with this myself in the lone and dreary world in which we live--and having watched others I love suffer even more--the best book I've found dealing with depression from a LDS perspective is Alexander B. Morrison's "Valley of Sorrow: A Layman's Guide to Understanding Mental Illness for Latter-Day Saints" (Shadow Mountain, 2003). I highly recommend it.

At 1/23/2009 2:53 PM, Blogger Laura said...

I don't often comment on your blog, but I wanted to let you know how much I feel for you! I can't imagine the struggles you have with your health; Just being alive sounds like your monolith.

I also wanted to let you know that it is okay to be depressed. A lot of us are! Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones and it will right itself with a temporary course of antidepressants. It takes courage (and usually a change of mindset) to accept this kind of weakness.

You can do this!

If you want more support/advice from other LDS people, feel free to check out my blog:

Thanks for sharing your struggles. The more we talk about it, the more we can help each other!

At 1/23/2009 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depression is often the catch-all diagnosis when a doctor can't find anything else wrong. Which is too bad because that minimizes the seriousness of true depression. I take the pills. It makes the difference between functioning and not.

At 1/23/2009 4:05 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

If it will make you feel better (and I would do anything in my power to do so), I will admit that I have taken anti-depression meds in the past. (But I called them anti-anxiety pills.) I have medical problems when I get too stressed, so it seemed like a good solution at the time. I took them for about a year and a half.

I can't say they were a lifesaver for me, but they did seem to help with the one problem. (And side effects caused other problems.) There is someone in my life who doesn't have nearly as much Real Problems as you do, yet suffers from depression on a regular basis. I wish she would try the medication, but she doesn't want the stigma associated with it. Doesn't want to ever have to answer positively to "Have you ever been on anti-depression medication?" Seems like a silly reason to me, but pride is a powerful force.

And now for something completely different: when I see the word monolith, I feel like you shouldn't be able to pluralize it.

At 1/23/2009 4:58 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

We so need a Chili's run. ;)Love you tons, moi

At 1/23/2009 6:17 PM, Blogger Lisa Anne said...

Kerry, you are my hero!!! You are going through what no one should ever have to go through and you still have your sense of humor. With that said, Take the pills and I promise, that room will not bother you at all!!!!!!!

At 1/23/2009 6:26 PM, Anonymous ally condie said...

Kerry, this blog post made me laugh (when you talked about the room becoming a mysterious wing) and cry. I admire you so much.

At 1/23/2009 6:41 PM, Blogger MyDonkey Five said...

It took me along time to come to terms with my depression. I felt I was lacking in some way, that I had failed. Such thoughts are just silly! Take the pill! You're not weak or giving up in any way. I have been on medication for over a year now and it has made such a big difference in my life, my husband's life, and my children's lives. The good Lord gave us such medical advantages to help us. A strong person recognizes their weakness and seeks help to make it better. That applies to depression too.

At 1/23/2009 7:26 PM, Blogger Total Delights said...

I found your blog because of the word southwestern in it. I use google alerts to find keywords to promote my websites. But I believe I was meant to find you for other reasons. I also struggle with depression and my family has in the last three months moved from Utah to Missouri and had many struggles we were not prepaired for my husband can't drive truck here like we were told he could. And jobs, money you get the point. Anyway it is best if you take the meds. I spent years not recieving treatment and those are years I can't get back with my oldest kids. There isn't any reason to struggle anymore that needs be. This sunday our youngest is recieving the priesthood and I know that i am being tested. I am so greatful that I found your blog, I hope that this post makes sense. I better go the tears are going to muck up my computer. Hang in there . . . . .Diane

At 1/23/2009 10:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know from first hand experience how depression can destroy a family when it isn’t treated. I lost my father due to that illness, and while he still may be alive physically, emotionally he is in his own dark world of self pity. I may sound harsh and unloving, but when there are simple medications that can lift you out of that depression and you choose not to take advantage of them, ... I just can’t fathom the reasoning. My father’s illness literally leached the happiness out of our family, broke it into pieces and scattered us across the country.

Kerry, nobody can tell you what to do, but I can tell you something from a daughter’s point of view. I sincerely wished my father’s wife would have insisted that he “take the pill,” and then maybe things would be different for my family.


At 1/24/2009 12:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry, my best and dearest friend, you, of all people, know what I've been through for the past 10 years or so. I've taken just about every antidepressant on the market and only recently found one that actually worked for me.... but finding that one med that works is SO worth it. Just being able to get out of bed in the morning makes it worth it.

Email me soon. I miss you so much.

Sarah A.

At 1/24/2009 1:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't imagine what a relief it was to see that you could blog this week. I'm sure I'm not alone in that.

When I was diagnoses with MS my doctor immediately put me on an antidepressant and makes sure I stay on it because: a majority of people with MS are clinically depressed--comes with the territory, and depression lowers your bodies resistance to disease which can have BIG bad affects on your MS. None of us would tell someone with diabetes not to take insullin and depression can be physically based just as much as diabetes or a broken bone.

And besides, you'll fit in with the rest of us who have found that our lives our so much more productive when we our able to think more positively. By the way, the times when I go through doubt about using antidepressants have always been when I am not on them. When I see the difference they make in my life, I have no fear that I am doing the right thing. My husband has been on them for nearly 25 years and I can't imagine what our lives would have been like if he hadn't. Some people may see taking them as a weakness. I see it as a courageous step that speaks well of a person desire to become well and whole.

Besides, we miss your blogs when you can't write and sad is not a strong enough word for what we feel worrying that you are feeling so badly.


At 1/24/2009 8:30 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

I don't have any words of wisdom or advice - just know that we love you and support you and will be here for you no matter what.

At 1/26/2009 11:02 AM, Blogger Papa D said...

I can't add anything of substance, but I believe strongly that we have modern medicines for a reason. Taking it is NOT a sign of weakness (mental or spiritual); it is a sign of humility and an expression of faith.

My mother didn't suffer from depression, but she was able to function while raising eight children because she was willing to take her meds. I thank God she (and my father) ignored the social stigma that was so much more blatant back then and did what was best for her and for our family.

Take care of yourself - in all ways, including medically.

At 1/26/2009 11:58 AM, Anonymous Emily M. said...

I'm just sending out some love, Kerry. I have no advice, because I haven't been there. But I do have love and admiration for the work you do.

At 1/27/2009 2:52 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Kerry, look at how much you're loved! And I add my voice to everyone else - do what you need to do. Being mortal means having weakness but we can be blessed in finding ways to help overcome those weaknesses, and medication can be one of those blessings. I know I feel blessed for coming here today and hearing from you - you have been such an amazing influence on my life and just seeing your name on here was wonderful. We love you, we support you in whatever you decide to do - we just want you to feel as good as you possibly can, and you don't have to feel guilty for whatever you decide to do. It's your body and your decision, and we're rooting for you no matter what.


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