Why did God give me depression?

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A version of this article was published on FamilyShare.

14.8 million Americans suffer from clinical depression every year. I am one of them, and maybe you are too.

My first true experience with depression came after the birth of my son. I was married to the love of my life, and I’d just been blessed with the most beautiful human being I had ever seen. At a time when I was supposed to be enjoying my life to the fullest, I was the lowest I had ever been.  I was chronically angry, tired and sad. I felt mind-numbingly inadequate, and was constantly overwhelmed with worry about even the simplest things.

While I told my doctor treatment wasn’t necessary because  I “came out of it,”  I never truly did. Two years later, my daughter was born, and I was soon plunged even deeper into the darkness than I’d ever been before. Finally, after much poking and prodding from my loved ones, I went to my doctor for help.

A few weeks later, I felt the first glimmer of true joy that I’d felt in a long time. It wasn’t just the proper treatment that gave me that spark: it was hope. Hope that things could get better, and that one day, the darkness would dissipate and there would be light in my life again.

Since then, depression has been inextricably woven into my life. Good times have been hampered by it, and bad times have been worsened by it.  Thankfully, I am now at a point where it is under control, and experience has taught me (and my ever-watchful loved ones) to recognize the signs when it starts to creep back into my life.

Through all this, I have had ample time to wonder why God allowed me to suffer from depression. Why does He let this happen to His children? I believe, from my experience, there are a few different reasons.

To Instill Empathy For Others

I have met and talked with so many people who also suffer from depression. Because of the experiences that come with depression, we can better feel empathy and offer consolation to those in our paths who also have hearts made heavy by this disease.

We become capable of a more meaningful kind of compassion when we’ve experienced something that others are going through. I’m more aware of my friends who are overwhelmed by motherhood or who I know have dealt with depression in the past, so that I can be there to support them if they need me. The need we have felt in ourselves awakens our senses to the same need in others.

Jesus was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” That is how He can succor us when we are in need, and we can follow His example. In some small, imperfect way, we can do the same thing for others. (Isaiah 53:3)

To Teach Reliance on Him

In my darkest moments, I had no choice but to cry out to my Savior for His help. I needed His love, and I needed his promise that I would find peace again. My son was diagnosed with autism at age four. I convinced myself I had failed him, because I had missed the signs that something was wrong. I constantly punished myself for costing my son critical years of intervention and therapy by not recognizing his symptoms.

Trust in the power of the atonement was the only thing that got me through that difficult time. Faith that His grace could reach even me, when I believed in my heart that my son’s “late” diagnosis was due to my inadequacy as a mother. That faith helped me overcome, and eventually gave me the perspective I was severely lacking.

He wants us to come to Him! He says so himself, many times. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Please, please get help from a professional if you think you might be experiencing depression, but also allow God to help you by reaching out to Him, too.

To Stretch

I think it’s common for people who suffer from depression to have trouble seeing the strength we are capable of. We show our true strength and our real capabilities as we persevere through the depths of sorrow. This is our unique opportunity to see what we are made of, and we are His! We were made by Him. We are the work of His hands. The strength that comes from being His shines through when our backs are against the wall.

The proof comes not when everything is roses and sunshine, but when the journey is filled with obstacles, heavy burdens and all-out fights.

I never knew my own strength until I survived my first real depressive episode. I felt so weak and broken in the middle of it, but when the clouds finally dispersed, I could see that in reality God had made me more powerful and brave than I ever thought I could be. He plants that strength in His children from the beginning, but often we can’t see it until we’ve had to use it.  

To Refine

“Behold, I have refined thee…I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10)

God chose depression as a “furnace of affliction” for us. Not only do we become stronger as we walk through the flames, but we become purer, too. The refiner’s fire is a kind of preparation for us to become closer to God. The things in our life that keep us from Him fall away as we feel our need for His presence increase.

I can’t say that I’m a great person now that I’ve been “purified” through the fires of depression. I can say that I’m made a better person through Jesus Christ, and that this “furnace of affliction” has helped me see more clearly the things that affect the strength of my relationship with Him. I need that closeness with Him when my mind and heart are in need of the peace only He can give.

The Truth

I can tell you with certainty that God did NOT give you depression because of your mistakes, or because you deserve it, or because He doesn’t care about you. Don’t let depression sell you that story, because it isn’t true.

The truth is, I can’t explain why God gave me depression. I can’t tell you why you have it either.

Here’s what I do know: I know joy shines brighter when you’ve been through the darkest night. I know growth and change require pain and struggle. I know God loves His children, and if He allows bad things like depression to happen to us, it is for our good.

He ultimately wants the best for us. He wants us to be given the experiences we need to grow into the absolute best version of ourselves that we can be.  The person He knows is inside of us, waiting to break through. The person who is like Him.

Have courage. He is with us.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.” (Psalms 28:7)

The Closed Door

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A few years ago, a door in my life closed. At first, I didn’t really believe it was closed. I thought that maybe, with a little time and maybe a little oil for the hinges, it would open back up again.

Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that the door is shut, stuck, locked and bolted. And possibly welded closed.

The only problem with this, is that I really, really, REALLY want what’s behind that door. So bad. It’s been almost four years, and though I’m trying, I still haven’t been able to truly accept the fact that I’m not going to get this particular thing. No matter how righteous, no matter how good it is. I can’t have it, and I don’t know why. I may never know why.

This has caused me a great deal of heartache and confusion. I was certain that God wanted me to have what was on the other side of that door. I just needed the key. Or a crowbar.

I hadn’t actually thought of this “closing” in my life as a “door” until a few weeks ago, when I was scrolling through social media, and up popped one of those heavily clichéd inspirational quotes plastered on top of a nature photograph. Usually I pay no attention to these, but some small part of my bruised heart resonated with this one. “When God closes a door, stop banging on it! Trust that whatever is behind it wasn’t meant for you.”

Suddenly, I was able to picture my lamentation and my refusal to move on from this “closing” as banging on a door that God had shut. Since recently I have been making greater efforts to move on, this began to be my mantra when I felt the familiar fog of sadness, frustration or desperation settle on my heart and mind. “The door is closed. Stop banging on it.”

Though it has helped me greatly to remind myself of this, I still have struggled to put this chapter of my life behind me. If I’m not supposed to have what’s behind the door, what am I supposed to do instead?

One Sunday during our women’s meeting, the lesson was about adversity, about how even though one door may close and cause heartache and pain, God will open another door for us. I was caught completely off guard by this subject that hit so close to home.

Yet in my mind, my angry and petulant side planted a hand on my hip and yelled, “Yeah? Well, where’s my open door?” Despite the anger my spiritual wounds produced, I felt the Spirit whisper to me, “You’ve been too busy banging on the closed door to see the one that has been opened.”

This thought hit me like a ton of bricks. The truth of it reverberated through me. I tried to share my thoughts with my dear sisters in the gospel, but the emotion choked my voice to the point that I was almost unintelligible.

In this journey, I have spent hours upon hours, (years, even) at this door. I have stared at it, knocked on it, banged on it, cried out in desperation to the heavens, and examined every single inch of the door for just one tiny weakness I could use to break it down. Sledge hammers, jackhammers and chainsaws come to mind when I think about how hard I tried and how much I hoped that this door would somehow budge.

The pain of this closed door hasn’t lessened any. Despite this, I find myself finally beginning to trust my Heavenly Father, that maybe what’s behind the door really isn’t part of His plan for my life, and that I will find true happiness in the path that He has laid for me. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s this:

I can’t find my way to the door He has opened, if I won’t leave the door that has closed.

Going forward, my goal is to walk away from the door. My goal is to look around me, and prayerfully search for the door that God has opened for me. I haven’t found it yet, but I trust that there is one open for me. I just need to have the faith, the humility, and the patience to find it.

Erasing the Bitterness

I struggle with bitterness.

It’s not an easy thing to admit. I wasn’t sure I was ready to see it in words, and I wrestled with whether or not I should share it, once it was written. It was difficult to admit this failure to myself, and I find it daunting to share it with others.

I have felt bitterness at the easy successes of other children. I have felt bitterness when my child is left out or lagging behind.

It started with the gentle, age-appropriate babbling of my contemporary’s child.

Today, it is the child riding a bike smoothly, effortlessly. The child reading fluently, writing neatly. The child, the same age as mine, clearly surpassing mine in conversation and understanding.

And I feel bitter.

It’s taken me some time to understand this feeling. I’m beginning to realize that this feeling of bitterness comes directly from pain. A small seed of pain that grew into a poison, hardening my heart towards others.  It comes from the pain I feel on behalf of my son when he struggles with things that come easily to others.

A few years ago, the bitterness was so prominent in my heart it began to affect my relationships. I couldn’t be around certain people because their success, the perceived easiness of their life, caused me to feel grief and resentment.

As the years have gone by, the strength of this feeling has softened and become less emotionally interrupting. Yet every so often, out of the blue, I feel it creep up again. At the library. Playdates. The park.

In my struggles, I strive to make a concious effort to give this pain to the Savior. He asks for my burden, and this is the burden I give to Him. Only He can take it away, and give me back in return the joy and peace I should feel for others. Only He can erase the bitterness.

Because of Him, I can feel joy that these children and these parents, have these blessings! I can be happy that they can achieve these things without the extra focus and frustration. They are my siblings in spirit, children of the same God, and I can feel happy for them.

I recognize and rejoice in Toby’s strengths. I feel grateful that though we find some things difficult, they are not always impossible. I am thankful for every beautiful step of progress he has made, and for all the people God has put in our lives to help him achieve all that he already has, and all he will continue to.

I also recognize that I may have simplicity and ability where others, including the very people I feel this resentment towards, may not. Realizing this has aided in changing my perspective when these situations arise.

I hope and pray that a day will come when I don’t have to fight this knee-jerk reaction, this natural inclination towards discontent and resentment. That someday, the first feeling I have when I see another child succeed where mine doesn’t, is love and gladness.

I still struggle. Every day.

But the more I trust in the Savior, the more I make a conscious effort to let go of the pain, and open my heart up to the kind of love only the Savior can give, the closer my heart is to being whole again.

Mountains and Valleys

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Life is lived in mountains and valleys.

Put aside the idea that a valley is flat and smooth and easy to walk. In life, it can be easy to feel trapped in the valley.

In a valley, you can’t see even a hint of your destination. Surrounded by high mountain peaks, you just have to keep walking, keep moving and hope that you’re headed in the right direction.

Despite the difficulty in getting there, being on top of the mountain brings strength and surety. From the top of the mountain, the view extends for miles. The lay of the land is clear, and sometimes even the destination is within sight. A plan can be made to find a way to get there.

On the top of the mountain, there is clarity and optimism.

In the valley, there is insecurity and doubt.

In raising Toby, I find myself often in the valley, while occasionally reaching the summit and getting clear view of the future.

Sometimes I feel confident. I feel assured. I feel certain that he will successfully reach his full potential, and live a happy life that is meaningful to him.

Other times, I feel stuck. Dealing with an obstacle or problem, I have to keep my head down and power through, hoping that we can make it. We walk through the night while a voice in the back of my mind wonders if we really ever stood a chance.

Yet in the valley, there is one thing I can cling to when the worries and doubts cloud my mind and press heavy on my heart.

I know we can get there. I know it can be done. I saw it. So clear, so tangible, so attainable.

I saw it from the mountain.

Bright and hopeful in the distance, I saw it. The road, though littered with obstacles, is passable.

And every day we walk we become stronger.

 

The End of the World

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After Toby was diagnosed with autism, it took a few weeks before we were ready to let the rest of the world know. We told our close family, Toby’s teachers and speech therapist, but a day had to come when the rest of the world would know.

Eventually that day came, and we were met with an outpouring of sympathy and support from most of our friends and acquaintances.

There were also, unfortunately, many people who questioned his diagnosis or made clear they knew “something was different.” I talked with people who were shocked and people who were completely and utterly unsurprised.

In my bitter state of mind I was angry that these people seemed to suddenly become developmental pediatricians or autism experts. Despite their good intentions, I was especially sensitive at the time and didn’t necessarily appreciate their words the way I should have.

There is one instance in that delicate and uncertain time that sticks out in my mind.

There was a friend I had. We weren’t very close friends, but our kids played together sometimes, so I felt the need to tell her.What she said both surprised and hurt me.

“Well. It’s not the end of the world.”

What?!  My emotions went haywire, a common occurence those days.

Yes it is. It is the end of the world.  That’s exactly what it is. My son will struggle with his differences for the rest of his life. This is, most definitely, the end of the world.

She probably doesn’t even remember saying it to me. After some time, I’ve come to realize she meant well by what she said. She was just trying to give me hope, though at the time all I could hear was her minimizing my anguish.

My heart was already vulnerable and bruised from the reality of Toby’s diagnosis.  Her words (and many other well-intentioned words) probably only hurt because I was already in pain.

I never did say anything to her that would suggest I was upset by her words. It wasn’t worth hurting her by telling her how much pain I felt because of what she said to me.

Still. She was wrong…but she was right, too.

At that moment, my world was over. The world where I thought my son was like everyone else and would go through his life with no more difficulty than the average person. I now lived in a world where his future was terrifyingly uncertain.

Almost three years later, I’ve been blessed with some perspective. Toby is doing so well. He’s learning, growing and achieving so much. He’s exceeding expectations left and right. I’m learning that Toby’s potential for greatness never was, and never will be, limited by his disability.

In the end, my friend was right. It wasn’t the end of the world. It just took time, and grace for me to see it.

Now, I’m grateful for her insight, and even more grateful that she was right all along. I wish I could take back the unkind feelings I had, now that I know the world hasn’t ended.

In fact, it’s just beginning.

Special

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Lately, I’ve been feeling a deep-seated need to focus on the positive. There is so much sadness and difficulty that comes with having a child with autism. The heartbreak in the extra measure of challenge that your child faces that other children do not. The sorrow you feel sit heavily on your heart as you watch your child struggle to interact with other kids. The knot in your stomach when you hear another child say words that are unknowingly unkind.

Yet buried beneath this heaviness, is a special brand of joy.

There is a unique and indefinable quality that special needs kids have. Something that makes them such a pleasure to be around, to watch them as they learn and grow. Seeing a child with extra challenges beat the odds and learn a vital skill gives a joy and satisfaction that cannot be duplicated.

Our son Toby was blessed with a unique personality that draws people to him. He is likely the most enthusiastic little boy you will ever meet.

He gets so excited about the little things, like taking the dog for a walk, or pancakes for breakfast. It’s contagious too; most people that meet him can’t help but smile. Even if they don’t understand what he’s saying, they still pick up on his inner exhilaration.

Give my boy a Star Wars toy, and he will be over the moon with the kind of excitement that we only see in lottery winners and adrenaline junkies.

The distinct kind of happiness that comes from a child with autism or other special needs does not, however, diminish the enjoyment of children who are neurotypical. I have one child from each of these worlds in my home and I find that they complement each other wonderfully. They love, teach, and help each other.

Despite the hard things about having a child with autism, there is still much to be enjoyed. We are parents of special needs children– and they are truly, genuinely special.

Mr. Potato Head

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Mr. Potato Head is the toy I hate the most.

Never mind his ugly bulbous face and his stupid smirk. I have much deeper reason for my detestation of Mr. Potato Head.

Mr. Potato Head told me my son was autistic.

The way Toby played with Mr. Potato Head was non-functional. From a very young age, he would stim with the individual pieces. He’d wave them around while humming in monotone, and not put them into the face at all, let alone the right slots. Before his diagnosis, I didn’t know what he was doing. I thought he had some really interesting scenarios going on inside his head. I didn’t know he was getting lost in his own mind.

When we began to be concerned about Toby’s development, one of the doctors we saw asked me, “How does he play with toys?”

I thought of Mr. Potato Head.

The doctor frowned when I told her, and mentioned the word “autism” in relation to my son for the first time. When we finally got in to see a specialist, Mr. Potato Head came up again. Another tally against Toby. The final thing that put us over the cliff where we landed in a big fat pile of autism information packets.

Still, I tried not to hold it against Mr. Potato Head. After all, it wasn’t personal. We kept him. For over a year after Toby’s diagnosis I kept him, trying and hoping that he would learn to play with him appropriately. I wanted victory over his vegetable face. But one day, I snapped.

I gathered up all of those staring eyes, seriously rude stuck-out tongues, oval noses and black bowler hats. And I put them in a plastic bag and sent them to Goodwill.

Why should I keep such a painful reminder in my home when it only breaks my heart all over again, every time I see Toby playing with him the same way he always has? The habit to stim with those toys was a very, very powerful habit. Even though I was trying to help him overcome that pattern, I decided it just wasn’t worth it. There are plenty of small-scale toys in this world that I can use to teach Toby to play with, instead of stim with. I just couldn’t look at those dumb potato parts that told the world my son was different anymore. And you know what?

Nobody misses him. Not at all.

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UPDATE: Toby’s daily notes from school

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Literally, in your face Mr. Potato Head.

I still hate you.