I just finished a book I was reading for some graduate credit I hope to earn this month. The timing is ironic: just after wondering how I could help a person to find words to describe what they are experiencing when they are feeling or thinking, I read this book!
Isn’t that just how life works sometimes?
Because I need to write a review of this book for my assignment, I decided to place sticky notes each time I read something I would have underlined if I owned the book (it was a library copy). You can see that I felt there were a LOT of parts that I understood, appreciated, or liked. There were many places in which the characters–young adults in a psychiatric ward of a hospital–both learn to express their feelings and help each other learn to express their feelings.
I remember not being able to put my words into feelings. Growing up with a dad who had anger management issues, I don’t recall expressing many contrary feelings. I was not only a private person, I also wanted to be a peacemaker. If there was anger happening, I wanted to help it stop and to have peace as soon as possible. I wasn’t confrontational.
I’ve heard that depression is anger turned inward. I think that could be true. I think it can also be holding on to fear or feeling powerless to change what you feel like you have no control over what is happening in your life. I have noticed over the years that when something is happening in my life that I don’t want to happen or can’t seem to make happen, I sometimes have crawled into the shell of depression and stayed there until I feel like I can (or have to) come out.
In my last letter, I talked about the first time I really felt depressed. While I had a very happy childhood, I also felt a great deal of sadness, such as when my dad left our family and my foundation felt pulled out from under my feet. But I’m not sure you have to have traumatic life events to be depressed. I think not having tools to communicate your feelings (or not know what to do with them) can equate to a big mess of feelings that are all jam-packed into a mental drawer. You just keep closed because you don’t want anyone to see the mess. It’s too embarrassing, it seems, to not be able to figure out your own problems, right? (I say “You” but I mean “me” and “I,” you know? 😉)
And if you open the drawer, who would you feel safe sharing your feelings with who wouldn’t judge you or correct you or tell you that’s not the way you are actually feeling?
The second time I recall being depressed was the summer after my junior year at college. I was home. I had just finished another challenging semester and done well, by the grace of God! (I did still have to finish reading the unabridged Les Misérables that my wonderfully kind French history professor allowed me an extension on. I was a very slow reader–especially in French.) I was home, 20 years old, preparing to serve a mission at the end of the summer.
It just got harder and harder to get up everyday. I don’t know what triggered it: lack of sleep from my semester? Health problems? Family problems? That familiar weight, that heaviness, like life is just too exhausting, started to catch up with me. The overwhelmingness of everyday interactions, the closeness of tears to the surface–all of this was so hard to deal with. Again, my mom and step-dad arranged for me to meet with a counselor. Again, I don’t recall going more than once, but this time, I do remember what she said. In fact, I kept the paper the counselor wrote her notes on for years. I just looked for it and still have it! (Now I can throw it away, since I’m sharing it.)
What did my counselor say? What I remember about the “I” and “You” messages is that communicating with people is important when trying to sort out all the feelings that we have inside my our mind and heart.
I had a lot of feelings in my mind and heart that I hadn’t expressed and didn’t know how to express, all mixed up like a big bowl of spaghetti. She told me to see if I could “pull” one strand of spaghetti out at a time and put some words to the feelings I had. It seems that the “I and You messages” meant that when describing how I feel, I need to remember that how I feel is how I feel. It doesn’t mean that someone else feels that way. They may see a situation differently than I do. That is OK. My goal is simply to try to describe how I am feeling.
She also tried to help me learn to communicate using this pattern: “I feel ______ (feeling word, such as “mad” or “happy,” but not “that…” or “like…”) because ______________ and what I need or want is ________________.”
I think communicating was hard in my families (with my mother remarrying once and my father remarrying twice, I had several)–especially with the personalities that were each a part of our equation. Reading “The Memory of Light,” I could relate to the main character Vicky, when she came home and was struggling to convey her real feelings to her dad and step-mom. That’s a real circumstance in probably most families, I imagine! It takes a lot of courage to say what you really feel or think! We all are trying to learn to communicate with each other in a way that doesn’t hurt and yet is honest and allows each person to say how they really feel. I’m still working on helping create that kind of environment in my own home!
I had priesthood blessings from my step-dad during that depressive episode that summer that brought me even more comfort and reassurance than that counseling session did. Both were gifts, though. It was enough to help me move forward and feel ready to go on my mission.
Heaven provided me with just enough help for that time. Just what I needed.
I hope you are getting any help you need.
P.S. In terms of a book review of The Memory of Light, I loved it! That being said, here are my red flags:
- There are at least 10 instances of using the Lord’s name in vain or what some people define as “mild profanities” (damn, hell). (I don’t like any profanity, “mild” or otherwise.)
- There is violence, drug use, anger, sexual behavior (kissing between teenagers that wasn’t consensual), and other references that are definitely for an older audience. Because of the content about emotionally-charged topics, I would be considerate of who I gave this book to.
- In discussing the voice that the character Gabriel was hearing, I think it would important to mention that when any thought or voice tells you to do something hurtful, that is not from God. In the book, that is exactly what Vicky tries to do.
I would recommend this to book to my children and would want to discuss this book with them if they read it.