By Jennifer H
When sadness comes it settles around me like a cold blanket. It infects everything that I do. Jokes that would normally be funny are met by a stony face and forced ‘Ha.’ News that should be exciting is just a daily agenda item. Music that would usually exhilarate is merely background noise.
“What’s wrong?” people may ask. It’s a perplexing question to answer.
I’ve gotten to the point that I know my depression isn’t necessarily a reflection of the quality of my life. Nor is it a measurement of the strength of my faith or a manifestation of a flaw in my personality. My sadness isn’t a punishment for something I’ve done wrong: it’s an attribute of an imperfect body going through a corrupted chemical process.
Still. It’s difficult to think clearly when a cold blanket is smothering me. It’s scary to wonder where my personality went, to not know when it’s coming back. The whole thing makes me so anxious that I just want to run until I catch up with myself: but I’m too tired.
Over the years, I’ve turned to a variety of sources to help me with this problem. I don’t have all the individual pieces to the puzzle; but I do know a few. And I know what the end result is supposed to look like.
The first puzzle piece is setting expectations. What does ‘happiness’ mean, anyway? The place to start is the scriptures. One intriguing definition I found for happiness is endurance. According to James in the New Testament, “we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job.” (James 5:11). As discouraging as it sometimes sounds, we have to remember that happiness—true happiness—is less of a sprint and more of a marathon. Joy comes as a result of persevering through difficulty. It comes from making correct choices even when we don’t immediately feel the gratification of doing so.
The second puzzle piece is confiding. Confide in a journal, confide in loved ones, confide in God. As I have tried to make myself understood to others, I have understood more of myself. As I open myself up in prayer to God, I am comforted by the reminder that I am never alone. Jesus Christ Himself said, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you” (John 14:18).
Piece number three in this puzzle of happiness is reflecting on my identity. My church teaches that I lived with God as a spirit before I was born in this mortal body. It also teaches that this time on earth is a time of learning; a chance for us to change and progress to become more like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Knowing that helps me to keep my trial in perspective. My body’s inclination towards depression is actually an opportunity for growth that the Lord has given to teach me something. In the Book of Mormon, a set of ancient scriptures, we learn that the Lord gives us weakness that we may be humble, and that, as we come unto Him, He will make weak things become strong unto us (Ether 12:27). I don’t know why I have this trial. But I do know there is something that I need to learn from it. God knew who I was before this life and He gave me the gift of this specific trial to shape me to become the best version of myself.
Finally, the most important puzzle piece I have discovered to cope with depression is realizing that happiness is a gift and not an entitlement. This life was not intended to be easy, or merely to be fun. The purpose of life on earth is to expand our souls. As I follow the gospel of Jesus Christ, I can look forward to eternal happiness in the kingdom of heaven and feel gratitude for the snapshots He gives me now of that joy.
In the end, when all the puzzle pieces come together they form the image of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Like the apostle Paul in the New Testament, I know that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13). Jesus Christ is the ultimate source of happiness. He is the author of joy. As I stumble through the dark periods of my life, I place my faith that He will make up what I lack. I know that He is there, beyond my sight, orchestrating blessings that are predicated upon my faithfulness. The happiness of those blessings doesn’t always come immediately, but it does always come. While there are so many aspects of life that I can’t control, I feel confident in this: As I choose to follow Jesus Christ, I choose joy.