It wasn’t so much a lot of tears and sobbing. It was more a general sense of dread, like nothing could ever be good or worthwhile. Maybe it was a little like how Ron Weasley describes the all-encompassing chill of dementors in the Harry Potter series: like he’ll never feel cheerful again. And despite the fact that my brain knew I was depressed, I still couldn’t shake it.
We’d arrived back at our city apartment after over six weeks of intense, joyful visiting with family and friends for the summer. Parties, walks, a wedding, beach time, dates, swimming, everything, even simple lazy days together. And then it was just us again, alone in a giant city, surrounded by concrete and iron and foreign words. Just us. Much as I love my sweet little family, the void was too empty, too deep. The realization that I was committed to this life for at least the next year was even more disheartening. It was like my recurring childhood nightmare of knowing I’d have to do a horrible task for eternity. I tried to get into the swing of things, to go grocery shopping, to go for a run, to just get ice cream with the kids. For a few days, I couldn’t do even that. I stayed inside. Doing what? I don’t know. I unpacked. I cleaned a lot. I do that when I’m unhappy (which is why you can hope my house is always cluttered!). My husband worried and suggested things and rubbed my feet, sweet man that he is. But he was back to work, his busy time of year. So I kept sighing, brooding, questioning how I was going to survive a whole year here, much less how I was going to be a mother and homeschool my kids!
Now, I don’t know what it’s like to have depression. Fortunately, my episode lasted only a week. But while I was inside that dark bubble, it was sure hard to see any hope for the future.
I’ve been thinking about it in the weeks since, wondering why it would hit me so hard on my fourth year in foreign cities. It’s not like I haven’t been away [i.e. insanely homesick] before… But today I realized some of the reasons why.
First, gratitude. Life is pretty great for this woman. I have so many blessings, too many to enumerate! So should I really be surprised that I get to have a trial?? Rather, I should be grateful I get THIS trial and not a bundle of other ones.
Second, empathy. My husband is currently out of town picking up a new group of teachers who will be here for the semester teaching English. He left me a voice message tonight informing me that he’d had a long conversation with one of the girls who happened to be part of my Young Women stewardship for almost six years. She was a brand-new, 12-year-old Beehive when I met her. Now she’s a college girl, moving away from home for the first time after a year at the university. This first week while they’ve been training, she’s experienced a blast of homesickness. She expressed to my husband how grateful she was for the relationship she and I had and how much she learned from it all. He then told me that she would probably need a huge hug from me when she arrives, and that I could definitely benefit as well. Maybe the Lord gave me a week of home/family/familiarity-sickness to remind me what it’s like to be in a foreign country and away from home for the first time. I will be giving her a HUGE hug. And most likely some chocolate chip cookies.
Third, endurance. I love to read good books, I participate in church, I appreciate great music, I enjoy pondering deeper meanings–I learn a lot. But I also forget a lot. Perhaps it was time to see if I would retain my best self through a trial. That best self has been a long time in the making; it’s taken me nearly 35 years so far to build this edifice, which includes a fair amount of demolition and remodeling. The Lord must have seen a need for an earthquake (or maybe it was a vapor of darkness?) to test the strength, tenacity, flexibility, and endurance of that structure. Would I really hold true to my testimony and hope for the future when all I could see was hopelessness? Would I be able to trust my faith and the love of my family when I couldn’t feel love, only fear?
Looking back on those depressing days now, after all these realizations, it seems trivial, almost silly, although I know it was very real. How could I not see the hope and joy and love in my life? How could I not recognize the Lord preparing me and teaching me? For Alma 34:32 teaches, “…this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God.” Could I–or any of us–ever meet Him and be like Him after having an easy, carefree life? No way! I assure you, the very elect of God’s children are not exempt from fiery trials. I’m heartened by God’s gentle chastisement and subsequent assurance of hope to one of His faithful children; imagine this is written for you:
If thou art called to pass through tribulation,…if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son [or daughter], that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
Therefore, hold on thy way…. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever. (See D&C 122:5-9)
The reasons for our trials are not always evident. Maybe we get to figure them out in the “someday,” maybe we’re left to wonder why. But always, always, if we trust in the Lord and remain faithful to our covenants, we will know that it is for our good, for our best self that perhaps only the Lord can fully envision.