I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time, never quite sure when, whether, or how I should share my thoughts. It’s pretty personal. Maybe too much, especially for those who care for me. But I’ve seen and read a lot the last couple of weeks which have made me feel I should just do it, so here goes. I hope I make sense.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I suffer from depression. Sometimes, like now, it’s on the mild end and it doesn’t really impair my functioning. Subject to my physical health, I can give talks, lessons, presentations, go home teaching, or do myriad other things that I’ve always done over the years. People can treat me, well, normally. Indeed, just like they have for the best part of the 48 years of my life thus far. Really. I’m okay.
At other times, it gets bad… like, really bad.
Some time ago, I was praying about someone. The individual was in a pretty bad place with their own depression and I wanted to help if I could. And as I was praying, the very clear impression came to me that I should read what I’ll call “the destruction chapters” of 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon. These are the chapters that describe what happened amongst the peoples of the Book of Mormon at the time Jesus died upon the cross in Jerusalem and, you guessed it, there was lots of destruction across the land.
I thought that was a pretty weird thing to go and read, but again the prompting came, so I finished my prayer, opened my Book of Mormon to 3 Nephi 8, and started to read. I was blown away, because it matched perfectly my own experience of depression.
I had never read these chapters with depression in mind before, but when I did, I can truly say it was a revelation.
Now, I’ll put a word of warning in here. What follows is, well, I guess you could say depressing. But there’s light at the end. I promise!
For me, at least, there are two stages to my spiralling into an episode of major depression. There’s the bit where all the world seems to be falling apart and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. And then there’s the period of total hopelessness: the desperate desire to simply cease to exist, as that is the only thing that could possibly end the pain. It’s really interesting that we see parallels to each of these stages within 3 Nephi 8.
Not everyone’s depression is the same, but I’ve shared what I’ve learned from these chapters with a few fellow sufferers, and they’ve found it resonated with their own experience. So whether you suffer from this illness, or whether you don’t, but just want to understand a bit more, I hope this helps.
“And it came to pass… there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land.” (3 Nephi 8:5)
This storm of the soul has happened a couple of times to me now, and it really does feel like everything is falling apart – even when there’s nothing on the outside that gives that appearance. But just because it’s on the inside doesn’t make it any less real.
“And there was also a great and terrible tempest; and there was terrible thunder, insomuch that it did shake the whole earth as if it was about to divide asunder. And there were exceedingly sharp lightnings, such as never had been known in all the land.” (3 Nephi 8:6-7)
Wow. Tempest, thunder, lightning, earthquakes. And not just your normal, run-of-the-mill variety. It was a terrible tempest, terrible thunder, earthquakes that made it feel like the earth was about to divide asunder, exceedingly sharp lightnings.
All of this was happening simultaneously in a horror-filled cataclysm. “The city of Zarahemla did take fire… the city of Moroni did sink into the depths of the sea… the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah.” (3 Nephi 8:8-10) Yes, the tempests and lightnings and earthquakes were that bad.
We learn in the next chapter that similar fates had befallen many other cities including: Gilgal, Onihah, Mocum, (the Nephite) Jerusalem, Gadiandi, Gadiomnah, Jacob, Gimgimno, Laman, Josh, Gad, and Kishkumen. (see 3 Nephi 9:3-10)
This was unprecedented. The devastation was total. Every which way you looked, there was peril untold: earth, sea and sky. And none of the people could do anything about it.
As a metaphor for the first stage of depression, this is just about perfect. Parts of my life became ruin, everywhere I looked a total wreck. And it seems no-one could do anything about it. “And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed.” (3 Nephi 8:17)
What I think is important to note here, is that much of this turmoil can remain invisible. Over in Jerusalem, where Jesus actually died, there were three hours of darkness and an earthquake that rent the veil of the temple. A bit worrying, for sure, but nothing like the scale we see with the Nephites.
If you are metaphorically the land of Jerusalem, and I am the land of the Nephites, you might only feel a bit of darkness and small tremor, and then wonder what all the fuss with depression is about. You might not even see anything significant change in my life. You might be completely confused to learn I feel my life is a wreck, because there’s nothing you see that looks like that. But inside, my world has changed beyond recognition, and it’s not for the better.
As if that’s not enough, the worst bit is to follow. And this is where we get to the second stage of depression. After the relatively brief period of three hours during which this havoc was wreaked, “…there was a darkness upon the face of the land.” (3 Nephi 8:19)
And this darkness isn’t the equivalent of night time. Maybe you’ve been in a cave some time, and then switched all the lights off. If you have, you’ve probably brought your hand right up to your face and wondered at how you still can’t see it, the darkness is so complete.
Well, guess what, the Nephites’ darkness was worse than even this. Because this wasn’t just darkness, it was “thick darkness”. As if total darkness wasn’t enough, now the people, “…could feel the vapour of darkness.” (3 Nephi 8:20)
Pitch black… that you can feel. Okay, that starts to sound a bit creepy doesn’t it? All on the back of an apocalyptic style devastation, beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend. And then we get to the part which so completely made me realise the Lord is talking about major depression in these chapters.
“And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, nor torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so there could not be any light at all.” (3 Nephi 8:21, emphasis added)
I’ve had discussions with people who are trying to understand my depression, where the conversation goes something like this:
Them: “But there must have been times when you felt some joy right?”
Them: “When your kids did something to make you proud?”
Me: “Sorry, no.”
Them: “Even the briefest moment when you were reading the scriptures or saying your prayers.”
Me: “No. There were no moments, however brief. Because “there could not be any light at all.”
Note that the Nephites had candles and torches and “exceedingly dry” wood. They expected to be able to light these things. They had been taught, and learned by experience, what they needed to do to get light. But even with the right tools in apparently the right condition, they still couldn’t do it.
Just like the Nephites, I’ve learned by teaching as well as personal experience that there are things I can do to bring light into my life. Serving others, attending church meetings, reading the scriptures, praying. In the LDS faith, these are things that we’re regularly told by modern prophets and apostles to do. And you know what? They work.
But not when I’m in severe depression. Then, nothing works. At all. Not even a glimmer. There could be no light at all.
And while the terrible destructions last three hours (although felt much longer, see 3 Nephi 8:19), this vapour of darkness lasted three days: an order of magnitude longer than the visible destruction. It got to the point where I knew it would never end. Ever.
I Am The Light
Now, if you’ve never suffered from this kind of depression, well, I don’t know what you’re thinking about this post. But those who have, you might just feel some comfort in knowing that the Lord gives us a great example – in some detail – of what you’ve suffered, or are suffering. Remember that this group of people in the vapour of darkness were the “more righteous” amongst the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 9:13). It wouldn’t be long before they saw the resurrected Christ, knelt in His presence.
Of course, they still needed to repent – we all need to – but by and large this was a decent group of people. The vapour of darkness surrounding them wasn’t a condemnation. And that means your depression doesn’t say anything about your level of righteousness either. The fact that your prayers go nowhere, your scripture reading feels pointless, and everything else you’ve done before to feel the Spirit seems impossible or just doesn’t help; all that means is that you’re suffering from an illness called depression. Nothing more.
And please, please remember this: the vapour of darkness did eventually disperse from the Nephites. Christ called from the heavens, even as they lay in darkness, “I am the light and the life of the world.” (3 Nephi 9:18)
“And it came to pass that thus did the three days pass away. And it was in the morning, and the darkness dispersed from off the face of the land, and the earth did cease to tremble, and the rocks did cease to rend, and the dreadful groaning did cease, and all the tumultuous noises did pass away. And the earth did cleave together again, that it stood; and the mourning, and the weeping, and the wailing of the people who were spared alive did cease; and their mourning was turned into joy, and their lamentations into the praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord Jesus Christ, their Redeemer.” (3 Nephi 10:9-10, emphasis added)
I can give my own witness that this is true. If you’ve found this post resonates with you, then you know I’ve been where you are. I might even go there again (although I so hope not!). The darkness was never going to end: I knew it. There was no hope. There could be no light.
But the darkness did disperse. The light returned, stronger than before. It did for me. It will for you.
“In the beginning… God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:1-3)
Christ was, is, and ever will be the light. No matter your darkness, He lives. He tenderly cares for you. And one day you will be with Him in a light more glorious than you can imagine.
© Copyright Jeffrey Collyer, 2017