A few years ago, I went through a really hard season of life. I had a new baby and soon after she came home from the hospital, she started screaming on and off all day. We tried dietary changes, ambient noise, singing, reflux medication, and the like. Although those things helped, none fully abated her crying. In the midst of these challenges, I myself, slipped into post-partum depression. Since I was allergic to the medication, I had to find other ways to cope and get through.
I remember going to church one Sunday, looking around at all the members of the congregation, and wishing that I could feel the spirit and feel the happiness that comes from the gospel. I thought that perhaps something was wrong with me. I felt broken. It was during this time that I pondered over Lehi’s Dream. I had tasted the fruit of the tree of life in the past, so why could I no longer taste it? No, not just taste it, I couldn’t even see it. I felt like I was surrounded by mists of darkness. I pictured myself in Lehi’s Dream, clinging to the iron rod, trying desperately to get to the tree, but unable to see it.
As soon as I reflected upon these images, the Holy Ghost pierced through the clouds of darkness and I felt the overwhelming love of my Heavenly Father. I learned a lesson that I will never forget. I realized that I was not alone and that this was part of my life’s experience. There was nothing wrong with me as a person. Heavenly Father allowed me to pass through mists of darkness to strengthen me, give me empathy, and help me better appreciate the love on the other side. More importantly, I was given hope that this too shall pass and will be for but a small moment.
Having gone through this, I have learned a few tips to help us get through our own “mists of darkness.” Whether it be post-partem depression, discouragement, or just plain burnout, these tips can equally apply to our lives and help us get through to the other side.
1. Find a Support System. My husband was my biggest support system during this time. He gave me blessings, let me cry on his shoulder, made dinner, and encouraged me to get out. My children were also helpful. They took turns with the baby, gave me hugs, and forced me to get out of bed each morning. I also had friends and family who were there for me, and although I tried to hide my suffering, I was often greeted with a smile or a hug just at the right moment.
2. Know your limits and set small goals. With a new baby and homeschooling 4 out of 6 children, I realized that I needed to really scale back and change my expectations. It was helpful to have a “minimum requirement” that if we completed, we were “successful” that day. Some days it was simply watching an educational movie. Other days it was doing a math lesson and then reading together as a family. Sometimes it was simply getting out of bed and reading our scriptures together. I also put my Kindergartner into public school mid year so that I could focus more attention on the older three and on the baby. (He’s now homeschooling again.)
3. Count Your Blessings. Sometimes counting your blessings can be hard, when you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, but it can be so powerful. You can be grateful for a smile, for a small act of kindness, for employment, your home, etc. Sometimes it can be as simple as being grateful for the sun shining outside your window. Counting your blessings can help you love a child who may be giving you a hard time or help you realize how blessed you truly are. It is also very helpful to write these blessings down and re-read them as time permits. My journal became a wonderful source to help me sort out my feelings and to also help me count my blessings.
4. Sharpen Your Saw. Stephen R. Covey told the story of a man working tirelessly to cut down a tree. A farmer came out and noticed that his saw looked dull. He asked the man how long he had been sawing and found that he had been working at this tree for five hours, and was exhausted. He invited the man to take a rest and sharpen his saw, but the man said that he was too busy sawing. Often we need to take a step back from what we’re doing and take time to sharpen our saws or we will experience burnout. Whether it be to organize a room, catch up on laundry, or take a day off from school and go to a park, sharpening our saws can help us refuel and get the strength we need to move forward. I found that some of my happiest moments came from playing with my children or being out in nature. It is also important to take some time out for yourself. I remember asking my oldest son to take the baby so I could exercise, shower, do my hair and make-up, and read my scriptures. Having this small window of time helped sharpen my saw enough to make it through another day.
5. Serve Others. One morning, it seemed that everyone in the house was in a bad mood. There was fighting, bickering, and a lot of discord. I excused myself from the mayhem, went to my bedroom, and behind closed doors knelt down and pleaded with my Heavenly Father for inspiration on what to do. The thought came to me of a sister in the Ward who had just had a new baby. With that, I packed up all my children, and took them to the store to buy a baby gift. While there, we saw an “angel tree” with requests for gifts for children who had very little. My children saw the tree and read some of the descriptions on the cards. Some children simply wanted clothing while others wanted a ball or doll. My children were touched and we not only bought and delivered the baby gift, but we were also able to help bless another child in our community. The fighting ceased, at least for the time being, and was replaced with a spirit of happiness. President Lorenzo Snow said, “When you find yourselves a little gloomy, look around you and find somebody that is in a worse plight than yourself; go to him and find out what the trouble is, then try to remove it with the wisdom which the Lord bestows upon you; and the first thing you know, your gloom is gone, you feel light, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you, and everything seems illuminated.” (Conference Report, April 1899) I can attest to the truthfulness of his words.
6. Create. Elder Uchtdorf gave a wonderful talk called “Happiness, Your Heritage” in September 2008. In it he said, “Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things...As you take the normal opportunities of your daily life and create something of beauty and helpfulness, you improve not only the world around you but also the world within you.” On many days when I was discouraged, I sat down at the piano and began to play. I was so grateful for the ability to create something of beauty. There are so many things that we can create and so much happiness that can come by blessing others with our talents.
7. Laugh. One of the most tender moments I had during the peak of my depression happened with my six year old. I was having an especially hard day, and found it hard to even smile. My son came up to me, and out of nowhere said, “Happy balls!” Then he proceeded to put out his hand and make noises that sounded like a pop gun continually firing these “happy balls” at me. At first I cried, and then I laughed. It is now our little game that we play with each other. Whenever either one of us are discouraged, you can bet that we will be giving the other one “happy balls.” Laughter can help disperse many a dark cloud.
8. Put the Lord First. If there is one thing that I have learned through my many times of depression or discouragement, it is to put the Lord first. When I had my second miscarriage, I remember that I had a choice to make. I could allow myself to wallow in my grief or I could immerse myself in the scriptures. I chose the latter. While studying the scriptures, I felt a closeness to the Savior that I had never before felt. I found purpose, meaning, and hope. I was able to put my trust in my Heavenly Father and recognize that He had a plan for me. I learned the truth about opposition in all things. I can attest that because of having felt loss, I have gained a greater appreciation for what I do have. I also gained a greater appreciation for the Savior and His great sacrifice. I learned that the atonement could not only take away my sins, but my grief, loneliness, and pain as well. Putting the Lord first has been a life line to me, allowing me to prioritize those things that are most important.
Although going through discouraging times are not easy, they can be a refining process for us. I remember the morning when I woke up, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I could breath again. It was like a huge rush of oxygen. I knew that I was finally through the worst of my post-partem depression and that the darkness had finally parted. I will forever be grateful for the lessons I learned and for the blessings that came from holding to the iron rod through the mists of darkness.
Juventa Vezzani and her husband, Dave, are the parents of six children, three boys (ages 13, 11, and 6) and three girls (9, 4, and 1). You can hear more from Juventa at the 2011 Home Education Conference on May 12-13 in Virginia Beach. For more info, please visit www.ldsehe.org.