DEPRESSION, BIPOLAR & ANXIETY - LIVING AS A LATTER-DAY SAINT, LDS

Episode #195 - Pivoting & Planning

September 17, 2023 Damon Socha Season 1 Episode 195
DEPRESSION, BIPOLAR & ANXIETY - LIVING AS A LATTER-DAY SAINT, LDS
Episode #195 - Pivoting & Planning
Show Notes Transcript

Mental Illness can and does cause life chaos where the only thing that is certain is that your illness is going to get in the way.  Our lives can feel like failures but the reality is that the Lord can use that failure.  He can turn what seems to be a life of chaos into a life of wonder and success.

Episode #195 – Pivoting and Planning – Well sorry for missing last week.  You know I think about you the listener often.  The only real information I have about you is the city, state and country of the origin of the download.  So I know that I have listeners all over the US.  And very dedicated ones as the same towns and cities continue to appear.  I also have some foreign listeners who are very dedicated from Canada to the UK, Belgium, Kenya, Australia, the Philippines, Germany, France and so many more.  As I think about who you are and what you are passing through in your life, I like to think that we share a common bond.  An illness and a gospel perspective that bind us together.  I hope that in time I will meet each of you and we will listen and speak with one another, sharing our common experiences.  

I have always loved the Robert Frost Poem, The Road not taken.  Today it seems to fit into what I want to discuss.  So we will start with his poem.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Traversed the brush and the brambles.  

And wandered through paths I had not planned.

 

Those are not the exact words of the poem and you probably noted it.

 

So often in our life, especially when mental and emotional health challenges come into our path, we seemingly traverse areas of the mortal wilderness we had not even thought about much less planned for.  We dream of traversing grassy flower filled career paths, with warm spring relationships only to find that our illness has us lost deep in a forest of thick trees and painful thorny brambles.  And rather than sunny days and warm breezes, it can feel very dark, cold and rain filled.  

We plan our lives and then our illness sets that plan on fire and then hands us a new map to navigate full of experiences, places, people and trials that have little resemblance to the original plan.  It can feel as though our illness is directing more of our lives than we are.  It can also feel as though failure is our only real accomplishment when it comes to our plans and dreams.  The consistent pivoting that we endure through the rerouting nature of mental and emotional illness can feel as though we can never really plan.  

I have experienced a fair share of interrupted plans, brambles, bushes and roads not taken.  Yet through it all, I have experienced something quite unique.  I have found that the Lord can take those crazy deviations and pivoting turns and twists and use them to direct and redirect our lives.

Today I am going to walk through a basic history of the first portion of my life.  It might take you by surprise.  My illnesses, both the autoimmune and the mental illness, have caused quite a few deviations, U-turns, pivots and what might appear to be failures and miscues in my life.  My purpose is to demonstrate a few things.  The first is that the Lord is always present even when we feel as though we have failed in life.  Second, that it isn’t uncommon for individuals with mental health challenges to have a variety of life challenges that cause, maybe a better word is force difficult decisions to be made and alter what we thought our life would be.  And third, the Lord can use those pivots, perceived failures and U-turns to alter our dreams to what he would like us to do and become.  We are by nature in the hands of the creator and our illness can give him options to direct our lives in ways that are more conducive to his plan for us.

I am going to start with high school as this is most often where our dreams and plans for life begin to form.  I loved chemistry.  When I took it in high school as a course, the world opened up to me and that class was where I formed my desire to study chemistry or chemical engineering.  That was my plan all through high school and even during missionary service.  That plan didn’t even deviate during my first two years of college at a junior college.  When I moved unto Washington State to pursue the more focus portion of my degree things began to change.

I had experienced significant difficulties during my missionary service with my bipolar disorder.  The stress of missionary work and a moderate to severe case of the illness presented significant challenges.  So much so that I don’t remember much about my mission but some names, faces and a couple of stories.  What is interesting about my mission is that even in the midst of the trial and the struggles I faced, it made a difference in my life as far as my relationship with the Savior.  While my mental health challenges probably made me a less than effective missionary, it provided for my knees to get some work in prayer and learning to listen to the spirit through the multitude of emotional voices that come with bipolar disorder.  My mission was just the beginning of my learning to listen, but it provided a foundation for future learning experiences.  I have often said my mission saved me in many ways.  Without it, I fully believe that I would not have made it very far in life.  That is probably true both physically and spiritually.  That isn’t to say that I didn’t wade through very deep and dark waters during that timeframe.  I did.  But missionary work provided a stability I did not have in my life.  Yes it also provided significant stress which was terrible for my illness.  In many ways, as I look back, even though I didn’t feel very successful or even very effective, I can see how the Lord molded me through a very hot fiery furnace of affliction.

When I returned home, the Lord knew that I need some stability or I wasn’t going to make it very far in my life.  I don’t tell the origin story of our marriage very often.  It was unique in many ways and likely due to my illness and struggles.  My wife and I were engaged within 2-3 weeks of our first date.  The Lord just made it clear to both of us.  She would be one of those main stability points over the next several years of turmoil.  She would and still is my savior.  I know that this isn’t very common to get married young and engaged so quickly, especially in our current climate of commitment and relationship development but I believe that it was one of the those necessary moments in time that the Lord knew he needed to intervene before I could make a wrong turn.

From our marriage to junior college and a newborn I struggled through the chaos of very early mornings to sort packages and college.  I slept a great deal, just to manage.  Eventually, we moved across Washington State to the small town of Pullman where I began attending WSU.  It was here where my illness began to progress and regress, delivering more and more difficult moments.  And it was here where my first significant moment of perceived failure happened.  My dream had always been to pursue Chemical Engineering.  The stress of my illness caused that I could not keep up with the rigors of the degree.  I simply did not have the capacity.  I tell people that I realized that I was quite a different personality than the rest of my class but the reality was simple.  Mental illness causes capacity issues and the increase in the symptoms was too much.  So I pivoted to secondary education.  I could at least teach chemistry and math.  

I began working towards my degree in secondary education.  During this time is when my illness reached the point that they always do when stress and mental illness collide.  I came as close as I have ever been to suicide.  I won’t relate more than that except it caused me to see the college psychiatrist.  Luckily at that time, they had one on staff.  While I had been taking Lithium for a time to treat my bipolar symptoms, I had not been dedicated to it.  It was here when I realized that I needed help.  I began working through the medication process.  And for me, it was a process.  Some medications worked better than others but it was at college where my medication journey really began in earnest.  I continued my education degree but eventually I realized that working in a high school with bipolar was not going to be a good combination.  I had to pivot again and obtained a general science degree. 

So I left college with a degree but certainly not with the one I had planned.  It was also during my college timeframe that I experienced my first real perceived spiritual failure, other than what I experienced during my mission.  I had the opportunity to teach seminary and it did not go very well for me.  I eventually had to ask to be released.   The early morning and added stress was simply too much.  The bishop was kind but I was in many ways devastated.  I had never asked to be released before this moment and it felt very defeating and real.  I know that the Lord was in it now, but I could not see it in the moment.  

I left college not really knowing exactly who I was or what I wanted to do.  I took a job working for a company that is now Fed Ex Ground in southern Oregon.  Unfortunately, my illness was still problematic even on my current medication.  The move to Southern Oregon jolted my emotions sufficiently that I lasted a few months without a serious episode but the waves of bipolar always catch up with you and I moved back to my parents home for a time.  Again feeling as though I had failed again.  After bouncing around through a couple of jobs, I obtained work at a petroleum refinery doing some chemistry work.  The work was interesting but I realized that I needed more than myself in a lab all day running tests.  I also developed an allergy to some of the chemicals in the plant.  Again I was forced to pivot and I return to school to get my MBA.  We lived with my grandmother at the time and I admit it was not ideal for my wife.  I had a long commute to school and was regularly exhausted.  I finished my MBA and really didn’t know what to do.  I had decided that law school might be an option and I did feel good about it.  I was accepted to the University of Idaho law school and I moved to a small town called Post Falls so that I could attain residency.  I worked in construction for a time framing and then running my own business and then sales and then back to my own business and realized that with my illness Law School was probably out of the question.  So I had to pivot again.  It was at this time something interesting happened.  Once, I had decided to not attend law school, I applied for another chemistry job in Western Washington and a construction management job in Spokane Washington.  I had interviewed with the chemistry job and had felt like I should take it.  I called the construction management job to tell them I would be taking the chemistry job even before my interview.  The manager convinced me to come in and interview anyway and the construction job just worked for us.  I can see now how the Lord intervened more heavily at that point.  There is no reason I should have been hired for the construction management job.  My degree was in chemistry and I had only done residential work.  I had never worked a federal construction job.  Looking back there was no good or real reason to hire me.  However, that job launched my career.  I will note that my years in Post Falls did not feel like a success and I struggled with my illness regularly.  The construction management job actually worked out for two years.  But within two years I had to pivot again.  I remained in construction taking a job in Seattle, Washington.

I will note something here that occurred during this timeframe before the move to Seattle.  After many priesthood blessings, prayer and spiritual work, I had one of those unmistakable feelings that I should return home to my parents house and receive another blessing and the Lord would heal me.  We make a quick trip from Eastern to Western Washington and I received I wonderful blessing of the stake president at the time. I received a healing blessing and council that I would need to do my part in the healing process.  However, it would be a long road to healing as my illness was gone but now I needed to find out who I was without it.  I know that might sound strange, but when you live with an illness all your life and then suddenly it is gone, you can feel more than a little lost.  My emotions had been such a raging river for so long when I was healed and normal emotional states returned I felt empty.  In any case, it would be a decade before I felt fully healed.  We don’t often think about the ramifications of being healed.  And I had certainly never pondered that it would take a decade before I felt normal.  

The job in Seattle was good but because of the stress of the commute and the toll on my family, we decided that we needed to make a change.  The company I was working for in Seattle had a vacancy in Salt Lake City and I took a job in Salt Lake, which provided us another opportunity to learn. 

So I’m going to pause my history for a minute to note just how crazy it was.  We had moved about 15 times by this point in our marriage and we had 6 children.  I had worked at least a dozen jobs if not more and I was jobless, but had a pending opportunity.  What is important to understand is that this is not unusual for someone with mental health challenges.  My particular problem was bipolar and if you consider all of the chaos, it actually fits with the illness.  I will also note that the Lord never abandoned us during this process.  He was always there directing, guiding, helping us behind the scenes.  When I look back I see him everywhere but in the moment I struggled to see him anywhere.  I struggled to hear his voice.  I struggled to know what to do.  I struggled in every aspect of my life physically and spiritually.  During our struggles we will rarely see the Lord’s hand directly in our lives.  It can feel uncomfortable, confusing, defeating and entirely feel as though you have failed.  But if you keep working at the gospel, the Lord is always there even when we can’t see or feel his hand.

We lived in Magna for 8 years while we were in Utah, and during that time I had five different jobs.  I struggled finding myself after the healing blessing but it was here where I found my current career.  A technological revolution had come about in the construction industry and the beginnings of 3 dimensional modeling and visualization came about.  I became interested and taught myself the software.  During the same timeframe I was learning the software an issue arose at work where some significant bullying behavior was present.  That was nothing new in construction but this was rather harsh.  I wasn’t on the receiving end, but a colleague of mine who was bearing the brunt of the problem.  I spoke up for him, and that isn’t what you do in construction.  So I ended up looking for a new job.  I applied at a company for a scheduling position, but noted my new software skills in simulation and visualization.  This is where the Lord intervened again and where I knew he had.  I started and built a Virtual construction department for this company and worked there several years.  It was about this time that a new illness arose that brought back some of my depression symptoms.  I didn’t know it then but I had a rather severe case of Psoriatic Arthritis.  I would take another 6 years before I would be diagnosed and it caused a host of problems and several job changes.  That is how I ended up in Georgia.  

While I could continue the saga of my life, I am going to stop here, because I think that I have provided what I need to show.  I now live in Georgia with a wonderful home on several acres of land and have a wonderful job.  Most of all I have 8 wonderful children, who I do not deserve and a wife who I consider the angel who saved me from myself.  Do I deserve the job, life and family I have.  No, I don’t.  My life was chaos because of my illnesses both the bipolar and the autoimmune.  I didn’t study construction management.  I have quit far too many jobs to count.  I have struggled deeply with bipolar until I was healed and then suffered depression due to my chronic autoimmune issues.  I have moved more than 25 times in my life with my family.  I have caused my wife to suffer at times because I did not have the capacity to help her.  My life has been anything but consistent and regular.  Most would have considered it pure chaos and failure.  But in all that chaos the Lord was there.  I could not always feel him.  In fact, many times I wondered if he was even there.  But as I look back on it.  He was always there.  He guided all my footsteps, through my mortal weaknesses and even used those weaknesses to teach me valuable lessons.  

That is my point today.  I know that many of you have considered much of your life as a failed experiment.  That your mental health challenges have caused you to run from one chaotic moment to the next barely catching your breath much less attempting to plan a life.  Some of you may have experienced divorce, relationship problems, excommunication or loss of covenant blessings.  Some of you have lost jobs, family, friends and feel you have a history several miles long.  Some of you have been addicted and struggled to find any peace.  However, I know by experience that the Lord is there with you in the fray.  He is not worried about your perceived failures because he can make up the difference.  He knows you and how best to work with you and your illness.  You will from time to time feel his hand in your life and at other times wonder if he exists.  However, he is always right beside you. Urging you forward to do your part.  He can see the end from the beginning and knows how best to guide you in wisdoms paths.  All you must do is to put in the effort you can.  He will help your children, your spouse, your family, your friends and aid you in your career if you allow him to weld his atonement for your benefit.  Rarely will you see him when he directs your path, but as you look backwards you will see his hands lifting, comforting, guiding and directing you to success.  You are his child and as you continue to do your part the Lord will do his, this I can testify and promise because I have seen and felt it in my life and in the lives of many others.  Until next week, I hope and pray that you feel him next to you and the love he has for you.