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

Episode #218 - HeartBreak

March 03, 2024 Damon Socha Season 1 Episode 218
DEPRESSION, BIPOLAR & ANXIETY - LIVING AS A LATTER-DAY SAINT, LDS
Episode #218 - HeartBreak
Show Notes Transcript

Heartbreak or the loss of a close emotional connection is one of the most common ways in which mental and emotional health issues arise in our lives.  Our close friends, spouse and family can literally become a part of our identity.  When we lose these people it can be as though we have lost ourselves.

Episode #218 – Heartbreak. I am your host Damon Socha.  Heartbreak caused by the loss of emotional connection is one of the most frequent and reoccurring themes of mental and emotional health issues.  When we lose deep emotional connections due to death or other means, we can lose ourselves in the experience.

Today we are going to start with a story about a young woman attending college.  This experience occurred several years ago in a typical college town.  This young woman had been feeling sick.  Nausea, headaches, foggy brain, lack of energy, unable to eat and she hadn’t been sleeping well. It had only been going on for a couple of months, but it just didn’t seem to quit.  So she got an appointment at the wellness center.  Her appointment happened to coincide with a unique doctor.  The doctor she happened to encounter was blind.

The appointment was one of those regular visits we have all experienced.  So what was happening and why had she come to see the doctor.  The blind nature of the doctor was a little unnerving to her but after a short discussion about her blindness, the young woman quickly warmed up to her.  Then the questions began.  So tell me why you came into the wellness center.  The woman began with her symptoms and experiences. The tiredness, stomach problems, brain problems and just not being able to eat.  There were other things but they were minor.  As a doctor normally would, she began to ask questions about school, what she was eating, was she exercising, and she asked why she wasn’t sleeping well.  This wasn’t her first year in school, she was a junior.  School didn’t seem to be more stressful than normal, in fact, it had become more enjoyable as she was pursuing the subjects that excited her the most.  Now normally the doctor would take this information, order some blood tests and then tell her to take it easy for a few days.  Because that is what they are trained to do, to look for clues in the physical body.

And yet this doctor didn’t stop with the normal questions.  She asked about her family and her friends.  She specifically asked about her relationships.  The young woman gave the normal responses.  Nothing was out of the ordinary.  Then the doctor casually asked about her relationship with a boyfriend.  The young lady paused and a tear began to form.  Then it came just spilling out how about two months before she had gone through a terrible breakup with what she thought was her soul mate.  “Was she expecting it?” the doctor asked.  The answer was not really.  This doctor then dug deeper and found out many of her symptoms started about the time of the loss of this relationship.

While the doctor still wanted the blood tests, she also gave her a quick test regarding her emotional and mental health.  This provided some information that her illness was likely the result of the emotional loss.  Turns out the doctor was right and with a little medication and some counseling she returned to a more normal life over the next few months.

What was important about this doctor was that her blindness allowed her to listen more deeply and to understand that emotional and mental health is as important as physical health.  She also understood the truth that our emotional health is directly related to our physical health.  You really can’t separate them.  She understood that suddenly breaking a deep emotional bond could cause serious symptoms to form in the physical body.  And that is the message for today.  Heartbreak is more than a passing emotional issue, it can become an emotional and mental health problem for many individuals.

While there are many ways in which stress can induce the symptoms of mental and emotional illness, the most common among these is the loss of a deep emotional connection with another person.  

The adage that time heals all wounds is not an all encompassing idea or even very true.  Time itself does not necessarily heal all wounds especially emotional ones.  What we find when someone loses a spouse or a friend to death, when someone has a difficult breakup, when friends move away, when we lose a close emotional connection, almost every person experiences an emotional illness problem.  Now some people heal rather quickly and work through what we call the grieving process within a short timeframe.  Now grieving doesn’t necessarily occur just once so they may experience other moments but generally it does not seriously affect their lives and their ability to function.  There exist another set of people and this is perhaps most common who experience a temporary emotional illness where the event and loss seriously affects their ability to function and socialize in life and they retreat for a time to grieve.  This temporary illness might be around for several weeks or months but it does eventually get better.  Better being the operative word, meaning the healing might take several months to a year or more and the individual may be left with some lasting emotional issues but not sufficient to completely alter their life.  We find these individuals often reevaluate what is important in their lives and the purpose of life and they are likely to make some changes.  Those changes often also cause some emotional distress but after a time we find that the temporary nature of the emotional illness wears off and they are able to lead a normal life.  There exist another set of individuals much smaller to this last group who will experience temporary moments of mental and emotional illness the remainder of their life but it tends to come and go rather than entirely alter their life.  These are individuals who go through phases of healing and life altering moments but where the emotional illness symptoms tend to diminish over several years and remain more temporary.  Their symptoms may at times be life altering but they tend to return to a more normal life after some time.

Now there exists a group of individuals who never fully recover from the emotional loss and depression, anxiety and even bipolar become an ever reoccurring part of their life.  These persons will suffer some type and level of mental and emotional illness for the remainder of their life.  They will need some counseling, some brain training and even some medications.  What is unfortunate about these wonderful people is that they believe that they are weak or broken or unworthy because their emotional illness remains and reoccurs rather than the healing they are hoping to find.  They see others work through their grief and then return to employment and their previous life relatively unaffected and wonder why they do not feel the same.  They feel lost, hopeless, downcast and simply stupefied by their continued emotional problems and how drastically it has altered their life.  Many times these same persons will mask their emotions for weeks, months and even years thinking to fake it until you make it.  But the masking only seems to make things worse.  They feel stuck and weak and lost.  The most unfortunate thing about it is that their belief is entirely wrong.  They are not weak, or stuck or lost.  They are experiencing an emotional or mental health issue, no different in many senses to the way we experience a something like COVID so differently.  For me COVID is a difficult disease causing autoimmune issues for me for many months after an infection.  For my wife, she never feels it.  Our genetics are just different and there isn’t anything I can do about it.  That is really the same for those who suffer the loss of a deep emotional connection and find themselves in the world of mental and emotional illness.  You don’t get to decide how your emotional body responses to a certain type of stress.  That has already been determined.  And since your emotional body informs your physical body, your physical body will feel actual symptoms.  There is nothing wrong with a person who has long-term mental and emotional health issues due to an emotional loss any more than the person who suffers more physical difficulty with COVID, the flu or any other physical disease.  Heartbreak is similar in many ways to a virus.  You cannot determine how your body will react but you can determine how to treat it.  For some viruses we do nothing but for others we give medications and not everyone needs the same medications.

Emotional health is not something we can simply control with our minds.  Yes we can certainly train our emotions and our mind.  We can also keep our mental and emotional well-being in the best state possible given our circumstances but we can only control so much about our emotional health.  That is the first lesson of mental and emotional health.  You only have limited control.  And anyone who has experienced a mental health crisis knows that limited control may be far more limited than you might expect.  Admitting that you have emotional limits goes a long way to finding some healing.  When we do not admit to any limit and believe that we are fully in control, we fight the healing process and we can create much greater problems down the road.

When we lose an emotional connection, especially one that is deep and intertwined, we truly lose a part of ourselves.  One thing that most individuals don’t understand is that we store information in the other persons brain when we become connected.  Meaning I use my wife to remember things and she uses me.  This is true in almost every close relationship and when you lose these storage locations it can feel as though you are losing your mind.  The second thing that occurs is a deeper spiritual connection.  As spouse, friends and close family we work together for the benefit of each other.  We make sacrifices and effort and we cause our identity to be intertwined with the close connection.  Meaning our mind begins to see our identity as connected with the other person.  When we merge our identity with that of another person, this is the process of becoming one.  If we work at a relationship, this process can become very deep and interconnected.  When a loss suddenly occurs we can literally feel as though we have lost our identity and if you really think about it, that is very true.  Individuals feel a deep loss of identity and memory when someone close to them leaves the relationship or dies.  This loss creates a deep emotional rift and split in the identity, which in turn causes the symptoms of depression, anxiety and bipolar.  One can literally feel significant pain during a breakup or death and the pain is real.  It is just not physical damage to a part of the anatomy.  It is emotional damage but because our emotions use the same neuropathways as our physical pain, we feel it as just pain and we naturally think that our physical body is injured rather than our emotional body.  This is the experience of the young woman in our story.  She felt sick but did not equate it to her emotional breakup.  That is because we are trained to view physical illness as physical.  Science, society, even church culture tends to view physical illness as physical rather than emotional.  We are taught that we can fully control and train our emotions and thus they are not something that should cause physical illness.  

The idea that emotions are fully controlled and we are responsible for them is detrimental to those who suffering with mental and emotional illness.  This is especially true in a religious sense.  When you see emotions as something to control and that can be controlled, you leave no room for illness.  You leave no room for those who suffer and that just creates greater suffering.  While we should leave room for working with our emotions in varying degrees, we should never deny the pains of another.  The truth is that emotions are a complex combination of our spirits and body and the chemistry of the body or the difficulties of our spiritual nature can and do cause emotional issues that cannot be resolved by simply thinking about it.

So then what can we do about heartbreak and the possibility of mental and emotional illness.

So when we lose someone close, we will need to form new patterns and a new identity.  Even when we fully believe that families will live on in the next life and we are sealed for eternity, we need a new identity to allow us to function without the connectivity we once enjoyed.  This doesn’t mean we must erase the previous identity.  In fact, we don’t have to significantly revise who we are, but we do need to provide for an identity that works with our new life experience.  We are going to need to fill in the gaps left by the loss in new ways.  So often individuals attempt to do this but just plugging in another relationship.  But that rarely works, when we become one with a person or deeply connected, we create a new identity that comprises two unique individuals.  Plugging in a completely unique individual into that previous relationship and expecting the oneness to be identical is simply not going to happen and often leads to another devastating loss of emotional connection.   We must create a different identity with the new person.  The oneness and emotional connection will not be the same as the previous one.  This doesn’t mean we can’t be as happy with the new relationship.  It just means we need to treat it as building a new identity rather than attempting to recreate the old one.  When we attempt to heal by simply plugging someone else into a relationship we almost always fail and create a deeper problem.  

While we can’t determine if our emotional loss will bring forth an emotional illness.  We can do things to help us prepare for and heal after a loss.  Naturally developing ones testimony of the Savior, the resurrection and Christ’s healing power are good places to start.  We can also take care of our physical body to the best of our ability as preparation.  I don’t think that those answers are a surprise to anyone.  But what do we do when an emotional loss comes suddenly to our lives.  When the preparation is past and the moment has arrived.  

The first thing is to realize that everyone grieves different and each emotional body takes its own unique path.  Attempting to rush the grieving process or bury it will not provide the healing that is necessary.  We must admit the loss and then begin bringing our lives back together.  Both processing the loss and reconstructing our identity take time and effort.  We are going to feel pain and anguish and several other unpleasant feelings as we work through what has occurred.  It is common to feel angry, frustrated, depressed, weak and searching for answers we just cannot seem to find.  We will often question our core beliefs and what we have held to be true in our lives.  We may even evaluate how deep our testimony really does run about the Atonement of the Savior and the resurrection.  Allow yourselves to feel these emotions but don’t wallow in them.  Let them run their course and pass through you.  One of the hardest things to do sometimes is allow yourself to heal and be happy again.  We should allow for happiness as soon as that happiness comes.  If the grieving does not come immediately, that is fine also.  The emotional body can remain in shock for some time before the process begins.

Grieving may also differ from loss to loss.  We all lose individuals in our lives from time to time and we may grieve differently with each one.  So we should expect to grieve but we should not pre-dictate how our grieving should go.  Next we should not grieve longer than needful.  If you feel happy one day and society tells you it is too early, don’t listen.  The opposite is also true.  If society tells you that you should be over it by now, you might not be and that is ok.  What needs to occur is grieving and healing.

We do need to pursue healing.  There exist good reasons why our mind and emotional body grieve and we certainly need to allow for it but in the process we should pursue healing.  Now healing can come in many ways and we should seek out competent professions for help including spiritual ones.  However, healing, true healing will only come in one way and that is through the mercy and merits of the atonement of the Savior.  And we need to seek out these blessings.  They have already been provided for us.  We simply need to seek for them.  They may not come in the way and timing you expect but I promise they do come.  One of the reasons that immortality, resurrection and reconnection is so wonderful is because we have experienced those heartbreak moments in mortality.  The resurrection is sweeter because we have experienced loss.

Another reason that we feel loss and grieve is so that we might help others through that process.  One of the reasons that I believe I have been afflicted with mental and emotional health problems is that I can help others find hope in the Savior.  We can become saviors upon mount Zion through our experiences and help others find healing and hope.  We can empathize, show compassion and truly walk with someone through the valley of death as they navigate those difficult moments.  Sometimes we just need someone to walk beside us knowing that they have experienced something we are passing through.  We all need each other as we work through our emotional difficulties and illnesses.  I hope today you have found a little more hope and healing as you navigate this mortal life.  May the Lord bless you in all you do to heal yourself and others.  Until next week do your part so that the Lord can do his.