Rychen Jones is a former elder quorum president and is currently serving as executive secretary in his ward in Salem, Oregon. He has also been a featured guest on our How I Lead podcast segment.
I’ve struggled with depression for the last year. It wasn’t until 6 months ago that I was able to admit that to myself. In the preceding two months or so my depression had gotten worse. More often than not, I would find myself mentally in some dark places — places I knew I didn’t want to be in — places where I knew what I needed help to escape from, but places where I wasn’t strong enough to choose to leave.
For the most part, when I left my house I could put on a happy face. I had work and a calling as elders quorum president, so what other option did I have? Unfortunately, that helped me to hide it longer than I should have. It seemed like the harder I tried to deal with things and overcome them, the further I fell.
The second week in May things began to change. Through what I can only credit to divine intervention, there were three or four different articles that appeared in my Facebook timeline that week that specifically discussed the symptoms of male depression and how these symptoms aren’t always what we think of when we think of depression. For the first time in a long time, things started to make sense. I began to connect the different feelings and struggles that I was experiencing.
A little background on me: I started running in 2009 and I love it. I’ve run nearly two dozen marathons, five 50-mile ultra-marathons, four half-Ironman triathlons, and dozens of other races. But since running the Phoenix Marathon at the end of February, I had been running less and less. By the beginning of May, I was exercising only 30 minutes per week. Some mornings I would turn off the alarm and stay in bed, convincing myself that I would benefit from the extra few minutes of lying there. The underlying feeling, however, was that while I knew if I got up and ran I would enjoy it and feel great. There was an overpowering mental darkness that created all sorts of reasons why I didn’t want to.
On the morning of May 11th, a Thursday, I got out of bed and sat on my couch fully dressed and ready to run. For 40 minutes I sat there, unable to mentally get myself to stand up, walk a few feet to the front door, and be on my way. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, but in the past I had finally made it out the door and within minutes had felt much better. But on that day I couldn’t do it. Not because I didn’t want to. I couldn’t.
I went back upstairs (past the front door), took off my shoes, got back into bed, and cried.
Later that night I said to my wife, “I think I’m struggling with depression.” It was the first time I had said it out loud.
Since then I have been the recipient of so much love and assistance from so many people who have helped to change my life. First and foremost, my wife, who has never wavered in her support, at times taking on additional burdens so that I can take care of myself. My struggle has been our struggle and together we have worked to overcome it.
Second (and third), my bishop and stake president, who have made themselves available to me whenever I’ve needed to talk and who have given me wise and inspired counsel at the very moments when it was needed. My bishop, in particular, knew what things he could help me with and counsel with me about while also understanding which things he couldn’t. For instance, he couldn’t help me understand exactly what I was feeling or what was going on in my head or offer me coping mechanisms or strategies to turn things around. But he knew the local LDS Family Services counselor could. His understanding for the importance of that resource is something I’ll always be grateful for.
What my bishop did do was teach me about the Savior — His atoning sacrifice, His grace, and how I could receive more of that grace. He shared with me a 2011 BYU devotional talk by Brad Wilcox — “His Grace is Sufficient.” This talk changed my life. I had already been studying Elder Holland’s conference address, “Like a Broken Vessel,” but my bishop focused on a few paragraphs he felt were most pertinent to my struggle. Nothing he shared or taught me was earth-shattering. In the moments he taught them, however, they were exactly what I needed to hear and what I was prepared to receive.
Unaware of what my bishop’s counsel, I met with my newly-called stake president, whom I’ve known since I was a teenager. In my quarterly stewardship interview he taught me about charity and asked me to commit to doing as Moroni counseled, to “pray with all the energy of heart that (I) might be filled with this love” (Moroni 7:48) every day. I didn’t feel as though I was ready to pray for this gift of charity in such a manner, but I wanted to get to a point where I did. I began to pray simply for the desire to pray for this gift. As I came to understand the Savior’s grace, I began to have this desire and feel confident in praying to experience the gift of charity.
Those prayers were answered in small moments. Through the spirit I recognized them as instances where I had felt the love of Christ for someone else. As I had these experiences, I wanted to feel that love more and more, finally feeling able to pray as Moroni taught, with “all the energy of heart.”
Finally, Jodi, my counselor from LDS Family Services, did what you would expect a counselor to do: to listen, ask the right questions, help me to come to my own conclusions, and assist me when I didn’t know where to go next. She picked up on little things that I said in our discussions that an untrained person would have never caught. She put pieces together to help me form a picture of what I was dealing with and offered solutions ranging from medicinal options to cognitive thinking strategies. She fulfilled a role that no one else could, no matter how well-meaning. The stress triggers in my life still exist, but I understand how to deal with them in healthier ways now.
Every day is a battle. But it’s a battle I’m winning far more often than not. On one particularly rough day a few weeks ago, I gave up trying to go on a run and flopped onto my bed exhausted, determined to go to bed early and try to start fresh the next day. I heard a clear voice in my head, a voice that was not my own, say “If you don’t get up and go right now, you let it win today.” I didn’t want to, but I got up and had a good run. It was just one day, but it was a day I had won. Three months earlier that would not have been the case.
Spiritually, I feel like I have grown in leaps and bounds the past few months. Even in what probably amounts to a childlike level of understanding, I have come to understand better the Savior’s love for me, His grace, and His desire to walk with me in my life. I do my best to do those things Elder Holland taught to help us live closer to the spirit. I have felt the love of the Savior for others. More than anything, I believe that experiencing this love has been what has changed my heart — and changed me.
It has also changed the way I felt about and led my quorum brothers. As I came to know the Savior better, I began to see them more as He sees them. I had more empathy for them in their own struggles. Particularly for those who I knew were struggling but who were not ready to ask for help. I prayed for them with all the energy of my heart to receive the Savior’s grace, as I had experienced. I was blessed from time to time to be given small glimpses of the love that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for them.
Taken together, these experiences changed the way I prepared for our quorum meeting each Sunday, whether I was teaching the lesson or not. It changed how I approached ward council and PEC meetings. It changed how I interacted with my quorum brothers, whether it was in a stewardship interview, or if I was getting a home teaching report, or even if I was just passing them in the hall. I came to recognize each of these opportunities as a chance to be the minister I had been called to be.
I’ve come to know that there are so many around us who are struggling. I’ve also come to know that there are numerous individuals who can assist in overcoming those struggles. But through my own experience, I believe that effective help comes by putting a team around you, each person fulfilling the role in which they have been trained, called, or have experience themselves. As leaders in the church, it is important that we understand the roles to which we’ve been called of God and set apart to fulfill, and to seek the Spirit to best minister in those capacities.