"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
July 25, 2012
Affecting My Affect
by Sarah Hancock

Flat. Most of you think flat describes a tire or a drive through the good ol’ state of Kansas. However, when I think of flat, I think of affect.

Affect is a word that describes mood. Flat is not fun. Sometimes I feel flat. Not happy, not sad, not excited, not scared, not interested, not worried, not curious and not motivated. Just flat. It's weird because life continues unwinding around me like the well-known roller coaster everyone else experiences. At times I watch it all unfold and think, Huh, shouldn't I be reacting to this situation differently? It's as thorough nothing has an effect on my affect.

This situation was especially difficult for me recently, with the passing of my beloved father-in-law. It was difficult because although I love him, I haven't had that cathartic release of emotions that comes from mourning his absence.

You might be thinking, well Sarah, we have the Plan of Salvation. And yes, I have a firm testimony and know that my father-in-law is now reunited with his parents and all those dear loved ones who have passed before him. I'm sure they are having the biggest family reunion and enjoying getting down and busy with all the extracurricular activities involved in planning the Second Coming.

However, there is something to be said about when the Lord commands us to “mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9).

Flatness can be caused for several reasons. It can be caused by certain mental illnesses (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and major depression, among others), or it can be caused by stabilizing medication that reduces the effects of a variety of different illnesses. Some antidepressants can cause flatness as well. Flat if you do, flat if you don't.

Although some people may think feeling flat is positive because moods aren’t off the chart, the hard part of flatness is finding motivation. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to find the motivation to find motivation.

That may seem redundant, but sadly it’s true. Without a healthy desire to get out and do things, people who feel flat end up isolating themselves and not participating in the activities around them. What’s worse, the idea of participating in those activities may not even occur to them.

You might find a person experiencing flatness just sitting, staring at the TV. In really bad cases you find him sitting and staring at the wall. To others it looks like this flat person is a slothful, unwise servant. You may say, “Well get up and get going! When I get involved, I feel better about everything! Stop feeling flat!” However, if it were that easy, no one would ever feel flat.

In your heart of hearts, do you honestly think a person wants to feel flat? That’s like volunteering to sit through life surrounded by people who all sound like the monotone economics teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Telling someone who feels flat to pick himself up and get moving is the same as if you were freezing, shivering, covered in goose bumps, with your teeth chattering and I walked up to you, dripping with sweat pointing at the sun and trying to convince you how hot you should feel. It would avail nothing. You would probably need your temperature checked.

Let’s say your temperature was 103. No matter how hot I was, I would not be able to convince you that your chills were a figment of your imagination — and rightly so. They aren’t! Your body is sick! Feeling flat frequently falls into the same category as feeling like you’re the freezing person with a temperature. Just like having a temperature, there are precautionary measures that need to be pursued.

When I feel flat I have to evaluate a number of things in my life before I can take action. Am I getting enough sleep? Am I eating well? Am I getting my exercise? Am I overwhelmed? Am I stressed? Do I need to delegate a responsibility to someone else in order to rectify the imbalance?

How long has this flatness lasted? Do I need to talk to my doctor? Can a medication change help this flat feeling?

Unfortunately, not everyone self-evaluates. Some people who feel flat try other means to rid themselves of this feeling. This is often the reason behind people becoming involved in drugs or other dangerous thrill-seeking behaviors. It’s not that they have a death wish; it’s because they want to feel something.

I’ve even been in situations where something snapped and I started crying, and then felt grateful because at least I was feeling something. At least I was human!

I will never condone anything illegal or against the commandments, but a part of me wonders what else I could do to shake this perpetual feeling of flatness. Although it seems simple enough to for those who don’t experience it, I truly wish it were that simple. Then I’d be fine with feeling flat once in a while.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll go skydiving. Want to come?


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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isnít just possible ó itís probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying ó not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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