Tag: Church History Trip

My Experience with Mental Illness in the LDS Church | Part 2

     Hey everyone! So last week I wrote about my experience with mental illness. This week I am going to talk about how it effects my testimony and relationship with the church.

I never really suffered from anxiety and depression when I was growing up. I will admit, however, that I can now look back on my teenage years and recognize small tendencies I had towards anxiety and depression. Nonetheless, I did not start suffering full-time (I do not know how else to explain it) until I became an adult and started struggling with my chronic physical afflictions. I grew up in a beautiful family. Everybody seemed happy. I never actually witnessed any of my family members suffering with mental illness, so I thought I was the only one when I was first diagnosed. I eventually learned that some of my happiest and most positive family members have experienced their own trial with mental illnesses as well. It is just not something people like talking about, which is understandable. I don’t personally prefer to speak about my experiences either. However, I feel that with the path Heavenly Father has given me in life, and the platform that I have, I must share my experience to help others. There is something very important and specific that I want to talk about here regarding mental illness in the LDS church.

I do not share the most negative portions of my mental illnesses in detail in public/online. I believe too much detail might make those who are suffering similarly, feel even worse. For that reason, I will touch on this experience only briefly. One of the most difficult parts of the peek of my anxiety disorder, was how it effected my testimony.

I have written about my life-changing ordeal on the Church History Trip in 2014, where I genuinely believed that Heavenly Father had forgotten about me and stopped caring. I quickly, effectively, and memorably was corrected by the scripture from Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8 & 122: 9 (full story in my blog titled “Are you trapped in your own, personal Liberty Jail?”). I knew Heavenly Father was telling me that He had NEVER left me and that He NEVER would. Ever since then, I have always known the love of God and that He really exists. I have never doubted it. Although, I confess that when I began suffering with mental illness, that I physically could not feel the Holy Spirit. I would attend church and feel like I was going through the motions, even through the most uplifting talks and meetings where I found myself to be the literal, only “dry eye in the house.” It was so strange. How was it possible for me to feel so many negative things outside of church, and then when I would try to reach out to my Heavenly Father through scripture study, prayer, or church attendance to feel completely numb? How could I get so annoyed with the other members of the church who did nothing but smile at me in the hallway? What kind of a person am I to really dislike good people for no reason like this? How could I believe in the gospel that I couldn’t even physically feel was right anymore? Like I previously mentioned, I had never forgotten that Heavenly Father existed and that He was always there. I really believe that one of the main reasons I experienced that wonderful night on the CHT was to help me later on in life when I found it easy to forget God. I held onto that knowledge, even though it was extremely difficult.

Finally, I understood why I had felt so negatively and why I felt so far away from the Holy Spirit. I was introduced to the amazing and informative website: www.lds.org/mentalhealth . (HIGHLY RECOMMEND for anyone who struggles with or knows somebody who struggles emotionally). There I learned, among so many other beautiful things, that mental illness really can build a wall between us and the Spirit of God. I had no idea that was even a thing! Ohhhh, but I was sooooo relieved to hear it. It wasn’t really me. It wasn’t really God or the Gospel. It was mental illness. It was something that was not my fault, and that I had no control over (something else I worked hard to accept before this.) I found this website a few months or so before I started taking medication. I spoke last week about how the medication is what made the biggest difference in my life and most effectively improved my mental health. Everybody is different. This is not always the case for those who suffer with mental illness. But for me, it was exactly what my body needed.

    

     As a hopeless romantic, teenage girl, I watched the 2004 movie The Notebook a lot. It is a classic, tear-jerking chick flick. There are spoilers ahead for this movie, so skip to the end of the blog if you do not wish to read them but this is pretty important to the story. Anyway, right after I had started taking medication, I was able to attend church a few weeks in a row (something that is rare for me with my physical illnesses). Each week I felt closer and closer to my Heavenly Father and I felt my testimony and relationship with God was fully restored. One morning while sitting in sacrament, I was saying a little “thank you” prayer to Heavenly Father in my head. I wanted to thank Heavenly Father for helping me get back to feeling the spirit, helping me get back to being my positive self, and for being there the entire time. While I was praying, one of the final scenes from The Notebook popped into my head. It was the part when ‘old’ Ally finally recognizes her husband and remembers everything. She asks him, “What happened to me?” and he responds, “It’s okay. You just went away for a little while.” I felt Heavenly Father was telling me, in a way I could understand (yes, The Notebook, cheesy…I know, but that’s what Heavenly Father knew I would understand…I definitely speak the language of chick flicks!) that He was there all along, waiting for me patiently while I was “away.”

I wanted to address how difficult mental illness can be for members of the church in this blog, specifically how it effects testimonies and feeling the spirit. Unless you experience it for yourself, you never fully understand how challenging it is to feel God’s presence and even believe He exists at all. Like I said before, if I had not experienced what I had on the CHT in 2014, I might have lost my testimony completely before I was able to fix my chemical imbalance. I had to hold on– more tightly than ever–to my knowledge that God is real, that He loves us all, that He never forsakes us, EVER! My advice to those who struggle is to first of all, get help. Second of all, hold on tightly to what you know to be true. Remember those experiences of your life when you knew for a fact that God exists and that the church was true. Keep those memories locked inside your mind. One day, hopefully soon, you’ll be able to look back when you are speaking with Heavenly Father and He will say, “It’s okay. You just went away for a while, but I was here every step of the way. I am so glad to have you back.” God never leaves us. He never forsakes us…no matter your thoughts, no matter your actions, no matter how you feel about yourself. Heavenly Father has NEVER left you and He NEVER will. I swear, ask Him yourself! 

 

 

A Pillar of Light

This week has been one of the most difficult of my life. One of those weeks where, just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get worse…it does! Something amazing happened this morning though. Things GOT BETTER for the first time this WHOLE WEEK. Ah! It happened right when I was about to give up, right when I almost lost hope.

When young 14-year-old Joseph Smith prayed in the sacred grove, something happened that made it extremely difficult. Years later he wrote about it saying, “immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction…I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound.” If you don’t know the rest of the story, it’s pretty cool! You can find the rest of it on lds.org or mormon.org, type in the search bar “Joseph Smith first vision.”

Anyway, I am sitting here on my couch just thinking about the craziness that was this past week. I thought about how I, like Joseph Smith, was about to give up. How I, like Joseph, was “ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction.” But then all the sudden I, like Joseph, looked up to see light. I looked up to see God. Although I, unlike Joseph, saw God figuratively…God was there, and His light broke through the thick darkness that surrounded me this week.

Sometimes our hardest trials last only a few days, but others can last months, years, or our entire lives. However, I learned today that sometimes—even though God is supporting us the whole time—He will allow our trials to send us to our breaking point (maybe even passed what we THOUGHT was our breaking point) before He allows the trial to end, to teach us something—both about ourselves and about God. I am so grateful for this gospel, for the Prophet Joseph Smith and every Prophet before/after him, for my Savior Jesus Christ, and my Heavenly Father. And EVERYTHING they have blessed me with…good AND bad. 💙

Are you trapped in your own, personal Liberty Jail?

Okay, if you are related to me, have heard me speak in church, or are even just an acquaintance, you have probably heard this story. I don’t care though, it is so good. Hands down, it was the most life-changing experience of my entire existence. So deal with it!

Right after I graduated high school, I had the opportunity to go on the Church History Trip to the eastern United States. We got to visit several historical church sites for two whole weeks! It was life-changing in many ways, but the most life-altering experience for me happened on the very first night. This was a time of major trial for me. Because of these trials, I genuinely felt like God had forgotten me, forsaken me, or just STRAIGHT UP  hated me. I had never experienced that feeling before in my life. I was miserable. I spent too long in the pool of comparison…and my hands were getting pruny enough to prove it.(; I believed that Heavenly Father was picking favorites and giving them blessings…and I definitely did NOT think I was one of His favorites. I really thought I had no reason for living, and I was about to abandon my belief in a higher power altogether. SPOILER ALERT: I was wrong…OH EM GEE, I was DEAD wrong. I would not wish those emotions and feelings on my worst enemy, and I never want to experience anything like that again.

The first night, one of my four awesome (seriously, amazing) roommates told us that our chaperones assigned everyone to read Doctrine and Covenants 121-122. It was the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith while he was wrongly imprisoned in Liberty Jail. None of the other girls, including myself, remembered hearing that assignment, and we were not going to visit Liberty Jail in Missouri until later in the trip. Regardless, the four of us read the two chapters together as a room. This time in Joseph’s life is arguably the most difficult time up to that point. He was captured and incarcerated one day following the Haun’s Mill Massacre where almost twenty saints died and others were beaten and brutally attacked. His wife and children were robbed and threatened, before having to flee to Illinois for their lives. Over 60 of his closest friends were being thrown in jail, and kept in jail until they testified against the Prophet in court. He, like me, and like all of us at some point in our lives, felt like God had forsaken him. Although, I know Joseph Smith’s situation and trials of that time were way worse than mine have ever been. I still felt like I could relate to him on a smaller scale.

The four of us read the Prophet’s agonizing prayer, “Oh God! Where art thou?” A prayer I sympathized with now, more than ever. Then a few verses later, we read the Lord’s sweet answer, “My son, [to me, I read, “My Alexa”] peace be unto thy soul, thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…” Later, in the next chapter, I read the final verse, “Therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” When I read that, I physically felt the Lord tell me, “I have not forgotten you, I have NEVER left you, and I NEVER will.” For the first time in months, I physically felt the love of God. At least, I let myself feel it…for the first time in months. I realized that God’s love for us is INDESCRIBABLE. I heard and felt so many reasons why Heavenly Father loved ME, why He had NEVER forsaken me, why He was proud of me, and how beautiful HE thinks I am, inside and out.

I got out of the pool of comparison. I will admit that I still find myself in that nasty pool even now, but I never let myself stay too long anymore. I found out the next morning that none of the chaperones assigned us to read any scriptures…and they never gave us official scripture assignments even afterwards. I know my sweet roommate was inspired to have us read those two chapters, whether she knew it or not. God needed me to hear those verses, and He used my amazing roommate’s spiritual intunement to help me. I found myself trapped in my own, personal “Liberty Jail” and nothing and nobody could ever pull me out…except God. The person who I almost abandoned and stopped believing in altogether, had been there all along. He was not mad at me, or punishing me, even when I was not very nice to Him at the time. I learned how much God loves me. With that, I learned how much God loves everyone else…how much He loves YOU. I normally would feel weird comparing myself to somebody as awesome as the Prophet Joseph Smith, but it was Heavenly Father who told ME, that the “worth of every soul is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10). HE told ME that I am not worth any less than even His greatest Prophets. This applies to ALL of His children, no matter how unworthy you may THINK you are of His love and forgiveness.

Here I am, almost four years later and I have suffered through far worse than I had ever dealt with before. Yet, I have NEVER, EVER doubted that Heavenly Father was really there. He promised me that he had “NEVER forsaken me, and that He NEVER would.” I believe Him. Now, I physically feel Him and His Son going through these trials with me every step of the way.

Have you ever been, or are you now, trapped in your own, personal “Liberty Jail?” The only one who can bail you out, is God. Turn to Him. Know how much He loves you. Know that He is proud of you. Know that He thinks you are beautiful, inside and out. Know that “thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment,” and that our trials are for our good and give us experience. As hard as any trials are or ever will be, God NEVER forsakes us, and He NEVER will.