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!