Mental Illness and Emotional Disorders
By, Erica Laws
It is October 2013 and there are 6 people living in a 2-bedroom basement apartment – (we are in the process of building a home). I am 42 years-old and pregnant with my sixth child. Feeling tired & worn out, physically and mentally, my family & I are watching the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was the Saturday afternoon session and the second to the last speaker stands, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, 16 seconds into his talk he says, “In that spirit I wish to speak to those who suffer from some form of mental illness or emotional disorder….”
‘What? What did he say?’
Boy, did my ears perk up. Really? Someone is going to speak more publicly about this? Mainstream within the church? If I wasn’t attentive before, I was attentive now!
The next words he shared, following ‘mental illness or emotional disorder’ were… “whether those afflictions be slight or severe, of brief duration or persistent over a lifetime.”
My mind was reeling…. validation was starting to seep in…of my own battles with mental and emotional illness…Yes! I think I even said that out loud. “Yes, finally someone is talking about this.”
Steps to Healing:
Today I hope to share within my message My Steps to Healing which have guided my path thus far in my life.
#1:(Awareness & Validation) – #2: (Tools of healing) – #3:(Self-Acceptance)
I urge you, no matter what, to get help. Through prayer, priesthood leaders, friends, family find treatment. There is no “one right way” in this area. There is western medicine, holistic medicine, coping mechanisms, counseling, support groups, personal mentors. Search and try different things to see what you need. I know the steps I have used in conjunction with the above have been a blessing and revealing from my Heavenly Father.
Elder Holland says, “However bewildering this all may be, these afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.”
I want to echo Elder Holland’s comments that there should be no shame in any mental illness or emotional disorder…depression, anxiety, bipolarity, schizophrenia, learning disabilities, even dementia and so many more.
Let’s call this bluff right now! It is the adversary’s plan/ Satan’s plan to keep us in shame. He would have us believe that to ask for help or share our experiences of despair, depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, addiction or any other mental or emotional illness is not being self-reliant, is not showing faith or being strong. Because if we stay at a place of “I don’t want to admit, share or seek help” then we feed into the adversary’s plan to keep us down. If he can keep us down then it stifles our own eternal progress and keeps us in illness, mediocrity and often very isolated and feeling alone. In Moses 4:4 it states ….” Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, …). It is a lie to think that we should not seek help and understanding through family, friends, church leaders, western medicine and holistic medicine.
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) taught that this would be the case in the latter days: “Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression.” 1 Ensign 2009 Truth and Lies
If Satan, our adversary, is trying to do this with all of us, imagine you or a family member who has deeper levels of mental illness or emotional disorders, addictions even.
I will go to the ends of the earth to share my struggles of deep despair, mental and emotional illness and my own brokenness AND, also, I will go to the ends of the earth to share my healing that has and is occurring through Christ, ….so that another may have the strength to rise above the chains of shame. Our trials might not be taken away, but they will feel easier to live with and manage. There was a period of many years where I felt numb. I was obedient to the gospel yet I didn’t feel the Spirit. I didn’t feel comforted. What I came to find out is that my brain, an essential organ in our bodies, didn’t have the “feel good” hormones at levels that were within normal range. Mental illness and emotional disorders can occur do to many reasons. It may be a chemical imbalance in our bodies. It may be situational that occurs because of others choices that have severely affected us and our psyche. It may be due to traumatic life events such as a loss of a child or family member. It could be all of the above and more. There are so many reasons that I could go on for hours, but the reason any of us has ongoing severe mental or emotional illness is really not necessary to go into now. Every reason is valid.
In Acts 10:34 it states ¶Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: (That means the Lord does not favor one human being over another. Erica’s notation).
35 But in every nation he that feareth him (This means to respect-love more than anything/anyone else. Erica’s notation), and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
36 The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)”
Just as the Lord does not favor one child over another. He does not say “your trial is easier than another’s” – If you or someone close to you are in the throes of mental illness and/or emotional turmoil, even addiction, whether long-term or short-term- IT IS REAL AND IT IS VALID. It is not anything to be ashamed of.
We are not weaker than others in having mental and emotional struggles and illness. We are living in our complete “humanness” as we acknowledge these adversities and anguish in our lives. We gain personal power when we acknowledge that we have “a whole lot of human going on.” There is hope even in the despair. I have experienced this. You may have, as well, and if you or a loved one hasn’t experienced the peace in the chaos you can through Christ.
There are steps that will guide healing. We will not be cured of our “humanness”, but we can be healed through understanding Christ’s healing capabilities in our lives.
My Steps to Healing:
(Awareness & Validation) – (Tools of healing) – (Self-Acceptance)
#1: Awareness & Validation
-Personally aware – 2001 – Postpartum depression –
My own personal awareness came in 2001. Hindsight is always 20/20. I can, probably, go back to when I was 12 or 13 years old, but in 2001 after my fourth child was born I had gotten to such a state that it was more than just the “after baby blues”. I had called the doctor’s office and I must’ve sounded so distraught that the doctor was on the phone within a couple minutes. Doctors are very busy. The staff usually takes a message and then they will relay it to the doctor and the doctor will tell them what to say to the patient whether to make an appointment or other advice. The doctor had me come in that day for an appointment and I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. I was given medicine for this and I thought, ‘good. This will cure it.’ I am so glad. Situations and things started to make sense, but what I have come to find out over the years is that medicines can help, holistic treatments can help, western medicine, different coping mechanisms and other treatments can help, but, sometimes, the Lord doesn’t take it away or cure it. He lets you have it, but He helps you to learn how to deal with it and turn it into a gift. It has been a journey. It still is a journey. It has taken me years and, really over the last year or two, to start to figure my mental illness and emotional issues out at a higher level of awareness. But, 2001, was the first point of me being aware. There have been times of feeling numb, not feeling the Spirit and not because of being disobedient, but because of the chemical imbalances in my body and, also, the way I perceived things in my life.
-Being Validated. Elder Holland states, “Let me leave the extraordinary illnesses I have mentioned to concentrate on MDD—“major depressive disorder”—or, more commonly, “depression.” When I speak of this, I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have. Everyone is going to be anxious or downhearted on occasion. The Book of Mormon says Ammon and his brethren were depressed at a very difficult time,2 and so can the rest of us be. But today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!”
As Elder Holland continued his talk – I was so touched and validated that I was, literally, cheering, as if, at an Olympic event and MY team had just won gold. Validation is Gold. Validation from the Lord is Eternal Gold. I/You are not worse, weaker or “less than” anyone else because deep mental illness is experienced. I am human…I am golden with the Lord as my partner and Great Physician.
#2: Finding Tools of Healing
Will the Lord take it away? Maybe not. Can we give it to Him? Yes, but that doesn’t mean those tendencies, those mental and emotional illnesses just “poof” and disappear. I have found that, for me, as we give Him our lives, our mild and deep mental illness – that He will help us carry our burdens. It is ok if He doesn’t completely take it away. There is a reason you have a mental and emotional illness/struggle. There is a gift in it.
I know it doesn’t feel that way in those moments or in the constant everyday battle, but there is a gift in it.
What are these tools? How did I find the gift in the heartache? How do I continue to find the spiritual gift in the heartache?
Prayer: Set a timer for 10 minutes …get a pillow…get comfortable and talk, really talk to your Father in Heaven. Keep a prayer journal handy.
Scriptures: Keep a journal where you write down questions of ‘trying to understand’, ‘who to go to for physical and emotional care’, ‘how you should seek healing’…ANY question is ok…. Take these questions to the scriptures and EXPECT answers. They may come little by little, but they will come. Know that Christ lives and is aware of your needs even if you don’t feel it fully.
My personal experience is never giving up on seeking physical health through prayer, personal research. I have sought help in the realm of western medicine, holistic medicine, exercise and more. This part is not a “one size fits all” answer, but I do know that as I have questions about what to do or how I take those specific questions to the Lord in prayer and to the scriptures. He will answer. We need to look up and not give up.
I do not say this lightly. Even after awareness and tools have been placed in my path, to find healing and understanding in my mental illness and emotional anguish, I have experienced some extreme times of depression. This is where step #3 comes in of -Self Acceptance and Self-Love.
#3 -Self Acceptance and Self-Love
Within this last year, as I have daily been turning to the Savior through real conversations in prayer, keeping a prayer journal, realizing that I am the master of my feelings and responsible for them, I was hit with quite a ‘blow’ one evening.
Let’s just say I was the first domino in the lineup. You know how when you set up the dominoes so that when you tip the first one then the rest of the dominoes quickly tip over and follow the pattern to the end? Well, this particular day, it was a Sunday actually, I had been struggling all day. I had all these tools to help me. I wrote down how I was feeling. I created a positive story from the negative one in my journal. I tore up the negative feelings signifying that I was not buying into these feelings. I prayed. I went for a drive. I felt as if I was putting forth quite the effort to work through the depression that had gripped me this day. Later that evening, I had some relief through journaling, but then had a conversation that I took (I emphasize- I took or perceived) to be a punch in the gut. Well, I spiraled. I spiraled downward like that domino tipping over. I found myself in my closet, convulsively balling and felt tormented. I, literally, was in fetal position. Through the years, I have had some really dark places and times, but I had never gotten to this place. It didn’t make sense. I was trying so hard to “figure it all out”.
I understood and have, in the past, understood how people feel when they no longer want to be on this earth anymore. I have great compassion for any of you who have been there or who have loved ones who chose not to be on this earth anymore. Elder Holland says: “Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are “like a broken vessel,” as the Psalmist says,10 we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”
Now, let me tell you the joy that came from this. Hard to believe isn’t it? Yeah, I hear ya!
Two days later- something occurred that started to trigger a similar emotional state in my brain that had sent me spiraling downward in fetal position in my closet two days earlier. BUT…. there was something different this time. As it was happening…this extra awareness came about. It was as if I was able to step away from myself and see what was happening. The tendency toward emotional illness/depression/anxiety/focusing issues are all there for me. It has been part of my earthly sojourn, but I recognized in that moment a trigger, and the trigger, this particular day, was the influence of the adversary. He wanted me to “buy into” those feelings instead of letting myself feel them, acknowledge them and give them to the Lord.
In that moment, two days later, I realized ahead of time – WHAT A MIRACLE-that it was going to be a “fetal-position-in-the-closet-moment” if I didn’t do something right then.
All I can say is ONLY with the strength of the Lord and my daily willingness to seek personal healing, I got up and walked out on my deck, sat down and looked at the mountains and prayed out loud to the Lord, eyes open, hands up, frustration and even anger in my heart and mind and said, “Ok, Heavenly Father, what am I supposed to learn from this?” I poured my heart, my anger, my pettiness even out to Him. I held nothing back. I said, “teach me. I then said please take this from me, but then quickly realized I needed to change my wording in my prayer. I then said, “I give these feelings to thee. I give thee my frustration, my anger, my depression, my anxiety…I give it to thee.” I then paused, took a deep breath, as I looked at the red on the mountains. I stayed quiet in my words and thoughts and during that time I felt a physical and spiritual shift in my personal universe. My feelings of anger, frustration, depression, anxiety dissipated into thin air…. Into the grace of my Savior and His atonement. I then felt those feelings of despair replaced with those of enveloping love that could only come from the Heavens. From my Savior Jesus Christ.”
Do I still, technically, suffer from depression, anxiety, mental focusing issues on a reoccurring basis? Yes, but not nearly as much because the Lord taught me and has been teaching me that I have two choices:
I can choose to be submissive to the adversary in those moments because that’s what he wants. He wants me to be miserable, like he is, and live in shame so I can’t shine bright that light of the divinity within me.
OR I can choose to be empowered through Jesus Christ and His everlasting gospel and stand in His power, stand in my power and shine the light that I promised in pre-mortality to do. So can you! So can your loved ones!
“We are infinitely more than our limitations or our afflictions!” -Elder Holland
We can even shine our lights and be bright even when it’s hard to get out of bed. We can read the scriptures in those moments. We can turn to Christ. There are so many ways.
My belief is I promised and signed that “spiritual contract” that I would be born upon this earth and go through my trials willingly and rise above them so that I can be His vessel to bring Christ into others’ lives.
“In striving for some peace and understanding in these difficult matters, it is crucial to remember that we are living—and chose to live—in a fallen world where for divine purposes our pursuit of godliness will be tested and tried again and again. Of greatest assurance in God’s plan is that a Savior was promised, a Redeemer, who through our faith in Him would lift us triumphantly over those tests and trials, even though the cost to do so would be unfathomable for both the Father who sent Him and the Son who came. It is only an appreciation of this divine love that will make our own lesser suffering first bearable, then understandable, and finally redemptive.” – Elder Holland
It is all about Christ. We can be confident in Him. I know that He lives and loves ALL human beings.
Love to you all,
P.S. If you’ve gotten this far and what I have shared resonates with you then I invite you to comment. I invite you to find out more about Routine to Sanity amazing video course filmed and inspired in beautiful Moab. Love!