Healing

[ 22 ] Comments

by RI Editors

This last essay in our Peculiar Minds series is by Michelle.

A brief note: Even though I committed years ago to being more open and real about my struggles (physical and mental/emotional), reading this series has helped me feel again how much having other people be vulnerable helps give one courage to be human, too. Many thanks to Bonnie and Jen and to all those who have contributed.

alina's eye- – - – -

Innocent, pure pleas of my young-girl self have been tapping at my mind and heart as of late.

No one knew what to call my problem back then, but my label for my OCD was simple.

“Please, Heavenly Father, help me overcome my fears.”

The grown-ups in my life were weighed down with worry. Kids in my life made fun of me. My parents had talked to the bishop, then taken me to a counselor. This was all a shock to me. I tried to convince myself that it was all a good thing (and I know now my parents were doing the best they could), but in truth, especially in a vacuum of knowledge of what was happening to me, it was extremely traumatic. I felt different, confused, hopeless, at fault.

Other family members, desiring to help, sought to entice me to fix my problem with an ice cream party. (Of course, that party never happened.) Once the counseling stopped (I never knew why it did), my parents tried the “You have to buy your own paper towels” approach, coupled with the “If you have a worry you have to write it down and schedule a time to ask it.” The pressure in my little life was mounting. I remember many tears, and even thoughts of wanting to die.

We all tried so hard to control what was going on, but to no avail. We all did the best we could with what we knew. (It’s a blessing to have more information now about mental illness!) All I knew is that I felt broken and the people in my life were worried and wanted me fix it. And all I knew was that trying to fix it made me feel worse.

It still does.

- – - – -

I get a lump in my throat when I think of the innocent, pure, simple pleas of my very young children after my chronic illness hit.

“Please help Mommy get better so we can have another baby.”

Small child runs on Morro StrandFor the first year of my illness, I thought God was just giving me a break. I had had three children in three years. (Three children in diapers was a lot for this germaphobe. Just sayin’.) So I was willing to let Him give me a break. But after that year, I bought a body pillow, just to show God in a tangible way that I was willing to get pregnant again. We fasted and prayed and prayed and prayed some more. For years. I went to doctor after doctor looking for answers, for a cure. Somehow perhaps I could fix this, and help reward my children’s tender faith (and mine, too?) by making an answer to our prayers possible.

The day I took my box of baby clothes over to my friend — finally surrendering the hope of having more children into the hands of my Father — was a hard, hard day. Even as I had come to accept my reality a little more, the “Why?” lingered in my mind and heart for a long time. Was it because I wasn’t righteous enough? Or what if I was misreading the impressions? Where were the blessings of healing I had been promised so often in priesthood blessings?

- – - – -

My wrestle with my mortality hasn’t been limited to just OCD and chronic fatigue. I dealt with a decade-long eating disorder as a teenager/young adult. I experienced postpartum depression. Other anxiety/depression issues (dysthymia), and a lifelong struggle with serious insomnia have also dominated my life’s story.

But perhaps worse than all of that has been the cacophony of voices in my head chanting damning messages for nearly four decades:

“You are broken.”
“No one understands you.”
“You are a burden.”
“You are messing up your family’s life.”
“You are different, weird, annoying.”
“Everything that is wrong is your fault.”
“You are not lovable.”
“You are too messed up to hear the Spirit.”
“You are sick because God is punishing you.”
“Your weakness and mistakes are too numerous. You should just give up.”

To even write those beliefs chills me, because they are clearly devilish in nature. But alas, somehow deep inside I knew that, which only made me feel worse. “What’s a good Mormon girl doing letting the devil into her life? I have such a testimony! I can testify to the world of the truth of the gospel!” (And I do!)

We do the best with what we know. Just like that little girl who didn’t know how to fix her OCD, I didn’t know how not to think these things. Whether by nature or by nurture, whether as cause or by effect of my mental illness, these torturous thoughts had been my constant (even strangely comfortable) companions for so long that they were my normal. I didn’t know how to translate my testimony in a way that could turn the messages off.

Jogging with our iPhones...I did try my darnedest to fix it all, though. Throughout my life, I have tried to compensate, tried to fill the hole created by these beliefs by using my strengths to a fault: dutifully trying to work harder, be better, do more. I also subconsciously wrested my weakness and sought more attention, more approval, more allies. As a result, I only created more enemies, for the more I demanded attention and support from others to fix what I now know could not be fixed by mortals, the more resentments and envy festered. Not only now was I not enough, but those around me weren’t either.

“They don’t really understand.”
“They don’t love me.”
“They are clueless and insensitive.”
“If they would just….”
“They have no idea how lucky they are.”
“Why doesn’t anyone care?”

And perhaps the worst thoughts of all were never far away:

“Does God care? Why won’t He help me? Why is this so hard? Where is the relief He promises? Why won’t He answer my prayers?”

It probably won’t be much of a surprise that in this death spiral of thoughts (even as one of my greatest fears is dying young!), death often seemed like a welcome possibility. I’ve never been one to actually plan the end of my life, and it’s not been so much a righteous longing for Home. It’s been one of my mental go-to places to try to escape the pain in the moment.

Last summer, I hit a breaking point. I was slowly but steadily working and serving and sabotaging myself to death. I may not have died physically had I continued on that path, but spiritually, mentally, and emotionally I could feel that I was headed toward destruction. The false beliefs about myself, God, and others were taking over my world and poisoning my soul, my mind, my relationships, my choices. (Testimony notwithstanding.)

I hadn’t really seen it, but God had been laying a foundation for my rescue for years. (For a lifetime, if I really think about it.) I’d been led to an amazing therapist years ago. I’d also been guided through a series of tender mercies to seek 12-step support. (Unhealthy thought patterns can be their own addiction!)

And in an Alma-like way, I feel I was snatched. It didn’t happen in an instant, but with the daily support of an angel sponsor who came into my life at just the right time, I was able to slowly, surely, and specifically identify the fears and false beliefs that were the pavilions keeping me from my God. Rather than passively ask Him to fix me or my life, I started to learn how to actively engage with Him in a sort of divine, grace-filled, find-and-replace process.

A process of healing.

Garden of Healing

I should say that looking on the surface, some would perhaps say that there is no healing in my life. My OCD is alive and well and it significantly impacts my daily living. I imagine I will likely continue to struggle at some level for the rest of my life against the chemistry of depression and anxiety that runs in my family lines. My sleep disorder is in many ways worse than ever, and my chronic illness issues linger and nag at me almost constantly. In truth, I’m still as broken and mortal as I was a few months ago, with no solutions for that stuff in sight.

But within me, everything has changed because I am coming to know my God.

- – - – -

I have pondered the tender, heartfelt prayers of my innocent-child self from all those years ago. I wanted so desperately for Father to just fix me, to take away my OCD and depression and make me and my parents and others happy again. I couldn’t yet fathom that faith didn’t necessarily lead to finding a solution. Indeed, sometimes it’s quite the opposite.

In my weaker moments as a parent, I sometimes also have ached for my innocent children who sought to exercise their faith toward worthy and wonderful desires, and yet did not have them fulfilled. I am tempted by the model of protecting them from the hard Whys of life, to somehow make all their wishes come true.

But it is not God’s way.

Through God’s grace and the gift of time, I am coming to rejoice more with Mother Eve, who willingly chose to leave an innocent life in order to come to know the joy of redemption from sorrow, sin, and death. I have to remind myself of these truths on hard days, but I’m even coming to feel gratitude for the question marks in my life as I come to see and trust more of God’s wise and glorious purposes — both for me personally and for the world collectively — in His great plan of happiness.

jesus-christCentral to that plan is the doctrine of repentance. I used to hear that word and feel bound both the deep shame and the pride I’ve described. How grateful I am to know now that so much of repentance is simply learning how to let God into my life so He can give me “a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about [my]self, and about the world” (Bible Dictionary).

It’s about healing.

My prayers are different now. I’m changing from that child who knew nothing else but to try to fix or pray away her pain. Sometimes my prayers are simply about giving myself permission to bask in God’s love until I am able to receive clarity about things pressing on my mind, or charity for people crossing my path. At other times, my prayers are about honestly talking with my Father about my weakness and sin and seeking His forgiveness. I used to be a fearful child, but now I know I have nothing to fear in trusting my life and my all to my Father’s tender care.

I suppose that I’ll never stop hoping for some relief from my body’s illnesses as long as it appears I have time left in this life. Heavenly Father and I talk about that, too. But the hope that brings me the life my spirit seeks is centered in the healing that only God can give. I thank my Father for the “matchless gift of His Son” and the wondrous gift of His Spirit that is making that healing possible in my life.

 

The Entire Series

22 Responses to Healing

  1. Bonnie says:

    Michelle, these are the most beautiful thoughts. From the bottoms of our hearts, we thank you for sharing them. This idea that we are benefited by our experience – by our thorn in the flesh – doesn’t seem popular with either those who scramble for solutions or those who cling to their illnesses as a statement of who they are. I love your attitude of turning into it, facing what is there and inviting alignment with Christ. It’s the miracle that I see, the multiplying of our loaves and fishes, and what invites the power to walk on water – I feel it.

    I often think of the two great commandments, and how important it is that they are in that order. We may try as hard as we might to love our fellow man the way God does, but especially when we are severely compromised, we need to achieve a balanced level of loving God and feeling his love before we will be very effective serving others. It isn’t about finding ourselves, validating ourselves, or anything remotely associated with our self. It’s about letting go of our self – it’s failings, it’s pains, it’s insufficiency, it’s illusion of power and control – and finding God. The miracle is that we will know the best version of our self then. As you say, it’s about repentance: a change of mind, a fresh view.

    I used to wonder how prophets could so joyfully – serenely – preach that we are pond scum. Where was the self-worth? It’s that God loves us. It is the most beautiful thing to bring our broken self to him and receive his healing, not his perfection – yet – but his grace. Thank you so much for your powerful way of speaking: honest, expressive, and helpful. God bless you.

    • Michelle says:

      Bonnie, you have captured succinctly so many thoughts that I would love to explore further. The notion of identity and how it can so easily get wrapped into our weakness rather than our divinity, for example, is one that I’ve only now been able to really start to understand. It feels more possible for seeds like that to really grow as I’ve had God’s help to pull out the weeds that choked out truth.

      The power of finding God’s healing as critical to the healing of the body of Christ is something else I hope we’ll be able to talk about in the future. It’s something that has been pressing on my mind as I’ve come to feel some release of holding others responsible for my well-being — even as I know all the more how much God wants me to not walk my mortal journey alone. Such tensions to learn to dance in! :) And it’s all such a process. I’m only beginning to appreciate the beauty of the messiness of it all.

  2. jendoop says:

    Thank you Michelle. <3 A beautiful conclusion to the series. Our minds may be peculiar for the remainder of our days, but God is with us even when he doesn’t take our afflictions away. I’m trying to not just know that, but feel it and find evidences for it.

    • Michelle says:

      Jen, it’s such a journey. Sometimes I’ve felt like all I could do was hope that things like this were true, because I couldn’t really feel them like I knew them in my head and even in my heart. It’s hard to explain but I sense you are experiencing some of what I have walked. You have been on my mind so much as of late. Know that you are not alone, and who you really are is being birthed. I felt stuck in the figurative birth canal for quite a while, but knowing what I have experienced, I feel confidence in where you are headed, because I know a bit of who you really are and most importantly because I know more of who God really is and how aware He is of every last thing you are feeling and experiencing.

      I know the words don’t change anything, but just know that I love you and am thinking about you mucho right now.

  3. Michelle, thank you for sharing your life’s challenge and testimony of the Atonement, and how you have managed to navigate this journey with such grace and dignity. Although I know you won’t agree with that description, but that is how I see you and how I know you.

    You are an incredible woman, whom I respect and admire greatly. You are a dear sister in Christ, who is always so supportive and has taught me so much. I will forever be amazed that with all the challenges that you have in your personal and family life, dealing with mental illness, that you also find time to give so much back to others, in serving the Lord. I am confident that in doing so, you are strengthened!

    Much love my dear friend.

    • Michelle says:

      Kathryn, thank you for believing in who I want to become, for being able to see past the layers and love me. I am trying to more gratefully accept such kindnesses because I can feel that God’s grace can work in spite of my weakness as the layers of lies come off my eyes. I pray to be someone who reflects His grace and dignity, so if you can feel any of that through me, I am grateful because it only testifies that God’s grace IS real. Because the mess in my life has been and is very. real.

  4. Carin says:

    Michelle, thank you for sharing. Such a beautiful post!! I truly appreciate your willingness to share such personal and heart-felt struggles with us. I wish, when we met together in RS or visiting teaching, or any other number of interactions we have with each other, we could just take time to listen to one another and truly feel what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone’s life. It is such a difficult journey for all of us and if we truly knew what another lives with, every day, for years and years, we would all have more empathy and compassion. We would be more willing to serve and step beyond ourselves.

    It is truly frightening to share such personal pleas with others, let alone in a public forum. Thank you for sharing that part of yourself with us.

    And it is wonderful that through our extremities, we come to know God, each and everyone of us. I am sure, through your trials, you have developed some very tender and specific gifts that have blessed your family and the world around you. Surrendering…..that is what it is all about. Learning to trust and love in spite of our fear and disappointment. To give. To let go. To reach out, while suffering. It sounds like you have been there. I wish you continued endurance and patience on your journey. Thanks again for your story.

    • Michelle says:

      Thank you for receiving my sharing with such kindness and love. I confess that I felt very naked Sunday morning after this posted. Gentle, kind listening ears mean a lot.

      I echo your desires and wishes for our church meetings and relationships. I believe this is the ideal that God desires for us. One of the reasons 12 step rooms of recovery have been such a vehicle for healing place for me is because I have often felt afraid to share the real me at church, even as I have been committed to try to be more so for years.

      It starts in small ways, I think. I think ultimately we each have to come to a place where we’re willing to do our part to make it ok to be imperfect, and the way we each do that is to be willing to share a little of our imperfection. And the way we feel more willing to do that, I think, is as we come to discover how much God wants to help us in our imperfection.

      I think this post is a great example of the courage it takes. She talks a lot about what her visiting teachers do for her, but I think a lot about how she immediately opened up her heart to them so they could help her. I wonder what would happen if more of us were willing to do that?

      http://scenesfromthewild.blogspot.com/2011/11/visit-teach.html

  5. Kathleen S Dempsey says:

    Thank you , Michele

  6. Emily says:

    You’re still amazing, Michelle. Thanks for sharing these details.

  7. Angie says:

    Dear Chelle, you have blessed me with your love and testimony so many times over the years and with your hard won truths. The grace and tender mercies I have received so generously from you over the years has taught me to work harder to share my own thorns to make sure that none around me fear they are alone in this mortality ride we are all on. Thank you! Love you much.

    • Michelle says:

      Angie, I think back to our college years and sometimes honestly still want to hide when I think of what you guys put up with. But always, always I knew you loved me. You are a treasured friend. I am so grateful for all I’ve learned from and with you along the way!

  8. MSKeller says:

    With your sharing, many more may find the courage to say first to themselves and then perhaps aloud what they most need to say. Your voice is an important one in this dirth of candid and hearttenderized sharing. Your have touched me before, and now again. Thank you.

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks, Marsha. If there is anything I hope from sharing this, besides giving glory to my God, is the message that the lies about being alone and no one caring really are lies. And it’s ok to be imperfect. It’s necessary for us to be imperfect to learn what we are here to learn.

      I need to be reminded of this every day. It helped me to put it all in black and white in this way. I now have all the more reason not to hide behind the lies anymore! :)

  9. Stephanie says:

    You are an inspiration, Michelle. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of your pure heart.

    • Michelle says:

      I’m so grateful for your friendship, Stephanie. As I respond to dear friends here, I realize all the more how starkly the truth contrasts with the lies. I’ve never been alone. I’ve always had people who cared. The people who loved me before don’t love me less when I share some of my struggles and weakness.

      It’s powerful to experience this even real-time here.

      Love you, friend.

  10. Liz C says:

    “A sort of divine, grace-filled, find-and-replace process.”

    That ^^^ is just gorgeous. Thanks for writing your whole piece, and particularly for that specific concept of a divine, grace-filled find-and-replace process. Very, very cool.

    • Michelle says:

      Liz,

      That find-and-replace process is central to my healing process. I didn’t know any better, but I had always sort of approached the gospel in a general, oblique way. I knew it was true but didn’t know how to experience it specifically and personally. Being able to conceptualize giving God specific fears, going “line upon line” (line by line) and letting the Spirit replace lies with truth has been the thing that opened up the personal side of the Atonement for me. Someday maybe I’ll write more about what that looked like….

      It’s helping me understand a little more of what Elder Holland meant when he said this (interestingly enough, I remembered the quote but didn’t remember that it came from this talk. Tender mercies are so beautiful.)

      “My desire today is for all of us—not just those who are “poor in spirit” but all of us—to have more straightforward personal experience with the Savior’s example. Sometimes we seek heaven too obliquely, focusing on programs or history or the experience of others. Those are important but not as important as personal experience, true discipleship, and the strength that comes from experiencing firsthand the majesty of His touch.”

  11. Jenny says:

    Thank you for directing me to this site and specifically to your post. You are a fantastic writer and thinker, and you are honest. I’m glad you shared your struggles. It gives me courage to share mine.

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks, Jenny. I’m coming to believe that regardless of the specifics of our trials, for each of us, they exist to help us come to know our God and His love and mercy. I pray He will bless you in your struggles.

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