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.
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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.
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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.”
For 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?
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
Central 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
- Forum – Is Mental Illness a Latter Day Plague?
- Resources (research)
- Resources for Help with Mental Illness by Paul
- Understanding PTSD by Robin Grosland
- Anxiety Disorders, Including PTSD (research)
- The Diagnosis by anonymous
- Understanding Asperger’s by Kathy Ward
- Understanding Dementia by Cassandra Jones
- Different Issues for Children (research)
- Asperger’s and Autism (research)
- Simply Depression by Jendoop
- How to Help Someone Who is Depressed: an LDS perspective by Sarah Hancock
- Forum – Does Committing Suicide Consign Someone to Hell?
- The Well of Depression by Cheryl
- Panic, OCD, Grandma and Me by NotMolly
- Understanding Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and OCD by Robison Wells
- Free at Last by anonymous
- Forum – No One Wants to Hear They’re Wrong
- Understanding P0rnography Addiction by Dr. Kevin Skinner
- What is Real? Living Without Diagnosis by anonymous
- A Reader’s Story of Hope by anonymous
- Understanding Bipolar II Disorder by Tresa Edmunds (Reese Dixon)
- What is Bipolar Disorder? (research)
- Choosing Treatment through Revelation by Bonnie
- Overcoming Anxiety and Depression Without Medication by Aaron Anderson
- How Do We Embrace Those with Mental Illness by Jendoop
- What is Schizophrenia? (research)
- Understanding Schizophrenia by Judy Hall
- Understanding a Roommate with Schizophrenia by anonymous
- Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder by Melissa Horsley
- My Path Down the Rabbit Hole by anonymous
- Mental Illness FHE Lesson by Jendoop
- Healing by Michelle