Understanding Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and OCD

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by RI Editors

This essay in the Peculiar Minds series is by author Robison Wells. 

This was the story of HurricaneThe hardest thing about writing any article about mental illness is figuring out where to start. So, I’ll just begin with the facts: about two years ago I was diagnosed with a severe panic disorder, which is essentially a problem with the autonomic nervous system—the fight or flight response—where I constantly feel that I’m in danger. This led to agoraphobia (which is loosely defined as the fear of being in a situation where I’ll have a panic attack), then to depression, and ultimately to the scariest of them all: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). According to my doctors, they believe that I was genetically-predisposed toward having these problems, but that a stress event (in my case, being laid off from a job and facing significant financial problems) sparked them. While the prognosis is good in some cases—panic disorder is expected to be completely curable—it’s not so good in others: OCD is something I’ll likely have to live with for most or all of my life.

I am eager to talk about this in a gospel context, something I haven’t written about before. My problems have put a major cramp on my church involvement. I attend Sacrament Meeting about half the time, but when I do I have to sit in the back, next to a door. (Agoraphobia is also defined by fear of not being able to escape; I need to have a quick path to an exit.) But worse, my OCD destroys my Sundays.

OCD, in layman’s terms, works this way: you have obsessions that are overwhelming and irrational, and you often feel that the only way to deal with those obsessions is to engage in compulsions: the classic example is an obsession with cleanliness, combated by a compulsion to wash your hands fifty times a day. In my case, my obsession is with work: I constantly have the need to be occupied with work, and if I’m not, then I will engage in my compulsion which is, to put it bluntly, punching myself in the face.

Fortunately I have a good doctor, and good medicines, to help me fight these problems. But Sunday is by far the worst day of the week for me. I don’t work on Sunday (trying to keep the Sabbath day holy and all) so my compulsions become overwhelming. Every Sunday is a fight, trying to stay busy, either through long car rides or video games or hobbies or other projects that will occupy my mind. Tragically, going to church isn’t one, because I’m not actively doing something—it’s a lot of sitting around, listening.

Likewise, while I’m a temple-recommend holder, I haven’t attended in over a year, partly because of the need to be occupied constantly, and more acutely because of the need to be able to escape, which is possible, but not recommended during an endowment session.

However basic this may sound, if I could convince readers of one thing in this essay it would be this: mental illness is real. I can’t count the number of times when people have suggested, in essence, that I just “get over it.” Or the number of times my wife has had to explain why I don’t sit with the family in sacrament meeting and she gets doubting or disapproving looks. Mental illness is a real medical condition, and it’s hard enough when people believe you; it’s infinitely worse when they don’t, or when they offer cures that obviously don’t understand the problem. (No one gives a pneumonia patient a book about how to think happy thoughts in order to cure their pneumonia.)

Fortunately, church leadership seems to understand this much better than the layperson; I don’t know if it’s because they get training, or if they’re in tune with the spirit, or simply have a lot of experience, but I’ve been blessed to have bishops who have been completely understanding and whose counsel has been consistent with that of my doctors. Elder Alexander Morrison, of the First Quorum of the Seventy, published a book on the subject, Valley of Sorrow: A Layman’s Guide to Understanding Mental Illness, in which he states:

No small part of the suffering experienced by those with mental illness is the direct result of the ignorance, prejudice, and wrong-headed thinking of family members, friends, business associates, Church members and others. I firmly believe that as in other areas of life, conveying the truth is the key to banishing ignorance, stigma and prejudice that surround mental illness. Such truth will, I trust, encourage sufferers from mental disorders to seek appropriate and ecclesiastical and professional assistance, and help dispel their own debilitating fears, feelings of guilt, and self-doubt.

It’s worth noting that even the most elect among us have been struck down by mental illness. Though not widely known and discussed, President George Albert Smith suffered from some undiagnosed condition — likely a panic or anxiety disorder, or depression —where even as prophet he often was unable to attend church services for months at a time (credit tabitha). The Journal of Mormon History, by Mary Jane Woodger, details some of these problems:

[A] granddaughter, Shauna Lucy Stewart Larsen, who lived in George Albert’s home for twelve years as a child, remembers that “when there was great, tremendous stress, mostly [of] an emotional kind, it took its toll and he would literally have to go to bed for several days.” Grandson Robert Murray Stewart remembers, “There were problems associated with his mental health, just maintaining control of himself.”

So what can be done about this? If mental illness is real— and doctors and ecclesiastical leaders agree that it is — then what can you and I do to relieve the suffering of those around us? I hate to bring up an even touchier subject than mental illness, but we can do our home teaching. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wished we had regular home teachers to visit and understand us. I am in constant need of priesthood blessings, as is my wife, who has faced the brunt of this burden. For that matter, visiting teachers who really care and understand (and visit!) have been an enormous benefit for my wife.

And we can do as Elder Morrison suggests: find ways to stamp out ignorance, act without prejudice, and correct the wrong-headed thinking that is so pervasive on this issue.

And in all of these solutions, the real key is obvious: love unconditionally; seek to understand; act with kindness. It’s the solution to dealing with those with mental illness, but it’s the very core of the gospel itself.

Robison Wells picRobison Wells lives in Holladay, Utah, with his wife and three kids. He recently finished graduate school, during which he read and wrote novels when he should have been studying finance. He is the author of the YA books Variant and Feedback. More of his journey with mental illness can be found at a his website robisonwells.com


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72 Responses to Understanding Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and OCD

  1. Very well written, Rob. As someone with a significant Anxiety Disorder, I empathize.

    I’m super ticked that you don’t have good home and visiting teachers. It makes all the difference.

    I also wish that we talked more about George Albert Smith’s mental illness; I think it would do a lot to dispel the stigma if it were more widely known that a prophet suffered deeply.

  2. Wm says:

    Thanks for this, Rob. I hope readers who come here share this post widely.

  3. Nancy Allen says:

    So well done, Rob. Public understanding has come a long way, but still has a long way to go. It’s hard to explain to other people that just envisioning a happy place doesn’t solve the problem. I’m so grateful for meds and for ever-increasingly wise Church leaders who understand the beautiful balance between the gospel, blessings, and modern medicine. They are all crucial components.

    Thanks for sharing such personal things.

  4. Bonnie says:

    I especially like the perspective you shared about how hard Church is for you specifically, and why. I hope this will help others to understand that there are aspects of Church that have absolutely nothing to do with our ability to feel the spirit that influence why attendance is nearly impossible. I’m so deeply sorry about your inability to attend the temple. And thank you for the concrete suggestions!

  5. Thanks everyone.

    Luisa–The home teachers thing really bugs me. I’ve repeatedly asked for them to come, and it’s been 8 months of nothing. It’s hard, because we moved to a town where we don’t know many people, and I don’t attend church enough to have good priesthood-holder friends I can call. Frustrating.

    Nancy–I agree that things are definitely improving. I still get people pressuring me to try their alternative medicines and giving me books to help me think happy thoughts, but church leadership has been very supportive and understanding of the reality of the science.

  6. Sarah Hudson says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post. As an LDS teenager with (as yet undiagnosed) depression and probable anxiety disorder, I can’t express how much it means to me to read about your struggles with a similar problem.

    Thank you.

    • Sarah– I know you’re a teenager so a lot depends on your parents, but I urge you to get diagnosed! I can’t even begin to explain how much better my life is since I started seeing a real psychiatrist. It’s made a world of difference.

      • Sarah Hudson says:

        Yeah, I’ve been talking to my mom about that lately. I’ve kind of shied away from it in the past, because about a year ago we went to our FAMILY doctor to talk about what I was experiencing, and he told me that I didn’t have depression — I was just a teenager.

        You can imagine how that felt.

        I have been craving diagnosis lately, even though a part of me is still terrified that I’ll come out with a ‘You’re fine, it’s all in your head’ sort of response. I’m now convinced that it’s a good idea, and will be bugging my parents until it happens. Thanks. 🙂

        • jendoop says:

          It is sad how common that is Sarah. If in the midst of this you also have to fight to get help it takes away from the energy you could use to focus on stability. But do fight for it! Things will get better and eventually you will find someone who will listen and give you help that is a sweet relief.

          We have a few resource posts as part of this series that might have something you can use. Especially National Alliance of Mental Illness, http://www.nami.org

        • I took my teenager to a family doctor and he said my son was depressed and needed meds. Then we took him to a psychiatrist who said his symptoms didn’t need medication to help with. He gave my son other things to work on. And so I’d advise getting more than one opinion and that the advice of a mental health professional (psychiatrist) will be more valuable than a family doctor.

  7. jendoop says:

    I studied Pres. Smith’s issues last year too, and had that same feeling that it could have been a wonderful opportunity to teach about the different struggles we all face, including prophets, if it had at least been mentioned in the manual. It seemed like a glaring omission. That said, it’s easy enough to find the info.

    Robison, I think you are awesome to share this with the world, considering your public career and work. It is public figures speaking out that can effectively spread information. I’ve also been impressed with the NBA star Royce White and his efforts to spread information and stand up for his disability. I’m not current on all the issues, but I admire his courage, especially considering how harsh the sports world is.

    Thanks for being a part of this. Maybe if this finds enough people it will make its way to someone in your ward who can help you get the kind of home teachers you’ve hoped for 🙂

  8. Karlene says:

    Hallelujah! I am so glad that you are willing to talk about this in such an open and rational way.

    I’d never heard of Pres. Smith’s problems. That would have been so helpful to me during the years when I thought that if I just had more faith I wouldn’t have these issues. I struggle with significant depression. I’ve learned to deal with it over the years and am mostly functional, but I miss a lot of church because you just can’t show up for sacrament meeting in your pajamas.

    We had a wonderful home teacher several years ago who helped immensely. But he moved. We haven’t had regular home teachers since then–and it’s been years. I do have Visiting Teachers, but they’re new and we’re still in the getting to know you stage. But I think you hit it just right when you said, the key is “love unconditionally; seek to understand; act with kindness.”

    Thank you!

    • Yeah, I really wish that George Albert Smith’s problems were more talked about. I think a lot of people could benefit from knowing that even the prophet deals with things like that; I think it would do a lot to get rid of the “you’re weak and you need to get over it” mentality.

  9. Karen Adair says:

    Wonderful words, Rob. We’re no stranger to phobias and medical difficulties in my family either, so your call for others to be more understanding is well heard. The support of a spouse is the most crucial of all, I believe, and you are blessed to have such a wonderful woman at your side. My husband is becoming ever more forward about making me more comfortable in crowded rooms, knowing the difficulty I have with them. It seems claustrophobia is so well known that people seem more understanding and accepting of its limitations. Hopefully with heart-felt postings such as this one, people will come to an understanding of OTHER difficult medical issues out there as well and become more sensitive and helpful. Thank you for sharing!!

    • That’s a good point. For whatever reason, claustrophobia seems to be more accepted–probably because everyone knows what it is. I lie all the time and blame my problems on claustrophobia just because it’s easier: for example, I just took a lot of flights last week, and I’d always claim to have claustrophobia to get an aisle seat–it’s easier than trying to explain what agoraphobia is.

      I think that’s a good pattern for accepting mental illness, though: people understand what claustrophobia is, so they accept it easily. (Or, easier.) The more we spread the word about other phobias and illnesses, the better they’ll be accepted.

      Which means maybe I should quit lying about claustrophobia? 🙂

  10. Rachel says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s very timely for me, as I have a spouse with anxiety, OCD, and frequent bouts of depression. I am not very good at being understanding, mainly because I have no idea how to empathize with him (I am the “get over it” type with my own problems, and I’ve also had issues with depression). I’ve tried to read up on these issues, but much of what I’ve read restates the “this is real” idea. Can you offer any concrete suggestions for better understanding what it’s really like and being able to empathize with my husband? I’m doing my best to be kinder, to keep my negative comments to myself, and to just accept him, but there are so many times I just want to yell, “Just stop it, already!” I have a lot of respect for your wife.

    • The biggest concrete advice I can recommend is to make sure you’re doing all you can to be treated by real psychiatrists (and psychologists, if the psychiatrist recommends it.) I love my family doctor, but moving from him to a psychiatrist has made a world of difference.

      Besides that, I think the hard answer is to just have patience. My wife is the definition of long-suffering. Actually, I’ll call her, and have her post a comment here about how she copes with this. That’ll probably be more helpful.

      • Erin says:

        Rachel I am Rob’s wife.

        First I want to say that the same thoughts pop into my head “Just stop it already”. These diseases are so painful for Rob and me. Sometimes I just want it all to go away. For Rob and me Heavenly Father has not taken this trial away and has given us reason to believe that it is here for a purpose. So when those thoughts come I recognize them and the reason I am having them (because I am hurting and I want it to stop) then I look for ways to cope.

        The best advice I have is to first get on your knees and pray like crazy (you probably are already doing this). It is overwhelming, scary, and exhausting to deal with mental illness. The only person that can give you the strength you need is the Savior. There has not been a time when feeling overwhelmed and scared that He hasn’t given me the peace I needed. there have been days that I have prayed over and over all day because the fear would keep coming back but he will help.

        The other thing that helps me is constantly reminding myself that this is a real disease. This is like Cancer. It is serious. It is hard to see that sometimes because so little is known about the brain. We can look at the heart and see it malfunctioning or the lungs but watching the brain and understanding what is going on is still in the earlier stages of knowledge. I heard someone say (on NPR) that the brain is about 50 years behind the other organs in what we know and understand about it’s function.

        Another thing that has helped me is to go on the offensive. I mean by this that I am fighting these diseases (not Rob). I call Rob several times a day to see how he is. If he is having problems I try to find out what has triggered them. I usually just gently remind him that this is the disease and point out the triggers. He usually is already aware of them but it helps me and I hope him to remind ourselves that this is part of how the disease works. Then I try to make sure he knows that I love him that I am in this with him. He is not doing this alone. Part of what the diseases do to Rob are leave him with self loathing. I work really hard when he is sick and when his is well to help him see how incredible he is. I remind him as often as I can that he is my best friend and he is valued by me and our Heavenly Father.

        If you haven’t already done this go and see a psychiatrist together. The psychiatrist can answer questions you have about the disease and give you specific instructions for dealing with what your husband is going through. He can also prescribe medicine that can help your husband cope. Medicine for mental illness is important. We can’t change the state of our other organs just by thinking about it and mentally willing them better. It is the same with the brain. When something goes wrong with the brain it is physical it isn’t a matter of just thinking happier thoughts. It is chemical, a literal malfunction. There are drugs that have been studied and tested for years that can help change the chemical and physical malfunctions of the brain. Rob takes a drug called clonapin and a drug called escitalopram. Both are designed to supply his brain with the needed chemicals that it lacks.

        Another coping mechanism for both me and I think Rob to is to talk to friends and family about what is going on. Help them see that it is a real disease and then lean on them for help. When Rob is really struggling he calls me to help him calm down. If I am not available or I can’t seem to help him calm down he calls his mom or dad. We are also surrounded by amazing friends who have prayed for us. Visited Rob. Sent emails of encouragement. Played board games with Rob. Gone on drives with him. Called me and asked what I needed. Sat and listened to both of us and cheered us on. You need the people you are surrounded by to know what is going on. Something I have noticed is that our Heavenly Father has surrounded us with the people we need. So start looking at the people who are around you and see if there is someone that has knowledge of the diseases your husband is dealing with or previous experience.

        I can’t think of anything else except to say that this is so hard. You will feel sometimes that you have nothing left. That you cannot keep going. When this happens get back on your knees. Remind yourself that you are a daughter of God. That he loves you. I have a hard time being consistant with reading my scriptures but I am trying harder. I keep a notebook with me when I am reading. If there is a scripture that stands out to me or seems to teach me something or that I just like I write it down. Every now and then I read back through the notebook. There is always a theme to what I have written and very often there are answers and help that I have been given.

        This life is messier and harder than what I imagine I want it to be. I think it is supposed to be that way. I hope this helps a little. If you have anything else that you want to ask me about or just talk about friend me on facebook and we can message or I can get my email address to you.

        • Erin is awesome. She (very literally) keeps me sane.

        • jendoop says:

          Thank you so much Erin, I’m realizing now that we should have had you write a post of your own. Great thoughts and a good example of a supportive spouse (not perfect but trying)!

          Often people with these issues have better times than others, so just as we’re counseled by our church leaders to prepare physically in times of plenty we can also prepare in times of mental plenty for a possible mental crisis. You’ve listed several good things here Erin, that are preparations – one that I really like is writing down good things: favorite scriptures, fun outings, a romantic night out or just a good conversation. This can work for the person who is suffering also. Recording our lives to help us in the future is a pattern exemplified by the scriptures.

          Another one of those preparations is establishing good relationships before crisis comes. Let your HT and VT in and be honest with them about what you might need from them in the future. (this doesn’t require dumping your entire mental health history on them though!) Develop good friendships. If you have a good family be honest with them as well. Tell the helpers in your life what your warning signs are (ie. don’t answer the phone, don’t take your son to cub scouts, wearing the same black turtleneck every day, etc.) Tell them what you want them to do if they see these (ie. call your parents, go by your house to say hi, take you out to lunch, don’t take no for an answer, etc).

          Not that anyone is beyond help if you haven’t done these ahead of time, but it can help the lows from getting as low.

      • Michelle says:

        I’d like to throw out a possible option for those loved ones who are looking for support. Healingthroughchrist.org has a great workbook that is written with addiction in mind, but I believe has powerful principles to help loved ones of those who suffer from mental illness as well. It’s not official church material but is so in line with LDS beliefs and teachings.

        I would also recommend considering a family support group in the Church’s 12-step program. Again, at the face it may not seem relevant but I’ve been attending the Church’s family support program for a year and it’s been invaluable for me in learning to lean on God more in dealing with the mental and familial pattern illnesses in many of my loved ones —and with my own mental illness struggles. It’s just so easy to want to carry the weight of these kinds of struggles alone. We simply can’t. They are too big. This is not a read-your-scriptures-more kind of program but rather a gentle process (and a safe community) to learn to turn more of the burden over to Christ…even when the burden itself is not taken away. I’ve heard my whole life I should trust the Lord and lay burdens at His feet. I never understood how. I feel like I’ve learned and felt more about the Atonement in the past year than I have for my whole life.

        Fwiw. Of course, different things help different people but this has been a heavensend for me.

  11. Lillian Webb says:

    Thanks for the post, Robison. I have struggled with depression, anxiety, OCD and agoraphobia all my life. My illnesses are genetic, and I have been lucky to have parents who are educated and supportive.

    Unfortunately, as a young teenager I experienced well-meaning people causing untold damage. As a 12 year old, I had leaders and friends suggest that if I were more faithful, more obedient, more loving, more dedicated…more…more…more…then the Lord would heal me. I was the classic over-achieving, Beehive president, straight A student. How could I possible do MORE? I cannot express how damaging this was to an already anxious and fragile girl. I felt as if I were not worthy of God’s love because I was broken.

    When I was 18 (and working in building management at BYU SLC) I finally saw a psychiatrist and was put on medication. I was so fortunate (or blessed) that the first medication I tried worked wonders (though it did come with somewhat horrific side-effects). Within a week the people around me at work started to notice how much “better” I seemed. I was so excited that I readily shared with those who asked that I had started a medication and that I had never felt so balanced and happy in my entire life!

    Not a week later I was called into my bosses office and told that while he was glad I was feeling well, I was not to discuss my “disorder” or medications with anyone. These were not appropriate topics of discussion, and some had come to him expressing their discomfort with my “condition.”

    I remember being near suicidal after this incident. I had lived my entire life in a shadow that I could never break free from, and when I finally did see the sunlight, I was pushed back into the dark. I was so ashamed and so despondent that going to church, which had always been difficult, became almost impossible. My anxiety worsened, even with my medication, and it took a long time for me to be able to make sense of the situation and even attempt to feel God’s love again.

    I think the church is making strides, along with the rest of the world, to increase awareness and decreas stigmas surrounding mental illness. I think blogs like this one help, and I am very grateful for your participation. I know it can’t be easy exposing yourself in this way, but you cannot truly know how much it means to so many of us.

    Lily Webb

    • jendoop says:

      Lily, I’m so sorry that you went through that. I’ve had similar situations with my depression. Recently I went back to therapy and meds after a long break. I told my therapist on the first visit that I wasn’t taking the meds for depression but I was taking meds for vitamin D deficiency. She asked why. I said, “Because if I tell someone I’ve got vitamin D deficiency they’re fine with it, but if I tell someone I have Depression they don’t want me to babysit their kids.”

      Her response is one I’ve locked in my heart to return to when people treat me horribly because of this stigma. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “That is their problem, not yours. If they’re open to it, it’s a great opportunity to teach them otherwise.”

      That’s what we’re doing here, teaching people otherwise to prevent anyone else from going through what you’ve been through. I’m glad you weathered that storm and are doing better now. Thank you for being a part of getting rid of the stigma Lily.

      • Lillian Webb says:

        Jen, thank you for your kind words. As a single mother, it is especially hard to present myself when dating, for fear that being “mentally ill” will be too much for someone to deal with. The way I look at it, if a person isn’t compassionate enough to accept me as I am, I don’t want him anywhere near my daughter. Easier to say than to internalize, of course.

    • That’s awful. You know that the same thing wouldn’t have happened with your coworkers if you’d discussed your pneumonia or your diabetes with them. People seem to think that mental conditions are somehow frightening and taboo. (I think the media has a lot to do with this. One of my biggest frustrations in recent news was when the Aurora movie theater shooter was in the news and the story broke the he had seen a psychiatrist. The news jumped all over that, as though this had to explain everything! He’d seen a psychiatrist! He must have been crazy! There’s still this stigma that seeking help for mental illness makes you a dangerous person.)

      • Lillian Webb says:

        I liked seeing your comments on Facebook after the Aurora shooting. Even as a person with an mental illness (who consults professionals on a regular basis), I am so desensitized that I didn’t immediately pick up on the damaging way the media was portraying those who seek help from psychiatrists. Your posts helped me see how damaging the media portrayal was, as well as opening my eyes to my own thoughts and actions.

  12. Mary Gray says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this, Robison. We have mutual friends–Krista and Marion–and I’ve been impressed with you as an author (loved Variant!) and all the work you’ve done for the Storymakers cons. I pray that you can continue to get the home and visiting teachers you need, and this is a reminder I’ve needed. I’ve always sort of hated both receiving home teachers and doing my visiting teaching. This reminds me that there are so many who need the love and help that they can’t get in their own house.


    • jendoop says:

      Thank you for your comment Mary, and I”m sure you can be a blessing to the sisters you visit. And I will add, that you can bless your home teachers by letting them into your home as well. Good luck!

  13. Bryson Baham says:

    Rob, I can’t explain how much it means to me that you are willing to speak out on this subject from a religious standpoint. I personally suffer from bipolar, severe anxiety and germaphobia. So many people don’t realize how crippling something like those can be to a person. I really appreciate you posting this and I hope that people will read it and have a better understanding of where people like us are coming from and why we act the way we do in social situations like church meetings and such.

  14. Rick Walton says:

    I’ve become aware, the hard way, of just how much of who you are, what you do, what you think, is brain chemistry and wiring. Because of this I am much less judgmental of anyone anymore. I don’t know how much of what they do is motivated by their brain chemistry, or even my reaction to them, by mine. I suspect that’s a big reason why Christ expects us to be merciful and not to judge. Only He knows what each of us is going through, what we and do not have control over.

    We are discovering more and more just how complex the human brain is. This gives me hope. The more we learn about the brain, the greater the hope that we’ll discover ways to counter some of the problems the brain can cause us.

    In the Church many have the belief that free will is absolute. That’s not the case. The brain in many ways limits our free will, and in some, takes it totally away. Judgment and condemnation, or simplistic solutions, hinder rather than help. Instead, as you say, we need to focus on helping and loving each other, which will make it easier for us all to use well the free will we do have, and if possible, to help our brains heal.

  15. Me says:

    While my anxiety isn’t as strong as yours, I do deal with it. It was at it’s worst 5 years ago where I had lost weight and went into depression because of it. Thankfully I’m at a point that it’s probably 90% under control (have done medication in the past but am currently now). On occasion it does get stronger.

    I had a had time with church when it was at it’s worst. I totally understand the whole need to have an escape. I haven’t been to the temple except for a few weddings in about 5 years. I really want to go, but I worry so much about not having that escape. I hope to be able to go again soon. I think for me, that if I can just go once and see that everything is okay, I might be able to slowly get to going more often.

    I didn’t know that about George Albert Smith and need to read more about him. I kind of feel a little kindred with people that have anxiety, panic attacks, etc. It’s nice to know that someone knows exactly how you’ve felt without having to deeply explain yourself. Thanks for the article.

    • The temple thing is really hard, and if anyone has suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I want to go, but every part of it sounds so difficult–from sitting in rows of chairs with other people to not being able to step outside to take some deep breaths.

      • Lillian Webb says:

        I recently had a double-mastectomy, and sitting for any period of time was incredibly difficult. I asked a temple matron on my way in if it was possible to sit “on-the-sidelines” in order to not disturb others if I needed to go out into the hallway. She was incredibly accomodating, and I’d bet that they would do the same for any medical condition.

        Now, having nothing to do but sit and listen for over an hour is a whole seperate problem. I know you can bring the scriptures as well as other church literature in. Maybe retreat to a familiar passage or chapter when you are feeling restless?

        Either way, I firmly believe that the Lord understands our limitations and that we will only be judged according to what we can do, not punished for what we weren’t strong enough to do.

      • Michelle says:

        I do initiatory more than anything. I like that I could leave after any ten-minute interval if need be. ( my temple limitations are different but still real for me. I also love love love the chance to hear and ponder on the blessings. The atonement is so present for me in initiatory work…where the weakness and fallenness of my body is addressed and God sees through that and blesses and covers me anyway because He knows my heart and because He is good and kind and merciful and all-powerful.

        God bless you for this post. I, too, suffer from OCD and it’s a bear.

      • Michele says:

        Rob, you are awesome! My thought is that you should send a letter to the temple president of the temple you would like to attend. Explain your desire to attend and your fears. Send them a link to this article to help them understand your needs and ask them what accommodations can be made and help they can give you. I’m sure they would love to help you be able to attend.
        You know, they can stop the tape anytime, and they do anytime someone needs to get out, go to the bathroom, get a drink. The last time I attended, they stopped it six times for someone who needed to get up, and that was fine. They stopped it for me once when I was passing out and they took me back to their fridge and gave me juice–I learned they always have some on hand. You could plan a time to go when the session won’t be so crowded. Sit in the back on the isle or anywhere that is best for you. And who says you can’t bring something to do with your hands if that helps. Color, draw, write, sculpt, bring some Legos to build. As long as the workers in the session understand. It’s far more attentive doing that than be drifting/dozing/snoring like the rest of the crowd 🙂
        And if it doesn’t work, and you have to leave the session, then that’s OK too. Know that you can leave anytime you want, and don’t feel bad about it.
        So write the temple president. They will be inspired by your desire to attend.

        • LauraN says:

          My parents are temple workers, and they are prepared to deal with anything except sin. Sometimes in the temple closest to me, things are very slow, and there are sessions with only the witness couple. In fact, if you asked, and were flexible on timing, they would probably let you do a session with only your wife so that you could walk around whenever you needed to.

          Would a rubics cube keep your hands busy enough? Those are quiet. When all of my kids finally got too old to bring toys to church, I discovered that I had a hard time sitting there without something to fiddle with.

  16. Heidi Ashworth says:

    Thanks so much for this! So many in my family (husband, daughter, son) suffer from these things and there is not enough understanding out there. While I’m at it, thanks for starting the Whitney’s, too. : ) I hope you continue to get better. As I look back on the last 15 years with meds, etc., time does help a lot. I hope you can find ways to cope.

  17. Chantel Rhodes says:

    I have a relative who suffers from this combination to the point of almost absolute non-functionality. Homelessness looms large, as her parents cannot support themselves mentally, financially, medically, or any other way, and therefore, cannot support her. None have productive employment, it’s questionable whether they are able to become gainfully employed on a long-term basis. The extended family is at the end of their sacrificed resources as well. I call her occasionally and sometimes drop by for a visit. It is so hard, because we can’t even carry on a conversation. She invents most of what she says, out of a permanently assumed self-defensive posture. Where is help for 30-somethings like this?

    • jendoop says:

      Chantel, Your comment highlights why our mental health system needs serious help. While government agencies may fall short on helping those with mental illness there are many organizations that have stepped up. If you go to our Resources post there are many listed- http://www.realintent.org/resources

      Resources can also vary by state so that makes a difference as well.

      Your bishop would be another place to go. The resources of the church are as available to those with mental illness as they are to those with physical illnesses.

      Resources are a very real concern and families can be quickly depleted.

      If anyone has addition resources please share!

  18. Good home teachers and visiting teachers are such a tremendous blessing for families dealing with mental illness. We’ve had a few good home teachers in the past, but I was very lucky to have a couple sets of awesome visiting teachers. There were days when they would call and all I could do was cry and vent about how difficult being a mom of a child with autism was. But I knew and trusted these awesome ladies to listen, then throw everything out of their heads because they knew it was just a release, a need for someone to listen so I could keep moving forward. No judgement, just love. I sincerely hope that your wife has some friends who take the place of the visiting teachers she needs. On the home teaching side, I hope for the same thing – that you have some excellent friends who live nearby and who can help with blessings often.

    I am so grateful you share your experiences, Robison. They help all of us grow and be better friends to those we meet with special needs.

    • jendoop says:

      Danyelle, I’m so glad that you’ve had people there to help sustain you as you serve your son. Don’t you think that this is how we build Zion, by letting others serve us just as we serve others? It creates a web of loving service that binds us all together. Blessings to you and your son.

  19. Thank you for this. Because one of my traumas happened at a church, I have been unable for years to attend, even though I am still deeply spiritual and always will be. I know many others like us. It is hard to feel cut off from something that God intended as part of our strength-building and healing.

    • jendoop says:

      Tanya, I’m so very sorry that something happened in what is supposed to be a safe place for our bodies and spirits. Looking into the future I hope that you will be able to feel safe there again and rejoin the saints physically. Our body of saints is less when anyone is missing.

  20. Cheri Chesley says:

    Rob, I find myself conflicted. I admire your bravery in being so open with your disorders, but, at the same time, I’m angry that you have to be “brave” in order to discuss mental illness. Like you said, if we were discussing pneumonia, these things wouldn’t be an issue.

    I had a difficult childhood, and was suicidal by the time I was 15 and diagnosed with “situational depression” at 16. I can remember clearly that moment when I realized no matter what I did I could not make myself better. I remember how hard it was to ask for help, and I’m so very grateful my mother listened. Years later I still deal with it. I take an anti-depressant every day, because if I don’t I can become manic, despondent, and possibly even violent. But while I can afford my medication, I can’t afford to see a psychiatrist any more or any kind of therapist because it’s not covered under the insurance we *can* afford.

    Over the last couple of years, I have seen signs in my 11 yr old daughter’s mental dispositions that concern me. While I don’t want to leap to the conclusion that something is “wrong” with her, I often find dealing with her issues to be more than I can handle. Just recently, through much discussion, she has agreed that maybe seeing someone like a therapist would be good for her. That maybe talking out her worries and fears with someone outside the family may be easier. I don’t know where I’ve failed her, because as a mother it seems like a failure, but she does not feel comfortable confessing her deepest, darkest secrets to me or her dad. So that’s what I’m doing this week–finding her someone to talk to. Maybe, hopefully, talking is all that’s needed to help her see she is okay. Maybe not. But I’m not going to just sit here and watch her suffer.

    • Man, this is a hot button topic for me right now. I’m at the very tail end of my COBRA insurance (they only cover you for 18 months) and we have yet to find an insurance that will cover me for things like prescriptions and psychiatrist visits. I don’t want to make this about politics, but we need to find a way to make health insurance more available to the mentally ill. It’s such an important need, but even mild depression can get you rejected right now.

      • Paul says:

        Rob, look into Community Mental Health in your area. In my state, it is administered by county and covers mental health care — psychiatric meds included. It is a godsend for my son who otherwise has no insurance.

    • templegoer says:

      Your daughter is very fortunate to have such a perceptive and compassionate mother. It may be possible to get help from LDSS, accessed through your Bishop. God bless your family.

    • Michelle says:

      Go, momma! I saw similar seeds in my daughter at about the same age. Therapy was a huge blessing for her. I wish I had had tools at that tender age. While we can’t take away the biology, good tools and support, I believe, can help, especially as the brain is still developing.

      Just my personal belief there. 🙂

  21. Kristin says:

    I’ll never forget my husband’s response when we were newly married and I decided to confide in him what I’ve dealt with every day since I was a child with OCD and mild Tourette’s. It was the first time I’d ever shared those experiences with anyone. He listened attentively, then looked at me and said, “Wow, I married a crazy person.” I suspect he may have later told his family some of what I told him, because his father would often rant to extended family about how I was a “nut.” Not surprisingly, it was at least another 10 years before I ever opened up to anyone again.

    This past summer I finally left the marriage after 15 years of emotional and verbal abuse, for reasons that unfortunately run deeper than the abuse I myself endured. As a result, suddenly I have anxiety, mild agoraphobia, and PTSD-like symptoms that don’t seem to be getting better over time, but worse. It sometimes results in my missing church for weeks at a time, and putting myself through guilt trips because I haven’t taken my kids.

    Thank you for putting this out there, that even good people with strong testimonies can have difficulties with church attendance due to pervasive anxiety and fear. And supportive church members really do make such a difference! I’ve been SO lucky to have a few members in my new ward who don’t give up on me, and check up on us if they haven’t seen us in a while.

    • jendoop says:

      Kirstin, I’m sorry you were alone so long in your battle with mental illness. That’s why talking about it here, in a public forum is so good. Breaking down the barriers and changing hearts and minds, you know?

      I’m glad you’re doing better now and that your new ward is taking care of you. You keep taking care of you too 🙂

      • Kristin says:

        I suspect a big reason for my wanting to stay inside and never go anywhere in public is due to increased anxiety making my Tourette’s tics worse – I’m embarrassed and worried about being stared at and judged. This past week, my bishop agreed to help with counseling for not only my kids, but myself in hopefully bringing this anxiety back under control. 🙂

  22. Marta O. Smith says:

    Rob, thanks for sharing this perspective. I never knew about President Smith’s difficulties. I’m sorry it is difficult for you to attend the temple, and I’m sure God understands. Did you know that doing family history counts as temple service? You might try indexing. You can do it anywhere you have an internet connection and it is a completely acceptable Sunday activity. You can keep yourself busy all day long. Even if you might have the impression family history is deadly boring, indexing is very addicting. I finally had to limit the time I spend on it because I wanted to do it ALL the time.

  23. M.J. Mills says:

    I know of a family that had several children with those symptons .They learned about NAET , had them treated for alergies and they are all sympton free .Now this Sr. recommends NAET to all.

  24. Hi Robison,

    I think I’m going to have an article coming up here this week sometime soon about my experience with anxiety and depression. I’ve also written and published a book about my experience with it and how I was eventually able to manage and completely overcome anxiety, depression, and addictions that I had formed.

    One thing that you brought up that I didn’t know about was the publication by the Church leaders helping with mental illness. For the years that I was going through panic and depression I had a very different experience with working with church leaders in that they mainly told me to pray and repent and keep working hard at my callings and all would be well. Well, it wasn’t and it was by the grace of God that I was led to other avenues outside the church that helped me completely overcome everything.

    Thanks for putting this out there. There are many people who suffer in silence.

  25. Karen Ahlstrom says:

    I also have a very hard time at church, especially the Sunday School hour. Having something for my hands to do (like knitting or crocheting) helps, but it’s nigh impossible with a baby. I talked with my bishop, and he was very understanding and helped me find a place where I could be useful during that hour. It was still hard, but less terrible knowing that he (and orher ward members) wanted to make church a place where I could feel safe. I have also not been to the temple in a while, and I’ve been trying to figure out why I have such a hard time getting myself to go. This discussion has helped me put some things together, and I have some ideas about how to maybe make the coping strategies I use in everyday life work forme there.

  26. Ray says:

    Does the fact that this post deals with OCD have an effect on the large number of comments? (Said with a HUGE grin.)

  27. Paul says:

    Robison, thanks for this post. Lots of lives touched, as you can see.

    This paragraph especially spoke to me:

    “However basic this may sound, if I could convince readers of one thing in this essay it would be this: mental illness is real. I can’t count the number of times when people have suggested, in essence, that I just “get over it.” Or the number of times my wife has had to explain why I don’t sit with the family in sacrament meeting and she gets doubting or disapproving looks. Mental illness is a real medical condition, and it’s hard enough when people believe you; it’s infinitely worse when they don’t, or when they offer cures that obviously don’t understand the problem. (No one gives a pneumonia patient a book about how to think happy thoughts in order to cure their pneumonia.)”

    Of course you are right — and it’s true in and out of the church. But especially at church, where we covenant to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, may we each do more mourning and comforting and less judging.

  28. jendoop says:

    I came across an article today that more fully spells out your diabetes analogy, while delineating situational depression and clinical depression. It’s good. http://blogs.psychcentral.com/amazed-by-grace/2013/02/21/depression-a-physiological-problem-with-deep-spiritual-undertones/

  29. misssrobin says:

    This – “love unconditionally; seek to understand; act with kindness” – AMEN!

    I struggle with PTSD, depression, anxiety, chronic headache, and chronic fatigue. My husband struggles with OCD, ADD, and rage. If not a well-trained bishop (PhD level marriage and family therapist) at the right time, we would not be functional at this time.

    I had to let go of some friends who couldn’t learn or wouldn’t accept that I couldn’t just decide to change my mind and get over things. That my husband and I don’t choose to act this way.

    Six years ago my husband left the church. I believe this is connected to his OCD. He doesn’t and that’s okay. But because of him leaving my family and I are much better watched after. And I’ve found that I can go to the Bishop or Elder’s Quorum President and ask for different home teachers. They know our story and have no problem accepting that sometimes you need to let the family hand pick their teachers. I don’t know if this would work for you, but it might be a worthwhile conversation to have with the bishop. You might not know who would be a good fit, but he should know people well and could probably help. I know how important it is to have access to priesthood blessings to get you through mental health crises. A also know what it’s like to have to go outside of your own home and family to find them. It can be tough to do, but it’s worth it.

    You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers tonight. I pray that people will be kind to you, that you will find your way to the support you deserve, and that you will find many moments of peace amid the storms. May you be blessed.

  30. Patricia K says:

    Thanks for this. Over the last three years, my family has struggled with my husband’s sudden onset of bipolar one, among other problems. Talk about a revelation.

    The tendency for many people on the outside looking in on these kinds of conditions is to resort to the simplest and oldest way of understanding it: “You must have done or be doing something wrong.” It’s an ancient storyline that the New Testament shows Christ having to deal with.

    The best thing we can do is to provide other storylines–other language, better language–that opens up possibilities, not only for those living with mental illness but for the community surrounding them. Over time, better language, like the kind this post lays out there, generally leads to deeper relationships and different ways of thinking. It changes life.

    Christ’s foremost purpose was to break the choke hold of the common and contracted language that the Law of Moses had on his people. He provided better language, which opened up better possibilities for sufferers as well as those thinking about them. As far as I’m concerned, writing a post like this one that’s meant to offer a more meaningful way of thinking and doing is Christ-like behavior.

  31. Jendoop says:

    This morning while listening to a writing podcast I was pleasantly surprised to hear Robison talking about these issues. If you’d like to hear more from him, in his own voice, here’s the link:

  32. Pattyann says:

    Thank you Rob for this one. I am a member or the church, and currently suffer from depression and anxiety. My daughter has tourettes, depression and ocd. I totally understand the panic. I don’t have to sit by a door, but I have to sit close and always on the end of the pew so that I can leave quickly. I too, have often been told to “get over it”, or “get a blessing”. Surpisingly, my daughter has taught me so much about courage and tenacity. She is amazing and deals with her trials better than I ever could. I believe we can all have a little more kindness in our lives. Just because it is not something that someone understands, does not mean that it is not real. Good for you for being brave enough to write this.

  33. Naomi says:

    Thanks for writing this. I lost my job at the end of October and began experiencing symptoms that were like panic attacks, but the panic thoughts didn’t come until well into the episode. In between I would have dizzy spells, numbness in my face, hands and feet as well as a feeling of being detached from my surroundings and found it difficult to get things done because I just didn’t feel well. I saw a cardioligist who said my heart is fine. At the beginning of April we had a minor car accident, but I did crack a couple of ribs. My previous symptoms became ten times worse! After 2 trips to the ER my family doctor finally looked at my husband and me and said, ” I think it is time to see a psychiatrist.”
    I made an appointment and found him quite understanding. He diagnosed me with GAD and agoraphobia. I haven’t been to all three church meetings since my accident, and often don’t make it past the sacrament. I always sit in the back on the end of a row. I am also seeing a nerologist just to rule out anything else. Both the nerologist and the psychiatrist have given me medications that help with anxiety (one also helps prevent migraines as the nerologist thinks I may be getting “silent” migraines). I am trying to get over the initial side effects phase of the medications. I have also discovered I am very sensitive to medication and have become some what of a medication phobic.

    I know that mental illness runs in my family as I remember my grandfather having a nervous breakdown after being released as bishop. Also our oldest son suffers from depression and has been on various medications for nearly three years.

    During all of this I have not had visiting teachers. We live in a community where many of the people in the two wards in our building are employed at the same place and our kids all go to school together, so I have gotten a great deal of support from friends in the other ward. Only since the accident have I had people in our ward start to realize how unwell I have been. Since then I have had the relief society and others bring us meals and help clean etc. My husband does all he can but he is overwhelmed with working and driving kids around etc.

    I am hoping to someday get past all of this and just be me again!

  34. Gilbert Louser says:

    People with panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes. Sometimes symptoms may last longer. These are called panic attacks. Panic attacks are characterized by a fear of disaster or of losing control even when there is no real danger. A person may also have a strong physical reaction during a panic attack. It may feel like having a heart attack. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and many people with panic disorder worry about and dread the possibility of having another attack.’:`^

    My very own webpage <http://www.wellnessdigest.co

  35. irene newmark says:

    a few years ago I was wondering how I was going to sit through my daughters wedding I thought I was going fine until I watch the video and saw myself opening and shutting my hand bag in rapid concession and I wondered who else noticed me doing this ridiculous OCD activity – it was rather funny to watch though

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