My senior year of high school, I was so blessed. That summer I had begun a full membership into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints and had the privilege of going to Europe and Girl's State. I had it all. I felt as though I was finally seeing color for the first time. What many didn’t know is that I felt as though I was also experiencing the weight of hell, as they seemed to both co-exist at that time. I could be anyone that I wanted to be. I could believe in myself and be the person I always wanted to be. Nearly everything that I wanted to take part in that I hadn’t in the previous 3 years suddenly were a reality. I was SADD president, I was in student government, I was the senior class secretary, in a dance club that previously I hadn’t been able to afford but was babysitting for the owner to pay for lessons and materials, a lead role in in the play for that year, and in serendipity show choir. What others didn't know is that my mind and soul would be crushed for several years following because of the sinful decisions of others within my family and close friends. People that I had grown up with, that I had trusted, and people who were my idols became my devils. They became the door that lead to the painful wretched thoughts in my mind that left me thinking of ways I was going to kill myself. It was a constant cycle. I would think one thought, which would lead to another thought. Then I judged the thought as bad, gross, or sick, and labeled myself as gross or sick. I thought only disgusting people have thoughts like this, so I must be one of those people, which would lead me to consider multiple ways that I could kill myself. Around and around these thoughts went. It is hard to explain this for those that might judge you, and for those who have experienced this kind of anxiety, in fear that it will give you greater anxiety. It was an extremely hard time in my life.
I continued pushing forward. I read my scriptures every day, I asked the Lord to take this away, I attended the temple when the young women would go, I went to seminary and worked hard for the seminary award and for my young women’s medallion. The one thing that was my shining light amidst the continuous cycle of horrible thoughts and mental catastrophe was this. That year my seminary teacher had asked if I would step out of the class room. I wasn’t sure what trouble I had gotten into, but I agreed. My thoughts were racing. I classified them as horrible as ever. I wanted to die. My seminary teacher asked if I would accept a call to be the seminary class president for my class. I was overcome. I thought, Why would he call me now? Does God know that in that very moment my thoughts were so horrible that death sounded like a good way out of this turmoil going on inside my mind. And then the realization came. It was something so beautiful. I realized that God had given me this assignment as a way of telling me that I was worthy. He knew that I needed someone to tell me that I was a good person, that He loved me, and was aware of me in my darkest moments.
The third cycle of anxiety that I had that I recall lasting for several months was when I was in college. I was at a difficult spot with my boyfriend and offended at some of my actions as well as his. I was contemplating a mission, but decided not to go, mostly because I refused to think that I could ever be worthy. In a month or so, my life went from fun, exciting, and full of joy to severely depressed. I recount the experiences with boyfriends in my past, as dating and relationships that I had been involved in had taken such a drastic toll on my well-being and my self-confidence. Any single toe out of line, whether great or small with a boy I was dating, felt like I was sinning. I yelled at myself. I contemplated never dating again, because I thought that would be a better alternative than sinning in the least degree against God. As I was having this experience, the memories came flooding back. Those thoughts that started out small became all-encompassing, taking with it my little fragments of joy, my purity, my clean thoughts. During this time, I was working around 20-30 hours a week, on top of doing a 30 hour a week internship, with three online classes at night. I would return to Rexburg, only to grab a roll or some pretzels and chocolate before returning to campus to study until 11 pm at school and then continue as needed at home after that.
I remember instinctively thinking that if the Gospel was true and I had once felt joy, then these feelings that I was experiencing hadn’t always been. The judgments returned, the cycle of horrific thoughts and plans, the constant tears, they had all come back. I told myself I would never be a mom. I told myself I wanted to die, I’d rather die. Without my consent, it seemed that one thought would result into a conversation with myself trying to not cut myself with a knife or having to tell myself that my sister wasn’t going to get run over because she was standing next to a car. Death seemed to always be on my mind and in my thoughts. It wouldn’t let up. It wouldn’t go away. I talked to a counselor in my bishopric, but I was too scared to tell him the thoughts that I was having. I remember telling myself that if I wasn’t crazy like my brother, then I was possessed, because only someone that was like that would have those kinds of thoughts. I wanted to tell my sister. I was so scared to tell anyone. I wanted her to know how much of an extremely hard time I was having, but I didn’t want her to know that her sister was having those kinds of thoughts. In one of my final acts of desperation, I called my previous boyfriend at midnight and asked if he would give me a blessing. On my way there, I thought of lyrics from one of my favorite songs that said, "When you are too afraid to pray just say, 'Jesus.’" As I had that thought, I then thought how amazing it would it be if I turned on the radio and that song was on. I turned on the radio, and there were those lyrics, there was my favorite song. I sobbed uncontrollably. God was aware of me. He really knew the pain I was going through. I received a blessing that night. I continued to have the horrific thoughts and emotions.
In another act of despondency, I had finally consented to meet with a gal from my sister’s ward for counseling. I was so afraid. After 20 minutes of tears, I told her the thoughts I was having and some of the things that I was struggling with. The first thing she told me is that I wasn’t crazy. The second thing she told me is that I had post-traumatic stress disorder, or rather extreme anxiety from an experience. In that first and second counsel sessions with her, I was able to put a name on my thoughts and emotions. She gave me several go-to moves when I began having a thought in my mind. I learned that when I have a thought, that I do not judge it as good or bad, I only say, "Hmm that is an interesting thought." Now I can look at a thought and briefly analyze where it is stemming from without judging it. It is almost as though I give myself a big hug in the process. At the time when my anxiety was really high, I couldn’t handle analyzing these thoughts, and thus was instructed to stop the thought where it was and have a go-to memory, song, and scripture on hand to replace that thought. This helped me so much.
It hasn’t been an easy road. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with my own anxiety. Here are a few ways, including others already previously mentioned, that I have seen God’s hand and joy in these experiences:
- Heavenly Father and inspiration to give me church responsibilities was a way of God telling me that He still loved me.
- Friends and family that encouraged me to slow down and made it safe to tell them my thoughts without judging me.
- Slowing down. Working myself harder when I was going through trials resulted in poor nutrition and high amounts of sleep deprivation, which resulted in extreme amounts of anxiety.
- I started a project for my abnormal psychology class that allowed me to read a book about anxiety and assess myself and where I fit into the picture. Knowledge is power.
- Priesthood blessings. I was given a very special blessing that said that this trial wouldn’t go away in this life. This brought so much relief to my heart as I realized that it was something that I would most likely experience again, and that I would have to learn how to curb it.
- I practiced several counseling skills, such as pretending the person that hurt me was sitting on a chair in front of me. I could swear at them, I could yell at them, I could say everything and all that I wanted to say without fear of hurting them, being judged by others, or having them reprimand me. When I finally felt like I got out everything I wanted to say, I wrote a letter to them. I didn’t every send it, but I did put it into the river.
- I prayed and I asked God to help me heal. I invited Him to take the burden and trusted that He would.
- Attending the temple. Many times while I battling anxiety, I would have a very difficult time going to the temple, but when I attended, I felt peace. I was able to feel God’s love for me and more fully feel comfort through the gift of the Holy Ghost.
- I’ve had faith in God as I’ve excepted job offers and situations that might spark anxiety in me, only to find that each time I’ve trusted Him, my heart has healed a little more.
- Service. Around the time that I was meeting with the counselor, I was participating in every possible service activity I could think of. The one that really helped me came by inspiration from one of my leaders to invite me to be a coordinator and then a director for social activities on the BYU- Idaho campus. This experience reminded me to have fun but also to provide support and friendship to others.
Amidst the anxiety, I never felt that I’d be worthy of a temple marriage, I never thought that I could ever work with a child again without recounting all of the horrific thoughts, memories, and feelings of that time. I’m not perfect. Every now and again, I have to allow myself to have a really crappy day. I have to learn to accept the fact that with this disorder, life isn’t always peachy perfect, and some of my actions and emotions don’t always have to make sense. I am married to a wonderful handsome man that loves God as much as I do. I don’t dread being with him; I love him. I’m a pain in the butt, but I am learning that I cannot leave just because I have anxiety. I get a chance to live and to love. I work with young children every day that teach me that purity of thoughts comes in acting in faith, taking steps in the dark. I love the kids I work with, I want to help them succeed. I have been able to assess my thoughts more without judging them and understand where some of them come from. I am able to bless the lives of my family and friends by being a listening ear when they are having their own experiences. Though that time was deeper and darker that I had ever wanted to experience, I can say that I understand what it means to have a mental illness, help others struggling, and have more joy and gratitude for having a solid mind, a good understanding of my emotions, and a trust and faith in God my Father that I would never have experienced without this trial.
In this life, we all are given burdens to carry. My prayer is that you won’t wait so long to ask for help that you miss out on all of the blessings and love from God and those that love you. Be courageous and ask for help. Telling someone may be one of the best decisions that you’ve ever made.