5 Things Mormons Need to Know About Struggling with a Mental Illness
If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health issues, than this is for you.
Here are 5 things I have learned through my own personal experience with depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, an eating disorder, and type 2 Bipolar disorder. I likely do not have ALL of these things, that would be way too extra. The fact that I've been diagnosed with all of these illnesses at different times in my life is why you should definitely not go to a million different doctors, or ever read WebMD.... but it also speaks to the fact that I've been blessed to understand mental illness in many forms, and definitely know my 'ish on the matter.
So lets get started:
1. Mental illness is not a personality trait
We often describe ourselves, and each other, based on our behavior. But our divine qualities and personalities go so much deeper than that, and when it comes to mental illness this is an incredibly dangerous thing to do.
Hear me out on this one: You are not a depressed person. You are not an anxious person. Just like you are not an ADHD person. Or an eating disordered PERSON.
Mental illnesses are different from everyday experiences of sadness, worry, or frustration. They are actual illnesses that make normal living difficult.
If this type of thinking was applied to any other kind of illness it would sound this ridiculous: “Hi I am Rachel. I am adventurous, sassy, oh and also I’m very “Flu-ey”, and sometimes a “coughy” person too.
That sentence makes no sense, because symptoms of mental health conditions are symptoms like any other illness.
When I’m mentally healthy, I am EXTREMELY cheerful, playful, and like to make silly and inappropriate jokes. Its my natural disposition. When I’m experiencing depression, or an episode of PTSD, I shut down and become very quiet.
*Cue appropriately timed scary music*
When I’m mentally healthy, I am also a faithful person, and trust in God and His plan for me. When I’m experiencing anxiety, no matter how much I pray, my brain is usually MUCH louder than the quiet inspiration of God, and tells me everything is going to be terrible no matter what.
Yes. Its v. annoying.
But there is comfort to be found in remembering that these are not symptoms our body is experiencing because we have a broken or unworthy spirit, rather they are symptoms our spirit is experiencing due to an illness in a mortal body.
2. Its not your “fault” you have a mental illness
Mental illness is not a punishment for sin.
If it was I would be SCREWED because I am v. good at sinning and do it all the time. And because we are all sinners. There's that too.
And while prayer works miracles, it is not a lack of prayer or faith that causes mental illness.
It is a result of chemical imbalances due to our genetics or from past trauma (in my case both.)
While it IS our responsibility how we respond to these things, mental illnesses can severely limit our agency, willpower, and motivation to respond the way we would hope to immediately.
Cultivating our spiritual health through daily practices can certainly lend to our healing process, as our spiritual and mental health are deeply intertwined. And it is up to us to do the very best we can to better ourselves and heal.
But it is incredibly important to remind ourselves in the process that:
GENETICS ARE NOT YOUR FAULT.
PAST TRAUMA IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
3. it is ok if it Takes time to OvercomE these issues
When you’ve been struggling with recurring mental health issues, its hard to remember a time before them, and its hard to believe there will ever be a time after.
If this is something that's been overwhelming you, plz let me drop a scripture bomb:
40 And now my beloved brethren, I would exhort you to have patience, and that ye bear with all manner of afflictions; that ye do not revile against those who do cast you out because of your exceeding poverty, lest ye become sinners like unto them;
41 But that ye have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions. (Alma 34)
Now before you get frustrated with me for saying "be patient" (because if you're anything like me, that's how those words will make you feel), HEAR ME OUT:
This is my biggest weakness. I am a HIGHLY impatient person.
Like probably my worst quality is how impatient I am. This is something that IS a part of my personality and has nothing to do with my depression or anxiety.
MY SPIRIT IS V. IMPATIENT.
But its important to recognize that mental health issues can actually be a blessing to develop and grow godly qualities, and develop personality traits within our spirits that we do not yet possess.
Realizing this allows me to see this struggle as a blessing, and an opportunity to cultivate a personality, disposition, and spirit that I would want to carry with me into the eternities.
Mental health issues CAN be overcome through patience and time, and can actually be an amazing way to develop the christ-like attributes of patience in the process.
3. and you are worthy of having someone be there With you through the process
I often feel like I am unworthy of asking for help. Especially because most of the people I love, and who love me. are not truly equipped to help me.
It makes me feel like I deserve to be alone, and can actually make my depression and anxiety much much worse.
It is a vicious cycle.
BUT THIS IS SO NOT TRUE.
There ARE people who want to help, and are equipped to be able to do so. I know that my struggles with mental health have given me compassion for those who are similarly struggling, (which is why I am writing this blog post in the first place. I am v. depressed today, and I am choosing to cope by trying to help those who are also struggling).
There ARE people who want to be your friend, there IS someone who will want to marry you and have a family with you, even if you haven't figured everything out yet.
SPOILER ALERT: YOU ACTUALLY DO NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT TO BE DESERVING OF LOVE.
BECAUSE GUESS WHAT, YOU MAY NOT BE PERFECT BUT NO ONE ELSE IS EITHER.
Don't believe me?
Jesus Christ proved your eternal worthiness of love to you when He atoned for you and died for you.
You were not perfect then either.
That changed nothing.
When you struggle with a mental illness, your imperfections might look like days where you have less energy, or struggle to clean, or easily worry, or cry for no explainable reason.
But just because your imperfections cause you deep pain doesn't mean you are more deeply flawed than anyone else.
In fact, your mental health issues have likely also blessed you with strengths like empathy, sensitivity to others needs, a desire to serve, a silly sense of humor in times of trouble, a willingness to be loyal when times are bad.
With your weaknesses, come beautiful strengths.
The people who are right for you WILL recognize these, and want to be around you. Just like how you will want to be around them for their positive qualities, even though they also battle insecurities, weaknesses, and shortcomings.
Having a mental illness does NOT make you any less worthy of companionship, friendship, and relationships.
It just means you might have to work a little harder to keep these relationships healthy in spite of your health problems.
The willingness to keep trying is everything.
4. If you are still trying, you are succeeding
Its easy to compare yourself to others who seem to be so much farther ahead in life, especially when you know your mental illness has contributed to you taking longer to accomplish certain goals.
According to ten year old Rachel, I should be working on my Masters in writing at Yale by now, while simultaneously starring in Hollywood movies, married to a perfect man, with our four children, living in a perfect home I own.
Depression HAS changed everything. It has altered many of my plans.
But I believe it has done so for the better.
I still have huge aspirations for my life, but I have learned to rely on God in the process, and to trust in His timing.
If I didn't struggle with depression, I would be far less interested in helping anyone else in the process. The focus of my goals would be simply for my own gain, reputation, and pride.
Depression has blessed me with an appreciation for travel, chances to speak in high schools about mental health, a desire to use my pain for good.
And while it has led me to spend more days in bed than I would hope, and more nights crying myself to sleep than I would hope, it has taught me that to wake up the next day with willingness to try is all God truly expects of us.
5. God has a plan for you
For my non-religious friends who are reading, now is a really good time to substitute "God" with "Oprah Winfrey."
Something is very comforting about the idea of Oprah Winfrey having a plan for your life, huh?
But I truly believe that pain is a part of God's plan for me. The love I feel for God is deep and endless for allowing me the opportunity to have an intimate relationship with pain. I am deeply grateful for my battles with depression and anxiety.
I do not know why God calls us to have certain trials, but I know that some day our understanding will be complete and we will be filled with an infinite joy for the lives we have been given, the trials we have chosen to endure, and as a result the people we are capable of serving.
It is a terrible thing to be trapped in a body with a brain that betrays you, but it is a comfort to know that this life is just a glimmer in the eternities and who you are has little to do with the cells you are organized in today.