Feature Friday: Michelle

I know Michelle as Hermana Crowley, we were in the same MTC District. She has the kindest heart and sweetest spirit. I loved being able to serve with her.
Michelle grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho. After she graduated from High School, she attended BYU-Idaho. In the middle of her education, she made the decision to serve a mission. She served in the Texas, Houston mission, Spanish speaking. Her mission is something that she holds very dear to her heart and she will forever be grateful for that experience. Through her mission, she learned how much she loves people as well as how much she loves to teach and help others. After she returned from her mission, she was blessed to have more opportunities to teach. She was an EFY counselor for two summers which was an amazing, growing experience. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Science and a minor in Marriage and Family in July of 2016. After she graduated she moved to Salt Lake where she is currently living. She works at St Marks Family Medicine. She is a receptionist and a prior-authorization where she works with insurances to approve certain procedures for patients. She loves her current job and the skills it has given her. She has worked with and met amazing people. Though, she hopes to one-day shift her focus again to teaching more. She is currently researching options to return to school or become certified in a skill where she is able to connect and help people more on a personal basis. She loves to dance! Latin dancing, ballroom dancing, or random dance parties. She was a Latin dance instructor for a period of time at BYU-I, and it’s something she is passionate about. She loves music and singing. She loves spending time with people she loves. She has 3 nephews and 2 nieces that she ADORES. She likes to watch movies, play games, laugh, and eat good food. Anxiety is something that she has struggled with throughout her life, but it wasn’t labeled for her till fall of 2014. She was diagnosed with depression Spring of 2016.

Photo by Whitney Majors.

My first full-blown panic attack was one of the most terrifying and awful moments of my life. It was late. I had just broken up with my boyfriend. We had been dating on and off for nearly two years. Though I didn’t realize it until I was out of it for a while, our relationship had some serious issues that I believe would have become more serious and more damaging in a marriage. I didn’t see that though, or didn’t choose to see it. Every couple had problems, right? No relationship is going to be perfect, right? I loved him. I wanted to be with him. I was determined to make it work. It didn’t matter that my anxiety had become nearly unmanageable. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t sleeping. It didn’t matter how thin and exhausted I was. It didn’t matter that my heart would race – even in the middle of the day just sitting at a desk. It didn’t matter that I was constantly worrying and on edge. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t myself. It didn’t matter how worried my family and close friends were. I was committed to this relationship regardless of how unhealthy it was. It was my life in a very toxic way. Over the last couple of years, things gradually had gotten to the point where I had lost myself. How I felt about myself was governed by how HE felt about me and how HE perceived me. And if I didn’t have him, who was I?

It was our second attempt at discussing marriage. I had been away from BYU-I for the semester for an internship. Long distance had its challenges, but it only solidified my desperation to be with him. We were in the beginning stages of looking at possible rings, talking about wedding dates, discussing future plans. It was early April of 2016, right before I headed back to BYU-I for my final semester. Lately, in our conversations together, I had been noticing some things that he would say that didn’t quite add up or settle in my gut. It was becoming more and more apparent something was wrong. I was trembling and sick to my stomach the night I confronted him about it. My world shattered when he finally told me the truth… that he had been pursuing a girl for some time and they had started dating. An awful wave of realization washed over me and betrayal churned in my stomach. I don’t know if I was driven by anger, heartbreak, courage, or all of the above – but I almost instantly felt in my heart and soul that I needed out. Right then. I ended it. I was done. I deserved better than this. I felt completely disrespected. Did he not love me? He would tell me that he did every day… but maybe he didn’t mean it? Am I not good enough? Why was he wanting to be with her? Did I do something wrong again? Is this my fault? Why would he do this? I was so angry. I’ve never felt anger like that before. But I still loved him. I still worried about him. I worried how he was doing because I just tearfully and angrily broke up with him. Was he okay? Was he hurting? Did he feel bad? Or maybe, he was relieved? Was he happy to be rid of me? Am I not worth it? I remember walking straight into my sister’s room, sobbing and fuming about what had just occurred. My stomach was tight. My head was spinning. I felt out of control. Leaning on my sister, who just held me, I felt myself losing grip on reality. I all of a sudden couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t I breathe!? I felt like I was suffocating. Choking. I was trying, but could not catch a breath, which caused me to panic even more. I remember my sister’s faraway voice and her light hand on my back, “Breathe Michelle.” Her gentle presence slowly brought me back down to earth. I was nowhere near calm though. As I learned how to breathe again, I felt dizzy and lightheaded. My stomach was still it tiny little knots. I felt sick. I could not stop crying.
Sleep did not come to me that night. My angel of a sister stayed with me. She didn’t leave my side. It was probably 2 or 3 in the morning when we put in a movie to try and help distract my mind. Which worked only a little. My sister fell asleep. I continued to lie there on the sofa in my parent’s basement. I felt more and more sick. I felt hopeless. I still felt angry. And my brain couldn’t get rid of the images I had created of him and her together. I was heartbroken. But I was also worried about the man that I still very much cared about. There was a confusing amount of feelings and thoughts coursing through me. I was exhausted. But sleep still didn’t come.

A week or so later I was back in Rexburg for my final semester at BYU-I. Things did not get better. I had spiraled into severe depression. I had experienced depression before, but not to this degree. I felt numb. Unmotivated. I would break down in the middle of class and have to leave the classroom because I couldn’t get a hold of myself. I struggled to keep up in almost all of my classes, which was unusual for me. I felt heavy and weak. I wasn’t sleeping at night even though I was always so tired. I couldn’t eat even though I could tell my body needed food. There were many days I would just stay in bed. I was stuck in a very hopeless, dark hole, and I didn’t know how to get out. Even if I did know how I wasn’t sure if I’d even have the motivation or strength to make it. Fortunately, I did. Just not on my own.

Mental health wasn’t something that my family discussed very much growing up, if ever. I believe anxiety has affected me since I was a little girl. It has manifested itself in different ways in different periods of my life, but I had never really labeled it for what it was. I served a mission in Houston, Texas where I taught the Gospel in Spanish. It was an incredible experience that I will forever be grateful for. Anxiety, and for the first time, depression, were both things that affected me at different points on my mission. But, again I didn’t understand what I was actually experiencing till later in my life. I was blessed to be able to successfully cope with these struggles, but I don’t believe they were as severe as they would become in later years. It wasn’t until the summer of 2014, at 23 years old, that I started to understand anxiety and depression for what they were. These were discoveries that I gained through certain health classes and conversations with others. I started to realize that these struggles were keeping me from living the life I wanted to live. I began to take steps in getting help. One of the hardest steps in this journey was the initial admitting that I had a mental health struggle. I remember talking to my mom and one of my mission companions about my concerns. In both of the conversations, I was shaky, tearful, and almost ashamed of having a mental health problem. With their encouragement, I began to see a counselor on campus. This was also a very difficult step for me. I felt embarrassed to walk into that office. Me? Needing therapy? But as I continued to see my therapist, I noticed that every time I’d sit in the waiting room, I saw someone I knew. It began to feel like my struggles were more normal than I had thought. So many people have a relationship with mental health struggles, and people often need help with these struggles. Therapy was an incredible, eye-opening experience for me. My therapist helped me label my emotional distress as anxiety and helped me understand how I could manage it.

There are a lot of things that have helped me cope with my anxiety and depression over the last several years. Therapy, medication, taking walks, breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and nutrition – to name a few. All these things are in what I like to call my “toolbox.” This toolbox continues to grow and evolve as I progress and change. All of these coping mechanisms I believe are things that I have been led to by Heavenly Father. My mental health is something I have continually prayed for guidance about. There are often times when I don’t know what I need. But, I know Heavenly Father knows and understands me and can help me know what steps I need to take. A key component in my perpetual coping and healing is the Atonement. To be honest, this is something I sometimes forget to turn to. But, it has consistently been a strength to me as I’ve made my way through this complex and layered part of my life.

On my mission, I was introduced to a talk by Elder Bednar that had an immense impact on my mission, but also in my life after the mission. I believe this talk was in the April 2012 Ensign. It’s titled: The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality.

In this talk Elder Bednar discusses different examples in the Book of Mormon where the enabling power of the Atonement is used. One of these examples is a moment with Nephi and his brothers. Nephi’s brothers took him, bound him, and left him in the wilderness. In this challenging moment, Nephi prayed. But, he wasn’t praying to have the Lord take away the situation. “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound” (1 Nephi 7:17; emphasis added). He asked for STRENGTH in his circumstances – strength and ability that was beyond what he could do on his own. He was ENABLED to break the bands that held him. Another example that Elder Bednar uses to illustrate the enabling power of the atonement is with Alma and his people who were in bondage.

“I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs. …And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:14–15; emphasis added). Again we see that the Lord did not take away their burdens. Instead, He gave them added strength and capacity beyond their own, and their burdens were lightened. Elder Bednar teaches, “The enabling power of the Atonement of Christ strengthens us to do things we could never do on our own… The enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.”

How does this process work? How does this happen? I honestly don’t know how to fully comprehend it. But I can testify that it’s real. And I know that this power comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people… And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12; emphasis added). Jesus Christ suffered for us. He has felt every heartache. Every panic attack. Every numb, unmotivated spiral into dark, heavy depression. Every meltdown. He knows perfectly and intimately how it feels. Because He knows exactly how it feels, He knows perfectly how to help us, how to succor us. If we trust Him and allow Him into our hearts, if we reach out to Him, He can heal. He can strengthen. He can comfort and lift our spirits. He can help us survive each day.

I have seen the power of the Atonement in my life. Especially in times of darkness. I felt it that last semester at BYU-I when I didn’t know who I was, heartbroken, numb, unmotivated. I made it through the semester. I passed my classes. I graduated! There were so many times I felt deeply alone, but I know now that I wasn’t. Whether it was direct strength from the Lord, or through other people that were placed in my life, I was not alone. Over time, I began to feel lighter. I felt hopeful. There were days when I even felt overwhelming joy and gratitude for my life and what it was.

Mental and emotional struggles are very much still a part of my life. I still have days where I struggle to get out of bed. I still have days where my heart races and I’m stuck in my head. I still have panic attacks every now and then. Depression and anxiety are a part of my life – a part of who I am. Though it’s a challenge, many blessings have come from this trial. It’s not easy to look at it this way every day, but I am grateful for the lessons I’m learning and continue to learn.

“You and I in a moment of weakness may cry out, ‘No one understands. No one knows.’ No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many phases of our life. He can reach out, touch, succor—literally run to us—and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do through relying upon only our own power.”

This quote, also from Elder Bednar’s talk, is so close to my heart. We are not alone in navigating this life. And we most definitely don’t have to heal, cope, or manage mental illness on our own. How grateful I am for the beautiful gift of the Atonement. It truly can help us pull through our hardest, most challenging days. It has for me.

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