Feature Friday: Brooke

Brooke and I went to high school together. She was a little quieter (and now I know more of why from her story), but was always super nice and smiley. Her story is just another confirmation to me that we truly have no idea what could be going on under the surface.
Brooke was born and raised in beautiful Utah, USA. She loves skiing, working out, and thinks having fun every day is a must. She has schizoaffective disorder but is choosing to learn how to deal with it better all the time. She loves her family, friends, dog, and yes she even loves you! “Let’s be kind, be real, and be there for each other today.”

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I was very humbled when I got asked to share my story of battling mental illness. I know that there are so many stories out there and so many priorities in life you have going on. If you choose not to take the time to read my story, I am not offended. It is long, probably too long, seriously sorry about that. But if anything just know that YOU are LOVED, you are WORTH and DESERVE every bit of love there is. If you need HELP, please please reach out to a professional, friend, or me. We can and WILL get through this together. Please DON’T GIVE UP. Don’t let your battle win, we will WIN, together we can through HIM.

I am just a normal girl, born and raised in Utah. I was oh so very shy growing up. I was timid talking to adults, I had a couple of best friends, but never really valued myself. I worshiped and envied people’s confidence, looks, and personalities. I grew up in a strict upbringing, which actually made me enjoy the different easy-going, fun, relaxed home styles my friends grew up in. (I love my family with all my heart, not trying to say I am not grateful for them, I did, however, struggle with some things in mine. No family is perfect right?) I am telling you this backstory to let you know for me my mental illness started young, there were many factors that affect who I would become and how my mental illness would develop. I’ll spare you most of the details, and try to keep it short. Just know, I have been the girl that seemed like she had a lot going for her. In reality, I had a track scholarship but was so hard on myself for feeling like I didn’t fit in with the team, and did not keep up at practice. I got asked to and went to I think every dance in high school, would research conversation topics to talk about, but I had crippling anxiety I wouldn’t even talk to my date. I seemed to have a lot of friends, but didn’t actually have any close friends at times, got jealous of my friends being better friends with other friends, and ate lunch alone often. Attended almost every church meeting and event, but still didn’t understand that God’s love was a choice and should bring joy. Instead, I couldn’t let go that I was not as “perfect” as I thought I should be.

A fast summary through college, I was relieved to be away from my strict upbringing but started making choices I knew weren’t the way I was taught and have affected me to this day. Thank goodness for the Atonement. I sucked at track, never ran my potential, but learned life lessons that I am so grateful for. I pushed away my family, tried to find value in relationships that devalued who I really was and let my studies be my last priority. My life definitely WAS NOT all negative, I had a blast at dance parties, being with roommates, and fun random “adventures” (yes I am a typical white girl, proud of it. Where my Instagram husband at ;)) I developed self-confidence, felt pretty for the first time in my life, and discovered what it felt like to get noticed. I am just trying to let you know both sides of reality, what really happened and what influenced the person I have become.

I decided to serve an LDS mission, there were so many reasons I was not ready to go. I realize those reasons now, but then decided to move forward with faith, and leave without being healthy personally, emotionally, physically, etc. I absolutely had good desires to serve the Lord, and find out who He wanted me to be, and I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. Long story short I came home early multiple times, ended up in a psych ward and eating disorder facility. I have to say, I am so grateful for these trials that lead me to the help and knowledge I have now. At the time, however, I was absolutely devastated. I was living in fear, not trusting anyone, not trusting God. I developed psychosis and my anxiety acted up like never before. I turned inward and didn’t realize other people were struggling worse than I. I was told I needed to be on medication but thought I didn’t need it. I got frustrated going to counselors, felt like I didn’t have anything to talk about, or thought it wasn’t helping. I tried for four years to live a normal life, in denial of my mental illness and feeling bitter for the way my life had gone. I was depressed, felt alone, turned my back on the Savior, and questioned the purpose of life.

There is a saying that sometimes when we have trials and hardships they can either turn us toward the Savior or make us bitter. I am so grateful that the last time I hit rock bottom I made the choice to turn to the Savior. In the last two months, I have been to the hospital with the desire to get better. I finally accepted and saw my mental illness as something real and I knew I needed help. I have been transparent and honest with my family, friends, and doctors, so that I can be trusted and trust that they can help me. I have started to make choices to keep covenants I have made with the Savior and to take care of my body, mind, and soul. For the first time in a long time, I feel HOPE. I have started to let myself care more about others than myself, and want to genuinely care. I am going back to school, I feel like I have a second chance. I am blessed, I have a loving family, friends, and support system. I have had a change of heart.

Others, sometimes aren’t as lucky. It completely breaks my heart to see so much hurt and pain on the news. Too many deaths, too much violence, too many misunderstandings, and way too many suicides. My heart goes out to the loved ones of victims, and to well everyone because I know everyone is dealing with pain one way or another. We need to help. We need to help each other, love like He did. You don’t know who needs a smile today, maybe someone with a disability, someone who doesn’t have friends, someone you are jealous of because they seem to have a better life or someone who is happier than you. You REALLY don’t know what anyone is going through. Okay, I’ll get off my darn soapbox, and just hope that this helps someone in some way. I am seriously sorry for oversharing my story, sorry to those I have hurt because of my choices and not understanding my illness. But I hope this helps in some way, and whether we ever actually meet or talk, just know that I love you. More importantly, the Savior loves you. However you are, broken and beautiful, please DON’T GIVE UP. We need YOU to STAY. Have HOPE, you are not alone my friend. We are going to make it, let’s reach out and help each other today.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Norma

If you don’t know Norma, then I promise you want to. She became a very dear friend when I moved into her ward two years ago. She has blessed my life in countless ways and I love and admire her so much! I am grateful for the example she is of turning hard things, like going through a divorce, into a way that can bless others.
Norma lives in Utah. She is remarried and is learning the ropes of blending a family. She has taken her experiences and now helps other women find their light through online classes and coaching programs. She is host of SPARK, the Light Within Podcast. She is also a speaker, writer, and educator. You can follow her on Instagram @normazaugg or @sparkpodcast, on facebook @sparkpodcasts, or for classes or coaching visit her website.

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I was in a fog and having a hard time comprehending what was happening to me. I woke up morning after morning hoping that it was all just a bad dream. I was in so much pain, actually it was beyond pain, It was agony. Crying myself to sleep hadn’t eased the pain, it just left me with eyelids that felt like sandpaper and emptiness that I couldn’t fit. That is felt like no one could fix. I was angry at my husband and angry at God. I had been a good person my entire life, how could he allow this to happen.

Sit-ups then more sit-ups
roll over
push ups
do more… keep going!

My little boys sat on the carpet beside me. Three boys ages 8, 6, and 2 with their big eyes and curious minds watching their mommy struggle through the exertion. I couldn’t hide the pain from them, it had become a part of me in such an intense way.

Norma get up. Keep moving!

I was afraid that if I stayed still too long the anxious energy that held my body captive, and the uncomfortable pain coursing through my veins would take over. I worried that if I stopped for even a moment I would become pixelated, and little pieces of me would float away and I would be lost forever.

My body was exhausted from all the tears that had been shed and the restless nights that were filled with terrifying dreams. I would be lying if I said that part of me just didn’t want to give in to the moment and explode into nothingness. I had experienced anxiety before, but never to this extent and honestly, I didn’t know if my heart could take it. It seemed as if my blood had thickened and my poor heart had to work extra hard to push it through my body.

Some days I wanted to give in just like this day, but all I had to do was look into the eyes of my three little boys and know that was not an option.

My arms were shaking from the exertion of the push ups, I fell onto my rough carpet and lay there for only a moment before I recognized I needed something more. I knew myself well enough to know that I needed some time alone to eliminate these overwhelming emotions. The last thing I wanted was for any of this nasty energy to pour into my children. I called a friend and asked her if she could take my little boys for a while. She agreed and I took them over to play so that I could go and calm the battle that was raging inside of me.

That day I went to the park and I ran and ran and ran and prayed. I begged for some relief from the intensity of the moment.

I wish that this was the only day like this, but as time marched forward I experienced many more that tried my heart and soul. I didn’t like the feelings and quickly learned that running and temple attendance were the only things that I could do to calm the storm inside of me. I created a regular routine that included both as I moved forward through my divorce proceedings. The following months were anything but easy. I had to learn how to be a single mom except for the few days a month that my soon to be ex-husband took the boys. I had to learn new things that my husband had done like care for my vehicles and take care of the lawn. Thank heavens for an amazing father, brother in law, and other men in my church that came to help when the work was beyond my skill set. I had to learn to be by myself after 18 years of marriage.

More than anything I just wanted life to become easy, I wanted it to go back to normal and I didn’t want to feel this way anymore. If you asked me at the time I would have wondered if I could make it. I had doubts every single day and worried that my broken heart wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Time moved forward like it always does and God provided hope and relief that was greater than the anguish. It was not easy, but it was possible. I look back on those dark days now and recognize that they helped to form me into something different. Something better than I was before. I promise that if you move forward through times like these believing in God with full purpose and giving him all that you have, you too will find hope and peace and light.

Sending Buckets of Love,
Norma

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When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Anonymous 4

The person who wrote this post is a very near and dear friend. It breaks my heart the things she has experienced in the last several months. What would you do if the person you fell in love with became someone else after getting married and left you one day? Read on to find out what she did.

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Hello! Ally asked me to write a blog post about some of the struggles that I have had during my marriage, and why I am currently grappling with the decision of whether or not to get divorced. I will frankly discuss verbal and emotional abuse/manipulation, as well as mental health, including suicidality and self-harm, which may be upsetting to some. I have decided to remain anonymous—first of all, because my story is ongoing, second of all, to protect my husband and me—some of the things I will discuss are sensitive, and I would prefer to keep them confidential at this time. However, if you or someone you know is going through something similar, and needs someone to talk to, please feel free to ask Ally for my contact information. I would also be willing to share my story in other ways, although I would still prefer to remain anonymous at this time. I sincerely would be happy to help however I can. Something I have learned in the midst of my trial is that support is absolutely crucial to being able to work through your thoughts and feelings and to see things clearly.

To explain how I got into this situation, I think it would be prudent to explain why I got married in the first place. When I first met my husband, the thing that stood out the most was how easy he was for me to talk to. While we were dating, he was attentive, charming, kind, compassionate, empathetic, honest, and charismatic. He was a true gentleman, and he was always going out of his way to make me feel special, and to show me respect. It seemed like so many things in both of our lives had lined up perfectly for us to meet each other. At one point, while we were dating, I unknowingly quoted part of his patriarchal blessing to him. It seemed like the stars were aligning. I usually take time to get to know someone, but I began to open up to him in ways that I hadn’t been able to open up to anyone before, and he listened with great care. I slowly began to fall in love with him.

I feel like it would be misleading to leave out a few parts of this love story. First of all, I have gone back many times and wondered if I made a mistake by dating him at all. I remember having an impression that I shouldn’t date him, very early in our courtship, and it troubled me a lot. I was afraid of diving into a relationship, and so I wondered if I was just letting my own fear and doubt cloud my judgment. On the other hand, I also really did want to date him, and so I worry that my own desires may have gotten in the way of real revelation. Truthfully, even now, I am not completely sure what is true. There is nothing I can do about it now but offer myself grace in knowing that I did the best that I could at the time and that I was truly trying to seek the will of the Lord, and do what is right. I discussed these thoughts with another friend of mine who was divorced, and I really appreciated his thoughts. He said, “I’m not so confident in my revelation receiving abilities as to think that I was for sure given confirmation that I should marry her (his ex-wife.) Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. I did the best I could at the time. I just know God doesn’t stop life from happening, so Christ makes up for it.”

There were some big concerns through our dating life. He had struggled heavily with pornography in the past (before we started dating) and had ongoing issues with masturbation because of it. He hadn’t served a mission or gone to the temple, and these issues made me the most unsure about continuing to court him. I had always strived to live the gospel, and I went on a mission and knew for sure that I would not settle for anything less than a temple marriage. I prayed a lot for discernment, and to know what to do, because this was obviously a major concern. However, he was incredibly honest about his struggles, and he was accountable to me, his bishop, and the Lord. He attended addiction recovery meetings diligently and taught the prospective elders class in his ward. As I watched, he made significant progress, turned his life around, and began to prepare himself to receive his endowment. He told me how happy he was, and I could see changes in his very core. I saw the Atonement at work. He received his endowment, was worthy of the temple and the Spirit, and his actions continued to demonstrate a deep commitment to me and the Lord. All of his actions all pointed to him being and continuing to become the kind of man I had always wanted to marry.

During this time, he had started to ask me about going ring shopping. We had introduced one another to our families, and our relationship was progressing. However, I was a little uncomfortable with how fast it seemed to be moving, and I kept putting off ring shopping, wanting to be sure that he could take me to the temple, and that he was the right man. I also wanted to make sure that the spiritual changes he was making were permanent, and that they were not just for me. He seemed frustrated by my uncertainty, and I began to feel a bit pressured to make a decision about whether or not I wanted him to propose. I continued to ask him to wait, as kindly as possible. However, I realized that our relationship was reaching a point where, if I wasn’t prepared to marry him, I needed to end it in order to be fair to us both.

I’d like to reiterate that he treated me very well—he was attentive and went out of his way to serve me and pursue me. He brought me flowers at work, took me on thoughtful dates, drove an extra 20 minutes to scrape the snow off my windows in the morning, and took care of me when I was sick. He was kind and caring. I feel like, because you, the reader, know that this isn’t going to end well, I feel obligated to share all of the challenges and concerns in our relationship. However, please don’t make any mistake that I was incredibly happy for the vast majority of the time that I was dating him, and early in our marriage—happier than I had ever been before in my life.

My then-boyfriend told me that he had received an answer in the temple that he should marry me. I was diligently seeking my own answer but didn’t get it as soon as he did. I wanted to, and continued to fast, pray, read the scriptures, go to the temple, and seek guidance from my bishop. Scriptures began jumping out to me—and over and over, the message was basically the same, “Don’t be afraid to do good.” I remember hearing something similar as I prayerfully went into General Conference in April of 2017, and I decided that I had my answer. Getting married was a good thing, right? I didn’t want to live in fear of doing something that seemed to promise so much happiness, and I felt like I was making a good choice.

Our dating and engagement lasted for a year and several months before were married in November of 2017. We honeymooned in Hawaii, which was pure bliss. We came home and quickly signed on a home that we had bought, and moved in. Immediately after, we hit the holidays hard—switching between families, and scrambling to make sure we had all of our last minute Christmas gifts ready. It was pretty chaotic and definitely stressful as newlyweds—still trying to figure out how to live together and adjust to all of the changes in our lives.

I also had started taking birth control shortly before our wedding. I was a little nervous about it, because I had never taken it before, and I did not know how it would affect me. I had struggled through periods of anxiety and depression prior to that, and I had even had suicidal thoughts in the past. However, they had never been severe enough to be debilitating, and I had always been able to manage it in silence. I had been honest with my husband about these tendencies prior to us getting married, and had even expressed that I was worried about how the birth control could potentially tap into those tendencies and make them worse.

Unfortunately, I was right. Birth control took my feelings and amplified them. I felt anxious and paranoid, and depression started to rear its nasty head. I began to experience regular suicidal thoughts. To make matters worse, our transition to marriage wasn’t going very smoothly. I come from a family where we are able to confront issues and deal with them directly, and my husband comes from a family that does not confront. It was a challenge for him and me to work through even the smallest of problems. I think that he had expected marriage to be much easier and smoother than it was proving to be, and I remember distinctly receiving a text from him that essentially told me that he wasn’t sure that he wanted to be married and that he felt like he was having a crisis of faith and identity. I was already an anxious mess, and this made all of the alarms in my head go haywire. I desperately wanted to fix things. I mentioned to my husband that I was worried that the birth control was affecting me negatively, but I felt pressured to continue to try it. To be clear, some of that pressure was from my husband, but a great deal of it was from myself—I figured that women take birth control all the time, we were going through a stressful time, things would get better, etc. I was terrified to admit that I might have a real problem, so I made every excuse I could think of to just try to “tough it out.”

January of 2018, I took a trip to go visit my mom and grandma. My husband stayed behind. He was acting strangely, and I remember feeling desperately anxious and worried, especially after his texts about a crisis of faith and identity. He was not communicating with me, which made me feel really insecure and scared—as it turned out, rightfully so. I remember calling him, angrily, and trying to explain how the lack of communication was making me feel. I tried to explain to him that I felt insecure and that not having open communication was amplifying the issues I was experiencing with anxiety and depression. I probably didn’t handle it the best, but I tried. That conversation was one of many that did not go well.

However, I was still completely shocked when I arrived home, and my husband of two months informed me that he had spent the weekend I was away contemplating divorce. Even though our marriage had been a little difficult from the start, I was still in the honeymoon phase, and still thought that he was also madly in love with me. I remember just collapsing into a heap and bawling my eyes out. I am not much of a crier (usually), but this just flayed me. Before we got married, he and I had discussed what things would be grounds for divorce, and we had agreed that it was not an option except for in very exceptional circumstances—and even then, that marriage was sacred and that we should try to make things work between us. Therefore, when he told me what he had been thinking, I was in absolute shock. I had just given this man everything, and he was rejecting it and rejecting me—like I was a donor’s kidney. He told me that he thought I was an abusive wife, and I was completely shocked by that, too. I dug through my mind and probed him for an explanation. I could admit that I had been less pleasant than usual, with all of the stress and the hormonal changes from the birth control—but abuse? This accusation also shook me to the core and made me question myself deeply. I didn’t understand how he could possibly think I was an abusive person, but I also worried that maybe I just didn’t see myself clearly. I was terrified of being that kind of person and resolved to figure out whether or not my behaviors really were abusive, and to try to fix them. I was also alarmed by the fact that he didn’t feel like he could confront me before his feelings had become so extreme.

I finally confessed to my husband that I didn’t think I could continue on the birth control, and described in detail some of the symptoms that it was giving me. He agreed, and we stopped using it, hoping that it would ease some of the burdens on our marriage. I accepted much more blame for our situation than I probably should have, but I genuinely wondered if it was my fault that he was considering leaving me. Was I really as broken as he was telling me? Was I really breaking him? I began to obsessively read every article about healthy marriages that I could get my hands on, desperate for answers.

Unfortunately, the security was taken out of our marriage for me. I kept trying to rebuild trust, but things kept happening that would break it again. After the initial shock of the divorce threat wore off, I became angry and resentful. I needed to talk through what had happened, to try to heal. I needed to express to my husband how much hurt and fear he had caused. I needed to understand his rationale, and why he hadn’t tried to talk frankly with me before making such a threat. I was trying to stand up for myself, because I had always been a relatively strong and independent woman, and I had enough self-confidence to realize that I couldn’t be the only one doing things wrong. However, every time that I began to talk about it, my husband would reply viciously, using cutting remarks to silence me. Looking back, I believe many of the things that he told me were verbally and emotionally abusive. I also felt like I was walking on eggshells, questioning many of my behaviors so that I couldn’t again be accused of abuse. My husband told me that the only reason he hadn’t left me was for my own sake and that he thought that I might be a good mother for his future children. Those words made me feel like he had dropped another bombshell on me because I felt so devalued and unloved. The bombshells just kept coming.

I can’t say that there was any one event that made our relationship cross the line from loving and respectful into what it became–it was so insidious that I hardly realized how bad things had gotten until I was eventually removed from the situation. However, there were some events that were noteworthy, so I will briefly mention those:

· My husband asked me to attend counseling with him after his first divorce threat in January. I was terrified and had never done counseling. I resisted it at first because of all of the stigma that I had associated with it—partially because of the way I was raised, and partially because of the culture in the church. I thought that for a marriage to require counseling, it must be on its last leg. I asked instead if we could try taking a healthy marriages class in the community, which I arranged for us. We took that, and it helped for a short time. However, when things still were rocky in April, we began regularly seeing a marriage counselor. While I do think that this helped, I also do not think that this particular counselor was the right fit for us and our marriage, and sometimes I would walk away from the sessions feeling more depressed and discouraged, and even more like everything was my fault.

· There were several nights that felt noteworthy to me because they were so heart-wrenching. I remember having an argument with my husband one night, and he rolled over and went to sleep, while I literally cried the entire night by myself. Every time he woke up, he would treat me with scorn and anger, and I felt so incredibly abandoned. I was so distraught by our argument, and he seemed so callous. My heart was broken. Please keep in mind that while I would consider myself to be an emotional person, I have never been much of a crier. I have always been somewhat stoic about my feelings, so I have to be hurting really badly to cry like that. I remember mechanically getting up and going into work the next morning, not having slept, eyes were swollen, desperate to not let anyone know that anything was wrong in my life. Little did I realize that this was the first night of many where I would have to do that. I would wait the next day for apologies that almost never came until I eventually would apologize, just to try to make peace, even though I usually wasn’t sure that I had done anything wrong.

· There were nights where I left the house and walked alone, in the dark, because I felt like I had no other choice. I was in so much pain that I felt like I would explode, and my house didn’t feel safe anymore, because the source of the pain was there. There were some nights I considered not going home at all and thought about where I might sleep. My husband later described these incidents to try to prove that I was mentally unstable.

· My husband has never been physically abusive to me, but there was one time that he came close, and that was a very sobering experience. We were talking about something trivial, and suddenly, he got irrationally angry. Alarmed, I asked him what was going on, and he asked if I would just leave him alone. This upset me, and I told him that I hadn’t done anything and didn’t understand why he was angry. I tried to ask him, and he slammed his hands down on the banister of our stairs, telling me that he was doing it to intentionally scare me into silence. It worked, and that was a wakeup call for me. He had crossed a line that he had never crossed before, and in my mind, it sort of clicked—his actions at that moment were to consciously use fear and manipulation to be domineering and control my actions. That was an alarming realization.

· My husband began to lie to me. I do not know to what extent, but I do remember catching him once. When I told him that it was unacceptable, he told me that it was my fault—if I were more trustworthy, he could have talked to me. He didn’t feel safe, because I was so critical of him. He made me feel guilty and responsible for his mistake. This blaming became an ongoing pattern.

Obviously, things were in a downward spiral, and getting worse. My husband, who had rarely exhibited anger towards me when we were dating, was now angry almost all of the time. Everything I said could cause him to lash out at me, and say things that cut me to the core. It was so inconsistent—sometimes he was the man I knew and loved, but most of the time he was scary. He knew exactly how to hurt me. I was extremely depressed, and despite the reprieve that getting off of the birth control gave me, I still experienced thoughts of self-harm and suicide, most days, and persistently. I would fanaticize about just not waking up, and being released from the situation I was in. I felt like I was just hurting my husband, who constantly told me how abusive, critical, unsupportive, and broken I was, despite tremendous effort on my part to be the best that I could be for him and our marriage. The harder I tried, the more I seemed to disgust him, and the more he seemed to despise me. He would hold things against me for weeks and months, resenting me, while I tried to figure out what was wrong. I thought it was all my fault because that is what he kept telling me. I thought that the world might be better off without me. I began to feel fairly certain that my husband would be happier if I was gone. I felt desperate all of the time—desperate to make him happy, desperate to overcome my own feelings, desperate to make things work, desperate to be a good member of the church. It was so consuming. It was destroying me. I felt like I had nowhere to turn—I didn’t want to talk to my family or friends, because I was trying to be loyal to my husband, and I didn’t want them to know how deeply we were struggling. Even heaven began to feel dark, as I became so engulfed in misery.

I will now discuss something that I am deeply ashamed of, and that I have not been able to admit to many people. At one point, I did act on an impulse to harm myself, creating a shallow cut in my hand with a pair of scissors. I was horrified by this and felt so much shame. I hadn’t really meant to hurt myself, and honestly didn’t think that I had it in me to do anything like that. I can’t explain what happened, other than that I was just hurting so badly, and I wanted my emotional pain to stop. I felt like I had no outlet for my emotional pain, and it felt good to focus on anything else—even physical pain. When I realized that I had actually cut myself, I immediately stopped, realizing what a bad place I must be in. I had crossed a line. My body is a temple, and in an effort to temporarily ease some of the emotional pain that I was feeling, I had defiled it. I called my husband over and over again until he answered, and, crying, I asked him if he thought I needed to go to the hospital. He answered with contempt and anger, and that amplified my fear of reaching out for help.

Supposedly, it was the self-harm that made my husband decide to abandon our marriage and to leave me. I guess it is time to move on to that part of the story.

In October of 2018, he and I went up to my parent’s house to watch General Conference. Supposedly, during that conference, he received an answer that he should move out of our house and ask me for a divorce. He did not tell me this until much later, but he began to make preparations to leave that very day, calling his parents and asking them to help him move out and to help him hire a divorce lawyer.

During this time, he did many things that deeply violated my trust. He staged a conversation with me, asking me loaded questions with his phone secretly recording the responses that he was trying to get me to say. He lied to me repeatedly—telling me that he was committed to our marriage, that he loved me, and that we were going to work things out. I even asked him directly at one point if he had been considering leaving, and he told me no. He told me he was going to talk to the bishop, and instead went and called my parents, telling them about my mental health issues (something I had not been ready to discuss with them,) and telling them about his plans to leave. There is much more that happened—he told me that everything that happened that week was a lie, staged so that I would not uncover the truth. He even took me to the place where he had proposed to me, the night before he left me. He sat there laughing and reminiscing with me, fully knowing that he was about to break my heart. His lies and manipulation during that time continue to haunt me deeply.

On October 12, he went home early from work. He told me he was meeting his dad to do some yard work at the house. Something didn’t quite add up, but I trusted him enough that I didn’t question his motives.

My parents were supposed to be with my extended family that day, and they had called to cancel plans. They were upset and told my grandparents and some of my extended family about my husband’s phone call to them. Because of that, I started getting strange texts. My grandparents texted me to tell me that they were there for me, and to keep my chin up. My cousin told me that she wanted to reach out to me because she heard that he was moving out. My heart stopped, but if I am completely honest, I didn’t believe her at first. I was that convinced that I would call him, and we would laugh about some misunderstanding later.

I went and called him, and he confirmed that he was leaving, but told me that ‘things weren’t over.’ I was in complete and utter shock. I left work in a panic, drove home, and found him and his dad sitting on our front porch, bags packed up in his car and his parent’s van. He had written me a letter, telling me that he was leaving and that he never planned on coming back. He told me our marriage was over and told me later that the only reason he didn’t have divorce papers in hand was that they couldn’t get them ready fast enough. My world was flipped upside down in a matter of minutes.

I begged him to reconsider, to try to work with me and to save our marriage. I asked him to pray, to go to the temple. I cried a lot. He listened for a while, but he ultimately left. I remember standing in our living room with my mom. The photo from our wedding had been stripped from the wall, and I wrung my hands and paced, scared to leave. What if he came back, and I wasn’t there?

The days and weeks that followed were absolute hell. Even though our marriage had been struggling, I was in complete shock. I missed him terribly. I couldn’t sleep at night, and if I did manage to doze off, I would wake up having a panic attack, reaching out for someone who wasn’t there. I didn’t want to eat, and I lost ten pounds in a matter of days and continued to lose weight over the coming weeks. I kept throwing up for no particular reason—my body was just under so much distress that I would get sick out of nowhere. I went to work because I had nowhere else to go, but I would not do anything productive—I would just go stare at a computer between episodes of running to the bathroom to cry. I tried to avoid our home at all costs because being alone there was almost unbearable—so I tried to only be there to sleep. I remember at one point trying to exercise and laying on the ground gasping for air, heart pounding, wondering if I was having a heart attack. I worried that it was a matter of time until I wound up in the hospital. Everything triggered memories of him, and they were all so incredibly emotionally painful. I kept stumbling across things he had forgotten or opened a drawer only to realize that his things were gone, all over again.

I was so unhealthy during this time that I decided I needed to be medicated. I went to see a psychiatrist, which was a humbling experience for me. He prescribed me anti-anxiety and depression medication, as well as sleep medicine. I had a hard time admitting I needed this help. However, I no longer feel any shame about it and have discussed it openly with many people. If anyone is on the fence or is scared about getting help or treatment for their mental health, please let me encourage you to not let stigma or pride keep you from really taking care of yourself. I do not know how long I will need to be medicated, but what I do know is that it has dramatically increased my quality of life right now.

My husband and I have been separated for about six and a half months at this point. It has been the most exhausting, emotionally draining, traumatic, and difficult experience of my life. Throughout this time, many things have happened. Since this is already pretty lengthy, I will try to summarize. My husband and I have had significant ups and downs—we have come very close to getting divorced. I have asked him to come home and try to work things out with me many times. He has asked for the divorce and then backed out of it. We have both undergone a lot of counseling. We both have gained a lot of perspective. To be honest, I have no idea what will happen. I think part of the reason Ally asked me to write this post is to share my experience through the eyes of someone who is still suffering through a difficult trial.

Everyone’s situation is different, but for me, right now, I have decided to give our marriage one more chance. I have no intention of tolerating abuse or allowing anything to drag me back to the depths of depression that I described earlier. I realize that this will take a lot of help. We will need ongoing help from our counselors, bishop, each other, and most importantly, the Savior, to have any chance of restoring our marriage and having it be healthy. There is a lot of damage that has been done.

I know some of you, at this point, are undoubtedly wondering why I stayed at all after my husband left me, or why I am not already divorced. From an outside perspective, it would be easy to ask, and I would probably be wondering the same thing. However, there are several factors that I think make a big difference. Again, this is just for me, personally—I cannot speak to the situation or choices of anyone else, and my heart sincerely goes out to anyone else who has had to endure something similar. I am also not advocating that anyone stay in a situation that is toxic or abusive—I have no intention of doing so, myself. Elder Holland said in a recent conference talk, “It is, however, important for some of you living in anguish to remember what He (Christ) did not say. He did not say, ‘You are not allowed to feel true pain or real sorrow from the shattering experiences you have had at the hand of another. Nor did He say, ‘In order to forgive fully, you have to reenter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive, destructive circumstance.’” I fully know and understand that a loving and merciful God does not expect us to be in a situation that destroys us. He loves us enough that he does not want us to be tormented, miserable, or abused.

However, I have had counselors, mental health professionals, and church leaders all tell me that it is possible for my husband and me to still have a happy and healthy marriage. I have tried my best to stay close to the Lord and to try to receive personal revelation throughout our separation and all of the trauma that it has brought with it. I have never felt at peace with a decision to move forward with the divorce. I am not completely sure why, but I believe that the Lord will let me know if and when the time is right to move forward.

One of my favorite quotes from Preach My Gospel says: “Satan is attacking the family on many fronts, and too many families are being destroyed by his efforts. The message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that all individuals are part of God’s family and that families can be united now and in eternity…Through the light of the gospel, families can resolve misunderstandings, contentions, and challenges. Families torn by discord can be healed through repentance, forgiveness, and faith in the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” What a hopeful message! I truly believe that my family could be healed if my husband and I are both willing to repent, forgive, and accept the Atonement in our lives and in our marriage. However, those blessings are conditional on our actions. I recognize that we BOTH have to choose that, and I cannot control the actions of my husband. I am also sure that it might be one of the most difficult things that either he or I will ever do—but I would like to have the opportunity to test this promise. I know that I have not done things perfectly, and there are many things I have learned throughout this trial. I have realized that, for me, I need to be able to have the closure of knowing I gave it my best. That way, if our marriage does end in divorce, I can hold my head high and know that I put my heart and soul into doing what I believed to be the right thing.

I also believe that my husband is a good man, in his core, and I still love him. I think that a great deal of what has happened was due to a lack of skills on one or both of our parts. The more he has begun to acknowledge and accept his role in what has happened, the more hopeful I am that we can find a way back to a happy and healthy place. I believe that he has struggled with his own mental health issues, and also has some issues from the way he was raised that have played into how things have gone in our marriage. Now that we both have learned lessons and skills, perhaps we can do better. I am not certain that it will work out, but I am certain that I do not want to live with regret.

I’d like to end with some lessons I have learned:

· It is okay to get help. Find support. Don’t try to go through hell alone. It is not worth it, and it is not necessary. You will be surprised by how many people understand what you are going through. I have been overwhelmed by the compassion and understanding of others, and I have also been overwhelmed by how many other people have suffered through tragedy that is similar to mine. Reach out, and you will be surprised who reaches back. God puts people into our lives who can help us, and when tragedy strikes, know that he has prepared a way for you to endure. It may not be what or who you expected, but there will be a way.

· I have several suggestions to anyone who is doing marriage counseling (or counseling of any kind)—first, find a person who makes you feel empowered, and preferably someone who shares your faith/values. Those things have made a tremendous difference for me. Second, be willing to be 100% honest with your counselor. If you don’t feel like you can be that vulnerable, you probably don’t have the right counselor, or you probably aren’t being completely honest with yourself. Finally, be patient with yourself. If you, like me, are hesitant to see a counselor at first, be honest about it. If that is where you are at, it is okay to own up to it. It is surprisingly common, and counselors are equipped to deal with those kinds of doubts and fears.

· Real, unconditional, Christlike love is respectful, forgiving, and kind. Unfortunately, humans are still trying to learn how to develop this kind of love. Be patient with them, and with yourself. Look to the Master Teacher for His example of love, and try to emulate it.

· At the same time, do your research and set healthy boundaries. I have delved a lot into research about narcissism, codependency, addiction, attachment style, love languages, and so forth. Arming myself with knowledge has helped me to understand both myself and my husband better. It has also helped me realize what things are and are not acceptable.

· I found a quote by Hank Smith that I really loved, regarding boundaries. He said, “Being Christlike means being tolerant and forgiving. However, Jesus had boundaries. When Nazareth tried to kill Him, He never returned. He told Peter when he had crossed a line. He called out leaders for hypocrisy. He refused to speak to Herrod. Clear boundaries are Christlike.” Again, our Savior and Heavenly Father expect us to be loving, and tolerant, and patient, but they do not expect us to allow other people to abuse us or to walk all over us. Taking care of yourself and standing up for yourself is not wrong. Being Christlike does not mean that we have to subject ourselves to abuse. There IS such a thing as being too self-sacrificing, too understanding, and too willing to overlook the mistakes of others. Be careful, because we each have the responsibility to protect and care for ourselves, and to stay true to ourselves and the things that we know are right.

· Remember that you deserve to be loved and to feel safe. Elder Holland once said, “In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, one who is constantly critical of you, one who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care, you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.”

· If you find yourself in a situation where this is not the case, like me, then get help. And, if necessary, get out. Life is tough enough.

· Give yourself grace. One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou is “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I know I made mistakes, and I could spend all day delving into the “what ifs” and the “why me’s.” That is a dark, downward spiral that I have learned is better to avoid. I can offer myself grace knowing that I have done the best I can throughout this trial, and I have learned a lot. Now that I know better, I can continue to do better. However, there is no point on being hard on my past self, or dwelling on things that have been repented of and cannot be changed—it just damages future possibility. Be humble, but remember to be kind to yourself.

· Recognize what you can control, and do not accept responsibility for anything else. After my husband abandoned me, he told me that he believed I was too emotionally unstable for him to be honest with me. He also told me it was my fault that he had asked for a divorce. I believed him. It took me quite a while to reject the idea that it was my fault that he had left me, because it was something that he reinforced almost every time I talked to him, for a long time. I had become convinced that I was damaged, and that I was the entirety of the problem. I also had become co-dependent in our marriage, and I accepted far more blame than I should have. This is where an excellent counselor has been extremely valuable in helping me to see things clearly and to heal. Again, I would encourage anyone to seek this help.

· Don’t judge people. In the midst of this crisis, I have been on the receiving end of judgments that have felt unkind and unfair. I have been shunned by friends who I thought would be there for me. Many people have said and done things that have been very hurtful, whether intentionally or not. Many of them simply do not understand my situation. Please do not judge situations that you do not understand. I, in turn, have had to learn to be less judgmental of the people who have hurt me and to expand my willingness to forgive. It is easier to forgive others if you believe their intentions are good, even if their actions sometimes are not.

· Remember to look outside yourself and to count your blessings. Gordon B Hinkley said, “For many years there was a sign on the wall of a shoe repair shop I patronized. It read ‘I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.’” Sometimes, it can be incredibly difficult to look outside of ourselves in the midst of a bitter and painful trial, or when we are sad and depressed. However, the times that I have been able to do so have been very meaningful to me. I have developed a deeper empathy for those around me, and have realized that my trials are small compared to some—even though this has been an extraordinarily difficult one for me, personally. I also keep a running list of blessings and good things that happen to me each week. This helps me to see the hand of God in my life, and also helps me to try to stay positive.

· The Savior will be there, no matter what. One of my favorite scriptures is D&C 84:88. It says “And whoso receiveth you, there will I be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” I have seen this. There have been so many times throughout this trial where the right person has stepped into my path, or someone has sent me a message that helped, or someone has simply called at the right time. God is merciful. He is mindful of us, and He is there whether or not we feel or recognize His presence and love.

· Healing is always possible. Always. Elder Holland said, “However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.” Find the courage to start over, if necessary. But know that you are never too far gone to come back and for the Savior’s Atonement to make you whole.

Thanks for taking the time to read this very lengthy post. Again, if you would like to reach out to me directly, please ask Ally for my contact information. Sending hope and love and encouragement to everyone who suffers in silence.

Figuring Out How The Atonement Works… For ME

I have been engaged in a wrestle for a majority of 2018. Something has been going on inside me that has made me unsure of the life I knew. It has been a quarter-life crisis of sorts. I feel I need to mention that my testimony hasn’t been at stake, it’s nothing like that. The best way I can think of describing it is a reconversion of sorts. And I haven’t had the words to explain it until an extraordinary aha moment I had in Sunday School back in November.

Our Sunday School lesson was from Isaiah, “How Beautiful upon the Mountains,” and we focused on The Atonement and how it applies to our lives. And sometime during this lesson I had this thought, “I’m trying to figure out how the Atonement works for me.” And since that thought has come into my mind a series of thoughts and impressions have followed and I feel like I have had this vast breakthrough into what I have been wrestling with.

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In order to explain this breakthrough, I need to give a little bit of background information…

Growing up in the Gospel I was always told that if I prayed, read my scriptures, went to church, served others, lived the commandments, kept my covenants, obeyed my parents, followed the Prophet, etc. that I would be blessed and that everything would work out. I do believe this to be true, BUT, I also believe that it is not that easy.

We all know by now that while I was serving my mission I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. And those illnesses have forever changed my life and the person that I am. No, the illnesses do not define me, but they have changed me. And I won’t go into that tangent right now, but I need to say that because I was doing all the things that I was taught growing up that I was told would make everything turn out right. When I was diagnosed I was doing them more fervently than ever before. And yet, here I was… a representative of Jesus Christ and my life was not turning out right (at least in my eyes, I know His eyes saw something different).

I had become numb to everything and everyone. I could not see, feel, or hear my Heavenly Father anywhere. I knew my Savior was relying on me to bless His children and I did not care. I knew my companion needed me to go out and bless the lives of the people in our area but I could not get out of bed unless it was in the middle of the night when I was supposed to be sleeping but instead I was experiencing panic attacks and could not relax. Life was a real struggle. Things that I used to do without thinking now took all my focus and energy. And I couldn’t help but wonder why the blessings of living the Gospel were not coming.

I think that has been one of the most frustrating parts of living with a mental illness: feeling like my faith doesn’t overcome my anxieties and learning that those little things that I was told would bless me, haven’t in the way I want them to. Living with anxiety for almost 7 years now has also hindered my ability to receive personal revelation. I can still feel the Spirit, but trying to discern between my thoughts and things from God has become really difficult because my perception of what is real and what is not has become so distorted.

This is something that I already beat myself up for but then to have everyone around me continually say the same things, “pray, read your scriptures, go to church, serve others, live the commandments, keep your covenants, follow the Prophet, etc.,” knowing that it doesn’t work for me… it truly defeats my heart and Spirit. Why should I keep trying if it doesn’t work?! That has been my wrestle as of late. Still doing those things without feeling like Heavenly Father has been blessing me for it.

I want to give an example of what I mean by that, to hopefully help you understand more. When my husband goes out of town, and he has been gone quite a bit the last few months for med school interviews, I have a really hard time. At night I am in a constant state of fear and worry that someone is going to come into our house and take my girls or hurt us. This fear is so real to me that the last time he was gone I stayed at my parents’ 3/6 nights he was gone and the nights I was home I had my girls sleep in my room with me so I could lock the door and protect them more easily. I fell asleep thinking about what I would do if someone did come in.

I read my scriptures and prayed before going to bed. And I was constantly saying prayers that I would be calm and my fears would subside so I could sleep. I thought of the promises of angels coming to aid those who called on them, so I tried doing that and told myself that angels were watching over us. And yet I was still afraid. Why?! Isn’t my faith enough?! Do I not have enough faith if I am still afraid? Faith and fear cannot coexist so what is wrong with me? Why am I still scared?

(And I get that this is all in my head and I just need to think happy thoughts, be present, or whatever. That’s just another reason why all of this is so frustrating. I can’t just magically fix it. I can’t always override my brain, and yes, I’ve tried.)

I have experiences like this fairly often. I tear up just thinking about my lack of faith and how it doesn’t trump my anxieties. So why do I even bother to pray if it doesn’t (seem to) work?

Is this promise in Alma 36 not for me?

And now, O my son Helaman, behold, thou art in thy youth, and therefore, I beseech of thee that thou wilt hear my words and learn of me; for I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.

And then I received some of the answer to my why that I have been desiring for years… figure out how the Atonement works for YOU.

I need more. I need to learn how to apply The Atonement more. I need to do the little things but I need to take it a step further. Life isn’t as simple as it used to be.

I believe Christ’s Atonement is a one-size fits all – it works for everyone. However, the way that size looks and feels is going to be different for each of us. And I am, and always will do the things that I was taught growing up because I know they are righteous and they will bless me somehow. But I have found that they aren’t going to take away or overcome some of my trials… The Atonement will. I need more.

And what works for me may not work for someone else, and what works for someone else may not work for me. If serving others is what makes you feel better and helps you overcome your hardships, that is wonderful and I am truly happy that helps you. But if that doesn’t work for someone else then please don’t look down on them for not doing it, or continually tell them that will make them feel better.

One of the beauties of the Gospel is that we can each find unique ways that it will help us. We are all so different and yet it is specifically catered for every individual.

And that is how I know that I will get through living with anxiety and depression. Because of Christ’s Atonement. I don’t understand it fully. I still wonder how, why, and when. But I trust in my Savior and my Heavenly Father, and I have faith in Them. I KNOW They sacrificed for me so that one day I will be able to overcome. The little things help, but they aren’t going to entirely overcome my silent struggles.

This realization has cleared up one wrestle and began another: now I need to figure out how The Atonement does work for me. But having my testimony rooted in the Savior will go deeper than the little things, as stated in Helaman 5:12.

12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

Feature Friday: Mindy

I met Mindy at the lunch meet-up that I co-hosted with Veronica from Utah Women’s Retreats last Saturday. She was so easy to talk to and I feel like we have already been friends for longer than a week. She is doing amazing things!
Mindy Rowley is a wife and mother of four kids, she is starting a mom coaching business and she loves nature, writing, and art. Also, check out this ebook about anxiety and depression her Father-in-law wrote here.

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Photo by Fausett Photography.

My whole life I’ve felt two-faced. I’m super nice, but sometimes I would feel so out of control that I would behave in unacceptable ways.

Like in first grade when that boy who always tried to kiss me at recess got the scare of his life when I pulled sharp metal scissors out of my pocket. I just wanted to scare him so he’d leave me alone!

Or the time I punched my dad in the gut when he was “pretending to be me” while talking on the phone to my best friend.

Maybe some childhood circumstances conditioned me to behave this way as a child, but I struggled to grow out of it!

After my husband and I were married I had the horrible thought of killing him while I was holding a knife. There I go again with sharp objects! It was a terrible thought and my husband had done nothing to even make me feel this way. He’s a total sweetheart! However, in my mind, I felt threatened in some inconceivable way.

Or there were the countless times when my oldest daughter was potty training and whenever she’d have an accident I was convinced that she was doing it to make me mad. I felt like I couldn’t control myself and I would spank her. Sometimes so hard it would leave a mark. I knew it was abuse and I felt like such a horrible person and a complete and epic failure at being a mom and disciple of Jesus Christ. I felt like I was spiraling downward.

So many times I had the urge to run away and leave my kids. I felt like they’d be better off without me. Maybe my husband could remarry a really great person and my children could have the mother they deserved? Sometimes I felt like I could hardly breathe, or like I was having a heart attack. I felt like I was suffocating in hopelessness.

There were times that I considered talking to a doctor or therapist, but I was too afraid to even say the words anxiety and depression. I was afraid of what those labels would make of me. Would they make me even more of a monster? I didn’t really think there was hope for me.

Finally, I went to a therapist and I just let it all spill. I cried so hard that I’m sure he didn’t have a clue what I was even saying, but it felt really good to get the dark feelings out. I’ve continued to go to counseling, engage in writing and art therapy, meditation, make changes to my diet and getting more sunshine.

Gradually I have felt life come back into me. I could feel the Spirit of God when I read the scriptures and pray. I know it will always be an uphill struggle for me, but I don’t feel alone in the struggle.

Feature Friday: Julie

I found Julie through watching her on a Hi-Five Live with Ganel-Lyn Condie and then was lucky enough to meet her at a launch party in May. We have become close friends since and she has been a huge blessing to me in my life, I don’t know what I would do without her. Her story is one that I believe many can relate to.
Julie Bristow is originally from Holladay, Utah, but has resided in Orem, Utah for the past 13 years with her husband and 3 young children (including boy/girl twins). She graduated from the University of Utah in Human Development and Family Studies. She is passionate about people and making meaningful connections. She worked in health administration at various clinics and hospitals for over a decade after college graduation. She met her husband, Jared, when they were both working as “Especially For Youth” counselors in Rexburg, Idaho. Currently, she is a full-time stay at home mom. She is incredibly passionate about being a mental health advocate. She aims to break the stigma associated with mental health in hopes to pave the way for open conversation of such critical matters. Mental health struggles, mainly in the form of chronic depression and anxiety, have been a part of her life since she was a teenager. She is determined to live a life full of joy despite any darkness trying to pull her down. Some of her other passions include: time spent with family, interior design and decor, writing, photography, dancing in the kitchen with her family, and naps.

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Photo by Michelle Cluff Photography.

“Joy Amidst the Sorrow”

I am not depression and anxiety. I am Julie. Just a regular person. My circumstances and hardships do not define me. Your circumstances and hardships do not define you. They are a part of our earthly experience. Twenty-one years of suffering from chronic depression and anxiety are part of my story. I have to accept that. Remembering that along the way our trials help shape and mold us in the refiner’s fire so that we may someday reach our Divine potential. To that end, I endure. To that end, I find joy, hope, and fulfillment despite the darkness, pain, and loneliness.

In my personal experience, I am taught that joy and pain can coexist. That even though I often feel wrapped up in darkness, somehow a knowledge of hope somewhere deep inside of me gets me through one day at a time. I am living, breathing, walking proof of daily struggle and daily joy.

Teenage years/Onset

I first felt of depression and anxiety when I was 17-years-old. Between my Junior and Senior years of high school.

I had no reason to be depressed. No trauma, no unpleasant situations or experiences. No environmental factors. Nothing. In fact, my life had been pretty golden. Why, one day, could I not get out of bed? I still don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that a medical history of depression and anxiety run heavily in my family. At this time, I was the Junior Class president in my high school, a nearly straight-A student, surrounded with a good family, amazing friends, a joyful countenance, and a testimony of Jesus Christ.

I then went to not being able to get out of bed by my Senior year of high school. I remember missing my morning classes and sometimes full days. My friends teased me that I had “senioritis”. I laughed with them, while simultaneously feeling hurt and confused inside. I didn’t know how to explain to them what was going on because I myself didn’t know what was going on. I was just reacting to this strange, new way of being as it came creeping in day by day.

My dear mom eventually dragged me to see some sort of mental health specialist. I don’t remember who because I was too busy throwing an epic fit of protest.  I screamed, cried, and yelled at her. I didn’t want to be different from my peers. I didn’t want to have problems. I told her I didn’t need medicine and that if I just had enough faith and believed in Jesus Christ enough, that He could heal me. I really thought I could pray it away. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t pray my depression and anxiety away. I ended up starting on some medication and counseling, which is what I personally needed.

High school graduation came and I did graduate from high school, although not with the grades I had kept up my whole schooling and really hoped to graduate with. But I did graduate. That was the beginning of many miracles that the Lord would provide for me as I continued and tried my hardest to be faithful to what I believed to be true despite feeling awful inside due to depression and anxiety plaguing me.

College

After high school, I attended college and graduated by another God-given miracle. Part of that particular miracle was the American with Disabilities Act. After missing so many classes and finding it nearly impossible to focus and study with the raging depression and anxiety I went to the disabilities office on campus and asked what I needed to do to qualify. I needed a note from both my counselor and psychiatrist. I turned in the notes with my diagnosis and recommendations from my doctors and now I was on the “disabled” list which in effect meant I had extra time to get my homework in and extra time to take tests or turn in projects. I don’t know that I would have graduated college without that.

But I did, I graduated college with a Major in Human Development and Family Studies. I cannot deny God’s hand in the achievement of yet another milestone of my life. It was another life line He threw out to help me achieve my dreams to live the kind of life I so desperately wanted despite my limitations and challenges.

Full-time work

Entering the full-time workforce after college graduation was no easy task. I have had a job ever since I was fifteen years old. After the depression and anxiety kicked in, there wasn’t one job or employer that I held where I didn’t get reprimanded for tardiness. Tardiness usually because getting out of bed felt next to impossible.  It was always so humiliating. But, for the most part, employers were understanding, compassionate, and gave me second chances as long as our communication remained open. I found it was so important to speak up about my struggles when it was needed. To give people a chance to give me a chance.

Dating/Marriage

I had good dating experiences throughout high school and college.

I met my now husband, Jared, in my early twenties while we were both working as counselors at Especially For Youth up at BYU Idaho. We started dating and fell in love fairly quickly. I think Jared a little more quickly than me. 🙂

I told him two months after we started dating about my struggles with depression and anxiety. He stayed with me and he supported me. He saw me at my best of times and at my worst of times.

Our dating life and engagement was not easy. Satan used my already established illness of anxiety and depression and messed with my mind big time as I tried to make a decision as big as choosing an eternal companion. I would have these moments of distinct clarity and felt like I was making the right decision, a righteous one to choose and accept Jared as a potential husband. But then, when the anxiety and depression were dialed up, my doubt crept back in and became unbearable at times. To make a long story short, Jared and I endured through the hard times and continued to fight for each other.

We dated a little over a year and were married and sealed in the Salt Lake City temple in 2005.

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Photo by Michelle Cluff Photography.

Children

We decided a few years after we are married that we were ready to try for children. We went on to struggle with the heartbreak of infertility and other health issues.  Eventually, we were blessed with three miracle children.

Our firstborn a daughter,  and a few years later we welcomed boy/girl twins into the world.

When the twins were born, we went from one child to three overnight. Three children 3 and under.

I wish I could say it has been bliss ever since because we got what we pleaded and prayed for.  But it would be dishonest to say that. It was and has been hard… really hard. However, through this process, especially of having twins, I was sent earthly angels in the form of family, friends, and neighbors who buoyed us up and kept us going that first year or two. Earthly angels. Life was even harder, but I desperately wanted my children. I fought hard for them and I will never forget that fight.

Family life

It used to be that taking care of only myself, waking up, and showering was considered a “good day” for me… a feat to be overcome. Heck, if I brushed my teeth it was a GREAT day. A reality of living with depression and anxiety is that sometimes the simplest of tasks seem DAUNTING.

I now had four people who depended on me. I was a mother and a wife of a family of five. Often I still feel inadequate to take care of myself, let alone my home and my family. The feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, shame, and guilt are there and are very real.

But I’m here and I’m doing it. I have a good husband by my side. I have the support of family and friends when I need it. We are a happy family, despite all the struggles, we truly have so much joy in our home.

And I really don’t know how, but by the grace of God, I am plugging along one day at a time. Another miracle.

Medication

Twenty-one years later after that first encounter of this illness, I still take medication. I see my psychiatrist every 2-3 months. We often change things around. Adding this, taking away that, or trying something entirely new. I’ve tried going off medicine as well, and that is not an option right now. I crash every time and I really cannot function. I am thankful for modern-day medicine to take the edge off even if it doesn’t fully take away my symptoms. No single treatment has ever really worked for me. Medication may not be the answer for everyone. There are many things out there to help, but it is there for those who need it, like me.  I still go to counseling intermittently and I still need all the support and help I can get. My particular diagnosis is called “Treatment Refractory Depression and Anxiety” which means that conventional methods of treating depression and anxiety don’t work for me.

Anxiety

As of late, anxiety has been more prominent in my life lately than straight depression, even though they go hand in hand in a vicious cycle.

Stress and anxiety are part of life, no matter who we are.

Stress (and even anxiety) provide motivation to get something done or to overcome an obstacle. However, sometimes it turns into more negative forms and the very things that can propel us in life can cripple us. My particular anxiety is categorized under “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” which more or less means I often feel intense anxiety or panic about nothing in particular. It simply is just there.

The only way I’ve been able to explain my experience with it to those who are not familiar with the feeling is this:

Imagine you have just received a phone call from the hospital that your child, your parent, or a sibling has just been in a terrible accident and they are in the operating room. You get to the hospital waiting room and all you can do is pace back-and-forth not knowing whether that person is going to live or die. Essentially, you are in a state of panic for fear of the worst.

Now take those same feelings of fear and panic of something horrible happening, and imagine feeling that way, but for NO APPARENT REASON. And with this, I  try so hard to figure the WHY of you feeling this way, but simply cannot.

Sometimes these episodes lead to debilitation. Sometimes all I can do is maybe curl up in a ball underneath the covers and ride out the storm.

Many times the discomfort of anxiety has been so bad, I’ve barely been able to bring food to the table for my kids. I’ve barely been able to cope and function throughout the day.

Periodically, when Jared arrives home from work, I literally see no way out of the pain, than to just go to my room and “check-out” by trying to fall asleep. Exhausted with the mental and physical battle that has been raging in my body all day long, I escape again to the unconscious mind. You could say that sleep is my “drug” of choice.

I have felt like I wanted to die because of the deep, uncomfortable pain. I, myself, have not been truly suicidal, but suicide is real. I have lost loved ones to this due to mental illness. I have witnessed that they felt like they were a burden to the ones they loved,  and they honestly felt that the world around them would be better if they were gone.

When I personally go through periods of deep darkness and hopelessness, I logically know I’ll make it through even though it feels like I won’t. I consider that knowledge of hope one of the greatest blessings of my life even when I can’t feel hope. It’s a perspective that has taken many, many years with lots of therapy to fully grasp.

Endurance

For me, after enduring the darkness, I know the Heavenly promises come and that there are joys on the other side of that dark tunnel, even when the dark seemed impenetrable. I have felt that dark. I have felt the light. Little by little I sense that I will see the sun rise again, no matter how many days I  have missed it and I vow to never stop fighting.

In Alma Chapter 26 we read about the prophet Ammon who led his brethren who were seeking to do missionary work among the Lamanites against much opposition. At one point in their journey, they were so overcome with defeat they were ready to turn back. In verse 27 it says: Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.

Patience

I myself, am still learning to bear with patience mine afflictions. I have not always done it with grace, but I have seen time and time again the success that the Lord has given unto me as I continue to endure. I am still fighting. The battle of this illness continues every single day.

I know that I am not alone. I am not broken, even though I may feel otherwise. As with any physical illness, I continue to seek treatment for my brain. I don’t know why it stopped functioning optimally. It wasn’t caused by anyone else’s actions, or by any fault of my own. I’m not sure why the serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in my brain isn’t balanced. I don’t know why the synapses and neurotransmitters are not doing their job correctly. What I do know is how I feel. I do know how it feels to be severely depressed, to have chronic debilitating, paralyzing anxiety on a daily basis. I do know what it feels like to want to be in bed all day,

Humility

My struggles, my illness are not a punishment from God. In fact, I feel that they help keep me headed towards God and focused on my Savior, for through His Atonement is the ONLY way I can make it through this.  The Book of Mormon teaches us in the book of Jacob: “Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.” And so it is by my weakness, my human struggle that I am reminded of my great dependence on my Savior.

Hope

President Russell M. Nelson said:

“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives…..if we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?”

When I reflect about this principle of truth and the different trials we go through as well as times of reprieve, I realize that sometimes we get to stand in the sun, enjoy its rays, feel of its warmth and light. Other times in life, we have to rely on our memories of that warmth and sunshine. In either situation, there is always room for the light to enter our souls and permeate us with joy.

Obedience

I want to reemphasize that as much as I talk about hope and joy, a lot of the time I do not always feel hope and joy. I often don’t have the relationship with the Holy Ghost that I wish I did, because sometimes the very faculties to reach my Father in Heaven are the ones that are crippled. That is where obedience comes in. Remaining true to my covenants and having faith in Heavenly Father’s promises. So, at times it is my knowledge of hope and joy that carry me through on my darkest of days when feeling anything like joy just isn’t possible.

Testimony

That knowledge that carries me through is my testimony of Jesus Christ and this gift of endurance is given only in and through Him. So I have hope. Not necessarily hope that this trial will be taken away from me permanently, but hope that I can continue to endure, endure it well, and find joy amidst the pain. Ultimately becoming the person Heavenly Father intended me to be.

Feature Friday: Alexis

I found Alexis’ Instagram account and asked her to share her experience with anxiety. Her account is great and can be found here, she also has a Facebook page.
Alexis Graff is 22-years-old and a mom of two little boys under age 2. She recently graduated from Dixie State University with a psychology degree, aspiring to one day become a substance abuse counselor. She would love to help end the stigma of mental health by educating others about it and letting others know it is okay to have trials. “As we share our vulnerabilities we can be of great help to others around us!”

Snapchat-2072241964

I learned what it was at 18 years old. It started in 4th grade, at age 10. My parents switched me from public to private school because they felt like I was wasn’t learning enough in school. I always had straight A’s, which I think played a huge role in the switching of schools.

A few months into school, there was a social studies exam I needed to take the next day. My cousins had come into town that night, so instead of studying, I played. (Keep in mind I was only 10!) I took the test the next day, knowing I had missed almost everything. Then we graded them. Before we even started, I knew I failed that exam miserably. My teacher started giving us the scores based on questions missed. I could feel my heart racing so fast, my stomach becoming a huge knotted mess. I had never felt so afraid in my whole life. I asked to go to the bathroom as my voice shook, you know, when you’re trying to prevent yourself from crying. I got to the bathroom and began sobbing on my knees, by the toilet. I felt like the knot in my stomach was going to come out of my throat. It didn’t.

I failed that test. My parents were going to be so disappointed. Why didn’t I study? I shouldn’t have played, I should have been responsible. What if I didn’t pass the 4th grade? I just sat there miserable, afraid, not knowing what to do.

My teacher came and found me and I told her I was so sick. My stomach was hurting so bad. She called my mom and she took me to Instacare thinking I had something wrong with me. After waiting for what seemed like forever, the doctor saw me and said I was fine. Nothing was wrong with me. He mentioned an ulcer but that was the extent of that. So for years, I battled daily migraines, headaches, waking up with stomach aches, and more.

When I got into middle school, I finally had an MRI done because these headaches were not normal. Guess what? The MRI came back clear. What the crap?!

After that, I just decided that I was probably going to have these problems forever and I’d better get used to them.

All of those symptoms were present in anything I did. At work, at school, in volleyball, in choir, at church, at the store, and pretty much everywhere else.

I graduated high school, started college and that’s when everything made sense. There I was studying psychology, and we were discussing different mental disorders. As the professor went over GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), I finally felt understood and knew I was clearly not the only one facing this awful disorder.

Fast forward a marriage, and a baby later (3 years) I started a page to help others understand what mental health is, what living with a mental illness is like, and how to cope. I want people to know they are not alone, and that sharing their experiences can help others in ways nobody else can.