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.
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?
3 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.