Sunday, December 19, 2010

Understanding the Gifts of our Savior

The Christmas season seems to stir within our minds and hearts increased feelings and thoughts of compassion, joy, love, and cherished memories.  But for some it can also be a time of intensified feelings of loneliness, sadness, guilt, and hopelessness.

As I have taken time to reflect upon this past year, I've been reminded of many things that have transpired throughout the year.  My husband through the course of the year, worked on and finally completed, his final courses for his Master of Health Administration degree. He graduated on December 10th, and we all celebrated the excitement of this accomplishment and new milestone for our family.

Another life changing event in our family happened in June of this year.  My husband and I felt like it was time for our family to move from the home we had previously bought seven years ago.  This was not an easy decision for us, as we had grown to know and love so many dear friends and neighbors, so when our house sold in only one week, it took us for an emotional spin.

After a lot of pondering and searching, we finally settled on a neighborhood where we began the process of building a new home.  While our new home is under construction we have been renting a house, where we have had many memorable (more than I care to remember) experiences involving rats, broken appliances, and a lot of spiders.  We are very excited and feel very grateful for the blessing we have of being able to move into a new home, which we are anxiously anticipating within the next few weeks.

As I have taken a trip down memory lane of 2010 I have imprinted upon my mind additional experiences that tug at my heart and vividly remind me of the reality of adversity and trials.  I understand through my own personal trials, the feelings of despair and hopelessness as I have fought the battle of mental illness.  These vivid reminders have taught me to better recognize and empathize with those around me; to more fully understand the difficult feelings that accompany many of life's trials.

Although I have made significant improvements throughout the year, my family and I are still experiencing some ramifications of my struggles with mental illness.  It is difficult to maintain a household and family structure when mom isn't capable of functioning at a normal level.  As I battled with many days of hopelessness and despair it became a struggle for me at times just to get myself out bed to take care of the basic needs of my family.  Today we are still dealing with the affects of my illness as we now are trying to regain some normalcy within our home and family.

However, considering that the purpose and reason for many of our trials is for us to become better, stronger, and more faithful, I can't fail to mention the blessings that I've gained as a result of my trials.  As we celebrate at this time of year the birth and life of Jesus Christ, I have taken time to reflect upon the wonderful blessing that this knowledge has brought to my life.

Through my personal adversities I have come to realize a deeper understanding of the Savior's love and sacrifice for each and everyone of us.  I've come to more fully recognize the Lord's awareness of all of us and the reality that He knows each of us personally.

My husband's aunt once shared with him her favorite adult Christmas memory, which I believe solidifies  the knowledge of our own personal worth in the sight of our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ.  In her words she related the following experience:
"We took our Young Men and Young Women to feed the homeless at the homeless shelter the week of Christmas, but first we had to make 450 sandwiches.  We counted sandwiches after we had them made and came up 100 short. So we ran to the store and grabbed more bread and meat and made the 100 more.  We got to the shelter in Salt Lake and were overwhelmed by how many people were there, it was such a good experience for not only me but for the kids (they still talk about it to this day).  When we were done handing out the food, the director came to thank us and told us we had fed a record number of people that night (600), and we had only made 450 sandwiches. But wait a minute that's not the end of the story.  After we were done taking kids home me and another leader decided to go Christmas shopping at Toys R US.  When we got done shopping we went to put the packages in the back of my Explorer, and lo and behold I let out a scream, there were two big garbage bags full of sandwiches. I scared the woman to death that was with me.  We couldn’t believe it, and we fed 600.  We went home and decided to call the Road Home overflow shelter which is not too far away from my home and told them we had 100 sandwiches we needed to find a home for. The woman on the other end of the phone just started crying and said she couldn’t believe it, she had just gotten word that a bus load of 100 were coming and needed to eat.  They had a few things for them to eat but nothing to make up the main part of a meal until we had called.  The miracle of the loaves of bread and fishes does still happen."
Does the Lord know me personally, and you personally?  The answer is yes!  The Lord was very aware of the personal needs of these individuals without a home or food, and He is very aware of  each of us and our personal needs.  Sometimes it takes faith, time, and trials to be able to see and recognize this blessing in our lives.  But He has given us the assurance that He is always there.
"I will not leave you comfortless:  I will come to you....Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."  -John 14:18&27
As I have contemplated all of the events of the past year, I can most fully express with overwhelming gratitude my strenghtened knowledge of the most precious gift we have been given.  Only through my trials have I come to more fully appreciate the sacred nature that the understanding of the love and example of our Savior Jesus Christ has given to me.  It is my hope that through my strengthened understanding and knowledge that I too will share this gift with others as a token of my gratitude and expression of my love to our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ.  How grateful I am for this Christmas season, in which we commemorate the birth and life of our Savior.  And, how blessed I am to have the knowledge that our Father in Heaven knows me, and all of us personally, and that through His Son we may all find happiness and healing. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

"There's A Place For Us"

Many times I have asked myself the question if there truly is a place for me?  I think it's a natural feeling for anyone at times to question where their place is, where they belong, and what their personal value is. We all have the innate desire to feel like we belong, and that the individual that we are is in fact a worthwhile person who is loved and valued.

Sometimes our earthly experiences can thwart our understanding and knowledge of our true value.  Particularly individuals who battle with clinical depression.  Anyone who has fought this battle, can testify that it truly tests your belief that "there is a place for you."

The feelings of darkness, worthlessness, inadequacies, and failures, can completely engulf individuals who suffer with severe depression. These crushing thoughts and feelings can quickly leave it's sufferers to forget that they in fact  were created with unconditional love and with a very personal and individual purpose.  These distorted thoughts create deep feelings of hopelessness, which if not challenged and treated properly, can create suicidal thoughts and tendencies.  For anyone who is currently in this position, please seek out proper treatment.  Talk to a trusted friend or family member.  Talk with your Bishop or religious leader.  If needed call 911, or a confidential suicide hotline.  It is vital for anyone having suicidal thoughts to receive proper treatment.

For myself, proper treatment included counseling with a professional therapist, finding the right combination of medication, gaining understanding and knowledge of mental illness, and seeking out spiritual guidance and inspiration.  As I have combined treatment from each of these individual and varied sources, I have been able to once again understand and believe that "there is a place for me."

Some individuals find relief and/or recovery quicker than others, however, it is so important to not loose hope.  In the midst of depression, it is difficult to be able to even envision a happier and more worthwhile you.  Please remember that your worth has not changed.  You will always be a worthwhile individual who is a child of a Heavenly King.  Your thoughts may tell you differently, but as you continue to hold on, and seek for hope, you will again be able to see your divine value.

President Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints said:

"Think of where you came from.  You are sons and daughters of the greatest, most glorious being in the universe.  He loves you with an infinite love.  He wants the best for you...
Our destiny is greater than we can imagine.  If only we understood who we are and what is in store for us, our hearts would overflow with such gratitude and happiness that it would enlighten even the darkest sorrows with the light and love of God, our Heavenly Father.  The next time you feel unhappy, remember where you came from and where you are going.  Rather than focus on things that dampen your thoughts with sorrow, choose to focus on those things that fill your soul with hope. You will realize that these things are always connected to serving God and our fellowmen.  Remember that the Lord has given you His word in the scriptures.  Pray earnestly to Him; talk with Him daily.  Learn of Him, and walk in His way.  Serve God and serve your fellowmen.
It is my earnest prayer that the knowledge of who your are and what you may become will fill your souls with the peaceable love of God and that this will ignite within you a happiness worthy of your true heritage, for in truth you are princes and princesses, kings and queens."
It too is my prayer that we all will recognize the divine and royal heritage that we each hold.  As we come to more fully understand and recognize this, we will know that,  "there is a place for us," and that "exactly who we are is just enough."

******USA national suicide hotline number is 1-800-448-3000******

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Finding the Light from Within

When I was a kid I went on a tour through Minnetonka cave.  The tour guide lead us diligently thorough the cave along the lighted pathway.  Scattered throughout the cave were these amazing stalactites and stalagmites.  As rain would fall upon the roof of the cave, drops of water would trickle down through cracks in the roof and form these fascinating formations.  

At one point along our tour, our guide gave us an unforgettable experience.  For a few seconds he turned off all of the light that had allowed us to safely navigate our way through the cave.  Without any natural or man made light, the darkness was overwhelming.  It was so dark that we could not even see our hand held out in front of our face.  The darkness completely engulfed us.

Much like this cave, clinical depression can turn what was once a lighted pathway into a blinding darkness.  I use the word blinding because in the depths of clinical depression the darkness that engulfs an individual can become blinding.  This blindness is not a physical impairment of the eyes, but rather an impairment of emotions and thought processes.  These impairments of the emotions and thoughts can be so severe that it leaves one without the ability to see the valuable and worthwhile individual that they are. Trapped in this  darkness a sufferer of clinical depression can soon forget that there even once existed a lighted pathway.  The blindness that consumes them can quickly cause its sufferer to loose hope that they will ever find their way out of the darkness of the cave, where they once again can find light.

A clinically depressed person is also much like the stalactites that I saw hanging in the cave. They can be very fragile.  They must cling "tite" to the ceiling of the cave to avoid the possibility of falling and breaking. When depressed, an individual too must cling "tite"; week to week, day to day, and even hour to hour.

There have been many times when I have felt so deeply inadequate and worthless that I truly believed there was something inherently wrong with me. I would try to pinpoint what exactly it was that caused me to feel so worthless.  Was I not nice enough or giving enough?  Was I too quiet or maybe just plain boring?  Or maybe I just had an unlikable personality.  These thoughts rang even more true to me, because I had what I believed to be valid reasons to prove their truthfulness.

I struggled so much with these negative beliefs, that even looking at others blogs or facebook pages became another reminder to me of my inadequacies and my worthlessness, which would constantly send me spiraling down.  I eventually had to make the decision to stop viewing blogs and to close out my facebook account for my own well being.

However, as I continued to cling tight as these stalactites do,  the darkness that surrounded me began to fade.The dark cave I was trapped in, did not suddenly become illuminated with light, but I began to find the light within myself.  This occurred over a process of finding proper medication, attending counseling appointments, and of course through the atonement of the Savior.  I once again have began to see my value and worth, allowing me the ability to work on rebuilding my self esteem and confidence.

One of my favorite scriptures that has become dear to my heart as I have battled to correct this blinding darkness, is found in Doctrine and Covenants 78: 17-18.  It reads:

"Verily, verily I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you; And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along.  The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours."

I am as that little child who is working on understanding what great things Heavenly Father has prepared for me.  I cannot bear all things now, but I do have the knowledge that the Lord will lead me along, and that I will be blessed.

One of the blessings that I have been given is the knowledge I've gained through cognitive behavioral therapy.  The focus of this therapy is to learn how to challenge the negative and distorted thoughts that consume the mind of individuals suffering with clinical depression.  The key to successfully responding to this therapy is to find positive thoughts and reasons that prove the negative thoughts and perceptions to be untrue. Going through this process of challenging the negative thoughts allows an individual the ability to better see the positive proof, which in turn broadens their ability to not only challenge the negative, but to also more fully believe in the positive.  As I have worked on incorporating these principles as a part of my healing process,  believing in the positive, has been a vital part of rediscovering the light within myself.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
our deepest fear
is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness,
that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually who are we not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people
won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine as children do.
We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And when we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others."

- Marianne Williamson

This quote hung on my fridge for several months.  It served as a reminder to me to learn to love the person that I am, and to let my personal light shine.  We are all children of God and as we more fully come to recognize that, the light within each of us will radiate. We will be more fully capable of challenging the negative thoughts and perceptions and believing in the positive and valuable qualities that allow us to love and believe in the person that we are.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


"Michael was a good student, a good baseball player, a good musician, and a good friend.  A lot of kids at school liked Michael, and he got along well with his parents and his little brother, too.  From the outside, it looked like Michael had much to be happy about.  But Michael didn't feel happy.  He felt anxious all the time.  Even though Michael had nearly all A's, he wasn't number one in his grade.  Even though he played baseball well, he still struck out sometimes.  Even though he was a good drummer and in the school band, he wasn't as good as he wanted to be.  No matter how much Michael accomplished, he never stopped making mistakes, and that filled him with anxiety.  When he started having headaches every day, his mother took him to the doctor.

The doctor couldn't find anything physically wrong with Michael, so he asked how Michael's life was going.  Michael admitted that he was having a hard time.  He was always anxious from  pushing himself so hard but never achieving perfection.  Picking up a pencil from his desk, the doctor asked Michael what he saw at its end.  Michael answered, 'An eraser.' 'Right,' said the doctor, ' and do you know that erasers are automatically built into pencils because it is assumed that anyone who uses a pencil will make a mistake at some time?'  The doctor pointed out that pencils with erasers are sold not just to some people, but to everyone. No one is asked as they check out at the store, 'Do you make mistakes?  If so, you must buy the pencil with the eraser.  If not, you can buy the pencil without the eraser.'

The doctor told Michael that the pencil with an eraser is a great reminder of human imperfection.  No matter how smart, strong, wise, or practiced a person is in any field at any time, they are not and cannot be perfect.  They still need erasers on their pencils.  He told Michael to remember the acronym PENCIL for Perfectionists Enjoy No Contentment In Life"  (The Anxiety Workbook for Teens, Lisa M Schab, LCSW pp. 56-57).

I can relate to this young man's perception of success.  Being successful in his mind, meant that he had to be the best and do the best in all of his endeavors, in order to claim the title of "success."  In other words, anything less than "the best," implies imperfection; which translates to the belief that one is a failure.

When I was going through my junior high and high school years, I was blessed with many opportunities to be involved in activities and experiences that allowed me to develop and improve my talents.  I was voted as a class officer twice as well as a Student Body Officer.  I played on the basketball and softball teams.  I was nominated into several dance royalties.  I sang in the school choir, performed in school plays, and did well academically.  However, in the majority of all of these activities, I was never "the best."  In other words, I was imperfect.

I have carried with me into adulthood, this ideal of perfectionism.  I expected myself to always say the right thing, do the right thing, and be the right thing.  When I fell short in any of these areas, I became my own best critic.  I would stew for hours over a perceived failure; weather big or small.  I adopted an "all or nothing" attitude.  If I fell short of perfection, than I was a failure.  This way of thinking automatically set me up for a constant feeling of personal inadequacy. 

The fact is, I would never be perfect as a mortal being.  It was not the intention of our Heavenly Father for us to become perfect in our mortal state.  If we all were sent to earth as perfect human beings, than we would not have a purpose for this mortal experience.  The Lord is very aware that perfection requires a process of learning and growth that can only be obtained by experiencing life's imperfections; which then lead us to acquiring the traits and qualities of Jesus Christ, who is our ultimate example of perfection.

In the Book of Mormon we are taught that there is a purpose for our weaknesses.  "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.  I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." ( Ether 12:27)

Humility is a trait of perfection.  Without ever having the experience of weaknesses, how would we truly gain humility?  How would we truly come to know our Savior and Father in Heaven if we never had experiences that humbly turned us in supplication for divine guidance?   Without divine guidance we would never obtain perfection.  The only true source of perfection comes through learning to emulate our Father in Heaven and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Failure is almost always a precursor to success. President Thomas S. Monson said, "The best definition of success I have ever found goes something like this: 'Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal' " (Three Gates to Open by Thomas S. Monson). 

What I love most about this definition of success, is the word progressive. This implies "proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments"  (The Free  According to this definition, success is not a state of being, it is a step by step journey of becoming.  This means in the process of becoming successful, we will encounter some set backs and some failures, but we will find success as we continue to proceed steadily toward our realization of the journey of success.

In my battle with clinical depression, the belief of perfection that I clung to, constantly kept my mind cluttered with distorted thoughts of self perception.  In order for me to regain my severely depleted confidence, I've had to genuinely pursue a new and healthier perspective of obtaining perfection .  I logically understood that I wasn't a complete failure if I wasn't perfect, but understanding and believing are two different concepts.  It's been a journey for me to take this understanding that I had, and actually work on applying it and believing in it.

As I have continued to work with an amazing counselor in addition to doing a lot of personal pondering and studying, I've come to recognize some new realizations.  I've realized that I most admire other individuals who I consider to be "real."  By this I mean, others who also recognize that they do not have to be perfect.  These individuals know the Savior to be their perfect example and that is who they strive to emulate.  However, they also know and believe in the divine gift of the atonement.  They humbly recognize that they are imperfect and therefore require the example of the Savior and the sacred gift of the atonement.

I love to see goldfish crackers smashed on the floor of a family's car and papers falling out of the mini van as kids are climbing out the door to be dropped off at school.  I love to walk into a family's home and see toys scattered on the floor, or dishes piled in the sink.  I love to hear the experiences of an individual who can humbly express their imperfections, but through these imperfections have come to more fully recognize and appreciate the atoning sacrifice of a loving Savior.

To me these individuals are "real."  They are imperfect mortal beings who are humbly striving to become more like the Savior, by applying the atonement in their own individual mortal experience.  Success and perfection is a journey. By steadily conquering our imperfections and accepting our failures as another stepping stone along life's journey; we are setting our sight on the pathway to perfection.

President Gordon B. Hinckley perfectly summarized the journey of life; he said: “[The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. …

“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.

“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Conversation with Single Adults,” Liahona, Nov 1997, 17).

I hope that along my journey of life, I will remember to recognize the beautiful vistas and successes that occasionally appear among the setbacks and sidetracks. I hope that I will always remember where and how I can find the pathway to perfection even amongst the failures; and most of all to remember to thank the Lord for letting me experience the journey.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"When You Betray Yourself You Lose All Power"

There are many symptoms that accompany a diagnosis of major depression.  For me personally my loss of self confidence and self esteem became a constant hurdle that I could not seem to conquer.  What exaggerated the problem even more, is that in dealing with the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental distress of major depression, it became increasingly difficult for me to recognize who I was as a person.  When my self esteem became so desperately affected, to protect myself from further experiences that might  hurt me, I built up a wall of defense.  This in turn caused me to withdraw from others, to not participate in things, to not trust in those who sincerely cared;  after all I knew how worthless I really was, and besides that it was just out of duty or obligation that someone would truly care about me; or so I thought at times.  This turned into a vicious cycle for me.  The more I struggled with  my self confidence, the more I withdrew from others and built up that wall of defense, which in turn only validated in my mind, my worthlessness, continually sending me spiraling down.

There are several things that I have had to strive to learn, understand, ponder upon, and relearn, in my quest to rebuild my self esteem and confidence.  Comparing ourselves to others is one that I believe we all struggle with  from time to time.  We compare beauty, body size, knowledge, personality, clothes, talents, cars, houses, financial success, etc.  All of these things can become very detrimental to our personal well being.

"[A] distraction that can destroy joy is comparing our talents and blessings with others.  the growth in our own talents is the best measure of  personal progress.  In recent years the concept of  "personal best" has become widely accepted.  This has great merit.  Remember we often judge others at their best and ourselves at our worst."  (Elder Quentin L. Cook)

I know of many who have qualities that I would love to emulate.  There are those who are giving, compassionate, funny, knowledgeable, personable, spiritual, musically talented, athletically talented and so on and so forth.  I have found myself on more occasions than I can remember, comparing my traits, abilities, and talents to those of others, forgetting that I too had value and worth.

I once sat in a meeting where a very respected lady was the guest speaker.  She said something that I thought had great wisdom behind it.  She said: "Have a correct understanding of who you are, or you will always be choosing someone else's idea of beautiful."

I can't imagine a world in which we all were exactly alike, where everyone had the same qualities and talents.  How would we learn, grow, and become better?  Take for instance two women - one woman is an excellent seamstress who can whip out a dress in no time at all.  The other lady can barely sew a straight line, but she can plan great activities, and has a special connection with the youth.  Is one better than the other?  Not necessarily - they are just different.  The Lord has blessed us each with individual gifts and talents, and needs us and uses us accordingly.  So does that mean we are bound to a life of just select abilities and talents?  Absolutely not.  As part of our journey here on earth we are all encouraged to continue to learn, grow, and better ourselves.  In doing this, we are opening up opportunities to gain new abilities and talents which we then can incorporate with our divinely inherited traits.

When I was 25 years old my husband was called to serve as the Bishop of our ward.  I was young and inexperienced, so I created in my mind an expectation of how I thought I should be as the Bishop's wife, based on others who had previously been in that same position.  I am a great advocate of learning from others examples and experience.  However, when the learning turns into comparing, then what could have been a positive experience for growth, can suddenly turn negative.

While my husband served as the Bishop I experienced my first bout of major depression.  I did not want anyone to find out.  I felt so humiliated and weak.  The wife of other Bishop's seemed to be so strong.  At the current time, I was not aware of any who had to go to counseling and who had struggles like mine.  What was my problem?

What I didn't realize to begin with, is that depression didn't mean I was weak or inadequate, it meant that I was dealing with the trial of a mental disorder.

This trial soon became such a difficult burden for me, that I secretly hoped that the Stake Presidency would learn of my struggles and  extend a release to my husband.  However, that did not happen.  The Lord needed him to continue to serve in that calling, which he did so faithfully for almost 5 1/2 years.

Because of how much I was struggling, it definitely started to take a toll on our family, particularly my husband.  He knew of the seemingly black hole that  I was in and he felt torn between the sacred role of a husband and the important role of a Bishop.  He recognized that we needed some additional help to get our family through this trial.   He told the Relief Society presidency of my struggles and they were so kind, loving, understanding, and were very instrumental in helping me make it through the darkness of that bout of depression.

That was a very humbling experience for me, but one that marked the beginning of my willingness to begin to share with others my trial of mental illness, recognizing that we are all different, but we are all the same in the fact that we all have something to offer and contribute to others.

I was once told by my counselor at LDS Family Services that "when you betray yourself, you lose all power."  This made a deep impression on my mind, and is one that I think can be applied to the idea of not comparing ourselves to others.  We've all been blessed  with different and unique qualities and talents for a reason.  When we forget about the person that the Lord intends for us to become, because we are striving to obtain someone else's idea of beautiful, or capable, or talented, then we begin to betray ourselves; in doing so we are surrendering our power to someone else.

I can't say that I've  conquered the ability to no longer compare myself to others.  I think this is something I will continually have to strive to overcome.  However, through my personal experiences, I have learned how detrimental comparing myself to others can be to my own well being.  I hope that I personally can continue to recognize the qualities and talents the Lord has blessed me with, and work on strengthening and sharing those with others.  In addition I hope to hold onto the truth and understating that I can develop other strengths and abilities in a positive, productive way without negatively comparing myself to those around me.

I hope that we can all recognize our individual value and have the knowledge that we have all been endowed with special gifts given to us by a loving Father in Heaven.  He created us, loves us, and understands each of our own personal gifts, given by Him, to make each of us the valuable individual that He intends for us to become.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Remaining Steadfast in Christ

I await every six months when we get the blessing of hearing the words of the prophets and leaders of our church as we listen to General Conference.  It is a time that I take to reevaluate where I am at spiritually and what I can do to become better and more like our Savior.  I always come away rejuvenated and filled with a greater desire to continually walk in the footsteps of our Savior.

As I've contemplated the messages that were spoken by those who have been called of God to lead and direct  His church here on the earth, I am very grateful for the things that I've been taught.  For me personally, I was reminded of the great importance of "building our foundation on Christ." (Helaman 5:12)  As we go about day to day living it is easy sometimes to let little things that keep us on a solid foundation, slip here and there.  However, at any time our comfort in day to day living can be dramatically changed when we're faced with the storms of adversity.  It is in those moments that we must "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men." (2 Nephi 31:20)  If we have not sufficiently prepared ourselves by building our foundation on Christ,  in those moments of adversity, it can become increasingly difficult for us to "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ."

When faced with the battle of severe depression, I became very aware of the distinct difference a person can feel when they have the spirit of the Holy Ghost and can feel the love of God, in contrast to those who for one reason or another are not able or capable of feeling that in their life. "A problem reported by people with severe depression is that it is difficult for them to feel the Spirit.  The Spirit speaks to our thoughts and feelings (see D&C 8:2), and these can be the very things that are distorted in mental illness.  It is hard for those who are ill to break through feelings of hopelessness, despair, and worthlessness.."(Matters of the Mind latter-day Saint helps for Mental Health p.269).

As I experienced some of my darkest moments in the midst of depression, My emotions, feelings, and thoughts were distorted, making it difficult to feel the precious gift of the Holy Ghost and the constant and unconditional love of our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ.  At times I felt numb as I sat in church meetings or listened to spiritual messages.  I knew in my mind that I had a knowledge and testimony of these things, but I had a difficult time feeling the warmth and confirmation of the Holy Ghost.

Because I also struggled with anxiety in addition to the depression, it became a battle for me to get myself to church.  I had a fear of having to be with and socialize with others.  In addition to that, I had the heartbreaking and devastating thought that I was not loved by my Father in Heaven and Savior.  I felt like I was a disappointment, and in one of my darkest hours, I felt so worthless that I  wanted to be completely erased from existence.

During this last severe episode of depression and anxiety I was serving as the 1st counselor in the Relief Society Presidency.  There were some Sundays when it was my turn to conduct the meetings, or teach a lesson, or oversee a Relief Society weekday activity, and I was not capable of doing so.  I was very aware that there were other ladies within the ward who were more capable of serving in that calling than I was, especially in the current situation I was in.   However, I was blessed to serve with a very amazing, compassionate, and inspired Relief Society President who continued to put her faith and trust in me and who became a very instrumental part in guiding me in the direction I needed to continue to heal.  I have since realized there was great wisdom in allowing me to continue to serve in the Relief Society Presidency.    

Although I struggled to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost and the love of the Lord as the result of mental illness, I discovered blessings and gained additional knowledge and testimony that I otherwise would not have experienced.  Because I had a solid testimony before this particular trial, I was better prepared to remain steadfast in Christ as I faced the storm.  I had a testimony of the truthfulness of  the teachings of the church, of the Book of Mormon, of Joseph Smith and a living prophet on the earth today, and of course a testimony of the reality of a living God and a Savior who provided for each and everyone of us the gift of the atonement.  Because I had previously gained that testimony and worked on strengthening it, when I was in the position of not being fully capable of feeling the Spirit, I still knew and recognized the things that I needed to do to maintain that knowledge and testimony.  Having that knowledge did not make my suffering suddenly subside, but it did provide me with the understanding of the importance of remaining steadfast in Christ, which in turn kept me putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward as best as I could.

I also had additional experiences that  I would consider  "tender mercies of the Lord."  I have an amazing husband who continually encouraged me and reminded me of my worth and goodness.  I had an inspired and loving Bishop who helped me to understand that the Lord chose this trial for me personally, and that there was a purpose for it.  I also have a wonderful counselor at LDS Family Services who has helped me to work through some very dark times and who also has helped me to recognize that there is a purpose and a need for me to learn from this mental trial, because I in turn need to help others who struggle similarly.  All of these experiences in addition to others, have helped me to be able to recognize the love of the Lord, even when at times I was not fully capable of feeling it.  How grateful I am for compassionate and understanding people, and for experiences that have allowed me to continue to overcome this personal trial.

"Because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so. His solitary journey brought great company for our little version of that path—the merciful care of our Father in Heaven, the unfailing companionship of this Beloved Son, the consummate gift of the Holy Ghost, angels in heaven, family members on both sides of the veil, prophets and apostles, teachers, leaders, friends. All of these and more have been given as companions for our mortal journey because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His gospel. Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are. Truly the Redeemer of us all said: “I will not leave you comfortless: [My Father and] I will come to you [and abide with you].”  (None Were With Him by Jefferey R. Holland)

I have a renewed understanding of the importance of building our foundation on Jesus Christ our Savior and of continually striving to remain steadfast in Christ.  I know that as I work on this daily, my testimony will continue to grow and be strengthened and when I am faced with the storms of adversity I will be able to press forward having a knowledge of the love of God and the truthfulness of his gospel.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mortal Angels

Saturday evening I had the wonderful opportunity to go to the Conference Center in Salt Lake City to attend the Relief Society General meeting.  I was particularly touched by President Monson's talk.  He emotionally spoke of the importance of not being judgemental, and he reminded us to continually live by our Relief Society motto, "charity, never faileth."

His talk stirred up in me memories of others examples of compassion, charity, and understanding that have been given to me.  In the midst of the darkness of depression, especially that of severe depression, my self esteem and confidence were at times depleted to almost nothing.  It then became easy for me to believe that I was unlovable and that others couldn't truly care about me.

However, there have been several times through this mental battle, that the charity and kindness of others, kept me going to the next day and the next week.  A smile, a compliment, or a hug given to me, literally became a sustaining influence in my life.

As my depression has started to lift it has become easier and more clear for me to see that these individuals, including my good husband were heaven sent.  They were and continue to be "mortal angels" in my life.  Elder Jeffery R. Holland said: "When we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil.  Some of them we walk with and talk with-here, now, every day.  Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods.  Some of them gave birth to us, and in my case, one of them consented to marry me.   Indeed heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind."

I believe that most people have the desire to lift and strengthen others and to more fully emulate the Savior's perfect example of charity.  I also believe that we will all have times in our lives when we need to allow others to lift and strengthen us.  I would say more frequently than not, that it's a lot more difficult to allow others the opportunity to serve and strengthen us, than it is for us to be the one serving and strengthening.  It's a very humbling experience to allow others the opportunity to serve you.  But at the same time, those humbling experiences can be just the thing we need to recognize and feel the Savior's love for us, through others who are serving as instruments in God's hands.

To those who may currently be struggling with depression, please accept and believe in the goodness and kindness offered to you by others, even if it's just one person.  I know how difficult this can be to accept, when your self esteem and self confidence is almost non existent.  But sometimes the goodness and kindness of these earthly angels, might be the aid you need to make it through another day, or another week.

I'm so grateful for the "mortal angels" who have crossed my path and blessed my life.  I will be eternally grateful for their compassion and goodness! 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is it Sadness or is it Depression?

So many people around me have dealt with very difficult life circumstances.  There are those who have dealt with the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, addictions,  children who have gone astray, physical illness, divorce,  the inability to bare children, and the list could go on.  Each one of these experience's carry with it at times, overwhelming sadness and adversity.  I have a great admiration for those who I know of, who have personally carried the heavy load of any one of these life trials.

We all will have times in our lives when we experience sadness as the result of life's cicumstances.  In the Book of Mormon we are taught that there must be opposition in all things.  If we are to truly know what happiness feels like, than we must also experience the pain, hurt, and sorrow of sadness. We can't fully understand the emotional feelings that accompany either happiness or sadness, unless we experience both of them.

Many times the word "depressed" is used to describe sadness.  However, true clinical depression is actually a mental/mood disorder, with sadness being a major symptom of the disorder.  Sadness, as an emotion, however, is a natural and normal human response to any of the trials and adversity that we are given along life's journey.  So how do we know if we are experiencing sadness, or if we are dealing with clinical depression?

David Burns, an expert in the field of psychiatry describes the difference between sadness and depression in his book "Feeling Good the New Mood Therapy."  He said:

"Either depression or sadness can develop after a loss or a failure in your efforts to reach a goal of great personal importance.  Sadness comes, however, without distortion.  It involves a flow of feeling and therefore has a time limit.  It never involves a lessening of your self-esteem.  Depression is frozen-it tends to persist or recur indefinitely, and always involves loss of self-esteem."

Because sadness is so often associated with depression, I think it's good for people to understand that there's a difference between a healthy, normal, sadness and clinical depression.  I hope recognizing depression as a disorder helps to shed light on understanding those who struggle with it.

To all those individuals who are struggling with difficult challenges and adversities, whatever they may be, I truly admire you.  There are many who have had very difficult trials to deal with, and your example of strength and faith have been truly inspirational.  Thank you for teaching me to have faith and patience as I work through my personal trials.  You are truly amazing!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Don't Worry Be Happy

"Don't worry be happy".... sounds simple.  It reminds me of the well known cliche from Disney's The Lion King."  'Hakuna Matata!"  Timon and Pumba, characters from The Lion King, adopted this phrase as their motto, which means "no worries."  For them, it was a "problem free philosophy."

We all know and recognize that life typically isn't quite that simple.  All of us will have times throughout life's journey when we will be faced with adversity which will make Timon and Pumba's philosophy seem completely unrealistic.  We can decide how we will handle each struggle that we are faced with, but it is sure that we will all have experiences that will stretch our patience, hope, faith, and capabilities.

For me, my struggle has been fighting the battle of anxiety and severe depression.  This is something that many people deal with to different degrees of severity.  But it still carries with it a stigma, which many times will keep people from talking about it and treating it properly.

Elder Alexander Morrison, a general authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has great insight into the suffering experienced by those with mental illness, specifically that of depression.  He has a daughter who has struggled with depression and panic attacks for half of her life.  Elder Morrison describes very well the adversity that individuals face who are suffering from mental illness.  He said:

"Among the most painful and often protracted ordeals an individual or family may face is that of mental illness.  One of the central characteristics of the cruel constellation of disease groups under the general rubric of mental illness is the suffering involved.  Its intensity cannot be described.  One perceptive sufferer, William Styron, has pointed out, for example, that "the pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne."  And yet there is hope.  Many mentally ill people find their suffering greatly reduced once they are properly diagnosed and receive the proper treatment.  In addition, although those who are suffering may feel unable or unworthy to experience God's love, they can be assured that nothing "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our lord" (Rom8:39).  They can come to know, perhaps as never before, that "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2Timothy 1:7)

As one who has suffered with severe depression, I understand that sometimes you don't believe there is hope.  The pain of what you are feeling and experiencing is at times unbearable.  Because I have experienced depression and anxiety, I know how devastating it can be and I want to be able to help others who are suffering similarly.  It has been a journey for me as I have taken steps that are leading me to a discovery of a new me, a better, and more healthier me.  My hope is that others might find peace, hope, faith, and courage as they strive to overcome this silent battle and discover healing and happiness in their lives.