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.