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.