There are many who struggle with internal conflicts that others around them can't begin to fathom, and yet they keep going, struggling to remain as positive and helpful as possible in caring for their responsibilities. These people are truly courageous. As more and more people have shared some of their stories with me, I realised that a large number of people facing depression, or mental illness in some form, whether clinical or not, are looking for answers. Often it is caused by things which are not the fault of the person experiencing them. They are simply the symptoms of a very real, physical illness. I am also one of those people and I know that there is a way to keep going even if it is only one minute at a time. I also know that eventually the eternity-like minutes really can turn into joyfully happy days. I know because I am finding more and more of them for myself.
I have suffered from mental illness (in the forms of panic, anxiety and depression caused by chemical imbalances in my body) since I was a child. It was not diagnosed for many years, I only knew there were times when it was very hard to work through my emotions enough to go through my normal day, almost like I was in a cloud that kept me separated from the others in my family somehow. Yet it seemed to only be a cloud around me and not around the individuals around me. Then finally, a couple of years after the birth of my first child, the short periods of despair became longer and longer until depression and anxiety were normal and almost constant. I became severely depressed and was having trouble continuing on with my daily tasks in taking care of a family, church service etc.
I kept trying to go on and act as normal as I could despite what was going on inside me. Despite my strugglings to work through, family members came to the rescue and poined out to me that something was wrong and I needed outside help. It was not something I could work through on my own. Doctors researched and gave their recommendations. Counsellors and church leaders gave their counsel and support. Especially my husband loved me unconditionally and always showed me that love through his words and his actions. Also my daughter gave me another reason I needed to learn to cope and continue with my life to help her grow up with a happy mommy.
But my struggle didn't end. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I cried and cried and cried some more. I tried to have hope and strength to keep going even though I couldn't actually feel the emotions of peace, hope or strength because those positive emotions were all clouded up in the illness which covered up all things positive with a vapor of despair, darkness, weakness, guilt, lack of confidence, and lack of knowledge which became thicker and thicker until it became almost too thick to see through at all.
Somehow I knew those feelings were not the real me, but yet they were me. They were a part of me that I couldn't avoid and did not know how to control. I felt split in half, and yet felt like two people in one and the one person I felt was my "real" true self felt completely blocked off by a strong wall which was too tall for me to climb over and too thick for me to break through. I could only catch glimpses of the other side once in a while and for only short periods of time. I knew that over that barrier waited the person I really was: confident and talented; happy and loving; thankful and peaceful--but the glimpses through the tiny cracks in the wall became harder and harder to find until I began to fear that I had no more strength to look.
There was a veil covering my real happy and confident self just as surely as there was a veil separating me from any memory of my life before I was born here on earth. As Paul said, "For now we see through a aglass, bdarkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12) My deep desire to stay strong and believe I really could see over the wall, and maybe even climb over it eventually, kept me going. But barely.
At the time I felt that even my strong desires to get well in order to care for those I loved and to do my Heavenly Father's will for me were just not going to be enough. I just didn't see how I could prevail when I couldn't see my Heavenly parents and had no memory of that wonderful life in Heaven with them and now I could no longer see the person I knew I should be here on earth. Two veils just seemed to be too much. The lies in my head telling me things like "you can never make it through," "every day would be just as dark as today" and "You will just hurt those around you, why do you keep trying at all?" "It is your own fault you have this problem because you don't ________(many different things were inserted here in my head.". . . etc were just getting too hard for me to shut out.
There were many angels helping me through and two of the most powerful experiences which led to receiving the strength I needed came through the words of Hymns. The first came as I watched BYUtv and was led to find a special program just for me: "Living Essentials: Understanding Mental Illness" which hosted Jolene Meredith. I listened as Sister Meredith described experiencing herself, what I was feeling. She told of her experience composing the hymn"Where Can I turn for Peace" with Emma Lou Thayne, who also suffered from mental illness. She said "we lovingly called it the mental illness hymn." Music sometimes seems to be the best language for me to hear. I grasped onto that hymn, read it over and over again and sang it. I claimed it as my personal guide to find the peace and power which can only come through Christ.
The next experience came through my Dad (my Husband's Dad) who stopped me in a moment of venting my overwhelming fears. He just looked at me almost as if he was dissappointed in me and simply said these words from another hymn: "Fear not though the enemy deride; Courage for the Lord is on our side." (Let Us All Press On, Text and music by Evan Stevens 1854-1930) I am sure Dad really did say those words in his voice, but another voice shot through me like a lightening bolt wakeup call. I knew that God had sent me the answer I had prayed for for years: "This challenge is not a punishment for your sins. This challenge is not a sign that you are too weak to go on. What it is is a battle you must face with courage. Your life was not meant to be easy, but I will give you the gift of courage to win if you choose to accept it." That voice was not a voice I heard; it was a voice I felt within so strongly that it finally overpowered the voices caused by my mental illness.
Those two changing points, or epiphanies, began to turn the battle around. The battle was not taken away from me. But I now knew that it was alright that I needed to fight it and that made all the difference. I have had many wonderful breakthroughs as doctors and counsellors have been able to find out more of the specific imbalances in my chemical make-up and help with solutions. The battle may continue the rest of my life, but I have more knowledge now.
That knowledge gives me more power. Now I don't just wonder if I have the strength to keep going; I actually know that I don't have it--only God can give me the strength. Now I know that I can choose to accept the gifts God gives to help with the battles, because the battle itself is not a sign that I am doing something wrong. Now I know that fear is a choice, not an inevitable human condition and that happiness is also a choice.