This is a draft of an article I'm sending in to the Ensign. Comments and suggestions are beyond welcome--- they're what I'm looking for!
This was a battle I’d been fighting for quite some time. The dark feelings of hopelessness, irrational anxiety about my future, and the sureness that nothing could save me from my own imperfections plagued me at all the wrong times. I was raised in the church being taught that none of these feelings should occur if I was being righteous, and according to the tools I’d been given, I was being righteous. So why did these feelings persist, especially during my personal scripture study, sacrament meeting, and moments of pondering? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t feel what I’d always believed? I didn’t pay these emotions too much heed until the second to last transfer of my mission, when my episodes of anxiety became frighteningly overwhelming. I had a wonderful companion who knew my history with depression (which followed my fiancé calling our wedding off one week before the date). She urged me to call our mission president and tell him what I was feeling. “Soeur Barros, there’s no reason you should be feeling this; you’re working so hard and we’re having so much success!” I called up my brand new mission president who gave me advice directly contrary to what I thought was best. Having faith, however, that he was called of God, I took his advice and managed to keep this anxiety at bay for the remainder of my mission.
I, as many returned missionaries do, lived in a lovely land of denial after my mission. I was still riding on that strong spiritual high when the episodes returned. About six months after my return home however, denial abruptly ditched me and left me with cold hard reality. Yick. I didn’t like reality. Not only that, but without denial, my episodes became stronger and more prominent. I would be sitting in Sacrament meeting when an episode would start up. First came the feelings of “I need to do better,” which developed into “I’m so terrible because I’m not doing as much as I could,” and then quickly progressed into “I’m such a useless person I can’t do anything right or well enough to satisfy God.” Obviously, none of those were true. But they felt so real that it shook me down to my core. I created a habit of praying like crazy when I started feeling this way. My prayers never shortened or softened the experience, but feelings of peace and love never failed to creep into my heart as the fear subsided.
Anyone in my family can tell you that I’m horrible at hiding my emotions. My dad frequently tried to warn me that what I was thinking was written on my face. Though this attribute has often been a gift, at this point in my life it was a curse. I’d have exert every ounce of willpower and energy I possessed to only allow silent tears down my cheeks and not the violent sobs of distress that my heart so desperately wanted to express. After I was called as the ward organist and required to sit on the stand, it became ever imperative that I hold it in. Though, after a while, I found my calling to be a tender mercy: members often tried to console me after the meeting about my less than amazing organ abilities, assuming that that was the reason I cried every week. Who knew: because I played wrong notes, no one caught on to the fact that I was losing my emotional grip every week.
I rationalized and ignored these episodes a good three months before I told my parents that I needed to speak with someone about it. I’d come to realize that this wasn’t a spiritual matter, but an emotional and maybe even chemical one. My family has a history of depression, and, like I said earlier, I had experienced it before. My dad, a bishop in another ward, gave me the name of an LDS therapist that the stake president liked to refer people to. I called him up and made an appointment. While certain aspects of my life started to improve, my episodes did not. In fact, they worsened steadily. I remember two episodes specifically that show my never ending and drastic deterioration.
My normal episode pinnacled with an unshakeable feeling of hopelessness about my future. Literally, when I tried to think about my future, I saw and felt nothing expect bleak, black, darkness. But this episode culminated with my irrational but very real question of “what is the point of planning my future? What is the point of having a future? My future holds NOTHING for me.” That was a distinct progression from my normal “ehh… my life is junk.”
The second episode was much scarier. My heart jumped off the cliff of hopelessness and dove down to “I have no point. Nothing in this world would be different if I didn’t exist. I wish God had never created me because… because I’m useless. There’s no point to my life.” Alas, that was not the bottom—not yet. No, I knew I’d finally reached the bottom of the depression ravine when I “knew”, and this “knowledge” was very appealing, that I didn’t have to have a future. I can disappear.
When my heart crashed into those rocks, my soul shuddered.
The episode slowly ran its course. I found the desire to pray, which was quite a breakthrough, actually. I hated praying during these past few episodes because it brought me no consolation, and in reality, I just ended up yelling at God; I was too deeply lost in the depression to truly pray. The moment did come where I found enough faith to pray and ask Heavenly Father to help me. “Help me feel like I’m worth something,” I sobbed. “Like there’s a point to me. Like my future is worth living for.”
No big response came. I was still so upset that I wouldn’t have been able to hear it if one had. I did, however, feel an undeniable and unmistakable peace. The calm was almost palpable, like a blanket wrapped around me, protecting me from my anxiety and depression. A cliché, I know, but the feeling was so physical there is no other description. My breathing slowed and my heart began to beat at a normal pace, allowing me to fully exit the scariest experience I’d ever had. The peace continued to fill my heart and surround my being. I had the wistful thought “I wish my patriarchal blessing spoke about this.” I chose not to look at my blessing. I’d honestly NEVER had an experience where what was specifically written spoke to me in a time of need. Sure, sometimes the Spirit would calm my heart if I read my blessing, but never any of the words. Not in this kind of situation. And I wasn’t yet in a state to understand the Spirit in any way beyond the peace I was already experiencing. So I decided to open the scriptures and read a few verses, which pulled me a little further out of the dark abyss that was my mind. My hunger was not yet satiated, and like a child needing breakfast to fully wake up for the day, I had the desire to feel more. My patriarchal blessing again popped into my brain. Not able to deny the urge any longer, I decided that I was far enough beyond the episode to be able to hear the Spirit speak to me. So I pulled out my blessing and started to read.
I never got beyond the second paragraph.
I didn’t have to.
In the first few lines of my blessing, the words that I so desperately needed to hear were written on this paper printed nearly ten years earlier. Declarations of my divine lineage and priceless worth pierced through my cloud of self-depreciation and self-loathing straight to my soul. I read with disbelief the specifc qualities and purposes Heavenly Father had given me, qualities that directly contradicted the deep and penetrating emotions that possessed my heart not ten minutes earlier. Amazement washed over me and practically knocked me to my knees, prompting me to pray once again. I poured out my grateful heart to my loving Heavenly Father for the words of love and encouragement He prepared so many years earlier for this specific experience. For the comfort He so readily gave me at the end of each of my manic episodes. For the love that He possesses, a love that doesn’t tire of my repetitive depressions, but continues to attend my needs.
I have no words to describe the peace and joy that filled me. I can only borrow the words of the scripture in 3 Nephi where it states “no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great… [was] the joy which filled [my] soul.”
Believe it or not, I’m also grateful for the severity of that manic episode. That episode was so scary so quickly that it woke me out of my pride and got me to tell my therapist what was going on, after months of living in denial. Through his help and the help of my doctor, we established that I suffer from a mood disorder, specifically a mix between depression and bi-polar disorder. I take medication for it, and my episodes have all but disappeared. I’m grateful that Heavenly Father has given us modern medicine which helps me regulate this chemical problem. I bring this up because I don’t want anyone to think that I believe prayer and faith is enough to overcome issues like depression or other mood disorders. That is not true. Some things are physical and require physical remedies. Heavenly Father gave us these resources for a reason. And, as I learned through this experience, it often takes faith and prayer to have the courage to use them.
The other half of this, and maybe the more apparent half, was that He was ready for me when I came to Him. Yes, He showed me my weakness, and used the moment to show me that His love is always there, ready to comfort and reassure me—especially in the place that I least expected.
I know that Heavenly Father is aware of each of our needs. He loves each of us in such a unique and individual way. I am grateful for the knowledge I have about my relationship with my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, through the restored gospel. No man can convince me to turn from the gospel. Not when I’ve had experiences like this one that help my testimony grow.
“For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the drains and the floods have I sent forth.”- Ether 2:24