I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) when I was twelve. I’m not going to lie: it wasn’t the most exciting news to hear as a 12-year-old. I would have much rather been diagnosed with good looks or extreme athleticism, but instead I had self-doubt and anxiety. I still have OCD today. I experience irrational OCD and anxious thoughts everyday, but most people who know me would probably never guess that.
Growing up, I played soccer for over 17 years of my life in various competitive levels, often traveling around the country for tournaments as well as being my team’s soccer captain for a majority of those years. I was elected as the student body president in my high school. I served a full-time mission in London, England and served in various leadership capacities ranging from Trainer and Zone Leader to Assistant to the President. I study public relations at BYU and have been all over the world for various PR jobs. In all of those capacities as a leader and as an athlete, I struggled with OCD.
I don’t mention all these things to be prideful; I want those who struggle with mental illness to understand that they can live a normal life. Those who have never experienced mental trauma should understand that those who suffer from mental illness are normal people as well. It is for these reasons I have made my list of six things to do when you are struggling with mental illness.
1. TALK. Be open and honest.
Part of having OCD involves me feeling like I am not worthy to be a child of God. Sounds funny, right? I laugh at those thoughts everyday and have learned to shrug them off. But I still experience them. As a 12-year-old, I would often feel that almost every action I committed was a sin against God. My mind would rationalize that whatever I was doing was wrong.
Over time, these feelings of self-doubt raged within my soul and guilt flooded my inside. As time went on, this guilt turned into depression and this depression turned into a loss of hope.
In fact, one of the first things mental illness takes from you is hope. I would pray to God again and again asking him to take away these feelings of doubt, but it seemed like I was praying to a brick wall. After feeling like this for months, I knew that I could either continue to suffer in silence or I could open up. The best decision I made was talk to my parents and tell them exactly how I felt.
2. Get up and do whatever you can do.
After talking to my parents for some time, my dad suggested that I go and see a therapist. I was shocked. I considered therapists as the guys who only crazy people see. A therapist makes you lay on the couch and asks you the same question over and over: “So how does that make you feel?” The idea was far from appealing and even humiliating because I didn’t want my friends to know. However, after talking it over with my dad, he said I could either sit there and feel terrible or I could act and do my best to overcome the trials I was experiencing. Although I didn’t choose to be depressed, I could choose how I acted in spite of it. We always have a choice.
3. Access the Atonement…all of it!
Shortly after seeing the therapist, I was prescribed antidepressants. I have often heard from people that therapists don’t help and using antidepressants is just covering up the problem and not really fixing it. I cringe when I hear this, mainly because people don’t choose to be depressed or mentally ill. No one wants to feel like there is no hope and sad forever. But they can choose to be humble and take advantage of the means God has given us for overcoming our anxieties. These actions might be: frequent exercise, taking vitamins, using essential oils, receiving therapy, and yes…taking antidepressants. All of these means are ways in which our Father in heaven has made it possible to overcome, not cover-up, the anxieties of life. Like a cast for a broken arm, these actions may be a stepping stone to becoming fully healed. Accessing all of these means and combining them with prayer, fasting, and many other methods of spiritual strengthening are how we access the atonement.
4. Having a mental illness does not make you a sinner.
To be depressed and mentally ill does not make someone a sinner. Through the methods above, and dependent on God, I pulled myself out of the depression but still had the OCD thoughts. No one knew that I still struggled. In fact, I would hear my friends say, “People who are sad are clearly not living the gospel. If they were obeying the commandments then surely God would give them happiness.”
Luckily, I knew not to take this style of thinking seriously. The scriptures talk about many prophets who struggled with depressive and obsessive thoughts such as Nephi (2 Nephi 4) and Ammon (Alma 26) and we know from a recent talk by Elder Holland that even he at one time battled depression.
God never said that if you obey His commandments that you will be happy and everything will be perfect right here and right now. He said in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Christ also said, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me.” He simply said that He would help us in the times of trial! He said to take His yoke and walk with Him. He never said the way would be paved of gold or that it would be a flat surface the entire time. On the contrary, it is an uphill battle with potholes and thieves, and storms. To quote President Eyring: “If you are on the right path it will always be uphill.”
What He does promise us, though, is peace: peace knowing that in the end it will all be worth it. There is peace knowing that at the end of the rocky road, there will be a prize that was worth the journey.
5. Use your time to try and serve others.
Even though I was on antidepressants and seeing a therapist weekly, it took time for me to learn how to deal with my burdens. During that time, the best remedy I found was to serve others. I know it sounds so generic and corny, but it actually works! During my spare time I would rake leaves, shovel driveways, or sit next to a kid in the cafeteria who was having a rough day. When I did those actions, I slowly forgot about my own problems and began to think of others’ well-being.
6. Let God make your weaknesses strengths.
Although I am rarely without OCD thoughts, I now know how to deal with them instead of drowning in thoughts of obsession and doubt.
Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 12:7-10: “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me…for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When I talk about this to groups, I am often asked if I would ever wish the OCD away. To be honest, I don’t know. It has shaped my life in so many ways. I would never want to live those few years as a teenager again, but the OCD that I have has influenced the individual I am today. It was during those years I received the undeniable spiritual experiences to go from a belief in the church to a knowledge that everything my parents had taught me was true. My struggle with OCD allowed me to experience and feel the Atonement. Because I have learned to deal with it, I learned a spiritual sensitivity and ability to see it within others. As a missionary, I was assigned multiple companions who suffered from OCD, anxiety, and depression. I was later assigned to assist missionaries throughout my mission who were experiencing these feelings because I knew what they were feeling. Literally, because of the Atonement I have learned to take my weakness and turn it into a strength (Ether 12:27).
God often sends us through trials so we can assist those in our path later on in life. One of my favorite quotes is by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She said:
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Even though I still experience OCD everyday, God taught me how to deal it and bless the lives of those who are struggling with it as well. Although I am far from perfect, He made this aspect of me beautiful. In the end, God is set on making us all beautiful.
Michael White is a senior at Brigham Young University studying communications with an emphasis in public relations. He developed a love for the British people when he served a full-time mission in London, England. His hobbies include soccer, skiing, traveling, anything outdoors, and spending time with family.