I first experienced the symptoms of clinical depression more than 20 years ago, after a traumatic incident that made me greatly doubt myself. As I did not share those thoughts and feelings with anyone, no one could help me process the incident and correct false narratives going through my mind. In time, more symptoms of clinical depression surfaced, worsened by guilt over a mistake that I made and have since corrected. No amount of prayer, scripture reading, Church attendance and assurances from my bishop made my feelings of guilt go away. At the time, I had no idea that I was starting to experience the effects of mental illness, not sin.
The environment I was in at that time was perfect in worsening the state of my mental health. It came to the point where for years, every moment I was awake, I prayed that God would just take me away from this life. Incredibly, the only times I felt genuinely happy were the times I was serving in Church and when I was working with kids together with a supervisor who treated me like family.
The final straw came in late 2006 when I got divorced, shortly after receiving my personal temple endowment. My mental health collapsed, and so did my faith in God. I could not understand how God could allow my marriage to fail, when all I had wanted was celestial marriage and I did my part of the bargain. I kept thinking: “Wasn’t it written in the scriptures that if we do our part, God will do His part? Why did He not save my marriage?” At this point, increased amount of prayer, scripture reading, and support from church friends and leaders could not help me. I was in great pain, and felt indignant and bitter towards God. This mental health collapse affected my cognitive abilities as well. I stopped reading the scriptures because everything I read felt like condemnation. I also stopped going to church because I had difficulties processing information during sacrament meetings and classes and was extremely irritable.
After a long while in this hellish state, when I was about to lose my mind, I had a moment of lucidity where I made the decision to seek professional help for my mental health difficulties. As my mental health got better, my perception of God changed. I also learned an extremely important lesson: Trauma and mental illness will affect how we see and relate with God.
I remembered once teaching in seminary that people have three main motivations for obeying God: 1) Fear of punishment, 2) Desire for certain blessings, 3) Love for God. Although I was very angry at God because I did not understand how He worked in my life, I could not walk away from Him because I loved Him. Even when faced with temptations, I managed to make the right choices because I loved Him. Early this year, I received one of the greatest miracles - I realised that the foundation of my previous relationship with God was made of fear and desire. It was these two, together with mental illness, that blinded my spiritual eyes and prevented me from seeing God as He truly is.
I did not realise at the time when I was teaching seminary, that there is a fourth motivation for obedience: We follow because we know we are loved unconditionally. This is a relationship that is founded on trust, the kind of relationship that will withstand the tests of life.
I am still not done getting to know God. I am learning that He absolutely loves me and never left my side during the years when I could not sense Him because of mental illness and the loss of my trust in Him. He has given me everything I needed without me even asking for them. And when I pleaded with Him to help me trust Him again, He moved so fast that every moment felt…magical.
As I get to know God better, I am filled with awe. I realised that what the scriptures said about God loving us beyond our comprehension is true. And He loves us individually. That means He gives us personalised care. Every day, I pray that He lets me see how He works in my life, that I might understand Him better. Every day, He shows me a little bit of Himself.
If you know without any doubt that you are loved, just the way you are, how will you be different?
This is what I want to find out for myself as I continue my journey in life, this time, having the constant awareness that Christ is walking side by side with me.