Real talk time.
When I was twelve years old, I decided that I wanted to influence the world for good. I determined that I wanted to do it the introvert way…by throwing profound literature at it from a safe distance.
By the time I was fifteen, I had decided that I wanted to go to BYU-Idaho and study Creative Writing. That was my plan. I was going to write novels, and somewhere along the line, somehow, write something that would change the world for good.
If you’ve read my other pieces, you probably know that I dropped out of BYU-Idaho to prepare to serve a mission for my church, because Heavenly Father told me to, even though He and I both knew that I wouldn’t actually go. After I finally decided, and confirmed with Him, that my time of preparing was past and I could move onto other pursuits, I reapplied to the BYU schools, and I got into BYU, which is where I am now.
So, obviously, there have been some major plot twists in my life plan. Here are a few more:
One: I’m switching my major to psychology.
Two: I’ve been diagnosed with four mental illnesses or emotional disabilities.
I still want to help change the world, but I want to do it person by person, individually. I’ve been suffering a lot lately in my personal life. This is where I start talking about stuff so personal, my Mom would say, “Rachel, honey, be careful of what you put on the internet.”
But I want to be real about my life. I want people to realize that they can talk about their struggles, and maybe, just maybe, writing about my struggles with mental health is one of the ways I can help people.
Here we go.
In September, I was officially diagnosed with the illnesses I suspected that I’d had for years. I have post-traumatic stress disorder, major recurring depressive episodes, generalized anxiety, and panic disorders.
At the end of a very stressful summer term of school, the latter three disorders all spiked in intensity. When fall semester started at the end of August, I was emotionally wrecked. I met with a psychological counselor and scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist. I had panic attacks walking from class to class, couldn’t focus on schoolwork because I was too anxious, and would break down and cry, hard, almost every day, overwhelmed with sadness.
Towards the end of September, I met with the psychiatrist and started medication: This was my first time using medication for any of my issues. After a few weeks, it seemed like it was working: I would get super excitable for an hour or two every evening. But then that phase passed, and my mood nosedived. I had persistent thoughts of suicide, and the only reason I could think of to not end my own life was the emotional trauma it would cause my family, friends, and those who found my body.
I met with my psychiatrist again and she immediately changed my medication. I’ve been on this medication for about a month now, and it doesn’t seem like it’s completely effective, but I’m better than I was without it. I still have panic attacks in class. Sometimes I feel miserable and cry. It takes a lot of effort to get out of bed each morning. I still think of death and dying every day, but not in a way that would inspire me to end myself. And I am insanely lonely, but I can rarely muster the motivation to go out and socialize.
YES. I REALIZE THIS IS ALL INTENSELY PERSONAL.
But I want to tell you what I’ve been learning, what I’ve determined to do.
The last few months, I’ve been feeling like an annoyance to those who love me because I can’t hide my emotional instability. I feel like I burden others with my emotional baggage. No one has given me this impression: This feeling originates within myself.
On the contrary, I have had the best friends help me out lately. One would give me energy massages when I had panic attacks, and would stay with me for hours every day. Another, who is going through much that is similar, has been able to empathize with me. One crawled into my closet, where I was sobbing one night, to wrap her arms around me and hold me. Another helped me figure out how to get disability leniency with school, and yet another will take the time to read my textbooks to me when I’m too anxious to force myself to do it. When I told my Mom about my suicidal thoughts and that the psychiatrist had asked me if I had a plan, she replied: “The Plan is Call Mom.”
I know I am loved. I may have a distorted vision of myself right now, but there are people who are keeping a hold on me, keeping me from tipping over the edge.
I tell you this so that you know: You are also loved. No matter how isolated and lonely you feel, no matter what emotional baggage you carry, no matter how many times you break down in front of your friends, you are loved, and not just by those that you can see. Even if you’re not a religious person, I will tell you, and firmly believe, that there are unseen angels guarding your footsteps, strengthening you against the darkness that is prevalent in the world. I know they’re there.
This bridges into the other thing I’ve been re-learning.
Earlier this year I felt I had a very close connection to my Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. I’d been working on developing my relationships with each of Them, and when things went south I could always feel the Holy Ghost witness in my heart: We’re here. Everything will be okay. I grew distant from them again during the summer, when I was stressed and preoccupied with school, but now I realize that if I want to make it through my trials with grace, I’m going to need the Savior with me every step of the way.
When I kneel and pray at night, I ask for the Lord’s help in being worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, and that, as I remember Christ and keep His commandments, I may have His presence in my heart. Sometimes, the most comforting thing when I’m anxious is to imagine the army of angels that is backing me up, and to remember that no matter what, Christ understands me and is waiting to help with whatever I offer to Him. I imagine the spirits of my future children, cheering me on, staying by me in my roughest hours, a promise of what is to come if I can just hold on.
The last week or so I’ve been feeling particularly down on myself. This is odd, because even though I’m depressed, my feelings of helplessness are usually directed at external things, and rarely at my own characteristics or choices.
Part of it is because the plan I thought I had for my life is changing, yet again. I have to factor in that mental illness is going to be a major part of my life, and probably permanent. When I’m particularly angry with myself, I think: How on earth am I going to find someone who will be willing to put up with my issues for the rest of his life?
But the success of my life isn’t measured by my ability to maintain romantic relationships. It can be measured, though, in a sense, by the relationship I have with the world at large. It struck me the other day: Even if I never find that special someone, I can change the lives of everyone I encounter. I have a relationship with every human on this earth as a spiritual brother or sister, and being as Christ-like as I can, I will have the ability to impact their lives for good. It doesn’t have to be in a dramatic way, either: A smile, a kind word, a new friend on a lonely day. I can change my corner of the world by daily acts of simple kindness.
That’s why I’m writing this. This is my real life. It’s messy, it hurts, it’s confusing, and sometimes I despair of understanding God’s plan for me. I want others to realize that they’re not alone, that life is rough, and it’s okay to be real about it. It’s okay to talk about the struggles of mortality. It’s okay to admit that things aren’t just peachy all the time, that you have to drag yourself out of bed every morning, that you’re overwhelmed with despair or anger when you think of certain aspects of your life, and that you’re uncertain of what will ultimately become of your plans. It’s okay to hurt, and it’s okay to talk about it.
Life isn’t a pretty package perfectly wrapped, with a perky bow on top. The paper tears and the bow is flat and uneven. It doesn’t make the gift inside any less worthwhile, though, or any less precious. Life is a great gift.
I’m going to use my life as well as I can. Suffering doesn’t have to make my life less than it would otherwise be. My Savior suffered the pains of every soul who has or will live, and died for them as well, and yet not a being could claim that His life was wasted. Suffering doesn’t make us less: It gives us more experience, more ability to understand others. The Savior’s understanding of us, after all, came by His suffering with us.
It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.