Many years ago, while I was serving as a bishop, my employer began some dishonest practices and demanded that I assist him. I refused and lost my job. I spent the next year unable to find employment, and, as many know, not providing for one’s family can lead to stress and self-doubt. I experienced both and spiraled into a deep depression.
The depression strongly affected me, and I was simply unable to continue my service as a bishop, so I was released. Eventually my job search stopped. At the time I believed that my depression and my inability to return to work meant the Lord was punishing me because He did not accept my service as bishop and He had rejected me. Of course, now I know that the Lord does not treat His children this way.
Concerned about my emotional instability and the possibility of me harming myself, my wife, Kathy, sought professional help. At the doctor’s recommendation, she had me placed in a mental health facility, where I was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. Because of the disorder, I would be in bed for days or suffer from abnormally elevated, irrational moods and exaggerated behaviors.
During one emotional high, I spent all our savings and built up enormous debt on wasteful purchases. This happened so fast that Kathy had no opportunity to see and prevent it, and that led to bankruptcy and the loss of our home. Blessedly, two years earlier, Kathy had felt a prompting to bring her teaching credential up to date, and now it became necessary for her to return to her teaching profession after 17 years as a homemaker.
Being diagnosed with a mental disorder gives you some understanding of why you are feeling the way you are, but it does not necessarily help you change it. I had frequent mental breakdowns that made me undependable. I tried many different medicine combinations, but they failed to bring stability.
After five years of trial and error, a combination of medication was prescribed that made the lows and highs manageable. I became meticulous about taking my medications and watching for signs of stressors so that I could avoid future breakdowns. I began a part-time job and, a few years later, fully returned to my previous career. But I was still plagued with doubts about my spiritual standing. I felt there was no possibility for me to gain salvation. However, I knew that if I quit attending church, my family would also quit attending. And in my fragile state I still had hopes for their salvation. So I always attended.
During the next few years, it was determined that my medications and therapy were helping me return to a little of my old self. I slowly regained confidence in my career skills and gradually moved to more demanding positions, as I was able.
Nearly 15 years after my breakdown, I had an experience while listening to general conference on my way to work. I was listening to the voices of the Apostles testify of Jesus Christ, and I felt an overwhelming love and comfort that I knew came from God. For the first time in years, I knew God loved me and that there was room for me in His kingdom. I was finally able to feel again what had always been there—it was a miracle to me.
My Church service became focused on wanting others to experience the divine love that I had experienced. I have a special empathy for those who are managing a diagnosis of mental illness. I know (because I lived it) that they may not understand the love God has for them, and they often feel their mental illness is a punishment for some past sins. I want to help them know that God is always lovingly waiting for us to hear Him and that mental illness is a trial, not a punishment.
Now, years later, I readily recognize that I have been blessed by God. Not everyone experiences the return to stability that I had, and I must work to maintain and manage my mental health. But I feel my experience allowed me to have a unique understanding of what others are experiencing. When someone talks about his or her disability, I can testify from experience that despite any feelings of darkness and confusion, God still loves him or her. I do not try to take the place of professional counselors and doctors, but I can listen and encourage. When my friends need to vent, I can understand. I try to help them, in my small way, feel the love of God and find the faith that will carry them through their challenges.
We all have our own paths through mortality. We all have moments that take us to the limits of our faith. But everyone’s trials are different. With the help of family, friends, professionals, and of course our Savior, Jesus Christ, one can maneuver through the hurdles of life with faith intact. I have learned that yesterday’s experiences may become today’s tools that I can use to help others. I know that God loves us all. I know that there is always a path to salvation for each of us. We must never let the trials of life—mental, emotional, and otherwise—take away our faith.