I was sitting at a table in the middle of Times Square, surrounded by people in every direction, including a few of my best friends. Yet in that moment I could not have felt more alone. Though not a stranger to such emotions, I was perplexed by the irony of what I was feeling. Despite genuinely wanting to enjoy myself while in New York, all I wanted to do that day was crawl into bed, go to sleep, and just not wake up.
In the weeks following, the feeling of isolation and malaise settled in deeper. “How can this be happening again?” I wondered. I equated this mental plummet to the thick fog I had sometimes found myself in when I was growing up in the Bay Area. I remembered the dense, cold clouds that churned through the Golden Gate, engulfing the San Francisco Bay and then pouring over the East Bay hills as a silent mist. Eventually the entire valley would be completely covered in fog sometimes so thick I couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of me. During the day, the only perceptible light was that of the sun creating a dismal gray sky. At night, the darkness was all-encompassing.
I felt like I was in this fog even after getting back into my routine, and I recognized it was only getting worse. I became numb to the simplest things, like going to get ice cream with a coworker or going to the temple on a sunny Saturday or playing music with a friend. The simplest tasks quickly became the most daunting, absolutely exhausting feats ever. Folding my laundry, making dinner, and even going to church all just seemed to require unbearable amounts of energy and effort.
I felt so guilty for not being able or wanting to do everything I had once done with a real smile on my face and for not feeling the same sense of gratitude I once had. For weeks I prayed, served in the temple, read my scriptures, and did everything I knew I should be doing, but when I asked for relief, all I would hear was crickets. Or my roommate snoring. It seemed so backward that right when I needed my Savior most, He didn’t seem to be there. I felt numb to my own spirituality. I felt guilty for not “feeling” the Spirit in the way that I thought I was supposed to, even when I was keeping the commandments the best I could. And that only exacerbated my feelings of depression and created a spiral of hopelessness and despair.
I learned that the mental illness I had, depression, can severely hinder my ability to feel and recognize the Spirit. This is incredibly frustrating when you know the first and foremost thing you should be doing is praying and exercising faith in Jesus Christ.
It wasn’t until months later that I realized He had been with me all along in my worst moments of depression and despair.
He had been there during my darkest moments, strengthening me to push on one day at a time, sometimes just one hour at a time. Why had He been there for me? Because, having descended far below depression, He knew exactly what it would be like to be me and to struggle to feel anything.
Despite that comfort, it was difficult for me to get help. One reason was this expectation I had placed on myself that I could just square my shoulders and snap out of it, as any tough, resilient man is expected to do. After three years of unsuccessfully praying that I would be able to just “snap out of it,” I felt the words of Isaiah resonate within me: “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me” (1 Nephi 21:14). Through all of this, however, I remembered the sacred experiences I had had with my Savior in the past, and those memories motivated me to get the help that I knew I needed.
Eventually I got on medication and found friends that listen with love when I feel like I’m struggling to find my way. This is an illness that feeds off isolation, so the more people show love and compassion toward others with internal struggles, the more we will all be blessed with joy and strength to endure. I’ve learned that God is ever-present in my life, even, and perhaps especially, when I feel completely lost and forgotten. I am also learning that, despite stigmas that exist in our culture and society, it is OK to be male and to struggle with mental illness. It is OK to feel completely broken and like there is nowhere to turn but to Christ.
Though it has been difficult to feel the Spirit as I once did, I find my own little markers along His path that remind me of the Savior’s presence and His love in my life. Isaiah continues: “For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me” (1 Nephi 21:15–16).
When I feel lost and abandoned and cannot feel His Spirit and His love, I know that I can at least remember His Spirit and His love. I find peace and strength in knowing that He will not and cannot forget me. He felt what it’s like to be broken like me, and so He is able to succor me. As I continue to muddle my way through this illness, I find comfort and peace in knowing that although the fog may not dissipate entirely, He is always there, reaching through the mist to lift me and to guide me home to Him.