2020
What Mental Illness Taught Me about Who I Am

“What Mental Illness Taught Me about Who I Am,” Ensign, September 2020

Digital Only: Young Adults

What Mental Illness Taught Me about Who I Am

Only one label truly matters.

Conversation

All growing up, I struggled with my mental health. I was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and depression, but I never told anyone the details. I never told anyone that I was often hearing voices and seeing things that nobody else did. I was worried about what they might think.

When I returned from my mission early because of my issues with mental health, I realized I needed to get help. So I set up an appointment with a psychiatrist. I made a plan to tell her only that I needed to get off the medication I had been taking for depression because it was making my symptoms worse.

But the Lord had different plans for that day.

When I stepped into the psychiatrist’s office, I felt the strongest sense of peace. My parents and I had been praying that the doctor would be inspired to help me and that I would be able to get things figured out. And I wasn’t sure why, but I felt that I was finally going to receive answers.

What I thought would be a quick appointment turned into a two-hour interview as the doctor asked me questions that struck me very personally. I was nervous, but the Spirit whispered, “This is the time to be honest. You can trust her.”

Taking deep breaths, I answered each question, feeling more and more comfortable with every answer. Finally, the doctor calmly said to me, “You have schizoaffective disorder.” She explained that it’s a cross between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I could not believe it.

“Schizophrenia?” I thought. “No way!” I immediately thought of supervillains and people locked up in straitjackets—those were the only types of people I thought could have schizophrenia. Horrified, I thought, “How am I ever going to tell my parents?” and “What will people think of me if they find out?” But the peace I felt from the Spirit persisted, and I heard it whisper once again, “This is right. You can trust her.”

Finding Healing

Initially, I was terrified of letting people know. Not only did I have these problems, but now I had this label—one that would probably make people think of insane criminals! But time passed, and gradually I learned to accept that I have this condition, just as someone diagnosed with cancer or diabetes must accept theirs.

I’ve come to realize that labels—even scary-sounding ones—don’t define me. I’m still the same Courtney I was before I was diagnosed. Now I just understand the problems I face a little better. Just because I have a name for my condition now doesn’t change the way I’ve lived my life. It doesn’t change my worth, and it doesn’t change everything I’ve accomplished.

Today I can honestly say that I’ve been blessed by this experience. I have seen miracles come about because of my willingness to be honest and thanks to the treatment I’ve received. My paranoia and panic attacks have significantly lessened. I don’t hear voices in my head anymore, and I can walk around my house at night without being haunted by hallucinations. I’d never trade the healing that I am experiencing for the secrecy I once had about these challenges.

Only One Label Matters

I know that the Lord truly knows what we need and when we need it. Sometimes we just have to be brave enough to reach for the tools He has provided for us. I believe that the Lord extended His mercy to guide me to that specific doctor at that specific time. It was nothing short of a blessing.

I’m grateful for my struggles because they have given me the opportunity to learn how deeply Heavenly Father loves each of us—simply because we are His children. He knows us. And He knows what we have to go through to become more than we are now. I’m learning that no matter what we face or what our unique experiences are, Heavenly Father loves us all. And we can share love with each other as well! The only label that truly matters is this one: that we are each a child of heavenly parents. And because of that, we all have inherent, eternal value (see Doctrine and Covenants 18:10).

I know now that there is no shame in struggling with your mental health or getting help. One day we will all be resurrected with perfect bodies and minds, and on that day we will better see ourselves and others as God does (see Alma 11:43–44). Whatever challenges you are facing today, please pray to God for peace, hope, and an understanding of who you truly are. Because He loves you, He will give you the answers you need in His own way and time.