2019
Finding Hidden Blessings in My Anxiety Disorder
November 2019


Finding Hidden Blessings in My Anxiety Disorder

General conference was the light I needed.

Image
woman standing in field of flowers

Me: “It’s such a good day! I’m going to be productive and just think positive thoughts all day. Nothing is standing in my way!”

Anxiety: “But what about all those horrible things you’re afraid of and all those uncertainties in the future, not to mention that embarrassing thing you said seven years ago?”

Me: “… I’m just going to focus on today. Live in the moment! Everything will be fine!”

Anxiety: “But all those bad things that could happen. Remember those? You should really be thinking about those!”

Me: “… But what if those bad things don’t happen?”

Anxiety: “But what if they do?”

Me: “… Well, you do have a point there.”

Anxiety: “Yes, I do. Also, you’re crazy. Have a nice day.”

If my anxiety disorder were a living, breathing being, this conversation (while maybe a bit overdramatized) is one of many I would have every day. If you struggle with your mental health, I’m sure you can relate.

I’ve always been the anxious type. For a long time, I would get so frustrated when everybody’s answer to my whirlwind of thoughts and concerns would be to just “stop worrying.” Because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t. Eventually, I was diagnosed as a teenager with a mixture of generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. And it has continued to stay with me even 14 years later. I’ve accepted that it will probably be a part of me for the rest of my life.

Living with an Anxiety Disorder

My journey with anxiety has been a little messy—as journeys tend to be for those who struggle. I’ve learned so much more about how to manage it better over the years, and I’ve sought treatment. And sometimes there are days when I’m amazed at what I accomplish. But other days I still find myself worrying incessantly about the past, the future, the present, and everything in between. It might sound silly to some. But that’s how anxiety disorders operate—and mine is my constant, annoying, irrational companion.

Lately, because of changes in my life and certain circumstances, my anxiety disorder has been butting in and offering its unwanted opinion on all the things I love and care about deeply (I know, right? It’s so obnoxious.). And although there are certain tools that help me, like medication, practicing mindfulness, talking about it, exercising, journaling, and inviting the Spirit into my life, sometimes I just wonder, why?

With general conference coming up, I thought it would be a great time to ask Heavenly Father specifically for guidance in this area of my life. And as He always does when you exercise faith in Him, He delivered. The messages I heard were the lightbulbs I needed to drive off the darkness. I realized that while mental illness can be such a burden, it can also bring astounding blessings.

Here are a few hidden blessings I’ve discovered in my own experience with anxiety:

  1. A stronger relationship with Heavenly Father. I can tell you honestly that through my journey with anxiety, my relationship with Heavenly Father has been my saving grace. If you choose to seek Him, you will see His hand in your life. When combined with faith and the tools He provides, all struggles—even mental health challenges—give you an opportunity to come closer to Him and realize His absolute love for you (see Jacob 3:1).

  2. Empathy. Through anxiety, I’ve developed a whole new understanding and sense of empathy. As I’ve opened up to friends and even strangers, I’ve felt a deep, special connection with and love for others who are facing difficult challenges. Sister Reyna I. Aburto, Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, expounded on this in general conference, saying, “Because of a ‘thorn in the flesh,’ you may have the ability to feel more compassion toward others. As guided by the Holy Ghost, share your story in order to ‘succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.’”1

  3. Courage. Whether it’s when I am trying something new, adjusting to life changes, or simply speaking up, I’ve always had to rely on Heavenly Father to give me courage in my everyday life. I look back on my brave moments often to remind myself of how much I truly am capable of with His help (see Alma 26:12). Each time you choose to go into battle and face your greatest fears, celebrate those small victories, because they can define your character and show your quiet inner strength.

  4. Christlike attributes. Because anxiety disorders and other mental health struggles aren’t easily defeated, they can bless you with Christlike attributes like long-suffering, patience, and endurance. Because my anxiety can be so loud and obnoxious, it also requires me to invite the Spirit into my daily life and pay close attention to that still, small voice. As I’ve continued to choose to move forward with hope and faith despite my struggles, I’ve felt myself changing. Sister Aburto also taught, “Your struggles do not define you, but they can refine you.”2

  5. A better understanding of the Savior’s Atonement. One day, I sat weeping in the celestial room of the temple. I was filled with uncontrollable worries and hopelessness. I was beyond exhausted and felt so alone. All I wanted was a glimmer of peace. I decided to open a Book of Mormon and randomly flipped to 3 Nephi 11—the account of the Savior visiting the Nephites. When I read about the Nephites touching the prints of the nails in the Savior’s hands, I felt the strongest sense of peace wash over me. My quiet weeping turned into ugly crying (in a good way). I knew in that moment that even if anxiety constantly belittles me and tells me I’m alone, I am not.

In those moments when I think nobody understands how I’m feeling or realizes the unfairness of my anxiety disorder, I am reminded by the Spirit that there is someone who knows exactly what I am going through. The Savior experienced the epitome of unfairness. He lived His life perfectly, all with the purpose of ministering, healing, and teaching. And yet He suffered for every affliction, weakness, sorrow, and sin that everyone ever will and was eventually crucified when He did absolutely no wrong. I know with all my heart that all our challenges, including those with mental health, can give us greater understanding of the Savior’s Atonement and lead us to His healing power.

Healing Will Come

Whatever challenges your mental health struggles have given you, know that you are never alone. There might be days when you wonder why you have to carry such a difficult burden. There may be days when you have a whole buffet of irrational conversations with your anxiety or depression like the one I conveyed earlier. There may be days where the light seems far away. But know that there is hope and there is help. Don’t give up. As Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “As we continually strive to overcome our challenges, God will bless us with the gifts of faith to be healed and of the working of miracles. He will do for us what we are not capable of doing for ourselves.”3

Healing is possible, and it will come. I know this. My anxiety often causes me to remove my limited-perspective goggles and put on my eternal perspective bifocals. When I focus on the bigger picture and the entirety of Heavenly Father’s plan, I know I am so much more than my struggles. I know they have a purpose to make me greater than I ever imagined I could be. An eternal perspective can help you see those hidden treasures in your challenges and within yourself. And help you realize the profound truth that one day, all of your sorrows and darkness will come to a permanent end (see Revelation 21:4). And the conversations we will have on that day will be full of light, hope, and everlasting happiness. Just keep holding on.

Notes

  1. Reyna I. Aburto, “Thru Cloud and Sunshine, Lord, Abide with Me!” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2019, 59.

  2. Reyna I. Aburto, “Thru Cloud and Sunshine, Lord, Abide with Me!” 59.

  3. Ulisses Soares, “Take Up Our Cross,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2019, 114.