Sunday Thoughts: Mental Illness and the Atonement

Today in Relief Society we had a lesson on the Atonement, which is always my favorite.
And the teacher of the lesson wanted to make two specific points in her lesson, the first being that the atonement was personal and the second how it effects those who struggle with mental illnesses. She was talking about Elder Holland’s talk Like a Broken Vessel, which everyone should read.
Both of these subjects are very close to my heart and so obviously I had somethings that I wanted to contribute.
But though I kept raising my hand, she was not seeing me or calling on me. I am an imperfect person and so I was getting really annoyed.
And I hate that! I hate when I get annoyed or angry at church, because that is the opposite of what I am there for.
So I had to take a few seconds to text my sister so I could calm down. I am not suggesting that you should text in church, but in this particular case texting my sister about the situation did help me calm down.

Well, eventually she did call on me, but as I started talking I started crying. And a deep crying where it makes what you are saying not sound like words.
I would like to mention that this is not something that happens to me often, even when I am bearing my testimony.
So, I had to stop talking, because no one came to church to hear my blubbering.
But afterwards when I told my sister that I eventually did get to share, but I started crying (which she was surprised about as well), she asked me if I was able to share what I was wanting to share before I had to stop.
And the truth is I wasn’t able to.
I want to now and I will probably say more than I wanted to earlier since I have an open platform.

Mental illness and the atonement is a subject dear to my heart because I have severe depression.
I have had it since I was 14 years old and it has been a part of my daily life for the past 10 years.
This isn’t something that I normally tell people and even worry about telling people, because I have had people treat me differently when they found out. I have also had people treat me as if I was just being dramatic or that I just needed to stop focusing on myself so much when I told them I have depression.

Our society has gotten so much better about mental illness and there is so much more knowledge about it and the effects of it.
But there is also a lot of ignorance still from the population as a whole. And where there is not ignorance, there it is sometimes trivialized.
Depression is a difficult disorder to talk about because it can happen physically, but it can also be an occurrence in someone’s life due to circumstances.
Someone like me who has chronic depression, it is actual due to my body not producing enough serotonin. Meaning that I can control it as much as I can control not having good eyesight.
It also means that I can brush it off or square my shoulders and be positive as I can brush off the fact that I can’t see far away. Especially while driving.
Someone who is depressed due to their circumstances does have their serotonin levels drop, but chronic depression is actually where it is not producing or being receipted properly in the brain on a continual basis.
And a lot of times that means that I don’t even know why I am depressed. There is no reason. It just is.

I do take medication for this. I know how many people have negative feelings about people taking medication.
But continuing with my eyesight connection, it’s the same as how my glasses take my eyesight to what a regular person’s would be.
My medication doesn’t suddenly make me the happiest person in the world. (Though I am a pretty happy person) And it doesn’t make me feel like a different person than I was before.
It honestly just supplements that serotonin to where I have the same amount as the next person.
And just like the times when I somehow make it all the way out to my car in the morning without glasses and I have to think of what’s wrong, the same thing happens when I don’t take my medication. Although, unfortunately I cannot tell something is wrong until the next day when I have forgotten to take my medication.
But I can physically feel something being off when it is not there.

Why am I spending so much time explaining this?
Because the difficult thing about mental illnesses for most people is the fact that you can’t see there is something wrong.
Unlike when someone breaks their arm or unfortunately has cancer, there are physical signs that manifest that there is a problem happening internally.
But that doesn’t happen with mental illness.
In fact, I have never had someone come up to me and say “Corrie, you’re looking like you have a chemical imbalance upstairs. Are you feeling okay?”
Because there is no physical manifestation, it’s easy to forget that it’s out of someone’s control a lot of the time. And even I have been guilty of being insensitive because of that.
So, I do like to explain the physical side to it, because it illustrates just how real it is to someone who may not understand mental illness.
It’s not just all in our head, pun totally intended.

This brings me back to the Atonement.
Christ had to experience all things to get the full spectrum of the human experience. He literally had to endure everything so that it could be a complete Atonement and he could be a true Savior for his people.

“And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12)

When we talk about him being our Savior and Redeemer, most of us think about him saving us from our sins. We think about him satisfying the demands of justice so that we can return and live with Heavenly Father.
He did do that and that was a major part of the Atonement, but there was also him saving us from the world.
What I mean by that is he descended below all things so that when we are in this mortal experience and lost in our afflictions, whether they are sins, physical, emotional, or mental, he is able to console us and save us from the world.

When I was younger, my mother every year for the first couple of years had to take my sister and I to get shots. Since we were so close in age it only made sense for us to get the shots together.
My older sister, who is coincidentally my best friend, has a very high tolerance for pain and no fear of doctors. I remember multiple times where she would get her shots and be totally un-phased.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I have a low tolerance for pain and when I would get my shot, I would bawl my eyes out.
And every year, my sister who was fine and enjoying a lollipop after would start crying hysterically when she saw me in pain and crying. She was fine and happy, but my pain was unbearable to her and suddenly my mother had two crying children instead of one.

Christ is our Savior, but he is also our older Brother. And just like my sister would have taken the shots for me to prevent my pain, Christ went through the same afflictions as all of us so that he could not only understand our pain, but he could remove our pain as well.
Now, just as it was necessary for me to get my own shots, it is necessary for each of us pass through trials that were personally chosen as something that we can bear.
But Christ also personally bore that trial for each of us.

In Tad R. Callister’s book The Infinite Atonement, he talks about how many believe that each of our individual names went through the Savior’s mind as we atoned for our sufferings. That our perfect older Brother thought of each of us as he bore our sorrows.
Now, this is something that my mortal mind cannot logically grasp, but I also logically cannot see it happening any other way.

The Atonement was the ultimate act of love from a Father and older Brother and it had to cover mental illness just as it needed to cover every other human plight.
Because when I, on some of my darkest days, have wished that I could merge into the walls so that no one would ever have to look at me or think of me again, my older Brother and Redeemer had to know how to show me love through experience with that exact same thought.
And I know for a fact that he did, because I have felt the effects of it.

And that is what I wish I could have conveyed earlier in not so many words.

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