Q: For six years I have wrestled with depression and anxiety—a totally polar opposite of who I used to be. Because of the feelings of being a failure, worthless, guilt, etc. I also feel unworthy of being loved and almost offended when my wife and children express it. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
A: My sympathies for this immensely heavy trial. Depression and anxiety are burdens that no one asks for. Often they cannot simply be overcome through faith and willpower, regardless of what well-meaning loved ones try to tell you. The fact is, the Lord doesn’t remove every affliction and trying hard doesn’t take away the crippling feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, and terror.
Mental illness is not a sign of weakness in any way. It is not the result of sinfulness or choice. It is a cross to carry, a thorn in the flesh to endure and to overcome as much as possible through faith in the Savior and getting professional help. It is that combination, reliance on Christ and reaching out to experts for support, that I’ve seen be most effective in treating anxiety and depression.
Christ knows your pain. He can comfort and strengthen you.
We read in Alma that Christ experienced our “pains and afflictions” as well as “our infirmities.” This certainly describes depression and anxiety. He walked your path and fought your fight. And why did He do it? So that “his bowels may be filled with mercy . . . that he may know according to the flesh how to succor [give assistance and support to] his people” (Alma 7:11-12).
Jesus knows exactly what you’re going through. Turn to Him. The process of atoning not only saw Him suffering for our sins and overcoming death, it also saw Him willingly going through our trials so He could have empathy. It empowered Him to know precisely how to help us by experiencing what we experience.
Why you suffer anxiety and depression.
You noted that you feel unworthy. Is this the result of sin? If so, go through the repentance process now. Don’t delay. It will lift much of your burden.
If that feeling of unworthiness, however, is not caused by sin but by simply experiencing anxiety and depression, know that you are not unworthy. Your mental health concerns were not given to you to punish you. Like any trial, they exist in part to help refine you and to teach you reliance on God. They also exist to make you more compassionate and able to help others going through similar trials.
Just as the Savior knows your pains (and how to help you) because of Gethsemane, you from your experience with anxiety and depression will know how to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). God means to use you to bless the lives of others.
Remember the story of the man born blind? Christ was asked who sinned, the man or his parents, that the man should be so afflicted. Jesus answered that “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:3).
As trite as it may sound, your anxiety and depression exist in part “that the works of God should be made manifest” in you. How can you reach out to others like you? How can your struggles benefit them? You may have counsel to give, or maybe empathy to offer.
There’s no need for guilt.
You mentioned feeling guilty. Guilt is for things we choose and can change. Otherwise it serves no purpose and does not come from God. Guilt that is focused on you as a person, on things you didn’t choose, or on things you cannot change shames you, brings you down, and accomplishes the purposes of the adversary.
You didn’t choose depression and anxiety. While you can work to manage and overcome symptoms, it’s often the case that the fight goes on. As long as you’re doing what you can and pushing yourself, there’s no need for guilt.
You are not a failure.
You’re carrying a burden that many others don’t carry. You think back on what you used to be able to accomplish and who you used to be. It makes you feel weak and pathetic now. But you’re carrying a weight, a very real one I might add, that you weren’t carrying before. Regular tasks and accomplishing goals are made far heavier by the weight.
Look at it this way. Imagine everyone around you is eating cereal freely, but you’ve been tasked with eating it with a heavy metal weight strapped to your wrist. The task becomes harder, but you’d not see yourself as weak for struggling to do what others do easily. This is because it’s not about the task, it’s about the weight. Your best effort on any given day, no matter how small relative to what you used to be able to do, makes you a success.
You are not worthless.
Your worth is eternal. I challenge you to see yourself as God sees you. If He were present and we could see Him and I asked Him why He loves you, He wouldn’t say, “Because I’m God so I love everybody.” He’d list thousands of things He appreciates and adores about you. If you feel worthless it’s because you’re not seeing yourself as He does. Pray for help to be able to. Study your patriarchal blessing to understand your individuality and eternal worth.
Let others love you.
I’ve heard people say that you can’t love others until you love yourself. I think that’s utterly false. I know people who despise themselves who adore their family and friends. What you can’t do, however, is let others love you. If you don’t love yourself, if you loathe yourself and see yourself as a failure, you won’t internalize the affection they show you. You won’t believe in it. So they feel like they’re trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom. No matter how much love they put in, in leaks out the other side.
Recognize that your family aren’t liars, crazy, or idiots. If they love you, they have their reasons. Believe in them. Challenge your negative self-thoughts with positive ones. Admit your imperfections while admitting your strengths as well. We’re all broken. We’re all flawed. We’re all beautiful. We’re all God’s.
Let others help you.
Far too often in our faith we readily help others but refuse to let others help us. Remember the Lord’s example. He let Simon help carry the cross. He let the angel comfort HIm in Gethsemane. He let the woman anoint Him and wash His feet. He didn’t turn them away.
Allow your family and friends to love you, serve you, and lift you without handing them responsibility for your happiness. Ask for the support of your bishop, your elder’s quorum president, or your Relief Society president. Let your ministers know you need support.
Seek professional help with your anxiety and depression. As Elder M. Russell Ballard recently pleaded, “If you have a question that requires an expert, please take the time to find a thoughtful and qualified expert to help you. . . . This is exactly what I do when I need an answer to such questions: I seek help from others, including those with degrees and expertise in such fields” (“Questions and Answers,” BYU Devotional, November 17, 2017).
Most importantly, again, turn to the Savior. He will not abandon you. You may be called to pass through trials you’d rather avoid, but He will give you strength. From time to time He will follow through on the promise made to Alma and his people: “I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs . . . and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:14).
God bless you. If there’s anything I can do to help, I’m here.