Sometimes I’ve thought that religion is a double-edged sword for people with mental illness. It can be a great strength, or it can cause even more damage. Without proper understanding of religion it can make you feel even worse about yourself. For me, however, it has been the former—the greatest source of strength I have. Since I can only speak from my own experience, it would be wrong of me not to talk about the role my beliefs have played in my life.
About a year ago there was a lesson in Relief Society (a class where the women of my church meet to learn more about the gospel of Jesus Christ) about overcoming trials. I almost got up and left before it even started because I knew it would be a struggle to sit through. It’s hard to explain, but for most of my life I have felt different than other members of my religion. It’s not that I don’t believe in it, because I absolutely do. I just tend to have different viewpoints and experiences than most of the things I hear others sharing at church. This was one of those things. It took every ounce of strength I had to keep the tears in, even as my gut clenched and heart ached as I listened to women talking about their experiences in overcoming difficulties in their lives. It was hard because I don’t believe that you do always overcome trials. Sometimes it’s simply about survival—living with or getting through, not over.
The next week, I thought about the greatest trial or difficulty in life—my mental illness. It is not something I have overcome or conquered like a person summiting Mountain Everest. It is something I live with and deal with on a daily basis, and at times, I haven’t been sure I would live through it. It is so difficult and so very, very lonely. So I asked myself how it was that I was still here—still alive to ponder all of these things. The answer was easy. For me, it comes through my religious beliefs. Jesus Christ’s Atonement. The truth is that I’m not alone. When I start thinking about how no one else understands what I’m going through, how no one is there for me the way they are for others, I remember that Christ knows exactly what I’m going through because He has been through it too. His Atoning sacrifice allowed Him to feel everything I feel, to experience everything I experience, to know everything I know. It does not heal me or take my illness away, it doesn’t even make it so that I overcome my trial, but it does bring me comfort, and that is huge. Knowing that He went through all that pain for me as an individual, knowing that He understands, brings me the greatest sense of comfort, and that is what allows me to continue surviving this life and all of its difficulties. Having that peace and comfort keeps me alive. And for that, I am so incredibly grateful.