Steadfast in Christ Through My Storms

by Ariane Packer
When I was 25 years old my husband was called to serve as the bishop of our ward. I was young and inexperienced. While my husband served as the bishop I experienced my first bout of major depression. I did not want anyone to find out. I felt so humiliated and weak. The wife of other bishops seemed to be so strong; and then there was me. At the current time, I was not aware of any who had struggles like mine.

What I didn't realize to begin with is that depression didn't mean I was weak or inadequate, it meant that I was dealing with the trial of a mental disorder. The effects of this trial started to take a toll on my family, particularly my husband. He knew of the seemingly black hole that I was in, and he felt torn between the sacred role of a husband and the important role of a bishop. He recognized that we needed some additional help to get our family through this trial.

He told the Relief Society presidency of my struggles and they were so kind, loving, understanding, and were very instrumental in helping me make it through the darkness of that bout of depression. This was a very humbling experience for me but one that marked the beginning of my willingness to begin to share with others my trial of mental illness.

A few years after my first bout of clinical depression, I again was faced with the battle of depression. However, this time it was more severe than my first bout. As I experienced some of my darkest moments in the midst of depression, my emotions, feelings, and thoughts were distorted, making it difficult to feel the precious gift of the Holy Ghost and the constant and unconditional love of our Father in Heaven and our Savior, Jesus Christ. At times I felt numb as I sat in church meetings or listened to spiritual messages. I knew that I had a knowledge and testimony of these things, but I had a difficult time feeling the warmth and confirmation of the Holy Ghost.

Because I also struggled with anxiety in addition to the depression, it became a battle for me to get myself to church. I had a fear of having to be with and socialize with others. In addition to that, I had the heartbreaking and devastating thought that I was not loved by my Father in Heaven and Savior. I felt like I was a disappointment.

During this severe episode of depression and anxiety I was serving as the first counselor in the ward Relief Society presidency. There were some Sundays when it was my turn to conduct the meetings, or teach a lesson, or oversee a Relief Society weekday activity, and I was not capable of doing so. I was very aware that there were other ladies within my ward who were more capable of serving in that calling than I was, especially in the current situation I was in. 

However, I was blessed to serve with a very amazing, compassionate, and inspired Relief Society President who continued to put her trust in me and who became a very instrumental part in guiding me in the direction I needed to continue to heal. I have since realized there was great wisdom in allowing me to continue to serve in the Relief Society Presidency.

Although I struggled to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost and the love of the Lord as the result of mental illness, I discovered blessings and gained additional knowledge and testimony that I otherwise would not have experienced. Because I had a solid testimony before this particular trial, I was better prepared to remain steadfast in Christ as I faced the storm. 

I had a testimony of the truthfulness of the teachings of the church, of the Book of Mormon, of Joseph Smith and a living prophet on the Earth today, and of course a testimony of the reality of a living God and a Savior who provided for each and everyone of us the gift of the Atonement. Because I had previously gained that testimony and worked on strengthening it, when I was in the position of not being fully capable of feeling the Spirit, I still knew and recognized the things that I needed to do to maintain that knowledge and testimony. 

Having that knowledge did not make my suffering suddenly subside, but it did provide me with the understanding of the importance of remaining steadfast in Christ, which in turn kept me putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward as best as I could.

During this time, I also had additional experiences that I would consider "tender mercies of the Lord." I have an amazing husband who continually encouraged me and reminded me of my worth and goodness. I had an inspired and loving bishop who helped me to understand that the Lord chose this trial for me personally, and that there was a purpose for it. I also have a wonderful counselor at LDS Family Services who has helped me to work through some very dark times and who also has helped me to recognize that there is a purpose and a need for me to learn from this mental trial. 

All of these experiences in addition to others, have helped me to be able to recognize the love of the Lord, even when at times I was not fully capable of feeling it. How grateful I am for compassionate and understanding people, and for experiences that have allowed me to continue to overcome this personal trial.

Elder Jefferey R. Holland said: 
"Because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so. His solitary journey brought great company for our little version of that path—the merciful care of our Father in Heaven, the unfailing companionship of this Beloved Son, the consummate gift of the Holy Ghost, angels in heaven, family members on both sides of the veil, prophets and apostles, teachers, leaders, friends. All of these and more have been given as companions for our mortal journey because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His gospel. Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are. Truly the Redeemer of us all said: “I will not leave you comfortless: [My Father and] I will come to you [and abide with you].” ("None Were With Him")

I too testify of Elder Holland's words. As a result of my experiences with clinical depression, I have a renewed understanding of the importance of building our foundation on Jesus Christ our Savior, and of continually striving to remain steadfast in Christ. Although depression continues to be a struggle that I deal with, I know that as I work daily on emulating the Savior, my testimony will continue to grow and be strengthened, and when I am faced with the storms of adversity I will be able to press forward, having a knowledge of the love of God and the truthfulness of His gospel.