My legs bounced up and down as I sat on the train that would take me to Salt Lake City and, from there, my brand new job. It was September of 2014, and I had just moved away from home to take a position as a writing/editing intern for a lifestyle magazine. I found myself feeling excited and overwhelmed at the change. Within a few months, I had gone from being a stuck college grad with very little to look forward to to having multiple life events hit me all at once. I was in a new city with a new job, attending a new ward, and, at the time, exploring a new relationship, which, out of necessity, became long distance. As I sat on the train that first day, dwelling on all of it with a small smile, I thought, I have the greatest life.
Two weeks later, I had a massive anxiety attack that left me mentally, emotionally, and physically crippled. I couldn’t manage to eat anything and, as a result, lost 10 pounds in a 2-3 week period. For days, I couldn’t get up to leave my house. I would lie in bed and shake and pray for sleep. When I finally got myself to fall asleep, I’d toss and turn in pain. It escalated to the point where, a month after starting my job, I quit and moved back home, desperate for relief. For a short time, relief came, but within a few days, I was mentally right back to where I started.
There were days when I could do nothing more than lie on my couch and stare at the ceiling and beg for the Lord to just end it. I didn’t really care how He did it, only that He did. If I let myself, I’d end up in very dark places where life felt meaningless and where the length of life was so daunting to me that I didn’t want to have to go through it. I felt completely broken and completely alone.
Moving beyond the weight of this particular trial took strength that I did not have and hours of begging for the ability to know how to overcome it. No one seemed to understand the situation I was in, one I later learned was escalated by worry, then false and destructive beliefs I had convinced myself were true. My mind could not bear the burden of these things alone. It took many hours on my knees, many brutal runs and bike rides to fight it off, and many long conversations with people I trusted to move forward and be okay. Occasionally, when I am not careful and avoiding the things that trigger it, anxiety is still a very real trial for me, one I often deal with quietly.
As I think back on the trials of the past year, I find myself reminded of the story in the New Testament about the father who brings his possessed son to the Savior. Do you remember? In the middle of a crowd of people, a father, who I imagine was cradling his son in his arms, speaks up and says, “Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not” (Mark 9:17-18). The father tells the Savior that his son has had this spirit in him his whole life, and that “ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him” (Mark 9:22). He begs the Lord to be compassionate, to which the Lord responds, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). In the most humbling and poignant moment of this story, the father, tears streaming down his face, cries out, “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.”
In my moments of deepest pain and despair, I realize that I am both the son and the father in this story. I am broken and burdened by trials that, frankly, I am not strong enough to get through alone. Like the father, I lay myself before the Savior and beg for help, sometimes so weak that it’s all I can do to muster the faith that He is there and willing. As I’ve come to know in quiet moments, He is always there, and He is always willing. His Atonement gives Him the ability to be both things.
The most humbling thing about the Atonement for me is often not that Christ suffered for all of our sins, though that is incredibly humbling and the overarching purpose of it. Our sins would separate us from our Heavenly Father completely if not for the grace of His son. What Christ was willing to do to eliminate that distance for us is incomprehensibly important. The most humbling thing about the Atonement for me, though, is realizing that, because of it, the Savior knows what it’s like to have anxiety. He knows what it feels like to struggle with mental illness, to fight depression, to go through the hardest mental and emotional trials all of us have ever faced, some which, like those of the young boy, have been with us a lifetime. He has felt every insecurity, every ounce of defeat or darkness, and every crippling worry we have ever had and will ever have. And he did it twice. A good friend once told me that when Christ was left entirely alone on the cross to bear the pain of living without his Father’s presence, he must have again known how it felt to be burdened by mental and emotional anguish, by deep depression. His whole purpose, life, and motivation was his Father. Can you imagine the darkness he must have felt to face those last moments without Him?
My anxiety has taught me that Christ is infinitely compassionate. I have no idea how he could carry my burdens along with every burden anyone has ever had, or how it could even be worth it for him. To be willing to do what he did, you would have to selflessly, endlessly love someone. The crazy thing is that he feels that way about all of us.
Trials are difficult, and often, they are crippling. Often, they leave us convinced that we are alone and that there is no way out. Like the father, desperate for help and relief, we forget that there is a way: that way is Jesus Christ. He is the only one who knows exactly what we feel and has promised to be with us every step of the way. I can’t help but think of the joy and relief we will feel one day when, if we’ve done what he’s asked us to do and believe in him, we will be healed of all the things that hurt, cleansed of all the darkness that gets in. We, like the child in Mark, will be completely set free. Our task, until then, is to believe in Christ, and believe Christ. When he says he is the way, he means it.
The scope of the Savior’s love goes beyond my anxiety, beyond your trials, and beyond the heartache of this life. We are always healable, and he, because he loves us, is always there waiting to heal us, even if it takes one stumbling step at a time. The darkest of nights cannot keep him away. We need only have faith in him.