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For those of you who don’t know, I’m a Mormon. I don’t normally talk much about it, simply because it’s not usually that relevant to what I’m writing about.
Every six months, the church has a conference where we get to listen to the prophet and apostles speak. It’s an edifying experience every time and somehow, whatever issue I’ve been wrestling with at the time, I’ll have new insight on the issue after watching.
There was one conference, however, where one of the messages made my heart drop.
It was David O. McKay speaking, and he talked about the importance of controlling your thoughts.
“Your thoughts are the architects of your destiny,” he said.
It’s a harmless idea, powerful even… but it terrified me.
You see, I’ve had real struggles controlling my thoughts. At the most innocuous of times, disturbing thoughts will come to the forefront of my mind and stubbornly refuse to leave. They’ll play over and over, and I have trouble thinking about anything else.
The thoughts are anything from persistent “what-if’s?” to terrible stories I’ve heard in the news or in my past work, or even those I’ve heard from my husband from his career in law enforcement.
Sometimes they’d come in the middle of the day, sometimes they’d come as I was trying to fall asleep. Sometimes they were bad enough I had to listen to scriptures or a conference talk to feel safe enough to fall asleep.
I couldn’t make them stop, I couldn’t make them go away, and I couldn’t predict when they’d come.
The thoughts scared me and made me burn with shame. I didn’t want anyone to know how much I struggled, or the things I thought about.
So the idea that my thoughts are the architects of my destiny? That terrified me.
What kind of destiny was I preparing myself for with these persistent, awful thoughts?
I have faith in God. I know He doesn’t present us with any struggles we can’t overcome with His help. I knew that that particular conference talk terrified me for a reason – because I wasn’t addressing that particular struggle, and I needed to turn to Him.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’d pray occasionally to get a particular thought out of my head, but I didn’t pray for a solution to the thoughts overall. I guess until I heard that phrase, my struggle didn’t seem particularly out of the ordinary. After all, I just didn’t talk about it – so I assumed others were probably like me, and just didn’t want to talk about it, either.
So that night, and many nights after, I got on my knees and prayed my heart out. I asked for help controlling my thoughts and making the terrible thoughts go away.
At that point, I felt like I needed to listen to another conference talk. So I looked it up, and it was everything I needed to hear.
If you don’t have time to watch it right now (I highly suggest you do!), here’s the highlight:
“Though we may feel we are “like a broken vessel,” as the Psalmist says,10 we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter.”
I sobbed uncontrollably while listening to this talk. It made me realize that I’m not alone, that I’m not broken beyond repair, and that there is still hope.
Though my thoughts may control my destiny, with His help, I can be more in control of my thoughts.
I’m writing this because, well, I’m scared to! I don’t really want to admit I’ve struggled with this. But I know that if I don’t talk about my struggles and how God intervened, I’m being selfish. I’m taking the opportunity away from someone else to learn from my story and gain strength from it.
So if you’re dealing with anxiety right now, there are some things I want you to know.
They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, and it’s absolutely true. You have to admit you have a problem to start fixing it.
Admit it to God. Pray to Him and acknowledge that you need His help, and that you’ll humbly accept whatever direction He needs you to go in.
Admit it to your spouse. Even if you don’t want to go into detail, help them to understand that you’re struggling and need their support.
In admitting you have a problem, it takes a lot of the power away from the problem. The devil thrives in darkness – so shedding a light on the issue helps take his power away.
Also, remember the thoughts are just thoughts. They’re not predictions, they’re not visions, they’re not what’s inevitably going to happen to you or those you love. They’re thoughts, and they have no power unless you allow them to have power.
When they come into your mind, acknowledge them, rather than trying to push them away. It’s kind of like if someone tells you, “don’t think about a white bear.” What are you going to think about? A white bear.
So rather than feeling ashamed by the thought and saying, “Don’t think about that!”, recognize that it’s just a thought, and that it will pass. By trying to resist it, you’ll end up thinking on it more.
And trust me – I know this one is easier said than done. It takes practice but you’ll get there!
Also, don’t be ashamed to seek professional help. I wish I had done so earlier. In fact, I started Zoloft only because of what was termed “reactive depression” after my husband lost his job, and it relieved my anxiety, too. My thoughts are much easier to control and don’t terrify me to the same degree.
My doctor asked if I’d like to try counseling, but I find counseling doesn’t work for me personally: it makes me dwell on the issues more than I would otherwise. But if counseling is something you want to try, don’t be ashamed! And if you’ve never tried it, give it a shot: after all, if you want something you’ve never had, you’ll have to try something you’ve never done before.
Most of all, don’t feel like you’re the only one.
You’d be surprised how many people around you are silently suffering. People constantly tell me they admire my good attitude and upbeat personality – but most have no idea I struggle with anxiety and depression.
There is always hope. There are better days to come if you seek help.