A History of Mental Illness: Go and Sin No More

This is a series about my history of mental illness.  Please read the introduction for more information.

Puberty is rarely kind to any teenager, and my mental state definitely took a hit.

While sitting in church one day, the thought came that all my angst must be religion-related.  It was my sinful nature that led to all my disturbing thoughts and dreams.  So I made an appointment with my bishop.  He was very kind and told me to continue my prayers, attending meetings, and reading my scriptures.  So I did.

What started out as following helpful (if not completely wise) advice became an obsession. I would pray multiple times a day, asking for forgiveness.  If I made the tiniest mistake, I would hurriedly send up a forgiveness prayer and hope God would listen.  I soon started to write out my sins so that I wouldn’t forget any during the day and have a mass repentance session at night. I would read the scriptures and find more ways I could better myself which led to adding more things to my “sin” list (as I wasn’t perfecting traits like charity, service, sacrifice, fast enough) and an overwhelming amount of guilt.

I felt guilty for EVERYTHING I did: angry thoughts, mean thoughts, whispering expletives, eating too much or too little, accidentally ignoring a friend, saying something wrong, defending myself, literally everything that I could construe as wrong and/or against what God would want.  If I didn’t serve enough, serve with the right attitude, respond to my siblings in a loving manner, or do things I considered Christ-like, I felt my spirit darkening and hurriedly repented to avoid the guilt, but the guilt came anyway.

Unfortunately, since I tended to commit the same “sins” over and over again, I started feeling guilty for having to repent for those same sins and wondered if I was going to be forgiven after all.  I mean, prophets and others have spoken about the repentance process ending once you stopped sinning.

On top of the incessant guilt and compulsive praying and repenting, I started feeling physical symptoms.  I remember one specific experience in which I was so worried about a school project I had to complete and turn in the next morning that I woke up with an intense pain in my stomach. It was so bad that I could not move and started sobbing.  My parents did not know whether to take me to the ER or a psyche unit.  My dad gave me a blessing, which calmed me down, and they sent me to bed to relax.  It helped.  But this scene was repeated often over my middle and high school years—I would worry over an assignment or having to talk to friends the next day, or a test, and my stomach would respond.

With all my worries, I started sweating.  Since I was already easily embarrassed and embarrassed that I was easily embarrassed, and sure that everyone was looking at me and talking about me, this made it all worse.  I mean, to sweat constantly is an immediate faux pas in middle and high school and you can bet people said things.  Of course, if I could have stopped worrying for one minute I would have stopped sweating, but you can imagine the cycle: worry – sweat – worry more – sweat more – increased embarrassment – and on and on and on.

The specific worries—beyond school and spirituality—I faced daily were death, divorce, incurable diseases, natural disasters, etc.

The most interesting part, though, was how good I became at hiding my worries.  My parents knew (I think) but I kept all my worries to myself.  I would wear a mask of happiness, friendliness, and perkiness so that people would not see the crazy inside.  I knew that my fears were odd and my worries over the top, but I could not stop them.  I felt out of control, except for in my ability to hide my true emotions, and the self-mutilation.

I didn’t cut myself with knives or anything (though the thought crossed my mind), but I would scratch my arms and legs to help me stop thinking.  If I weren’t so worried about people finding out, especially authority figures (parents, teachers, church leaders, etc), and thinking all sorts of things about me, I am sure I would have turned to different mutilation mediums.  Luckily (I think), I was too worried about being put in a mental hospital or something similar that I limited it to scratching. (But don’t underestimate the power of my nails; they were very sharp and long.)

I felt so lost and completely out of control.

Continue on to Part Three

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7 Comments

Filed under Month of Instrospection

7 responses to “A History of Mental Illness: Go and Sin No More

  1. Here. Listening. And sending you love.

  2. Holly

    Amber,
    I wish I could have been there for you more when we were in High School. We were both suffering in our own ways and we could have really helped each other. Unfortunately we were both trying to seem perfect and “normal” to those around us. I wish you all the best now and I’m sending good vibes your way.
    -Holly

  3. The need for an impossible attainment of perfection drives so many of us. (There is no perfection. Why don’t we get that?)

    But your compulsions and worries as a child run so much deeper, as you are unveiling your story. I wish there were a way to reach out and offer a simple touch – to tell you that we care and that we’re listening. We all hide so much out of fear, when opening up could ease the pain – at least a bit.

  4. Pingback: A History of Mental Illness: An Introduction | Making the Moments Count

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