As we come upon Thanksgiving here in the United States, my husband thought I should a post about why I was grateful for my OCD. It seems almost wrong, though, to be grateful for something like a mental illness. Perhaps it comes down to the fact that while I’m not grateful for the OCD itself, I am thankful for the things I’ve learned and the person I’ve become as a result (direct or indirect) of the OCD.
Of course, there are definitely traits and habits that I’ve gained as a result of having OCD that I am not grateful for and that have not really improved or made my life better. Most of the time, having a mental illness (or a physical illness) is not great, nor does it improve the quality of our lives. But perhaps there are still aspects of having illnesses that allow us to feel gratitude or change things about ourselves and our attitudes.
Turn to the Lord
In the most recent general conference, Bishop W. Christoper Waddell gave a talk entitled, “Turn to the Lord.” There are a few points in this talk that I think relate well to this discussion.
Near the beginning of his talk, Bishop Waddell talks about Hyrum Shumway, who lost his eyesight in the WWII. Rather than be depressed, Hyrum chose to continue to live his life and help others who were blind. He got married, had a family, and “worked for 32 years as the State Director of Education for the Deaf and Blind,” in addition to serving in the Church.
One thing that my OCD allowed me to do is raise awareness about OCD and mental health care. Like Hyrum, I decided to use my “challenge” to try and bless and help the lives of others who were in similar circumstances. Starting this blog and writing my book have been distinct blessings and opportunities that I would not have had if I had not discovered that I suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, now I am able to meet so many others and encourage people to get help and keep going!
Bishop Waddell said, “In this mortal experience, we cannot control all that happens to us, but we have absolute control over how we respond to the changes in our lives. This does not imply that the challenges and trials we face are of no consequence and easily handled or dealt with. It does not imply that we will be free from pain or heartache. But it does mean that there is cause for hope and that due to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can move forward and find better days—even days full of joy, light, and happiness.”
I appreciate that he didn’t downplay that life will be hard or that our trials really “aren’t that bad.” Because sometimes our trials really are that bad. There are times when we don’t know what to do or how to do it. It’s often during these times that we feel abandoned by Heavenly Father but really should seek His counsel even more fervently.
Bishop Waddell then reminded us of the story of the serpent and the children of Israel. In 1 Nephi 17:41, it says, “He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.”
I think we often like to read this story or others like it and say to ourselves, “I can’t believe they didn’t look! I would’ve looked. I wouldn’t have been so hard hearted.”
But Bishop Waddell then said, “In these latter days, the Lord has provided us with numerous resources, our “brazen serpents,” all of which are designed to help us look to Christ and place our trust in Him. Dealing with the challenges of life is not about ignoring reality but rather where we choose to focus and the foundation upon which we choose to build.” He listed a few of these “brazen serpents,” the last two of which I found personally applicable: “Wise counseling through trained professionals. And even medication, when properly prescribed and used as authorized.”
How true is that? How often do people think that prayers or simply being more righteous will take away their emotional or mental health problems? But the Lord provided care for us, and we need to remember not to be prideful and turn away from the Lord’s answers that have already been provided, thinking that it is too “easy” or “simple” and therefore not the answer for us.
I’m grateful that my husband encouraged me to get appropriate care and continues to do so. Having OCD has reminded and taught me that it’s okay not to have all the answers. Sometimes we need to search outside of ourselves and even our church leaders to find help and answers. Professional care isn’t anything of which we should be ashamed, and I’m glad to have learned that lesson and to be able to share it with others.
In addition to these things, my experience with mental illness has taught me that I have a voice. I have opinions. I can change and develop and decide what I believe personally. Going through the battle to regain myself from my own mind/OCD helped me gain confidence in myself and my abilities. I learned that I can make my own choices and deal with whatever happens if my choices aren’t the perfect or correct ones. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to conform to a certain standard or expectation. I can be myself and find myself and change myself. I can stand up for others and decide what I think and how to act. In these ways, having OCD and realizing that I could “battle” it and win gave me my life back—but not just the life I had before my OCD got bad—it gave me a new, better, life. I earned that life, and I still create it each day.