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Understanding panic disorder, agoraphobia and OCD

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20 2013 10:00 a.m. MST

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Dave D
Pocatello, ID

I remember going to the LDS institute at UVU for a meeting about mental illness for all leaders in the area. Elder Morrison spoke, along with several experts. It was truly eye-opening for me. I wondered after that meeting how many times I had been rash or too-quick-to-judge when it came to my church service. This piece was another great reminder of just how important it is to become better-informed about these very real issues. Thank you to the author.

Mom of Six
Northern Utah, UT

The easiest method to help others who suffer is to "judge not". You never know why people are doing what they do until you get all the facts. I also find it ironic that people somehow dismiss mental illness as something you just need to "get over", or the classic..."they must be listening to the wrong spirit". We would never dream of saying the same thing to someone who has cancer or diabetes. Thank you for a well written article.

Utes Fan
Salt Lake City, UT

Thank you. I suffer from severe depression. Not just depression. But "severe" depression. The stigma associated with mental illness is breaking up, fortunately. The "just get over it" or "you are listening to the wrong spirit" was so 1980s. Unfortunately, it still exists today, but in my opinion not as much. Not to mention that critics of the Church add to the stigma, with their incessant accusation that being Mormon causes the mental illness. However, every professional (LDS and non-LDS) therapist that has evaluated me has determined that it is genetically-based.

The George Albert Smith example is excellent. I find myself needing to "get away" frequently. Sometimes people and myself add to the guilt when I want a day of fly fishing to myself, but I always go back to my mental illness and so I do it whenever I need it.

Scott H
Ogden, UT

My son came home from his mission just a few weeks after his departure, suffering from problems somewhat similar to those described by the author. We hoped for a quick 'recovery,' but it has not worked out that way. Like the author, my son has competent medical and ecclesiastical help. Even as a concerned and empathetic parent, it is challenging to understand my son's needs, capabilities, and limitations. For example, it's difficult to know when urging him to make a little extra effort to attend church is too much for him on a given Sunday. Both he and we are struggling to adjust our expectations to his fluctuating condition. Ward members (including home teachers) have been kind and helpful. I am grateful that general understanding of mental health issues is expanding.

Truthseeker
SLO, CA

"Love unconditionally; seek to understand; act with kindness. It's the solution to dealing with those with mental illness, but it's the very core of the gospel itself."

Amen
Not just for the mentally ill--but for everyone. Love thy neighbor as thyself.

It takes great courage to reveal personal struggles. Thank you for opening yourself up and telling your story. I strongly believe we can learn from each other--and use that knowledge to become more Christ-like.

fonu1
CEDAR CITY, UT

I experience OCD and my Sundays can be difficult also, because my obsessions are about whether or not there is a God,whether God hates me, how the universe was created, and what really happens to us after we die. I obsess on whether or not life has meaning. Well-intentioned members of the church (who don't understand OCD) think I should turn to the scriptures for my answers, pray, or get a blessing for comfort, when all that does is trigger guilt or shame because although those strategies are reasonable and may work for many, they don't make my obsessions disappear. My OCD is managed with medication, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy has been immeasurably helpful to my understanding that this is a brain disorder. I have learned mindfulness--being present and accepting whatever thoughts and feelings come to me, knowing that I am obsessing, and can choose the thoughts and feelings to which I give my attention and act upon. I commit to living my life in spite of the OCD. I attend church and actively participate. It has taken years of practice, but I've achieved a level of peace I would not have thought possible.

Leader31
Mesa, AZ

Thanks for the article. I experience symptoms of panic and anxiety and can relate to your feelings of wanting to escape while in church or at the temple. Before having experienced it I would have been one of those insensitive persons that says that it isn't real. Now, I realize it's not that easy.

However, I don't fully agree with some things you said or implied. While I think that some persons are pre-disposed, or more apt to have panic disorder, I don't think that it is something that you are born with and must accept and have it define you for the rest of your life.

For instance, you state, "No one gives a pneumonia patient a book about how to think happy thoughts in order to cure their pneumonia." Anxiety isn't a disease that you can contract like pneumonia. That isn't a good comparison. And having a book on how to think happy thoughts actually can help. I am reading a book that does exactly that. It is a program that has helped a lot where I am training myself to learn to deal with panic and diminish its effects.

Leader31
Mesa, AZ

To learn to deal with anxiety I purposely put myself in situations where I experience anxiety to show myself that my fears are misguided and there is no real danger. I am going to the temple every week and sitting in the middle of the row to get more of a feeling of being trapped. It is difficult at times, but I get through it. Giving into these unfounded fears and letting them dictate your actions, or using them as an excuse or a crutch only makes panic worse. Learning to change your negative thoughts and behaviors makes a huge difference, and it is possible. We always have free agency and God will not tempt us above that we are able to bear, we can choose to not give into feelings of fear.

I hope I don't appear insensitive to those who have experienced worse conditions than I have. I only state this because want to let people know they can get through it as well. These intense thoughts and feelings are real, however, they can be managed. We can go on to do incredible things and live happy, normal lives.

larri3
Farmington, UT

I have had friends with mental illness or personality disorders. Some of them have told me that I'm their only friend or their best friend. Now, it's not that I spend a lot of time with them or constantly think about them or anything like that; it's because I care about them and are willing to help them when they need help. I also invite them to go on drives when I have errands to run, and sometimes I will take part in their hobbies. This doesn't take an awful lot of time. Mostly it takes a genuine concern about them. Sure, there are times I wish I wasn't bothered by some of these friends; they can be awfully needy at time and will often phone when I don't have time. But when I see these friends in the next life, I'm confident they will be cured of their disorders and will thank me for the little things I have done to ease their burdens. After all, I am not perfect, either, and I can only hope that others will see past my shortcomings, too.

Dreamy
Mesa, AZ

Dear Br. Wells,

First of all I'd like to tell you how much I enjoy your books. Second, I'd like to share an idea for you about the temple. I don't struggle with mental illness, but I do have a physical situation that makes temple attendance difficult for me--namely as I get older I overheat easily. As such it's just too warm for me in the temple. I just suffer when I go. What I have found is that I can handle doing sealings. Have you tried that? You can do them for as long or as short a time as you can handle, you can sit near the door if you're not directly participating and if you need to be constantly participating you can ask the sealer to allow you to participate in several sealings at once and then take your leave. It really has been a blessing for me to participate that way vs. trying to sit through a session. If you haven't tried that, maybe it would be a good alternative for you?

heidi ho
Fort Collins, CO

I suffered from anxiety and OCD for many years. I still have issues with it. I have the natural supplement inositol very helpful. However, going to a good 12 step group like Al-Anon and Overeaters anonymous, has done miraculous things for me. I have worked the 12 steps and gotten through a lot of the anxieties that were related to childhood sexual abuse. I tried to talk to my family about it but was told "don't bring up things that may or may not have happened". I have worked on resentments and fears and talked to my sponsors who are not LDS but very Christian and loving in working through my issues. I can now drive in busy traffic, go to the temple, and play the piano for the ward choir without the severe anxiety that I had in the past. I would have died without my 12 step groups. Good luck and thank you for your courage in sharing your story.

utah cornhusker
NORFOLK, NE

I thought this was a wonderful article. I suffer from severe depression as well as panic attacks. I take medicine for both. I hsve an awful time with the panic attacks. I know when they happen and what situations make them worse. I gave gotten blessings from priesthood leaders and even have talked with bishops about it. One if my last bishops said you may struggle with this all your life. I know in my family we have predisposition to it. I hsve a few friends that I can talk to but they are few and far between but I'm greatful for the ones the lord had given me. Sometimes it J's such a struggle and very hard to deal with.

jenrmc
Fort Worth, TX

"To learn to deal with anxiety I purposely put myself in situations where I experience anxiety to show myself that my fears are misguided and there is no real danger."

This can be quite dangerous for some people. I have a number of mental issues that are controlled by medication and I see my doc regularly. I have to be VERY careful not to place myself in positions that compromise my well being. Stretching yourself is a good thing but if you don't do it with the guidance and watchful eye of a trained professional then you can do irreparable harm to yourself and/or others. The key to stretching yourself is to let a trusted person know what you are doing and remain in constant contact with them. Make sure that you are clear in what you are doing, what could happen and how the trusted person should check in on you to make sure you aren't responding poorly to the experience. If you stretch too much at one time you can break and that should be avoided at all cost. Basically it comes down to knowing and respecting your limits while gently attempting to increase them.

Florwood
American Fork, UT

I wonder if temple service that requires more movement and participation, like the initiatory ordinance, might be doable for the author.

Cat
Centerville, UT

I too suffer from depression and anxiety. I am blessed in the fact that while my depression is chronic it is not severe. Through wonderful doctors and a few good therapists, I have managed to make my condition manageable. I have learned my triggers and have come to accept that while I will always feel sad or down all the time, I don't have to let it consume me. Most people who know me, don't even realize that I have the condition. I have learned my way to get through it. I am also not afraid to tell others about my issues. When people ask me how I am managing to get through a rough situation (like when the company I work for was sold and I didn't know if I would be employed much longer) I would just tell them "anxiety meds". They look at me funny but the medication is there to get me though the panic attacks.

suzyk#1
Mount Pleasant, UT

My heart goes out to the many people who struggle with these challenges. My greatest fear is claustrophobia...I'm hoping to overcome it and feel more positive about my strength to do this. The comments have been wonderful and it is important that we do not stand in judgement of anyone...unless we are walking in their shoes we have no clue what they are going through. I know the Lord is very aware of these debilitating issues...we must not give up and we must always support, love and be understanding with those friends and family that are struggling with these tremendous health issues.

Oatmeal
Woods Cross, UT

I know so many who struggle with emotional, mental and physical challenges to attend long meetings. I often wonder if it would be good to ease up on the church meeting block.

Charityalways
Centerville, UT

Thank you. It is so wonderful that you wrote and that D-News published this article. I have a wonderful wife who understands and helps me with my depression and anxiety disorder. I have an extended family that has been so negative and in denial about such problems, I don't dare tell them. I have good health care coverage and have access to good doctors, therapists and medications that allow me to function. Most people who know me have no idea what I go through. I wish you, and anyone else who suffers from this kind of illness, all the best! There is proper treatment to help and to hope. Bless you.

Lasvegaspam
Henderson, NV

I find it truly enlightening that one of the children of Joseph and Emma Smith had mental illness; yes, a child of The Prophet of the Restoration and An Elect Lady. Their son David Hyrum Smith , born five months after his father was murdered, grew and developed normally, displaying marvelous talents in both singing and in writing poetry. He was known as the “Sweet Singer of Israel” due to these talents. However, in his early 20’s he began to struggle with various mental health problems, which today might be diagnosed as schizophrenia. He married, but had no children. He spent the last 30 years of his life institutionalized in Elgin, Illinois, near Chicago.

In an 1869 letter to his mother, Emma Smith, at age 24, Smith wrote:
“Mother I must tell you . . . I feel very sad and the tears run out of my eyes all the time and I don't know why. . . . strive as I will my heart sinks like lead. . . . I must tell someone my troubles . . .” (from Wikipedia)

Lasvegaspam
Henderson, NV

(continuing) We must realize that mental illness (illness of the brain) may be as common as physical illness (of the body), and invite all those we know and love to be open about their particular struggles, so that we can assist one another in coping with this thing called life.

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