In a recent post I mentioned being quoted in an LDS Living Article listing tips for those who experience anxiety in the Temple and at Church. In reading through comments (a bad habit for writers, I’m learning ;), I found one thought that I wanted to address.
Avoiding to Solve the Problem?
Some of the commenters mentioned that their anxiety and/or anxiety/panic attacks are worse at or because of church. I feel that. I understand. It is so difficult, especially for those with social anxiety or scrupulosity concerns. In a similar vein, there has been a concern before that the Church is for extroverts—it can be really hard for introverts to find a safe place when Church lessons require participation or we are encouraged to go to church activities, visit or home teach strangers, etc. etc.
Those of us with mental illnesses are definitely often made more aware of our issues when at church or doing our callings. OCD in particular loves to attach itself to anything that we value and care about. In addition, we frequently feel like we have to hide our mental illness at Church or around other people. We don’t want others to think that we are different or have issues because it can make us seem imperfect or we feel like we will be judged or misunderstood.
So should these situations be avoided?
I remember my mom telling me about one of her good friends who also happened to be a member of the Church. The story went that this woman’s therapist or psychologist advised that she give up on church because it seemed to be causing so many of her issues. This woman, instead of agreeing and stopping going to church said something to the effect of, “but I know it’s true!” In her situation, it was her simple testimony that prevented her from leaving or ignoring church altogether.
Lately, I’ve had a difficult time with church culture and dealing with my calling. I’ve felt often like I’m not invested or don’t “care” enough. I think mental illnesses and even sometimes the medications we take for our mental illnesses can cause apathy or a “distance” emotionally from things or people.
So yes, I have a testimony, but sometimes going to church feels difficult and almost pointless: why am I doing this? If I’m not getting much out of it and can’t focus and don’t seem to be able to force myself to care, why am I going? Can I even feel the Spirit when my mental illness is going through a rough patch? These attitudes and thoughts are hard to deal with, especially if they are coupled with an exacerbation of symptoms of our mental illness. It can seem so much easier to just avoid going to church altogether. Why do something that is so hard?
So yes, I get it.
I may have mentioned this in my OCD Con recap, but I’ll go over it again. In one of the scrupulosity panel discussions, the question of whether or not to avoid “faith” if it “causes” or worsens symptoms of OCD came up. One of the panelists said, “avoidance is the last thing we want to encourage.”
One thing we learn when trying to fight our OCD is that avoidance is not the answer. We think avoiding something that triggers us will help or eliminate our anxiety, but it actually makes it worse in the long run. Rather, when it comes to OCD problems, we are instructed to face our fears, exposing ourselves to the thing or situation that causes our anxiety and obsessions and not allowing ourselves to ritualize or do our compulsions. Doing this shows us that either our fear isn’t rational or that we can handle the outcome that arises.
My recommendation for those with severe anxiety or other mental illness that makes them want to skip church is to seek professional help and attempt to make progress towards finding healing and acceptance. I know it’s not easy. In fact, it can be so difficult to live through and with anxiety. But I know that God understands. He understands our hesitance and your failures. He wants us to succeed. And He has given us the tools to work toward that success. Use them!