For the last little while (almost a year and a half), I served in Church in the calling of Relief Society President. For those of you who aren’t Mormon/LDS, we get “called” or asked to serve in different positions in the Church, doing so voluntarily and without pay.
The Relief Society is the women’s organization, and as President, I was basically in charge of overseeing the activities of our local organization and helping the women with spiritual and temporal needs.
We had almost 300 women in our congregation, not all of whom were active or participating frequently in Church services and activities. It was a difficult and rewarding responsibility for me in many ways. I had to attend and run meetings, discuss needs with the Bishop/leader of the congregation, make visits, plan activities, and try to be aware of what the women in our area required.
Me as President
I am, by nature, an introvert. Yes, I have pretty good social skills and enjoy teaching so I can fake extroversion to some extent—but it is tiring! I found serving as Relief Society President to be exhausting and not a natural extension of myself. It was work. I didn’t always enjoy it. It required me to do things and talk to people when I would have rather just stayed inside my own comfort zone.
However, I also was able to reach out to and connect to individuals in a unique way due to my experience with mental illness and obsessive compulsive disorder. My husband and I had the opportunity to present a 5th Sunday lesson to the adults about “Mental Health and the Gospel,” which was well received and opened up lines of communication for some.
I attempted to let people know that it’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay to have mental health problems. In fact, in many ways, that is more normal than being “okay” all the time. We are all individuals with trials and struggles. That is the point.
When I had my OCD relapse last year, it was extremely difficult for me to still feel like I was being a “good” Relief Society President. At least for me, when I am going through a severe OCD “time,” it’s hard to maintain my normal routine and schedule. Even taking care of my family became difficult. I had a hard time getting out of bed. I lost weight. My brain was consumed with obsessions and the compulsions I felt I should or needed to do. My mom came and stayed with us for awhile. Somewhat ironically, I was also trying to edit and finish up my book for publication, which made me feel even worse in many ways—I felt like an impostor. I should be able to control the OCD! I just wrote a book about how to find healing and hope! Why am I feeling awful?
My Church responsibilities took a back seat. People wanted to meet with me but I felt like I was barely surviving. At least one sister needed a ministering visit, but I was not up to that task. I had to reach out to and rely on others to meet the needs of those who were expecting me. In a way, though, this taught me a valuable lesson about service and helping each other. Other sisters took the time to help and reach out to me. One I allowed to help me directly and significantly. She spent Father’s Day in the ER with me and checked up on me the following week. Another I asked to help a sister I couldn’t visit, and she ended up being an amazing resource for that woman.
What Being RS President Taught Me
I learned through my experience as Relief Society President that my mental illness, while being a struggle, also provided ways for me to help and be helped by others. It humbled me in ways that I needed. Having the burdens and responsibilities I did, including mental illness, young children, a book deal, etc., helped me to understand that the Lord calls us to positions knowing the stresses we have.
I learned to accept that my service would look different from the service of other Relief Society presidents locally, nationally, and internationally because we are all different people with different abilities, talents, challenges, and personalities. I learned that is exactly how it’s supposed to be. I trusted that God wanted me, with all of my challenges and struggles, for whatever reason, at that time. I accepted that even if I only helped a few of the women, they were the ones who needed it and who needed me, for some reason.
Recently, the boundaries of our congregation shifted. Our congregation lost some members in the process and gained many others. Our Bishop decided to reorganize many of the organizations to include these new individuals and make the transition an easier and more inclusive process. As a result, I was released from the calling of Relief Society President and moved into a new role of Sunday School teacher for teenagers.
I have to admit that I was relieved. I had been pondering personally whether or not I needed to step down from being the RS President for various reasons. I had even been thinking of it on the very day the the Bishop came over to talk to us about the change. After he told us I was going to be released and left, I knew that God knows and cares about me personally. I didn’t have to quit. He knew it was time too.
I am grateful for this new opportunity to teach high schoolers every Sunday with my husband. I think we all need this change, and I’m excited for it.
How have you managed callings with mental health challenges? Have you ever asked to be released for health reasons?