Last weekend at conference, Russell M. Nelson gave a lovely talk about joy. The sentiment of his talk is fine. The is a lot about the world and humanity that need fixing, and sometimes it is hard to pull your eyes away from the negative. I don’t mind the reminder that we are “that we might have joy.”
What I do mind, is that these conversations need to come with disclaimers. Every. Time. I know that there have been careful and empowering talks about mental health at conference. But every time they speak of happiness or joy over the pulpit, and imply that joy and righteousness are linked, someone in the congregation sinks into self-loathing.
“My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
This is just not always true. For some of us, the focus of our lives has very, very little to do with the joy we are capable of feeling. Depression and anxiety don’t care about your life’s circumstances. It is just as likely that there are times you can’t even point to a reason you are struggling as times that you can. And if these mental health issues are something you are dealing with, the circumstances of your life can play a much more dynamic role than they would otherwise.
The message that we are meant for joy needs to come with the disclaimer that if you struggle with depression and/or anxiety, joy and peace will be invasive for you. And that is not your fault.
“As our Savior becomes more and more real to us and as we plead for His joy to be given to us, our joy will increase.”
This is a personal issue to me because of the years I struggled with this rhetoric. I just spent so much time thinking that if I could draw closer to Christ, if I could better understand the Atonement, if I read the scriptures more often, if I prayed more fervently… That if I could just be better I could feel happy. And I was so ashamed for so long that I couldn’t lift the heaviness on my chest or the constant tightness in my breath. I honestly believed I was lazy, and if I weren’t so lazy, I could do what it takes to be happy. Talks like this one drove home the message that I just simply wasn’t worthy of feeling peace. And if you’re in a dark place, you don’t take the time to remember that one other talk two years ago that gave you hope.
“Every day that you and I choose to live celestial laws, every day that we keep our covenants and help others to do the same, joy will be ours.”
If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, please understand that it is not because you’ve failed to live a celestial law. It is not because you’ve failed to do anything. God-willing, we can all find joy, but don’t let this rhetoric make the darkness heavier for you.