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August 1, 2014
Pebbles, Potholes, and Perspective
The Strength Within
by Sarah Hancock

I've been reading my old journals quite a bit recently. There's something fascinating about reading a book in my own handwriting without having a memory of what the pages contain.

There are some entries I've read often enough since regaining my ability to make new memories that I can tell you about the experiences scrawled on the pages as though I remember when it happened. But I can't.

Sometimes it's like a gripping story, where I wonder what on earth is on the next page (not that my life was all that exciting). Other times I stare in pity or wonder at what I wrote, because the life described couldn't possibly be mine.

How could I have felt so out of control? How could I have been so hopeless? How could I have lived with such despair? Yet, page after page, I did. For 12 years, my life continued with oppressive depression, delusions and hallucinations. For some reason, Heavenly Father allowed me to emerge, pick up my life's broken shards, meld them into hope, education and advocacy and then move forward.

At times I feel what I refer to "survivor's guilt." Like many people who survive harrowing life experiences, leaving loved ones or cherished teammates behind and moving forward with life, I too wonder at times why I've been so blessed to experience such wellness and why I can't extend the same wellness to those who've stood alongside me in group homes and locked facilities.

It's not as though my illness is gone. I have a chronic mental illness and a serious one at that. It's just that I'm learning how to deal with it better to the point that my symptoms don't debilitate me as they once did.

But still, the question remains, do I honestly deserve wellness more than others? Is there something about my life that qualified me to get better? I don't think so, and yet I look at my friends who still struggle as I did and wonder how it was possible for me to get better, when they're doing some of the same things I have yet still haven't escaped the mental illness' tight grasp to enjoy life with symptoms not as severe.

Personally, I know that Heavenly Father doesn't reward some children while leaving others high and dry. I know I wasn't given my illness because I or my parents had sinned. Nor do I buy into the idea that somehow before this life I chose to live with mental illness.

While I struggled with my acute symptoms, I'd often wonder why on earth I would have chosen such a fate. People frequently told me that I chose my diagnosis because I didn't know that living in mortality would be like.

I really don't think that's how Heavenly Father works. Quite honestly, I don't have an idea what is in God's mind, but I do believe that since everyone on this earth lived with our Heavenly Father before life on earth, He witnessed our strength in a way none of us can remember.

It's my humble opinion that when we experience the shortcomings, trials, struggles and inequalities of this life, the only reason He allows us to pass through such perceived horror is because He wants us to recognize how strong we truly are.

How many times have we gone through things that occurred through no fault of our own? Had trials that pushed us further than what we believed was our human capacity? Has it ever felt like life has kicked the chair out from under us, and yet somehow we continue? How many times have we been pushed beyond what we felt was our breaking point and yet not broken?

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "In all of living, have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." But I think that regardless of our circumstances, frequently we're so focused on enduring that we can't see the strength we have within and embrace it.

Now that I'm working harder on recognizing my potential as a child of God, things don't feel hopeless. I don't feel helpless. I don't feel that my illness is completely out of control. I feel like a survivor because I am one.

Although at times I struggle, I don't consider myself suffering from mental illness. I'm not a victim. I am a warrior and for now, I'm enjoying and grateful for the war.

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