This essay was written by my son, David Hallstrom, a successful attorney with a wealth of experience, who addressed this topic much better than I ever could.
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Much of the content of this book addresses how we can escape the emotional black holes created in our lives through the shortcomings of others. We each have a deep and innate need to love and to be loved. Yet those we trust to love and care for us, being imperfect, will invariably fall short of that trust to some degree or another. Those whom we allow ourselves to love will not perfectly reciprocate our feelings toward them or our actions taken on their behalf. The severity of the shortcoming will bear some connection to the severity of the emotional hole it leaves in our soul. Like a black hole, these emotional holes can become so deep that they consume everything in our lives—they create downward spirals of dysfunction. No other good thing in our world, being inherently imperfect, can fill such deep rifts in the soul. Indeed, the inability of such things to fill these holes can lead us to become either increasingly intense and unbalanced about using those things to fill the hole, as if just a little bit more would do the trick, or fickle and unbalanced, jumping from one thing to the next, often leaving things only partially completed as we come to realize they will not fill our inner needs, and we abandon them to search for the next perceived panacea. However, only infinite and perfect love can fill and heal these emotional black holes. The good news of the gospel is that through Jesus Christ, divinely infinite and perfect love and light are available to each of us. Our emotional black holes cannot be filled by our own efforts, our own intensity, or other things in the world around us, but through Christ, we can be filled and achieve balance in our lives.
However, as true as all that is, we must be careful not to mistake one cause of downward spirals of dysfunction as the only cause. Misdiagnosing the cause of the symptom can result in mistreatment, possibly causing further downward pressures and exacerbating the dysfunction. It can be tempting to simply conclude that the deficiencies of others are the cause of one’s own downward pressures. In many instances, this may be true. In these instances, the cause is essentially a spiritual ailment for which the person needs the treatment of perfect love so they can reach the point of being able to truly and deeply forgive the one who hurt them and move on with their lives unencumbered. However, this perspective, taken in isolation, can all too easily ignore the reality that each person may be carrying around with them the cause of their own downward pressures.
The World Health Organization currently estimates that one fourth of all people in the world suffer from a psychological disorder of some form or another and to varying degrees of severity. That is approximately 1.75 billion people. It is further estimated that half the people with psychological disorders do not receive any psychological treatment at all. Think of it. Have you ever been in a meeting with around ten people in attendance? Of those ten people, statistically, two to three of them are suffering from a mental illness. One or two of them are not being treated at all. This is as if two to three people in the group had diabetes, and one or two of them simply weren’t treated for it. Imagine that those suffering without treatment doggedly attempted to continue operating as if they did not have diabetes. Depending on the tasks undertaken, their bodies would struggle to cope with the additional stresses. Their existing ailment could be aggravated, and additional problems may well arise, thereby creating downward pressures of dysfunction in their lives. In like manner, in your meeting of ten people, there are one or two people with mental illness who are attempting to live their lives without receiving the treatment they need. So they suffer. They have probably developed a number of coping techniques to hide the reality of their ailment from others, and so their suffering might, in fact, go unseen.
Those with a mental illness often have a deep and fundamental fear. They may fear that if their suffering and illness became known, then others would devalue them, others would reject them, they themselves would lose control over their lives. Even more deeply, and perhaps subconsciously, they may fear that the mental illness is a fundamental part of their true selves, a deep personal flaw, integral to who they are. That because of the mental illness, they deserve to be devalued, they deserve to be rejected, they don’t deserve any sense of power over their own lives. And so, those who suffer might present a façade of strength, hoping to hold on to the value, the inclusion, and the control they fear they do not deserve. Anything that threatens the charade of strength is thought to threaten their supposedly tenuous hold on value, inclusion, and autonomy. Even the personal acknowledgment that they are, in fact, suffering can be seen as a threat, so they may convince themselves that their charade is reality and refuse to consider the possibility that they have a mental illness.
The truth is, mental illness is not a fundamental part of a person’s true self, any more than having diabetes is. Diabetes is a biological ailment that needs to be diagnosed and managed through appropriate treatment and behaviors. Failure to do so because a person wants to hide the reality from others and perhaps from themselves will cause increasing levels of stress (both biologically and psychologically), increasing divorcement from their core and true selves, and even tragedies. In that way, diabetes is a particular encumbrance that demands open and honest management. When the person with diabetes accepts that it is a more or less permanent encumbrance for them individually and not part of who they are, then they are free to honestly manage it and realize their true self. They can become healthier and more functional than they may have ever thought possible. Similarly, mental illness has a definite biological component that physically affects the brain and needs to be diagnosed and managed through appropriate treatment and behaviors. While this does create a particular encumbrance for people with mental illness, only in honestly and openly managing their illness can they become free to realize their true selves. As one manages their mental health issues, then and only then can they become truly valued and accepted and truly have power over their own lives. Only then can that person be empowered to realize their true self.
The atonement offers assistance in this regard as well. God dwells in eternity and sees us through that lens. He knows the eternal and timeless selves that are housed in our bodies. Jesus Christ experienced everything in existence while still in the flesh. It did not diminish his love and compassion. Instead, he was able to tap into his divine nature and project his love and compassion onto all of existence. Thus, he knows all from an eternal perspective, and he has also experienced it all intimately and personally. In that knowledge, Christ offers an uplifting influence to every person according to their own challenges and difficulties. For those whose bodies bring to them the challenges of mental illness, the atonement thus offers clarity. Through Christ’s atonement, he offers his own eternal perspective to every individual, including those who suffer from mental illness. This allows them to catch glimpses of their true selves, which may have become obscured by their mental illness and their reactions to that illness. The atonement can provide the critical internal realization that the mental illness is not who they are; that it does not make them somehow less deserving of value, inclusion, and autonomy; that any façade of strength to hide the mental illness from themselves or from others is unnecessary and even harmful. Thus, the eternal perspective made available through the atonement can serve as inspiration and motivation for a person to take the necessary steps to honestly address their mental illness.
After experiencing the relief made available through the eternal perspective accessible through the atonement, some people may fall into the trap of thinking that relief is only available through the atonement of Christ. A person may begin to use the reality of the atonement to try to hide their mental illness from others or even from themselves. Old patterns of thinking and behaving can be difficult to break. Just as an external presentation of strength would be a charade motivated by a person’s fear that the mental illness means that they deserve to be devalued, rejected, or dependent on others, so is the exclusive reliance on Christ’s atonement often a similarly fear-based charade. The person still fears the reactions of others and what those reactions would mean about who they are and what they are capable of. And so the person continues to hide their illness, hoping for moments of spiritual relief through the atonement to help them cope. But such relief will be unreliable in these circumstances. The very fear that makes a person try to rely exclusively on the atonement continues to occupy their heart and their mind, making it difficult for them to see beyond that fear and to find the spiritual relief and eternal perspective available through the atonement. The fear continues to exert a downward pressure in that person’s life.
In order to take full advantage of the emotional healing made available through the atonement in this context, one must continue to acknowledge the reality of their encumbrance and courageously accept such assistance from others as is reasonably available to them. Just as a person cannot expect the atonement to fully heal their diabetes if they fearfully refuse to seek accessible medical treatment and advice, a person also cannot expect the atonement to permanently heal a mental illness when they fearfully refuse to seek appropriate medical assistance and advice. God does not give a spirit of fear but of hope and love. When one makes the conscious decision to reject the fear and courageously embrace the hope offered to them through the love and assistance of other human beings, then they can fully and more reliably enjoy the assistance available from God. Christ offers you the clarity of his eternal perspective to know that the encumbrance of your mental illness is not who you are, to empower you to overcome your fears precisely so you can take the authentically autonomous step of accepting the full gamut of assistance accessible to you through other qualified individuals. As this is done, the power of the atonement will be magnified and flourish inside you, further empowering you to be your true self, far beyond the fleeting glimpses you may have experienced beforehand.
If you wonder if you could benefit from the assistance of medical health experts but you’re just not sure, there is no harm in seeking them out and consulting with them for their advice. It may even be worth your time to speak with two or more medical professionals for additional perspective. Studying an issue and getting input from qualified counselors are inextricable components to acting wisely and even fostering or maintaining one’s connection with God. It is in the input from a multitude of counselors that we find safety. As we are courageous and humble enough to seek the medical advice and counsel from those around us who are appropriately qualified, we can be courageous and humble enough to be one with God.