by Mallory Stevens
I have been blessed with a largely happy life. I come from a loving family where my thoughts and ideas were respected, and where there was always ample laughter and love. I was blessed with 8 wonderful siblings. I always had loyal friends, kind leaders, and warm food on the table. We didn’t have much excess, but we had everything we truly needed. We were blessed with many joys, but we also experienced our fair share of trials. Heavenly Father desires for all of us to learn and to grow and to experience hardship - so it is only normal that each of us have our own trials and that each of those trials weigh on the hearts of those who love us. Having 9 children and two parents (and then in-laws added in time) has exposed us to great joy and great sorrow. Collectively, we’ve experienced or supported each other through substance abuse, rape, divorce, depression, homelessness, miscarriage, illness, infertility, broken bones, loss of loved ones and attempted suicide.
All that being said, when I met my now-husband, Kory, and he told me about his struggle with depression, I hardly thought twice about it. I didn’t have any personal experience with depression, but I had heard my mom talk occasionally about her 5 year depression after my brother’s birth and how it rocked her to her core. I had also witness my sister recover from multiple suicide attempts over the years. I knew depression was something to be taken seriously, and something my sweet husband would need to be supported and loved through, but I hardly understood the weight of it all. I felt confident that love would conquer all and that his depression would be, largely, a non-issue. And honestly, for a time, it was.
It wasn’t that Kory’s depression disappeared when we were married, it simply wasn’t something we talked about much, mostly for my lack of knowing how to help and Kory’s difficulty opening up about it. When Kory’s depression did surface, I naively and foolishly thought his depression was in part a result of my own shortcomings. That, were I a better wife, he wouldn’t be facing these demons at all. I felt guilty and frustrated that our marriage didn’t look like a “normal” marriage. I’m ashamed to say there were times when I even felt frustrated with Kory. Like if he just tried hard enough, he could snap out of it. I know now, of course, how wrong I was. Despite Kory’s depression, we were (and are) truly very happy together. His depression seemed to come and go and there were times when I forgot about it all together. We felt immense joy in the newness and excitement of marriage.
In the two years that followed we were faced with miscarriage, infertility, and then the eventual blessing of getting pregnant with a sweet baby boy. Kory carried the weight of his depression through it all and I did my best to love him and support him. I felt helpless and ill-equipped, but what I lacked in experience I tried to make up for in kindness, often failing even in that regard. Kory’s depression felt like a chronic trial that would never let up. Despite it being his burden, I often found myself lamenting, in my head, over how it affected me (I hate even saying that out loud). We did the best we could to find joy amidst a heavy and difficult trial.
When our son was finally born, we were truly overjoyed. The waiting was over, and he was finally, finally here. We were adjusting to our new life as parents when a new trial made it’s way into our lives - postpartum depression. Where I once felt searing optimism I now felt disabled by fear. I asked Kory for a blessing almost daily. I lived in constant fear that I was going to die, that my sweet new baby was going to die, that Kory was going to die. I felt guilty that I wasn’t more fully enjoying this special, sacred time. I found myself sobbing uncontrollably and trying my best to pull it together before guests came to visit our new babe. Along with it all, I felt extremely sorry for my sweet Kory. I was crumbling under the weight of a trial that he had faced every single day for over 10 years. I felt completely broken and in total awe at how he had survived. It was the first time in my life that my thoughts felt out of my control, the first time I realized you couldn’t use sheer willpower to snap out of depression. Even on my best days, my thoughts drifted to a sad and heavy place. I prayed for support and relief regularly and with time, my hormones regulated and I started to feel like myself again. I faced the depression for just a couple of months, but I left with a new, profound understanding of my husband’s trial. Though harrowing and difficult, I suddenly found myself emerged in extreme gratitude for my brief glimpse at depression. I felt a new love, a new patience, a new determination to seek help for my husband. I viewed his trial through the lens of love and dismissed any unproductive thoughts.
We spent years seeking help for Kory’s depression. My empathy became an important part of our daily lives as his mental health seemed to worsen. Heavenly Father had prepared me, had given me a chance to have increased patience and increased motivation to seek help. From the outside, nobody would ever suspect Kory had depression - he is funny and a charming, handsome and kind - and yet his daily reality was dark more often than not. Our son was almost 2 and our daughter was just months from being born when we finally found some answers for Kory’s depression. The path that lead us to those answers was one that required a lot of faith, a lot of prayer, and a lot of unconventional turns. We have done all we can to seek physical healing and have made really great strides in that regard, but we know that when everything is said and done, it is the atonement that heals any ailment. We are still working towards healing, but we feel we have been immensely blessed along the way. We have greater love in our marriage, a greater appreciation of small joys, a greater knowledge that nothing is permanent and we must savor our happiness and endure our sorrow, more tenderness with God’s children, and of course, more empathy for those who have walked this path.
All of us are experiencing unique and difficult trials, and through them we have an opportunity to grow and to become more empathetic. Our empathy is of great value to Heavenly Father because it ensures His children are loved, are tended to, are heard. It is our empathy that drives us to minister to others, it is our empathy that has us on our neighbor’s front steps, dinner in hand, after the loss of a loved one. It is empathy that drives our donations to refugees, our gentleness with our children, our patience with our spouse. It is empathy, coupled with charity, that strengthens the weary, that clothes the naked, that feeds the hungry, that shelters the poor. It is empathy that carries us in our desperation. It was empathy that left flowers on my front porch after I miscarried 5 years ago, empathy that brought my family dinner after my dad broke 7 ribs and spent a week in the ICU. I’m convinced we can never truly understand charity without empathy. It is our tender feelings and understanding of others that enables us to better love them, and that enables others to better love us.
I once saw a beautiful message on mourning with those who mourn, shared by a dear friend, that I have never forgotten, “One time I heard a woman tell a story about what happened after her second still born baby. She said a woman from her ward came to visit her in the hospital. She said the woman walked into her room, took off her shoes and climbed into the hospital bed with her — she didn’t say anything, just stroked her face. As usual, charity is so brave. and so kind.”
Life inevitably brings unimaginable difficulty. And in those moments, while we’re grappling for help, stuck, and feeling completely helpless, we can find peace (and even joy!) in knowing the Savior has walked our path. The same way we find comfort in a friend, sibling, or parent who knows the unique trial we are facing, so should we find comfort in the Savior knowing our pain. The same way we relate to the infertility of others when we are in the throws of it ourselves, we can find in the Savior a constant, ever-relatable friend. He hasn’t just experienced similar trials or faced similar setbacks, He has lifted the very same burden we currently bear. It’s hardly fathomable - yet He knows the exact intricacies of our situation. The subtle differences that make it unique from our neighbor’s similar trial, the complexities that are solely ours. The upbringing that shapes us, the financial situation we find ourselves in, the previous trials that have left us feeling battered, the sins we struggle to overcome, the emotional and physical predispositions we were born with. He understands us every whit, knows the chemical make up of our brains, the physical make up of our bodies; knows the very thoughts that consistently trigger our sorrow, knows the fears we can’t shake. He knows what it feels like to be triggered by those sorrows, and not to be able to shake those fears.
The miracle of the atonement is this - the Savior not only knows what it’s like to have depression he knows what it’s like to have your exact depression. He literally experienced it as if it was his own. He felt your infertility as if it was his own, your struggling business as if it was his own, your heartbreak at being single as if it as his own. Not only that, He knows what it’s like to have a spouse with depression, or a spouse struggling with an addiction, or a parent who passed away. He knows not only how our own trials weigh on us, but also how we crumble under the weight of our loved one’s burdens - desperate to administer relief but feeling, largely, helpless. He knows what it’s like to miss the very person you are currently missing, not just what it’s like to miss someone in general. He knows what it’s like to lose the very person you have lost. He knows the weight of losing a child, but not just any child, he knows the insurmountable heaviness of losing your exact, sweet, perfect baby. He knows what it feels like to miss their very laugh, their very smell, their very warmth. He didn’t experience our sorrows in general terms, he experienced them exactly. Your exact heartbreak is intimately familiar to Him - He, too, shook as he bore it. He remembers the pain of it as if it was His own. And that is why He can succor us.
David A. Bednar explained it perfectly “The Savior has suffered not just for our iniquities but also for the inequality, the unfairness, the pain, the anguish, and the emotional distresses that so frequently beset us. There is no physical pain, no anguish of soul, no suffering of spirit, no infirmity or weakness that you or I ever experience during our mortal journey that the Savior did not experience first. He has perfect empathy. ”
I can only hope that, in our times of trouble and trial, we can muster the strength to envision our Savior - our kind, ever-loving Savior, literally running to our aide, sprinting to hold us, to love us, to stroke our hair and wipe our tears. And how beautiful, that when trials strike, it is the very love the Savior administers that He desires for us to learn. That, if we stay close to Him, He will bless us with the perfect example of the love he desires us to foster for others. He will teach us firsthand how to succor to others as He heals our wounds and carries our burdens.