Friday, January 20, 2017

Q & A

First of all I just want to thank those of you who gave me questions to answer! Obviously this would not have been possible if it wasn't for those questions, so I am really appreciative and grateful that you took the time to think of one and ask. If any of my answers inspire further questions please feel free to comment and ask, I am more than happy to answer more!

Second these are the opinions and experiences that I have/had, but I am going to do my best to answer how I feel would best help others too, that is the overall goal of this post after all.

Q: Is there a specific thing you have changed or done differently to help with anxiety or depression?

A: One thing that helps me with my anxiety and depression is trying to let myself feel what I'm feeling and not feel guilty about it. If I feel sad and need to cry then I try and let it out. If I feel anxious then I try and figure out why and if there is a reason then I try and solve it, if not then I try to focus on my breathing or distract myself from thinking about it anymore. Also, learning to recognize my symptoms and use cognitive therapy, which I learned by seeing a counselor, really helped me as well.

Q: Does the lack of strict routine after coming home increase symptom triggers?

A: For the most part, yes. Yes because, depending on when you come home, school may not start right away and you may not have a job lined up, etc. and so you go from being busy all day long to coming home and having not much to do. So it's hard to fill your time with valuable things and feel useful, needed, successful, etc. - things you felt as a missionary. And I would also say no because you are finally able to do what you want, when you want, and that can be somewhat of a relief and time for you to breathe and get the help you need. You can finally focus on you.

Q: After coming home, were your Ward and Stake members compassionate and loving towards your situation? 

A: My Stake President had known about my situation for months, I had to get his permission to start taking medication when I did, and so he was very compassionate and understanding about it all. In my interview with him the night I got released he told me to be proud of myself and that my mission was acceptable to the Lord. My Bishop was the same way. When I reported to the High Council about my mission I don't think they knew I was honorably released so it wasn't any different than the other missionaries who reported with me.

Q: Did anyone seem to be judgmental, and if so, how did you handle it?

A: There were definitely people who were surprised that I was home early, I had wanted to serve a mission since primary and lots of people knew that, so I think they didn't know what to say or do when they found out. Thankfully, the first weekend I came home was General Conference so I didn't have to go to church, I wasn't ready for that. And then my family and I went on a cruise so the first time I was back in my ward was the day I spoke about my mission in Sacrament Meeting. I didn't say why I came home, it took me a while to openly say the why, and I could tell there were questions/speculations. For the most part I felt loved and welcome back, but there were a few who I expected that from that didn't give it to me. That was hard, having people who I thought would be very open and understanding about it to not be there when I needed them most. At first it made me very upset and I was hurt, but in time I kind of realized that it wasn't necessarily their fault, they just didn't know what to say or do. 

Q: What is helpful? What is not helpful? Are you in favor of balloons and banners for early returned missionaries, just like for "full term" ones? What about speaking in sacrament meeting? A big welcome home with friends and family? Or a quiet private ride home from the airport?

A: I think this totally depends on the missionary and their circumstances. My mom had a banner and an inflatable air dancer for me and it made me happy because I felt like she wasn't ashamed for me and was still proud of my service. Over the next few days I saw people who I wanted to see that knew I was coming home, and some neighbors who expressed their love and concern for me, but I was grateful there wasn't a big party. I don't think I could have handled that and I'm not sure how others would have either, i.e. if they would have known what to say or do. My situation was maybe a little different because my family had known for 2 weeks I was coming home, and some families find out the day before. My family also knew about my situation the whole time I was going through it, and I know some missionaries don't share that they are struggling with their families so it in that situation it may be best to wait to celebrate until things can be sorted out and the families know what is really going on. I would suggest talking to your missionary about it, if possible. 

Q: Does it help or hurt when people ask you about why you came home early? Would you prefer that people just didn't mention it at all or did it help you to be able to talk about it? 

A: In the beginning it definitely stung a little when MOST people would ask about it or when it would come up, there were some that I felt surprisingly comfortable with. And I honestly don't remember that many people bluntly asking me why I came home early. If it came up from other questions being asked about my mission (i.e. When did you leave and when did you come home? November 2011 & October 2012, easy to deduce that I didn't serve for 18 months) then depending on the person I was talking to I'd either give a brief or more detailed explanation. It was definitely hard and a little embarrassing for me to talk about it in the beginning (several months), but as the years have gone by it helps me to talk about it and I have gotten to the point where I think I can turn it into something that helps others as well. In the beginning I was very closed off about it and avoided it, so my advice would be to pay attention to the way someone is discussing their mission and do your best to respect that.

Q: What are the right questions a good friend could/should ask an early returned missionary?

A: I wish more people would have asked me how they could make coming home early easier. I might or might not have always had an answer for them, but just to know that they were thinking of me and wanted to help would have been a huge step in getting me back on my feet. Just having the "what can I do to help?" attitude will go a long way.

Q: What are some things parents can do to support their missionaries who serve less time than expected?

A: For this question I thought it might be a good idea to ask my parents what they thought. My Dad gave the short and sweet answer, "Love them and support them in their decisions." My Mom said that they did their best to try and make things normal for me and made sure to get me the medical attention that I needed (visiting my doctor and getting in to see a counselor).
Both my parents served a mission so I never felt like I had anything to hide. I know some missionaries don't share that they were held at gun point or constantly threw up for two years from the food to spare their Mother's hearts, but I never felt like I needed to do that. Even though I didn't experience anything life threatening I did tell my parents everything that was going on with my health. My family was able to pray for me and it helped me to know that someone knew what I was going through because I was doing my best to hide it in the field: from members, from other missionaries, from investigators. So my two cents would be to suggest letting your missionaries know that they have nothing to hide from you because you can't do anything to change their circumstances anyway. If anything you can then pray for them and appreciate what they are sacrificing even more. And that applies if they then come home early too. It's a balancing act of giving enough space but then being there for them in this dire moment of need. The elephant in the room needs to be acknowledged but how much acknowledgement is going to differ from missionary to missionary. Continue to pray for inspiration and guidance in how to help your child and stay close to them, they need to know that they can always turn to you for help and love.

Q: What about when you don't know the returned missionary very well? If they're more of an acquaintance is it best to give them space? Or reach out?

A: This is kind of a tough question because I think it would depend on the missionary, BUT in my opinion it is always better to reach out than to give space. You never know what kind of influence you can have on someone and they may be exactly what you need. Even if they don't respond to you or say much to you reaching out it doesn't mean that you failed or they didn't need you. I know for me every little text or visit from someone made a difference and helped me feel cared about.

Q: What is the best response to someone coming home early from a mission? What is an appropriate way to show your love and support without making it a negative conversation or bringing out any sense of shame?

A: LOVE. Love is the best response. And an appropriate way to show that will be different for everyone and could depend on how well you know the person, but if you really want to help them and show them that love PRAY to know how and then TRUST THE SPIRIT. Do your best to put yourself in their situation and think about what might help you. Ask them to do things with you, even if it's just going for a walk or on an errand; keep them busy if you can and if they will let you. Send them a text, write a card, drop off balloons or flowers, or set up a time to go visit. Most importantly, let them tell you about their mission when they feel ready, don't push or pry or force anything that doesn't come naturally.

Q: What was one of the hardest things about coming home?

A: Knowing that I would always have to live with being an early return missionary. My mission president told me I'd always have this with me and I knew that, but I didn't think about how often it would come up and that I'd be reminded about it constantly. It was hard being "different", not the typical RM with fire and drive you usually see. Also, I kind of thought I would be magically healed when I came home and I was so wrong. I felt better the first few days and then went right back into the hole I thought I'd climbed out of. It was hard realizing that this was something that could be with me for the rest of my life. 

Q: What does depression and anxiety look like to you physically/mentally/emotionally on a daily basis?

A: Physically I will occasionally struggle to breathe and/or have panic attacks. I sometimes have little motivation to do anything so nothing gets done and I sit or lay around all day. Mentally I have to constantly consciously think about my thoughts and if they are valid or not. I have to talk myself into doing things or out of thinking the worst.. Emotionally there can be a lot of crying. All of it can be very draining and make it hard for me to function. I have bad days and good days but it's always there and I just try to take it as it comes.

Q: What's the difference between who you were before and who you are now?

A: The person I was before knew little fear, and now I can't seem to do half of the stuff I did before because I am so afraid of what could happen to me. I have fears that I didn't even think about before. Things that didn't phase me before can now give me loads of stress and cause panic attacks. I am also more insecure. I was very happy with, content with, and confident in the person I was. I was happy with where I was in life and the things I had done and accomplished. The things I do/accomplish now are never good enough and I am rarely satisfied/happy with my life. Now I compare myself and worry about what others think more than I should.  Little things that I never would have thought about twice now consume my mind.

Q: How do you feel medication has helped?

A: I felt more like my "old self" when I got on the RIGHT medication, the wrong medication is wrong for a reason but that's another story. I started to see more of the Ally I once knew. I still struggled but the struggle didn't seem as bad. A little of the weight and difficulty of everything I was going through seemed to be lifted off somewhat. People who have cancer get treatment for their illness, and medication helps you get the treatment you need to feel better with this illness. Elder Holland said it well when he said, "If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation."

Even though I came home early and have anxiety and depression I don't have all the answers, but I hope this was helpful! I would love any feedback.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Feature Friday: Kim

Kim sent me a message on Instagram a few weeks ago saying that someone sent her the link to this blog and shared her story with me. I am so grateful she reached out to me (and that someone shared this with her!) and she was willing to let me share her story here.
For twenty years Kim grew up in the Air Force, but Arizona is and will always be her home. From October 2012-April 2014 she served a Spanish speaking LDS Mission in the Utah Salt Lake City West Mission. In July 2016 she graduated from BYU-Idaho with a BA in English and after graduating volunteered as an English teacher in Mexico. She loves traveling, reading, writing, colorful knee high socks, and combat boots.
Sadness is the emotion I remember most from my childhood. I just remember being sad a lot for really no reason. That sadness and loneliness have remained with me throughout the vast majority of my life. It wasn’t until after doing some research in my early twenties that I realized I’ve battled depression since I was a little girl. For three years when I was a teenager my depression took a turn for the worse and became pretty severe. Looking back, I’m really surprised that I survived that time without any counseling or medication. During those three years I felt like I was living in the darkest, deepest pit with no sunlight and no way out.

Things got better around the age of sixteen and I was relatively happy. Flare-ups from my depression came only a few times a year. I began questioning if I really had depression when I was younger or if I’d been overreacting to the situations around me.

When I was set apart as a missionary at 21 I foolishly thought that nothing would be able to touch me and that I would be completely fine the entire time I was in the field. I thought being set apart as a missionary meant I’d get “superhuman powers” to deal with anything thrown my way.

How very wrong I was.

Missions are hard, stressful, and taxing on a person – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The day I left the MTC and entered the mission field, the sadness and loneliness crept back into my life with a strong force. But I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I didn’t want to appear weak.

It also didn’t help that when I tried to express or explain how I felt, some of my leaders told me I wasn’t working hard enough, or didn’t have enough faith, or wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy. I’m not sure why depression is sometimes viewed as a “punishment” for being a “bad person.” By no means was I a perfect missionary, but I tried my hardest. There were days I’d wake up and not want to get out of bed because I was so drained. But I forced myself to roll out of bed to pray, study, and plan. There were times when I just wanted to go back to the apartment and not face the world, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I knew that I was a missionary and I needed to do the Lord’s work. How is continuing on in the midst of mental anguish not an act of faith?

Hiding my depression and not acknowledging it was the worst thing I could have possibly done. I felt so alone and felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone without getting berated.

After 15 months in the field, I suffered a severe mental breakdown. Mission life took its toll on me. I’d trained four missionaries back-to-back and had been struggling in my area for five months. The work wasn’t progressing and my stomach was in constant knots from anxiety. The pressure kept mounting every day until I finally broke under the weight. I’d never had a breakdown before. I cried and sobbed for two and a half days. I felt like a zombie. Life wasn’t worth living anymore. That was the lowest point I’ve ever been at in my life. I didn’t just want to die – I wanted my very spirit to stop existing because I couldn’t face God knowing that I was a failure of a person.

My leaders didn’t really know how to handle my situation, so they brushed it under the rug. Part of me honestly can’t blame them because I don’t think a lot of them understood how to handle situations like mine. On the other hand, it was difficult trying to pick up the pieces all by myself. I became angry towards my leaders and even lashed out at my mission president. My last transfer in the field I was sent to a counselor in downtown Salt Lake, who helped me a lot with understanding how our individual worth is eternal. Our struggles and weaknesses can’t diminish our worth.

After coming home I was still very bitter and angry. Then my depression came back for a few months. At first I was upset because I thought I had beaten this and come off conqueror! But I slowly realized that depression will always be a part of me and the cycles will come and go. Sometimes they’ll hit out of nowhere and other times I can notice the triggers. In the fall of 2015 I went to group therapy to learn how to communicate better with others. Those therapy sessions were the beginning of my determination to not stay silent on this topic. I learned the hard way what keeping everything in can do to a person. I don’t want to experience that ever again and I never want anyone else to feel that way.

Depression doesn’t define who I am. I may not be overjoyed that I have to fight this every day, but I’ve learned a great deal about myself. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that your well-being isn’t just a physical aspect. Mental and emotional health are just as important as physical health. They should never be put on the back-burner just because those problems aren’t readily visible. Admitting that you’re struggling with something doesn’t mean you’re weak. It’s a fact of life that will eventually get better and pass. Anyone who belittles you or your struggles isn’t worth your time. Surround yourself with people who will love, encourage, and comfort you.

The greatest lesson I’ve taken away from this is how important it is to be compassionate to those who do have mental illnesses. Nothing hurts more than not receiving help when you need it most. I never thought that having this kind of darkness in my life could teach me so much about the light and love of Christ.
“Be the love you never received.” – Rune Cazuli