I didn't plan this, but today marks six months that I've been home from my mission. I can't believe it's been that long, but sometimes I feel like every single second has been etched into my skin.
I won't lie: it's been a very long six months. In fact, it's been a very long two years. There were times I didn't think I'd make it to this point.
There was a lot of my mission that I didn't show you, that I didn't talk about. I needed some space in order to wrap my head around all of it, and that's what I've spent the last six months doing. Getting space. Wrapping my head around it. Pushing through and trying to move on.
I think that talking about it is my next step. Talking not just to my therapist, but to everyone. And I wanted to take this to a bigger scale, the internet, because although it's hard for me to let you see this side of me, I know that somewhere there is someone just like I was a few months ago who needs to know that it's going to be okay. It's okay if your mission was not what you wanted it to be. It's okay if you came home early or never went on a mission. It's okay if you are hurt. It's okay if you have mental health struggles. It's okay if you've thought about leaving church. It's okay if you've left church. It's okay to feel lost. Things will get better.
So, to start it all off, let me be up-front about a few things:
-My mission was, overall, painful and difficult for me. A lot of that was my fault, for being stubborn and arrogant, but some of it wasn't. I was diagnosed with mental health issues that I should have seen coming but didn't, and a large portion of my mission was struggling through medications, spotty therapy, extra stress, and feeling inferior because of my mental and emotional weaknesses.
-I was honorably released a month early from my mission. I had known it was coming almost from the beginning, when things quickly began to spiral downward. I'm not sure if anyone at home noticed, because it was only 30 days prior to my original release, but I held (and still hold) that burden, honorable release or not.
-I've spent the last six months contemplating a lot of things, from mental illness to the missionary program to my standing with the LDS Church. I've changed a lot in the past two years, and I feel unsteady about many things.
I don't want to beat a dead horse in talking about my experiences on my mission. It's all I've thought about for the past six months, and frankly I'm ready to leave the negativity behind. I don't want to feel uncomfortable every time someone asks me about my mission. I don't want to drag out this healing process by refusing to give up my pains.
But, for the sake of the story, if anything: I was told I have depression and anxiety about eight months into my mission. I finally broke down and called my mission president after months of lethargy, social struggles, anger, hopelessness, and even on occasion thoughts of suicide. I remember very clearly where I was when I realized that I needed help. It was the end of a lunch break and I was lying on the floor in our apartment, my mind awash with white noise. I couldn't think, couldn't move, couldn't fathom how I would get up and go outside. My companion was watching, quiet, waiting for me to do or say something.
Calling my mission president and meeting with him brought about therapy, a diagnosis, and medication, but to be honest there isn't a lot of mental health support in the field. There just isn't time to meet with a therapist every week, to spend time healing, when you're a missionary. So I found a dosage of medication that took out the white noise from my head and just kept moving, trying to tell myself that I would take care of it when I got home.
That's no way to live, as anybody with a mental illness knows. I begged my mission president multiple times to let me stay on my mission despite his concerns, partially out of pride and partially out of fear. Nobody wants to be "that missionary," the one who gets sent home (honorably or not). I struggled and tried to work and at times thought I had moved past my struggles, but they always came back.
Eventually, my mission president decided it was best for me to go home. He reassured me over and over again that it was an honorable release, that it was only thirty days early, but I cried for days despite my secret relief. I was "that" missionary. I was allowed to call my family to let them know, and although they were supportive of me, there were some hard facts we all had to come to terms with: I was broken, completely, and broken people are a lot harder to piece back together than broken china. Still, I was lucky, because I could continue to pretend like everything was normal, if I wanted: nobody would notice thirty days or mental illnesses tempered with medication. Even if I was broken on the inside, I could at least appear to be whole.
When I got home, I found that was true: nobody noticed. I weaned myself off of my medication because I hated feeling dependent, and at first it was okay. I loved my mission. I missed it like crazy. I was awkward and uncomfortable and everyone thought it was adorable because I was a freshly-returned missionary trying to readjust to the world. I made scripture references and jokes about the Joseph Smith movie in normal conversation. I cried. A lot.
And then I got angry. I was angry at God, angry at the Church, angry at myself, angry and hurt and disenchanted. I had spent most of my mission feeling like an outcast, and I capitalized on that loneliness when I got home. I hated the missionaries that had made me feel bad about myself or who said mean things about my friends in the mission. I hated all of the times I had been weak and disobedient. I hated the people that were rude to me and to others, hated the leaders that were ignorant to our needs and the needs of those we loved and worked with.
I hated myself for hating my mission.
It was a dark winter. I spent all of December and January bitter, teetering on the edge of leaving the Church and starting fresh. In mid-January, I moved away to Utah without a plan of what I was going to do there, and found myself in the heart of young adult Mormonism, Provo, surrounded by thirty thousand other young Mormons who were much better at being Mormon and much happier about it than I was.
By March, I started to see the downward spiral that I had continued traveling and, again, reached out for help. I found a therapist and started talking to him every week. At first, all I could talk about was my mission and my anger. I tried reading the scriptures but only found things to argue about. I tried praying but felt like no one was listening. I went to Church but never spoke. If only they knew how much I hate this, I would think. None of them would want to talk to me if they knew what I really was.
But I kept going. I went because it was the only thing I knew. I went because I had felt and seen things on my mission that had changed me and my way of thinking, and as much as I wanted to leave church and never look back, I started to realize that I couldn't. I owed it to God to try again. On my mission in California, when I told myself I was completely alone, I always had the thought in the back of my mind that's not true. I hadn't always had that reassurance in life; not until I started reaching out and asking for help did I realize that others were reaching back, had been reaching for ages. I owe any clarity and joy I had on my mission to God, who gave me miraculous days where I could work without crashing and moments with people that I still cherish.
I'm not half as angry as I was a few months ago. I have my days when that sense of injustice comes back and riles me up. I hear things at church or spoken between peers that I now know can be hurtful to the right ears (sometimes my own). At times I get angry when I try to understand points of doctrine or LDS history that I don't agree with or understand. I'm not perfect, and don't see much point in pretending like I am.
But I've also recently heard beautiful, incredible talks about loving others unconditionally. I've been comforted by tiny bits of scripture or random happenstance that make me feel, once again, like God is aware of me. I've been given an opportunity to teach in church, something that I love to do, and something that helps me feel that the Christ I am teaching of is a real person.
I'm still broken. I still have a long way to go before I will feel steady again. I can't help but look back on my college life with envy at times, wishing for that lost confidence and independence. I still have days where I'm full of white noise or anxiety, where I feel like I can't breathe, but that's my normal, for now, and I'm learning to live in it.
If you ever have been or are any of these things,
full of hate,
full of self-loathing,
please know how much I want to be your friend. We have these things in common. I don't care about your religious affiliation, sexual orientation, your weight, your skin color, your age/sex/location; you are worthy of love and attention. You are worthy of friendship.
I'm not sure about a lot of things, but I do believe that we are on this earth to be good to each other, to be a friend and support to others. That was one of my most cherished roles on my mission: friend. So if you need a friend, I'm here. If you have friendship to give, give it freely.
I might not have the big picture yet, but I believe that everything can be shaped for good in our lives if we allow them to. So here's to one year, five months, and a lifetime of struggling and getting back up again, always a little stronger than before, always growing.
(Thanks for your prayers and support while I served. Now you know how much I meant it when I said that in my emails.)