Everything I Never Told You

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 21 Comments

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.)


  1. This is a beautiful and so familiar account. Thank you for sharing something I have not been able to share with the world outside of my wife and family. I was eager to serve a mission, despite having been plagued by depression and self doubt in my life. As soon as I was in the MTC and in the field, I felt the pressure of insecurity and helplessness building to a point I had never experienced before. While we were out teaching and contacting, I could lose myself in the work, but in those small moments at night while my companion was asleep the only thing I found was a maddening spiral of panic and second thoughts. I wrote letters constantly to distract myself, and put on a smiling face, but it was a constant battle. I remember clearly a moment in which my hand was slammed in a car door and not knowing whether I had done it to myself or not.
    I was only in the mission field for a little over a month before being diagnosed with severe bi-polar depression, a condition I'd dealt with my entire life but which had never been a burden until my mission. I was released honorably, but was devastated at the shame of returning so soon. I thought that surely the people I knew at home (especially those who had contributed to getting me on my mission) would think so much less of me. However, upon my return I was greeted with love and concern. I received professional therapy and medication, eventually got married and tried to move on in my life. There are still moments when I feel alone, ashamed, angry, and even cheated. But these accounts of good honest missionaries struggling through the same adversity gives me an assurance that what I did was the right thing.
    We were both given the opportunity to serve, and we did so. We answered the mission call, and were sorely tried, but the Lord did not require us to bear more than we could. Thank you for being strong, but also thank you for sharing your inspiring and reassuring account.

    1. Thank YOU for sharing your story! Your attitude is inspirational to me. I can't wait for the day when missionaries don't have to feel ashamed for coming home early. The more we talk about it, the more I hope that comes closer to reality.

  2. Thanks for sharing this.

    I've been home for ten years, but I only made it eleven months. Sometimes I feel like it never really happened, that such a short period of time is insignificant. But then again, if it took serving a mission to learn these things about myself, and figure out what I needed to know to treat it, then it's probably for the best right?

    Based on this post, my experience was very similar. I don't want sound discouraging, but I still occasionally have dreams that I'm supposed to go back and finish what I started. Which is ridiculous, but moving on is difficult and trying. But - it's taken me this long to figure out how to talk about it, to realize that it's something important that I need to share, and that ultimately I was not alone in my experience. Basically, everything you've already figured out in only six months.

    As much as I resented getting lost in despair so far from home and comfort, it helped forge an understanding of mental health that I wouldn't have otherwise. This far down the road, that's a lesson that has turned out to be invaluable. Issues with doctrine, history, and policy will come and go, but the experience stays with me. Even the experience of disappointment, crushing depression, and detachment. All of those matter, even when they feel so empty.

    Sorry to ramble. I'm sorry you had to go through this. I'm sorry because this is your journey and I don't know exactly what it's like, but man, I've been there. But you got this.

    1. Hey Cody. Yeah, nobody warns you how difficult it is to leave a mission abruptly. Not only do you already feel inadequate, but on top of that comes this sense of eternal unfinished business. It's enough to drive someone crazy.

      I agree wholeheartedly with what you said, and found that's one of the reasons I'm glad I went. No other immediate life experience would have pushed me to the brink so quickly, or made it so clear what my next step was. I've been struggling with my mental illnesses my entire life without separating them from my normal, healthy thoughts. Who knows how long it would have taken me to realize what was wrong, how to deal with it, if I hadn't gone? It's a scary thought, to think of experiencing the fear and confusion I did on my mission during my first few years of marriage or while raising kids.

      You're not rambling at all. Thanks for being open and willing to talk about it with me.

  3. Dain, you served in my area, and in fact spoke at my baptism. I, and many others, thought you did great. The Lord loves you, and so do we. I hold you in high regard, and wish you all the love, security, and success the Lord knows you deserve.

  4. Dain, you and I were once very close friends. I often look back on that time together and wonder what happened, what changed. Life back then just seemed so simple and easy then. Reading your emails during your mission was a source of strength for me as it was way back then. My friends and family have often looked to me as the example, especially in the church. I can't tell them that I am lost, that I dont know what I even believe anymore. I had to leave my mission early and have felt insignificant ever since, like I just don't belong here anymore. People expect me to go back, but I have not felt worthy to do so. Especially now that I have reached a fork in the road where my next step is unclear. This post has given me a sence of comfort that it is okay I don't know what to do. I love you Dain and am grateful for you in my life. You have always popped up in a much needed time in my life.

    1. That pressure of knowing others are looking to you can be almost unbearable, can't it? It took me a long time to admit to myself I had a problem in part because of that pressure, especially having two younger siblings following after me. Admitting I was weak felt like setting them up for failure, or setting them up to always disappointed in me.

      Man, I know that feeling. The fork in the road. Feeling out of place at church. Carrying around guilt and shame about the mission. I'm still there, in part, still trying to figure it out like you are. But I know that this is my life, meant to be traveled at my pace. I don't need to feel like I should be anywhere other than where I am. Easier said than done, of course, to be okay with where you're at. My therapist reminds me constantly to stop feeling like I'm not where I'm supposed to be in life, but I still put so much unnecessary pressure on myself to be and do and feel what I'm not.

      You've got this. We've both got this. We can do it. :)

  5. Dain,

    Thank you for your wonderful message. You are an amazing and strong women. Thank you for your insight & strength (even if you can't see it in yourself). I know your post will be able to help others heal or at least help people realize that they aren't alone.

    I too had to come home early from my mission-- honorably, but still miserably. I was only out for 7 months. I cried so much when I got home & at times still slip back into the feelings of "why me?". It was hard to get over the hurt or the "what did you do wrong to get set home" looks I felt like I was receiving every time I went to church. I want to tell you things will get easier, but the pain never goes away 100%. Truthfully, the thing that helped me the most was an older gentleman that was in my ward who was sent home early himself. He & his wife took me in, befriended me, wrote me when I went away to college & have kept in touch over the past 13 years. They don't judge, they just support & love me. It has helped so much & I know I have them to go to when I get overcome with those feelings of inadequacy. I have tried to "pay in forward" & reach out to others in the same way. I hope I can at least lift another & not make them feel so alone.

    Hang in there. It does get easier & the pain isn't quite so raw. Always remember that our Savior is there & that he loves you. Alma 7:11-12. And, regardless of how you feel, you were an AMAZING missionary!! Thank you for the service that you gave :)

  6. I came home a week into my mission. I understand how you feel. I got called to Carlsbad as well, and found your blog when I was preparing to leave. I read it all the time, even after I came home I checked it all the time to hear about California. Your words helped me, so thank you.

    I will pray for you. And I can absolutely promise you that things will and do get better. Do what's best for you, and forget what everyone else says. That's all you can really do. =)

  7. Wow, Dain! You've gone through an emotional roller coaster. I served my mission in West Virginia and returned over twenty years ago. Although I stayed the full two years, I've always felt guilty that I didn't love my mission as much as everybody else seemed to. (And didn't love BYU when I went there, but that's another story. I am grateful I met my wife there :-))

    I have suffered with depression and suicidal thoughts since I was a teen. Still do and with anxiety added in the past couple years. I'm not going to lie, it is a tough battle, but there are so many wonderful things that make the pain and challenges worth it.

    You exemplify an openness and acceptance of people despite their challenges. I think that is one of the hidden benefits of mental health issues. It often opens your eyes to the unseen challenges that others might be (and are) fighting. Mental health struggles are often not visible from the outside--and too often not recognized internally. I wasn't diagnosed with depression until I was in my late 30's. I thought everybody went through the hell (sorry, there's really no other word for it) I have and do go through at times.

    I have been coming to grips with the challenges of life with depression and anxiety. I think it is a continual learning process. One of the most important things for me to learn is to allow myself to be different, to take care of myself, and not need to be like everybody else. That has led to some significant career changes in the past couple years. Something I wish I had done before the trauma I experienced in a work environment that was caustic.

    Take good care of yourself. Be patient. Enjoy the journey. Even when things are darkest you can still see the stars--if you look for the tiny pin pricks in the sky.

    Thank you for sharing and being open about your experiences. I think you are well on your way.

  8. Dain,
    Thank you for writing this! I have to say, our stories are very similar. I have been home for 7 months now and struggle with many of the same things! I had to come home 6 weeks early for surgery. I have been wanting to share my story, thoughts and feelings for quite some time now and after reading your story I finally gained the courage to do so! Stop by and check it out! http://www.goodmorningsugarpants.com/2015/05/what-my-lds-mission-taught-me.html?m=1

    1. Sorry I think that's a bad link! Check it out at goodmorningsugarpants.com

  9. Thanks so much for this, Dain. I lasted the whole two years, but struggled the entire time with undiagnosed depression and anxiety. I have been able to come to terms with lingering guilt over the things I could have achieved on the mission "if only I'd tried harder." On the airplane ride home, as the jet circled to gain altitude, I was blessed to see the entire island where I'd spent my mission. As I contemplated the scene, the Lord (who called me there in the first place) helped me to understand that He accepted my sacrifice, that he knew all about my insecurities, my guilt, and my love/hate relationship with the place. And that He loved me anyway. That revelation has stuck with me in good times and bad for the over 27 years since I came home. It gets better.

  10. Dain,

    Thank you for writing this; it touched me on a deep level. I have a lot of respect and compassion towards people who need to come home for one reason or another. I can only imagine how tough it must be to face the internal and external pressures of an early returned missionary. While I was able to serve the full 2 years, I resonate a lot with what you wrote. One of the things that I have had to navigate over the course of my life as a member of the church has been my personal sexual orientation and identity. Growing up, it rarely surfaced on a conscious level, largely because I believed that a mission would allow me to demonstrate that I was good enough and serve as my personal panacea.

    Once I returned from my mission (which was both incredibly fulfilling and excruciatingly difficult), I soon realized that missions are not a fix-all magic wand. My feelings, confusion, fear, and anger returned stronger than ever--largely because I believed I had lost my one chance at proving that I was a good enough person. I felt broken beyond repair, and I had no idea how to finally confront my painful emotions.

    While I never physically left the church, I couldn't hear the speakers over my internal self-dialogue of anger and hate. I hated God for not being there the way I wanted him to. I hated myself for not being good enough and for not fitting in like everyone else did. I left after (and during) sacrament meetings time and time again because of how much they hurt, and I felt like it was better for me to leave than to deal with the growing pain and anger. Others would bear their testimonies about faith and goodness and happiness; each testimony felt like a cobblestone on my journey out of the church. I wasn't like them. They were better, more faithful, and less broken.

    Things became better over time, but the journey up this mountain was anything but smooth. There were times when I felt God near and believed he loved me, and times when I hated him more than I have hated anything. There were times when I felt and appreciated the way that friends would reach out to me in love, and times when I felt that suicide was the only option to escape my difficult feelings and the best option to protect the people who I seemed to hurt over and over again.

    I have found myself back in the church, and I feel ok most times and most days. I am, however, still broken in a lot of ways. I don't have the answers. I sometimes feel angry, hurt, hopeless, or despondent. Within and between these times, however, I feel pockets of hope and healing, and I appreciate those gifts. Your words a reminder that it is ok to be broken and hurting, and that we don't need all of the answers. That was a helpful reminder for me today, and I am sure that your experience has provided needed strength and healing to others as well.

  11. To Dain, and all the other comments to this blog....
    You guys are all inspiring. Each and everyone of you. It's so comforting to read this in a way, because this has opened my mind to how real mental illness is, and how important it is to take care of.
    I haven't gone a mission yet, but I've been called to serve in the Columbus, Ohio mission soon. Just hearing these words is helping me understand mission life on a completely different level. This blog is humbling so much. There is a lot of history of bipolar, depression, and anxiety on my dad's side of my family. I haven't experienced in my life yet, but hearing all of this is preparing me in countless ways. I love hearing your experiences. Just remember to everyone: YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH and NEVER ALONE.

    Thanks again Dain!

    How I appreciate your candid experiences of your many struggles while on your mission and after...it takes incredible courage to be this raw and honest.

    First off..as u already know, I am familiar with your experiences as I too suffer from depression, SEVERE BI-POLAR, ADHD & OCD (yes Heavenly Father has a sense of humor), I shared a little of this while u were in my home.

    I began to read your post the first time you posted it on FACEBOOK..had planned on responding almost immediately but unfortunately I too have been battling real challenging episodes of lately...not sure if I ever relayed to u how bad bi-polor really sucks...
    So if we were to put a meter on depression...lets just say that my last episode from 1-10, 10 being the absolute worst...I had recently experienced a whopping 13...
    It was so bad, I literately had to leave my family (the tears fell uncontrollably like an avalanche) for fear of scaring them (poor Sam saw his MOM go from happily talking to him to instantly crying like I just witness some death or something), so in front of Laurie and Sam...I got up in a panic and said...gotta run, need to find a chiropractor (as my anxiety level peaked and I started to hyperventilate, blood pressure rose (as I was trying desperately to control a broken damn of tears), my neck started to stiffen and my range of motion (neck)was closing in on me (literately), I left grief stricken over nothing (no reason to be depressed, out side of the fact that I have a brain disorder that rears its ugly head at the most unexpected instances, with out warning...
    So u see...u are not alone in ur madness...I can relate...to the loneliness of it all...to all the feelings of where u feel "out of control" "out of your mind and body" kind of out of control..

    Our disorder is not obvious, like a broken arm or broken leg, but none the less, we feel broken inside @times...
    It would be different if maybe our depression was caused by the environment or friends we keep (abusive etc.), but such is not the case for u and me, we have family who love and support us...all the more maddening...but u need to realize, that our disorder is like having DIABETES...we have as much control over it by taking our meds etc...but does it go away entirely? nope..but like diabetes...its just part of our chemical make up...nothing to be ashamed about...just something we need to master in handling and maintaining it...
    You need to fight to be POSITIVE in your disorder...the Savior knows and loves each and everyone one of us...he wants us to be happy and to have joy in our lives...I know its hard to see it, but there are huge blessings to having this disorder..#1 blessing? we have a tremendous amount of love, patience and compassion for our fellow man? how u ask? we have reached such low despairing depths, that to see someone who is lonely and lost...we can feel their pain, cause its a pain we know all too well and recognize, so maybe there is 3 there...lol, love, patience and compassion.

    U know who u are...U know ur strength! u know ur limitations...SATAN wants u to be unhappy and unsatisfied with yourself..u are a CHILD OF GOD...Our Father in heaven wants u to succeed in life...this is a stepping stone...get to know your depression, make peace with the fact that it is a part of u, that has challenged and strengthen u. This challenge can build character if u allow it and encourage it...stay true to your covenants and stay close to our Savior when the challenges come and they will come...its life..I tell people...if u really want to simplify it...its like this...there are two roads in life...one that leads to the Savior..one that leads to SATAN, pick one...its not easy, nothing worthwhile is ever easy...but it is worth it..

  13. PART 2

    I love u..and am honored that u served in our ward...that my children (daughter more specifically) got to meet u...and that despite the many trials and turmoil u were going through...u kept it together, u stayed strong and u persevered.
    U didn't quit!

    From someone who is older...who has had similar challenges to u...if I were to dole out unsolicited advice...it would be this...find some..or pick someone in your life that u trust...absolutely trust ( a best friend, MOM? or sister even), someone u love, trust, trust tht they won't judge u...someone who will simply be there for u @your most desperate of times...enlist them to be tht one trusted soul tht u need to go to in person or in conversation (distance could be an issue)..its like AA...a trusted sponsor like kinda person (u know wht I mean?)..when ur depression gets out of control..call that trusted person...cry on their shoulder (tell them they are not required to talk...but to listen and to not judge), there only job is to LOVE with no judgement...
    I use Bert sometimes...but when it gets really bad...I just get in the car and go to the beach...I find a change of environment is all I need to get over the hump...oh...and pray for peace of mind and heart...I have a couple of friends...but rarely are they available to me when I really need them...disappointing...but it is wht it is u know...so I just cope...and I never give up...even when its been tempting (and let me tell u I've been tempted plenty these last few months)! From suicidal thoughts to buying a bottle of Tequila...and when thoughts like that happen (usually feeling lower then low)..I remind myself...there are two roads...which road brings the Savior...which is the easy way out?

    Keep in touch...u are FAMILY to me and my family! WE LOVE U! And always hope the best for u! TAKE CARE!

    Alexx Summers

  14. Beautiful, refreshing, relatable. You are awesome, Dain!

  15. This is a beautiful post. As one who also returned early (9 months early), struggled to comprehend it all, and am not 4 years away from all of that, I can say that it does get better. It really does. I can not pick through the wreckage to see what I learned and what it means for me. I don't feel guilty when people know I came home early. I've resolved my doubts and have a strong testimony of the Church. And no, I still am not fond of missionary work--in fact, I still hate it--but I would go again, because my mission, as terrible as I felt it was, has become a part of me.

    Thank you for your post. You are doing so well at trying to do what is right. Please keep trying. Heavenly Father will reassure you about your doubts and fears concerning the gospel. It just takes time--lots of time--years. :)

    1. *now 4 years away from that. Sorry...