12/2/14

Everyone Needs Help Sometimes

When I came home from my mission, I was visited by a sweet family in my ward. They talked to me and let me know that I was loved and supported. Then, they went out of their way and gave me several books, one of them called "The Writer's Devotional" by Amy Peters. They knew that I love to write and use it as an outlet. I was flipping through this book today looking at the different writing prompts it offers. One of them is: Everyone needs help sometime... This prompt in particular struck a chord with me. Why? Because it is a known fact that is often never admitted to.

People don't like asking for help. For some reason, asking for help has become associated with weakness. Admitting weakness is intolerable in the society that we live in. We make sure to always put on a good face. We slap filter after filter on our pictures, trying to make ourselves look unrealistically good. When someone asks how we are, without thinking we reply "Good!" We live in constant fear of others finding out that we aren't actually perfect. (gasp)

To me, when we don't admit weakness, we are implying that we don't need help from God. Okay, that's a bit extreme, but think about it. If we are perfect and lead perfect lives, why in the world would we need help from God? Pretending to be perfect is a form of pride. We are supposed to have weaknesses and trials because these help us learn that we need God, and that we can't trust entirely in ourselves.

Ether 12:27 "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness, I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

Everyone needs help sometime. Everyone falls short. Everyone has bad days. Because we live in such a self-centered, perfectionistic world, weaknesses like depression and other mental illnesses aren't accepted. They are looked down upon, misunderstood, and mocked. I wish that we lived in a world that instead of glorifying fake perfection, glorified those who fall down and get back up again. Maybe then we would be less likely to turn our nose up at the weaknesses of others and beat ourselves up for our own shortcomings. Everyone needs help sometime, and that's okay.


12/1/14

Q&A (part 2)


[Before I start ANY of these Q&A posts, I need to make a quick disclaimer. I am in no way a professional. I don't have a degree in anything, nor am I qualified to make a diagnosis, etc. The way I'm going to answer these questions is based purely on opinion and personal experience. Please don't take my opinion to be an absolute answer. Take it as a suggestion.]


Q: How can you tell if someone REALLY came home for a legit mental illness, or if they are just using it as an excuse?

A: This is a tough one for me to answer. With mental illnesses, it is really hard to see the physical manifestations of the illness. With a broken arm, you can see the cast. After a surgery, you can see the stitches. With mental illness, often the people who suffer with it become very good at hiding their symptoms. I guess my answer to this question is: It doesn't matter. If any missionary came home early, whether for a legitimate mental illness or not, they just need love and help. In my opinion, it doesn't matter why a missionary came home. They need love, help, and support. So when you meet an early return missionary, give them the benefit of the doubt. Support them and love them. You have no clue the kind of difference you can make if you choose to love them.

Q: How do I explain my own mental illness to those I care about so they'll have a better understanding? My family is great, but I'm more concerned about new relationships or future relationships (such as a future spouse). It has been a problem in relationships before, and some of the time due to the general public's misunderstanding of mental illness and their ability to deal with someone who suffers from it.

A: I've worried about this too. I, too, have had problems when it comes to relationships and my depression. Someone who doesn't struggle with a mental illness will never be able to fully understand what it feels like. That can cause problems when a person who struggles with a mental illness turns to a loved one for empathy and support. Honestly, I don't think there is one good answer for this question. Every relationship is different, but what works for me is being upfront and honest with my significant other about my issues. Every guy who has dated me would probably say the same thing: It's a challenge. Dating me is a challenge. But every relationship has challenges, and the ones that work are the relationships that include effort.

As far as explaining mental illness goes, I like approaching it a few different ways. I usually start out with the scientific facts, for example, "Mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain." I do my research and try to explain what I understand of that research. After a logical approach, I just explain what it feels like and how I cope with it. It's up to you, though. Try different approaches, see what works best.

Q: How do I help others see that not all early returned missionaries and late leaving missionaries are due to testimony/worthiness?

A: I don't know if anyone can make anyone see this fact. We all need to learn how to not judge and condemn people so quickly. Even if a missionary came home early or left late because of worthiness or testimony, is it up to us to condemn them? When the woman accused of adultery was brought before Christ, he didn't condemn her but urged her to "sin no more." He showed love and compassion...can't we do the same? Anytime a missionary struggles, we should do our best as followers of Christ to support them and love them, no matter what.





(If you want to submit a question, fill out this survey:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1o6oXl_7TAtcybnnsqznoGBQ5dW_cVCAgeunVDIHlxHw/viewform?usp=send_form )

11/2/14

The past year.

I've been thinking about this post for a long time. A couple of months, actually. Even though I've thought about it for so long, I still don't quite know how to approach it. So I'll just go for it, I guess.

One year ago today, I returned home from my mission after serving for only six months. The things I remember about that day are stored in my memory as snapshots. Looking out the window as I drove towards the airport, wondering how everyone was going to react when they found out. Dragging one of my suitcases behind me, its weight matching the weight that was pressing down on my heart. Seeing my family for the first time in six months, the tears and the sad smiles. Being released as a full-time missionary and crying bitterly as I took my tag off. So many emotions...shame, embarrassment, fear, sadness, and disappointment.

It has been a long year, full of ups and downs. It has been a full-on fight to try and recover from where I was a year ago. There have been days when I just wanted to sink into oblivion. It has been a year full of pain and heartache that I didn't know was possible. But it has also been a year of miracles.

The number one thing that I've learned in the past year is that God is always there. I've hit some really low spots since Nov 2, 2013. But every single time, I've received the strength to keep moving on. I know that that strength comes from my Savior's atoning sacrifice. I know that He felt everything that I've felt. He knows what it is like to want to give up. But He didn't quit, He finished the mission that His Father sent Him here to do. It is this knowledge that keeps me going when I feel like all is lost. It is by the miraculous power of the Atonement that I am where I am today.

We are never alone. We are never too far gone that the Atonement can't heal us. We are never in a place where God stops loving us or caring for us or blessing us. In the darkest of times, it is really hard to recognize that, but I testify with my whole heart that we are never alone. Darkness cannot and will not overcome light.



10/12/14

Acceptance

Here's a guest post from an awesome friend of mine. In this post, he highlights one of the major themes of this blog: acceptance.



So this is going to be a little bit different than the usual posts on this blog. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Dylan Cahoon. I’m a 20 year old white male that was raised in Farmington Utah since birth, and I am a minority. Obviously not racially, but a religious minority. I’m one of what seems like the 20 non LDS people in Utah. No, I’m not anti-Mormon, a question that I get a lot more frequently than you’d imagine when I tell people that I’m non LDS. Many of my best friends growing up were Mormon, I never did miss any of my friend’s farewells, and I have been great friends with Rachel for about 8 years now. We were hanging out with a group of friends this past weekend and the subject of her blog came up and she thought that since this is a blog about depression and early-return missionaries, it would be interesting to get some stories from the perspective of someone that is outside of that culture, and I completely agreed. Also I am an English Major, so I’m obligated to write on a blog or else all the cool English kids will shun me.
                I’m just going to tell a couple of stories, and I am going to leave everyone’s names out of it to retain anonymity. The first is of a friend that I had in High School. This friend was raised Mormon, however he personally fell away from the church. In his senior year he broke up with his girlfriend, and turned to alcohol. He had stopped believing and wanted nothing to do with the church; that is until his family started talking to him. His family did not take the traditional route through encouragement, but rather took a more threatening approach. They told him that if he did not go on a mission that he would be written out of the will (the family is worth well over a million dollars) and he would be kicked out of the house. But if he did go on a mission then they would pay for his college in full and buy him a new car the day he got back. As you probably guessed, he is on a full time mission, however I think you would agree with me that he did not leave for the right reasons. I am happy to say that now that he is out there he is doing fantastic and has turned his life around, but it was all forced upon him. From what I understand it’s the spirit that is supposed to guide you to go on a mission, but it was his family for this friend. I honestly believe that had they just given him a few more months and just talked to him that he would have chosen to go on the mission, but because they could not just accept him they forced him into something that he did not believe in at the time.
                My next story is one about myself. When I originally moved up to Utah State I moved up with 5 friends, all of which were Mormon and had accepted me long ago, and I consider them all some of my closest friends. Now every single one of them has left on a mission, and I have made some new great friends up here. Since my original roommates left in my 2 years I have had to live with 10 strangers, 7 of which were missionaries fresh off the mission. Of those seven, six of them started our first conversation with, “Are you LDS?”. And when I responded no, their response was always one of two things. Either, “Why not?”, or worse, “Oh, that’s too bad.” A lot of people would not think that that is a big deal, but imagine the situation reversed. What if I asked if you were Mormon and you said yes and I said, “Oh, that’s too bad.” I would be ostracized. Only one of those 7 RM’s replied with, “Oh that’s cool.” I have lived with him 3 more semesters and he’s probably my best friend in Logan now. Because instead of questioning my religious beliefs or trying to convert me on my first day knowing them, he accepted me for whom I was.

                This probably seems a little off topic for what this blog is usually about but don’t worry, I have finally reached my point. My roommates heard that I was a non-Mormon and immediately assumed that that made me a bad person. From what I’ve seen it’s often the same with missionaries that return early. Why is it that it is immediately assumed that something went wrong? And why is it that you feel the need to push and find out why? I have taken lessons from some of my close friends that are now home from their missions. However when my roommates that I didn’t even know tried to talk to me about it I completely shut them down. This is because I was not comfortable with them. The people that I had talked to about religion are people I’d been friends with for a few years and had already accepted me for who I was. It is the exact same with those who have returned from the missions early. If they have not told you what the reason was, chances are that they do not feel comfortable enough with you to tell you right then. The best thing that you can do is accept them, Accept that it is none of your business and move on. And when they do become comfortable with you they will most likely tell you. This is going to be a difficult analogy, but imagine you are a parent. You have multiple children and all of them leave one out for some reason or another. You wouldn’t condone that. So wouldn’t you imagine that God is the same way? We are all children of God, and I imagine that he would want everyone to accept each other just like you would, regardless of differences. So whether a person is black or white, Mormon or not Mormon, or served a full mission or returned early, give them acceptance. It is the godliest quality we have as human beings, and one that could potentially bring us all closer together as children of God.

10/9/14

Q&A

The survey was a success! I've gotten a lot of good feedback and some awesome questions. Because I got so many good questions (and I want more!) I have decided to break it up into several Q&A posts. So if your question isn't answered in this post, hang tight. I'll get to it, I promise.

(If you want to submit a question, fill out this survey:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1o6oXl_7TAtcybnnsqznoGBQ5dW_cVCAgeunVDIHlxHw/viewform?usp=send_form )

Before I start ANY of these Q&A posts, I need to make a quick disclaimer. I am in no way a professional. I don't have a degree in anything, nor am I qualified to make a diagnosis, etc. The way I'm going to answer these questions is based purely on opinion and personal experience. Please don't take my opinion to be an absolute answer. Take it as a suggestion. 



Q: How do you ʺcheer upʺ someone with a mental illness? What's the best way to help?

A: This is an excellent question, probably one of the ones I get asked the most frequently. There is no set way to cheer someone up who has a mental illness. For each person, it is different. Let me explain it how one of my therapists explained it:

Most wheels have spokes. These spokes help keep the wheel round and from getting lopsided. The spokes need to be strong and straight. It is the same with our emotional balances. There are certain "spokes" that we need to make sure we are taking care of. (This goes for everyone, not just people with mental illnesses) Each person has different spokes. For example, some of my spokes are:


  • Spirituality: spending time in prayer, reading scriptures, attending the temple, and spending time to ponder.
  • Alone time: spending time just to be still and to be alone
  • Nutrition: if I eat like crap, I feel like crap. Also, if I don't eat enough, I get off-balanced
  • Physical activity: (I suck at this one) "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't." Exercise is good! Yay for being healthy
  • Music: I live off of good music. 
  • Writing: writing helps me cope with things. This blog, for example, helps me out a lot
  • Sleep: sleep is a huggggeee one for me. I need lots of sleep. Half of it is because my meds make me drowsy, but the other part is purely for my mental health. If I don't get enough sleep, my emotions get way off. I usually have to take at least an hour nap every day, even if I get 8 hours of sleep at night.
The best way to help cheer someone up is to find out their spokes. Find out what keeps them going. Look for those little things that cheer them up. It might take awhile, but it is worth it. For example, something that almost NEVER fails to cheer me up is antique store shopping. Why? I don't know. Everyone has something like that. As a friend, do your best to find those little things and go out of your way to do those things with or for your friend.

One thing you should NEVER do is criticize them for not being happy. Avoid things like, "Just look on the bright side!" "Or cheer up!" Those are the worst. I cringe typing them out. People with mental illnesses aren't choosing to be sad, and sometimes it just isn't possible to choose to be happy. 

Q: How do I know if I have depression or if it's just a low point in life? I know that there can be re-occurring depression, or seasonal depression and I'm not sure if it's that or not.

I'm choosing to answer this question today because (well...it's almost midnight, but whatever) today is national depression screening day! NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) posted this ( http://www.nami.org/template.cfmSection=Top_Story&template=%2FContentManagement%2FContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=171774&lstid=809 ) awesome article. Read it! Take one of its recommended online tests or find a place to be screened! There is absolutely NO SHAME in trying to take care of yourself, and there is no shame in having depression. Depression is a real thing, and there are ways to help it. Don't keep living under a rain cloud if you don't have to. 

Q: How do you determine if someone else is open to talking about their mental illness?

This is a tough question to answer. I am somewhat of an oddball because I am so open about having depression. Most people are afraid of how their family and friends will react if they open up about their mental illnesses. Honestly, I think the best way to find out if someone is willing to talk about their mental illness is by asking. Choose a good time and place, and show genuine care and concern for them. Let them know that you aren't going to judge them and that you are a friend that they can turn to if they feel comfortable talking about it. No one can get mad at you for that. You are simply offering your support. It is up to them whether or not they choose to confide in you. If they choose not to, don't be offended. Continue to support them and be their friend. Don't take it personally--most of the time it won't be anything against you, they just won't be ready to talk about it yet.




There's the first Q&A post folks! Be sure to fill out the survey and give me some more questions to answer! It'll take you two minutes, tops.




9/20/14

I'm a fighter.

I met this turtle today at Petco. He's a cutie, eh?
Me and Mr. Turtle here bonded. I was walking around the fish tanks and saw the turtle tank. As I walked up, I noticed one turtle frantically clawing and kicking at the glass cage that he was in. I watched him for about ten minutes. He never stopped. He kept swimming and bumping into that dang glass wall. I wanted to cry as I watched him. "Stop Mr. Turtle! There's a wall there!" But he kept pushing and swimming and fighting. 

Sometimes I feel like Mr. Turtle. I'm coming up on a year since I came home (November 2) and it has been a year from hell. I've felt like I'm constantly fighting a battle against an invisible wall, trying to escape the depression that drags me down. I've kicked and clawed and fought and scratched. But the wall never seems to go away. 

I was talking to my parents about this phenomenon this week and my dad made an interesting comment. "Keep fighting. You can't give up. You may never get back to where you were before your mission, but that's alright. Because you've changed." 

Mr. Turtle is a fighter. He has gained strong muscles from kicking and clawing at his aquarium. I'm getting stronger in my fight. It has been a long, hard battle, and might continue to be so. But I've learned and I've become strong. I'm a fighter. 

9/7/14

Be My Guest:

Sometimes I get sick of listening to myself. And by that, I mean I get sick of only posting what I have to say. So, I am happy to introduce my first guest blogger, hopefully the first of many!




I’ll start this blog post off by introducing myself. I’m Tyler Jones and I am an early RM from the Washington Federal Way mission and Rachel asked me if I would write an article for her blog. I said I would give it a shot, so here goes nothing!

Recently I’ve been studying the Book of Mormon in a somewhat different manner. My bishop gave me a packet with a study guide by topic. Instead of reading the Book of Mormon from cover to cover you skip around a lot for specific sections on different topics. This study guide also points you to resources like the Bible Dictionary and Preach My Gospel. It’s changed the way I think about things and how I approach my study of the Book of Mormon.

I’ve been studying faith each night and a few items really stuck out to me. If we have the faith to follow in His footsteps it’s going to be a hard life. As Elder Holland put it: “Salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that missionaries and mission leaders have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. Missionaries and mission leaders have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.”

While Elder Holland’s talk was directed specifically toward missionaries, I feel that this applies to all members of The Church. As we go through life we will be asked to do things that are hard and things that ask us to cry out as Joseph Smith did in his darkest hour in Liberty Jail: ““O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?”

If we have faith in The Lord Jesus Christ and in His principles and promises even the hardest of times can be filled with an uplifting light and hope. We need not ever feel alone as we walk through our own personal Gethsemanes. While I will occasionally struggle from day to day to find the faith to get out of bed in the morning, I know this to be true. Even in my hardest times the Lord has always been by my side to lift me up and to bear my burdens.

Faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most important thing that we can have in this life. If we truly believe and have faith that Jesus is the Christ and he atoned for not only our sins but also all of our physical afflictions and pains then life becomes easier. 

Find the faith to look on the bright side!

8/14/14

Being an early return missionary.

[Okay folks, from the get go you need to know this about this post: it's not a critical post. It isn't meant to point fingers or to be scathing. It's an awareness post about something I believe is an issue in the LDS community.]

I came home from my mission on a Saturday. My greeting party at the airport wasn't my dreamed-of-whole-extended-family. It was my mom, my sisters, and my grandparents. Riding down the escalators with me wasn't another missionary, but my dad. There were lots of tears shed, and not really tears of happiness, though there were a few or those. I was an early-release missionary. 

I remember that next day, Sunday. I knew my parents were nervous about it. I could feel the tension in the air as they asked me about how I wanted to handle it. I shrugged and said, "Openly." 

My parents had every right to be nervous, and I should've been too. When missionaries come home early, there are always THOSE looks. "Did she do something wrong, I wonder?" A sister mutters to her husband. "Maybe she's too sick." A brother wonders to himself. Too often, this happens. If you're an early return missionary reading this, you know exactly what this discomfort is that I'm talking about. The questions that everyone has. 

I didn't want to deal with questions, so I asked my bishop to announce over the pulpit that I had been medically released for depression. Instead of gasps and stares like I was expecting, there was a comfortable, warm quiet in the chapel. 

My ward was absolutely loving and welcoming to me. Instead of looking down on me, they held me in their collective arms and helped bear my burdens. 

I know, however, not every missionary gets this warm welcome. I know Elders, especially, can have a hard time because going on a mission is a priesthood responsibility. Too often instead of loving and supporting early-return missionaries, members are quick to judge and question missionaries. There are various reasons why missionaries come home early--worthiness, mental illnesses, injuries, illnesses. Whatever the cause, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all give that missionary the benefit of the doubt? We are all imperfect beings who make mistakes and who are prone to sickness. Even IF the missionary came home early for worthiness, they are almost always home to work it out with their bishop and The Lord. We all need the Atonement, and it isn't fair for us to think less of an individual because they have made mistakes. As President Uchtdorf put it: "Don't judge me because I sin differently than you."

We all have trials in this life. Sometimes, those trials make it necessary for missionaries to come home early from their missions. As the Savior said so lovingly, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." I know that as we all make the continued effort to love our brothers and sisters who come home early, we will become even better followers of Christ who emulate His love and His life. 

8/3/14

What it really is.

As of yesterday, I have been home from my mission for 9 months. It has been a long, challenging, but growth filled nine months. I have had opportunities to share my story with others who are struggling with similar things to me. I got to speak to a stake girl's camp about depression. I've had a couple thousand hits on this blog. I got featured on an early-return missionary website. (http://www.missionarieshomeearly.com/#!rachel/c1ltr) Basically, I've had some pretty incredible experiences that were a direct result of being open about my depression. However, I have faced a few negative experiences, and those experiences were with people who do not understand depression.

Let me make a quick disclaimer: I don't know everything about depression, and neither do experts. As with all mental illnesses, depression is a complex disease that is centered in the brain. With this post, I am not claiming that I know everything about every case of depression-heck, I don't even understand my own case. My purpose with this post is to provide some brief, basic information about depression so that maybe we can all understand it a little bit better.

I did some research before writing this, and my favorite article that I came across was published by Harvard. (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/what-causes-depression.htm) It is very factual and simple, as well as broad. Here is one main point:

Our brain is full of thousands of neurons which communicate messages from various parts of the body to the brain, and vice versa. To communicate, these neurons receive electrical signals and then release neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that go from neuron to neuron. I like to think of them as letters being put in a mailbox. These "letters" attach themselves to specific "mailboxes" in adjacent neurons. This is an intricate process that I am not an expert in. However, when it comes to depression, most often it is caused by an imbalance in these neurotransmitters.

(You should definitely go read the article that Harvard health published [link above]. The article continues to talk about several other known causes for depression like trauma, life events, genetic predisposition, medications, and a few other things.)

I want to make it very clear with this post: Diagnosed MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) is not a choice. Again, depression is not a choice. Yes, there are choices we make that can affect our emotions, especially bad decisions. But when it comes to diagnosed depression, it isn't a choice that an individual makes to be sad. I make this distinction because of my experiences I've had with people who don't really know what depression is. They tell me that it is a selfish emotion that I just need to get over. They tell me it is all in my head and that if I would just think better thoughts that I would be alright. I wish it were that easy! But it isn't. I have to take medication, go to counseling, and keep a carefully balanced lifestyle. Trust me, I'd much rather just think about sunshine and daisies and feel better.

Elder Holland put it splendidly when he said:

"Let me leave the extraordinary illnesses I have mentioned to concentrate on MDD—“major depressive disorder”—or, more commonly, “depression.” When I speak of this, I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have. Everyone is going to be anxious or downhearted on occasion. The Book of Mormon says Ammon and his brethren were depressed at a very difficult time, and so can the rest of us be. But today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!

No, this dark night of the mind and spirit is more than mere discouragement. I have seen it come to an absolutely angelic man when his beloved spouse of 50 years passed away. I have seen it in new mothers with what is euphemistically labeled “after-baby blues.” I have seen it strike anxious students, military veterans, and grandmothers worried about the well-being of their grown children."

Despite the complexity of MDD, I know that there are steps that one can take to become healthy again. Not everyone gets completely healed of depression-I'm not sure I will. But there is always hope. I know this. And my hope comes from the Atonement of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Because He overcame death and rose again, I know that one day I too, can rise perfected. Again, from Elder Holland:

"I testify of the holy Resurrection, that unspeakable cornerstone gift in the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ! With the Apostle Paul, I testify that that which was sown in corruption will one day be raised in incorruption and that which was sown in weakness will ultimately be raised in power. I bear witness of that day when loved ones whom we knew to have disabilities in mortality will stand before us glorified and grand, breathtakingly perfect in body and mind. What a thrilling moment that will be! I do not know whether we will be happier for ourselves that we have witnessed such a miracle or happier for them that they are fully perfect and finally “free at last.” Until that hour when Christ’s consummate gift is evident to us all, may we live by faith, hold fast to hope, and show “compassion one of another,” I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

Never give up hope--for yourself, or for those you love. Depression is a real thing, but it is a real thing that can be treated--especially by love.



6/11/14

Rubbing shoulders with angels.

Yesterday was a pretty tough day. I was in a bad mood and discouraged about some news I had received. At work, it was all I could do to smile at the golfers as they came to the snack bar window. In all reality, I was in a self-pitying mode. "Ah! Poor me! Why me!"

At around 11:30 last night, I made a last second decision to fill up my car. (Last minute because my gas light came on.) I trudged inside the gas station, paid in cash, then started filling up. I grabbed the windshield cleaner and started cleaning my windows. It felt good to be doing something so menial and so easy. "Cleaning my windshields...I can do that. I don't have to smile to do that."

As I rounded my car to wash the front windshield, I saw a girl approaching me. Half her head was shaved and dyed pink. She had a big tattoo on her back and shoulders which was visible through her tank top. Her make up was bleary and smeared and she smelled faintly of cigarette smoke. When I saw her coming, I immediately thought, "NO! I don't want to give you money. Go away. Leave me alone. Go ask someone else." But her eyes stopped me. There was something about her eyes--they were big and full of pain.

"Excuse me. I'm really sorry, but could you please help me? My boyfriend is abusive and he just beat me up and kicked me out. I'm looking for a ride to Orem. Could you please take me?" (My mom and dad are going to kill me when they read this.) I stared at her for a good ten seconds, contemplating. Horror stories of hitchhikers flashed through my head. Guns. Drugs. Knives. It all went through my mind. But then I heard the words, "Sure, as long as I'm just dropping you off and nothing else" come out of my mouth. What?! No. No no no. Rach, why did you just say that?! I mumbled something about needing to finish cleaning my windshield and that then we could go. She emphatically thanked me, then asked what my name was. "Rachel." "Hi, I'm Alicia."

So, a little bit nervously, I climbed into my car with a perfect stranger who obviously lived a very different lifestyle than my own. Now, when I get nervous, I talk a lot. On my mission, I honed that talking into asking questions. So that's what I did. I asked her a whole bunch of questions. She told me the basics, where she was from, her age, etc. She asked about me. I told her that I was attending school at BYU. I asked if she was in school. "No. I got in a car accident when I was sixteen and lost my memory so I had to drop out of school." I turned and looked at her. She was facing the road, her bangs partially obscuring her face. She pushed them back and looked at me with a small smile. "My grandpa gave me a blessing right after the accident. I had pretty much broken every bone in my body and they pronounced me dead on the scene. After the blessing, they took me into the hospital. I didn't have broken bones anymore."

Silence. I didn't even expect her to mention the priesthood and blessings. She continued, "That's why I have wings tattooed on my back." She turned and showed me. "Because I believe in angels. I had angels save my life." I stared at her, my mouth a little bit agape, then turned back to the road. "Through the priesthood, huh? Angels and the priesthood." I said quietly. She nodded her head in agreement.

I don't remember too much more of the conversation we had before I dropped her off at her friend's house. On my drive back to my apartment, I was overwhelmed as I thought about my life. Ya, I've had some hard experiences and yesterday was no exception. But this girl, Alicia, she had a very hard experience, and she came out of it with faith in angels. As I thought about it more, I realized that's what Alicia was. An angel. She came at a time when I needed to be reminded of God's love for His children, ALL of His children. I needed to be reminded about the miraculous power of the priesthood, and about having faith in that priesthood.

Long story short: last night I rubbed shoulders with an angel, and she even had wings.

5/18/14

Labels

When I was on the airplane flying home from Washington, I made up my mind. The decision I made was to do exactly what I'm doing right this second. I promised myself that I was going to be open about why I was home early from my mission. I decided that I was going to write about it and share with others, with the hope that my experiences might be able to someday help someone else. 

When I made this decision, I knew it came with one very big risk: labels. I knew that as soon as I opened up about having MDD, I would be labeled as "depressed." I want to be clear: I have depression, depression does not have me. Luckily, I haven't had to deal too much with negative labels, but I think it's an issue worth addressing because I know people who haven't been as lucky as me when it comes to the judgments of others. I'm a fan of myth busting, and I think I've done it once before on this blog. But let's do it again:

Myth 1: People with depression alway want to hurt themselves or kill themselves. 
      Do people with heart problems constantly have heart attacks? Nah. It's along the same lines with depression. Just as heart attacks are not always equated with heart problems, the same is true of MDD. 

Myth 2: People with depression are always sad. 
       It's different for everyone. For me, I tend to be tired, numb, or irritable. Just because someone is diagnosed with depression doesn't mean that they are always sad. 

Myth 3: If you have depression, your life is basically gonna suck. 
       Thank heavens for modern medicine and counseling. I have MDD, but at the moment I'm almost completely healthy. My brain just needs a little more attention to keep it healthy than your average person. 

Myth 4: People with depression just drag people down. 
        Ya,  I'm sure some people who are really struggling can be a bit of a downer, but nine times out of ten, they just want someone to listen and someone to care. 

Myth 5: People with depression just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get over themselves. 
         Ah. My favorite. Just like keeping our bodies healthy is a combination of activities and nutrients, it's the same with the brain. Telling yourself to lose weight doesn't quite work, and neither does telling yourself to be happy when you have MDD. Sometimes, you need counseling, medication, exercise, AND positive thinking to keep your brain healthy. And that's alright. Positive thinking is a huge helper when fighting depression, but it generally isn't the only tool one should or can use. 

These myths are some of the labels I've faced as I've been open about my depression. Most of the time, the people placing these labels mean well, they truly do. But sometimes, they're just wrong. So the next time you're tempted to label someone as soon as you find out that they struggle with something, consider the labels you would receive if people knew about your challenges. Everybody has a story, and it's up to us to not judge them by their covers. 




4/24/14

Happy Aniversary

I've been anticipating writing this post for awhile. I've been thinking about what to say and how to say it. I figure I'll never be able to write anything exactly the way I want to, so I'll just do what I can.

One year ago today, I woke up early in the morning and finished stuffing things into two huge suitcases, praying they'd fit. I drove down to Provo where I had lunch at Olive Garden with my family. We took a few pictures, then it was time to say goodbye. "It's not even that long, I'll be back next October!" I distinctly remember saying that to my mom as she teared up. I didn't cry, I was too excited. As I look back, I wish I would've cried. Eighteen months is a long time.

I can't write about all of my mission. There's too much to say, so I'll highlight some important things:

-The first time someone ripped me apart. I remember the anger and disgust in his voice, and how small I felt. I remember sitting in the car after that thinking about what he said. For the first time in my life, I started questioning my beliefs. I had to really sit down and think, read, and pray. It was the first time I had done that, previously in my life I had always just had the faith necessary. But I finally had to find out for myself if what I was teaching everyone was true.

-Getting called to be a trainer after only being out for six weeks. It was the first time that I almost said no to a calling. But I managed to choke out a yes when the Assistant to the President asked me. My trainee trained me. I learned how to truly love and how to be brave. She taught me how to think the best of people when all I wanted to do was talk trash about them. She made me walk up and knock on doors of houses with big, scary dogs chained up in the front yard. I was with her for four months, and she became my sister.

-Experiencing the darkest times of my life. I had experienced some dark times previously--I was diagnosed with depression when I was sixteen. But nothing I had gone through compared to the density of the darkness I was wading through. I had no desire to do anything. It took a lot out of me to get out of bed in the morning. I felt completely hopeless, like I would never be happy ever again. (I'm fragile when it comes to talking about this stuff. I hope people will be gentle when reading this) I didn't want to die, but I didn't want to live. I was in so much emotional pain that I wanted to literally stop existing. I just wanted to dissipate into the universe and be gone. After I was open with my mission president about how I was really doing, it was obvious that I needed to go home to get better. It was so hard to pack up my bags after only being out for six months. I felt like a failure, a disgrace. In the six months since then, with much encouragement and love from those closest to me, I am back in the light. Ultimately what got me out of the darkness was the help that the Savior provides through the Atonement.

A year ago, I went on a mission. It just turned out that it wasn't the mission I expected. The Lord called me on a different kind if mission, a mission to learn how to love and empathize with people who swim through dark waters. I was called on a mission to learn what the Atonment really is and how it can help me in my daily life. I'm sure I have a lot of other things to learn about on this mission of mine, but I know they'll come in due time. Today, I'm just grateful for the hardest, best experience of my life when I served as a full time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

4/13/14

Growing Pains

I've realized I tend to refer to my childhood/past a lot in these posts. I think that is because I constantly draw on my experiences to help me in current situations. This post is going to be no different.

When I was little, I had pretty severe growing pains. I'm sure I'm not alone. My legs would just positively ache at times. It was miserable. I didn't understand why growing would cause pain. In my mind, growing was supposed to be easy and fueled by vegetables.

This experience with growing pains reminds me of a story:


Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 174; book 4, chapter 9, paragraph 10]



It hurts to grow. It hurts to become stronger and a vessel of the Lord. But I'm a firm believer that the pain is worth it. I look back at the past six months since I got sent home early from my mission, and I see how much I've grown. It was an extremely painful six months, and I still face some pain. But I've learned. I've gained a stronger testimony of the Atonement and its power to heal and to bless. I've learned how to empathize better, how to help more, and how to love wholeheartedly. Pain is an inevitable part of our mortal experience, and I'm learning to be grateful for it because it is helping me become who I need to be.

4/1/14

Happier Days Ahead

I'm not very good at hope. It is an attribute I constantly study and pray for. I'm just one who falls prey to the darkness of despair pretty easily. Confession time: the past little while has been pretty crummy. A living hell at times. I've been feeling pretty hopeless about pretty much everything in my life: school, love, friends, you name it. As I was doing my normal perusing of Pinterest, I came across one of my favorite quotes from Elder Holland:

I absolutely love this quote because it gives me a different perspective on hope. Hope isn't believing that everything is cheerful and rosy. It isn't even believing that absolutely everything will be fixed. It is about having trust in our Heavenly Father, trust that in the end, He will make everything all right. Hope isn't not drinking the bitter cup, it is drinking and trusting. Trusting that somewhere down the road, there are happier times and experiences in store. So here's to hoping. 

3/18/14

Letting go.

I've never been very good at letting go of things. I tend to lock my fingers and refuse to release the object in my possession, no matter what it is. Obviously, this didn't make me very good at sharing when I was little. For example, as I grew out of clothes, my mom insisted that I hand them down to my little sisters. I didn't like doing that. I insisted that they were mine. I didn't care that my mom bought them, I didn't care that they didn't fit anymore. They. Were. Mine. (As a side note, I'm still not very good at handing my clothes down to my sisters...)

I've been thinking about this when it comes to negative thoughts, actions, memories, and attributes. I do not let go of these things very easily, and it only adds to the viscous cycle that my depression creates. For example:

Me: Crap. I didn't do well on that test. In fact, I sucked. Ughhh....
My brain: Wow, Rachel. You suck. You're a failure. You shouldn't even try anymore, you're only going to fail. You always do. 
Me, weeks later: I'm an awful student. I did poorly on that test. I really shouldn't try anymore. In fact, I remember that one time in first grade that I got an awful score...freak. I should've just stopped then. 
My brain: Let's remember this...

Things start to build. Something negative happens to me, and I toss it into the emotional backpack I am carrying. Time after time, again and again, I stubbornly hold onto the negative. Just like my child-self, I refuse to let go. After awhile, my backpack starts to get pretty heavy. Someone asks me to let go of those negative thoughts--"But they're mine!"  I respond angrily. 

Finally, I get to the point where I can't handle it anymore and I start to break.

In Matthew 11:28-30 the Savior taught His disciples: 

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus Christ took upon himself all the burdens of all the world. He took the heavy things upon himself and overcame them. This is a gift that he gave to all of us--he went through all so that we wouldn't have to go through anything alone. All of us carry burdens: burdens of negativity, sin, abuse, physical disabilities, poverty...a innumerable variety of burdens. He asks us to let them all go, to release our grasp on those burdens and to humble ourselves. His yoke is easy and his burden is light--in my mind--our yokes become easy and our burdens become light when we share them with him. All it takes is us letting it go. 






3/10/14

Paths

Recently, I came to a crossroads in my life. I had a decision to make, and I knew what I needed to do through personal revelation. But, this decision didn't match up with previous promptings and spiritual revelations I had felt. I was confused--how could God inspire me to do one thing, then another? Why wasn't the first choice the answer to everything?

I often feel this same way about my mission. When the age got lowered for the youth to go on missions, I knew I was supposed to go. I received a powerful spiritual witness that a mission was the thing for me. Then when I came home after six months, I was so confused. How could I be prompted to do something that in the long run didn't turn out to be the path I was supposed to go down? Did God lead me astray?

I discussed this idea with my friend yesterday, and he brought something up that I had never thought about before. I think this comparison is very applicable to all of us and our seemingly "mistaken" decisions:

In first Nephi in the Book of Mormon, the Lord commands Nephi and his brethren to go back to Jerusalem to retrieve the brass plates from the evil Laban. Nephi obeyed the Lord's commands and went willingly with his brothers. "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." (1 Nephi 3:7) Once there, Nephi's older brother Laman went and talked to Laban, trying to convince him to give them the brass plate. Laban got angry and threw Laman out of his house.

Even with their defeat, Nephi knew that God would still help them. "As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us. Wherefore, let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord." (1 Nephi 3:15-16) Nephi felt inspired that the best course of action would to be to offer Laban all his family's wealth in exchange for the plates. However, this course of action still didn't work--Laban took all their riches and then threw them out without giving them the plates. 

At this point, Nephi could have given up. He could have said, "Lord, I have done everything that you prompted me to do. I have kept your commandments. I have been obedient to my father. I am here with a righteous purpose to do your will. But it isn't working. What else can I do? I've followed the promptings you've given me, and I still haven't succeeded." I have often said this in the past few months. "God, I went on a mission based on a prompting that you gave me. I went to do something good, something righteous. Yet, I have seemingly failed and came home early. Now what? I followed the path you lead me down, and now I'm lost." 

Nephi again turned to the Lord and asked Him what He would have him do. Nephi was "led by the Spirit, no knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do." (1 Nephi 4:6)  He ended up slaying Laban and getting the brass plates which preserved the language and religion of the Jews for generations to come. Had he not followed his first promptings and started down the path God had led him down, he would not have made it to the path to get the plates. 

This is the same for us in our lives, the same for me in my life. The path that I am on is not perhaps the path I envisioned when I turned in my mission papers over a year ago. I followed a prompting and have been blessed for it. I have not, however, achieved the "goal" I had, but now I realize that the Lord has other things in mind for me. It was not a mistake for me to go on a mission--no! It was what I needed to do to be led where I am now. I still am figuring out where this path is leading me, but I know that the Lord is leading me. 

2/24/14

Floating on.

      I tend to notice small things. Things like an early blossom on the branches of a tree. The complexities of colors in a sunset. Cracks in the brickwork of an old building.

      However, I also get caught up in the little things. A less than perfect score on a test. A passing comment a friend made. My lack of self-confidence.
      I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Maybe it's just the human in me to get caught up in the small things? Maybe I try to distract myself from the big things with things of little consequence? But as I look out at the world around me, I see that I'm not alone. Everyone is rushing around in their own little world, checking little things off a never-ending to-do list. We become so preoccupied with the inconsequential that we forgot the things of great consequence. We carry around heavy burdens of tasks that we assigned to ourselves. And even if we didn't assign them to ourselves, why do we let them become so heavy?
      This is especially true with me and my depression--I get so caught up in the day to day struggles that I forget to look for the good in the bigger picture. In the painting of life, my depression urges me to keep staring at the dark clouds instead of taking in the bigger picture and the beauty of it. If I can't find the beauty right that second, then I at least need to be okay with "okay" until things get better. 
      So that is a new goal for me: letting things go. There is so much more to my life than the to-do's. If I don't do perfectly on something, the world isn't going to end. The sun always rises, the smile always finds its way to my lips. The darkness doesn't last forever, and if I try hard enough, I realize that in reality I'm surrounded by sunshine. It's not worth it to get weighed down by the little things when in reality I could be soaring. 


I just gotta take a step back and breathe.






1/22/14

The perks of being depressed.

So, I've become very good at complaining. I'm excellent at looking at negative things and diving into them and reveling in them. Well, not today, kids!

I have found a big perk of having depression: because of the experiences I have had in dark places, I appreciate light. Because of my illness, I recognize  the contrast between light and dark more than maybe your average person.

"And I, God, said: Let there be alight; and there was light. And I, God, saw the light; and that light was good. And I, God, divided the light from the darkness." Moses 2:3-4




God created both dark and light. The contrast between the two makes beauty--both physical beauty and metaphysical beauty. Having depression and being in a dark spot isn't fun, but just as it is blindingly beautiful to come out of a dark room and into the sunlight, it is beautiful when I find the "light" at the end of the tunnel.

So what is light in a metaphysical sense? My metaphysical light is a day where I can put a smiley face on my calendar. A text from a friend I haven't heard from in awhile. Finding a Dr. Pepper in the back of my cupboard. The little things. These things probably wouldn't be considered "light" to most people. But they are. They are the light from the flame of a match, throwing shadows against the wall. They are a naked light bulb in a dark basement. They matter, and they are beautiful bits of light.

So, the perk of being depressed? The darkness makes it easier to notice the light, no matter how little the source.




1/15/14

Depression Behind Perfection

Yesterday I was walking quickly through campus, dodging people here and there as I headed to class. As I walked, out of the corner of my eye I noticed the newest copy of "The Universe," BYU's student newspaper, on the stands. It's headline caught my eye and a closer look confirmed that I saw what I thought I saw: "Battling Depression."

I am so grateful to see the dialogue about depression increasing, especially at BYU. It has been incredibly awkward to try and explain to people how I am a returned missionary, yet still nineteen years old. As bravely and as cheerfully as I can, I tell them I was sent home to deal with depression. To see the headline on the newspaper made my heart literally leap with joy. It's time that we start talking more openly about depression, especially in the Mormon community. (Elder Holland proved that during the October conference.) Depression is not a weakness or a punishment for a sin. It isn't magically cured by scripture reading and other pious acts. It is a physical illness and it affects millions. There are resources all around to help, and perhaps the greatest resource of all is faith in the healing power of the Atonement.

In the article, "Depression Behind Perfection" it is illustrated that perfectionism often leads to depression. I have seen this all too often in my own life and battle with depression. In the church we all too often expect perfection from ourselves when we are clearly taught that perfection will only be achieved after this life. I keep having to remind myself that. If we take a look at the scriptures, we see that not even prophets were perfect. The only perfect being was Jesus Christ, and He understands our imperfection. He knows that we will fall short. He experienced this fact when He spent that long night in the Garden of Gethsemane. All He asks is that we come unto Him, and become perfected in Him. 

Through the past few months as I've traversed deep pits of despair, my greatest peace came from sharing my own Gethsemane with the Savior. I testify that He has been here with me. He always has been and always will be. In my moments of darkness, I know that none of it, no darkness whatsoever, can compare to the Light of the World.




Here's the link to the article in the Universe: http://universe.byu.edu/2014/01/14/depression-behind-perfection/