Showing posts with label mental illness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mental illness. Show all posts

8/23/17

If You Pray Hard Enough, Your Mental Illness Will Go Away

I found myself on my knees, tears streaming down my face, hands clenched so tightly together that my knuckles turned white. My room was dark, and my legs were starting to ache from how long I'd been kneeling. I kept repeating the same thing, "Please take it away. Please take it away. I can't do this anymore." The darkness of my depression felt unbearable. It seemed as though gravity had taken it upon itself to work extra hard on me that night. I felt dragged down, futher and futher. I grasped for God, begging for my burdens to disappear. But they didn't.




This was not the first time that this scene had happened. Quite frequently, I found myself in the same position, doing the same thing. I kept telling myself, "If you pray hard enough, your mental illness will go away." It has been almost four years now of highs and lows, panic attacks and despair. I've gone through a dozen medication changes, two doctors, three counselors, and a lot of sleepless nights. I am often exhausted from it all, and at times it feels all too much to bear. Needless to say, my illness has not gone away.

I think that often we blindly rely on prayer to solve everything. We expect answers to come packaged up nicely, exactly the way we want them to. President Monson once said, "Heavenly Father does answer prayers in His own time and in His own way."

As I have gone through what I have, I have come to say a different prayer. Instead of asking for my mental illness to go away, I ask for the strength to face it. God gives me strength through angel friends and family to comfort and uplift me. Words of church leaders edify and encourage me. (Like a Broken Vessel by Elder Holland for example) Books and resources for mental illness sufferers educate and inspire me. Strength to face my challenges comes in so many ways that it is hard to name them all.

I am still struggling. I am still trying. I fall down lots and it sometimes takes awhile to get back up. Praying hard has not made my mental illness go away, but it has given me the strength I need to carry on.





4/3/17

What Are You Going to Do?

*The painting featured in this post was beautifully created by an artist from Recreate, a company that specializes in capturing moments that just can't be captured in photos. I was able to share this special moment of mine with a Recreate artist, who then beautifully illustrated it. Now, I have something to remind me every day when I wake up of the most important moment in my life. To find out more, visit their website www.recreatememories.com*



I'm a big believer of important moments in our lives. Not always life changing per se, but big moments. However, sometimes those moments can be life changing. I have three of those big life changing moments in my life, and they all link together. 1. Deciding to go to BYU (which led to going on a mission) 2. Deciding to go on a mission (Which led to #3) 3. Sitting on a plane from Seattle to Salt Lake City. That third and crucial moment has been the biggest life changing event of my life so far.

When I decided to go on a mission at age 19, I wasn't prepared for the challenges ahead. Sure, I knew that missions are hard, but I couldn't have known that I would face the dark days that I did. God had a lot more in store for me than an 18 month mission in Federal Way, Washington. I just couldn't have ever known it or seen coming. 

If you're familiar with this blog and my story, you'll know that I only served for six months on my mission instead of the traditional eighteen. During those six months, I was constantly pummeled by devastating depression and anxiety. I fought well...for awhile. Eventually, I started to crumble under the weight of those mental illnesses. I fell further and further down into a pit of loneliness and despair. At a breaking point, I felt like nothing was ever going to change and that I was just going to be depressed forever. My mission president was aware of the challenges I was facing, and he and his wife fought with me and for me. In the end, they recognized something that I couldn't recognize: going home was really the only way for me to heal. 

I was on a plane home to Utah within two days of that decision being made. The night that the decision was made, I was allowed to call home. It was surreal dialing the numbers, and hearing my mom's voice on the other end. She told me that my dad would be at the airport in Seattle, waiting to take me home. I don't think I cried much after the call, even though I wanted to. I was too in shock, too numb. Honestly, being numb was the best way for me to fight the pain. 

In that surreal state of mind, I met my dad at the airport in Seattle. Hugging him felt foreign, everything felt foreign. After we went through security, he asked me what I wanted. We both knew what he really meant, "What can I possibly do to take the pain away?" Well, it's easier to get food than to cure depression, so I asked for a pumpkin spice hot chocolate from Starbucks. 

As we sat at our gate, we talked and we didn't. I sipped my hot chocolate as my dad did a great job of making me laugh and making me feel loved. It didn't solve the problem, but it sure helped. Once on the plane, he continued to tell me stories, trying to make me smile. Once in the air, he asked a question that created the biggest moment of my life: 

"Rach, what are you going to do?"

What was I going to do? I think I might've mumbled an "I don't know." off the bat, but as soon as those words came out, I received a powerful prompting. It was the calmest I'd felt in months. All of a sudden, the pain and the darkness made sense. I didn't quite know why or how it made sense, all I knew was that it did. 

"I'm going to be open about this. I'm going to tell people my story and help those with mental illnesses like me."



That moment is so poignant and so powerful every time I think about it. Suddenly, I realized that my real mission and my real purpose wasn't to go to the Washington, Federal Way mission. It was to share the experiences I had fighting depression and coming home early from that formal mission. Ever since that moment, sitting next to my dad on the plane from Seattle to Salt Lake City, I've known my purpose.

Now, just because I know what I'm supposed to do, doesn't mean I always know how to do it. I've had cool experiences like speaking at a Girl's Camp, being in a documentary about early returned missionaries, guest blogging, etc. I've been able to talk to people and give them dorky "business cards" that I ordered off of VistaPrint for like $4. Those things have been amazing and fulfilling. But other times, I feel lost. I feel like what I do really doesn't matter. There are a lot of people out there with stories almost exactly like mine. At times I've thought, "Well, they're being open and gaining more attention and attraction than me, so it's not worth it to try." Those doubts continuously push me down, adding to feelings of inadequacy I already face. It's hard to remember sometimes my purpose, my mission.

When those times come around, God always sends a gentle reminder of what I'm supposed to be doing. A text from a friend thanking me for being open. An email from someone I've never met telling me that my words made a difference in their life. This painting that sits on my desk that illustrates the most important moment of my life. God, through little ways, helps me remember my purpose.







I believe that we all have a purpose, above and beyond the purposes we are taught at church or in theory. Your purpose might be to smile at those around you, helping them feel loved. Your purpose might be volunteering with the less fortunate. Your purpose might be to lead your community on a city council, etc. And you know what? I believe that we all have multiple purposes. God doesn't just give us one talent. He gives us many to better this world and to better the lives of those around us. Whether we have found those purposes or not, they're there, and we will get to them. Moments lead us there. It took me six months and coming home early from a mission to get to a moment on a plane to realize mine, and I have no doubt that God has other purposes and missions for me in mind. Important moments will often come unexpectedly, and in those moments we need to ask ourselves, 

"What are you going to do?"



12/15/16

You Need To Stop Playing Your Mental Illness Card

Something I've found myself doing pretty frequently lately is saying "I can't." And usually, "I can't" is coupled with "Because I'm bipolar." or "Because of my anxiety." or a variety of other deviations that involve having a mental illness. I've been using my mental illnesses as an excuse to do or not to do things. To put it another way, someone close to me very honestly said, "You need to stop playing your mental illness card."







Ouch. I was upset about that for awhile. I used it as another excuse to wallow. As I lay on my bed, crying in self-pity, I thought things like "They just don't understand! They'll never understand!" and "I have every excuse to act the way I've been acting." and even "I refuse to change because that's just how my life is. I'm always going to have these challenges so it's not even worth trying." When I had wallowed an inappropriate amount of time, I sat up and started to actually think about what they had said. "You need to stop using your mental illness card." "Well," I mused, "At least they acknowledge that I have a mental illness card."

They were right though. I've been waving my white flag and giving up to every little challenge that comes my way. (One such challenge being writing a new blogpost. "I can't, I'm too anxious." etc...) It is also my number one excuse for acting poorly. Instead of saying, "I'm sorry." I say something like "I'm sorry but I'm just really depressed right now." An apology isn't really an apology is there's a "but" involved. Treating someone poorly is still treating someone poorly, whether or not there is mental illnesses involved.

Like I said earlier, I do have a mental illness card. It is really there, and because of it, there are some things that are out of my control. My bipolar disorder sometimes triggers rage that I didn't even know could exist inside of me. It is uncomfortable and makes me panicky until I do something about it. Not just irritation or anger, full on rage. I've just been letting it boil out of me, uncontrolled. (It's embarrassing to be so open about this, but I think some of you reading this might understand.) So, while I can't control the emotion, I can control what I do about it. I'm learning how to step away from situations that have triggered my anger and to take a breather instead of acting out. There are more ways than one to handle a situation, mental illness involved or no.

Another example of me playing my mental illness card comes in the depressive episodes that come with having bipolar disorder. There are times when the last thing I want to do is get out of bed. When a friend asks me to hang out when I'm feeling this way, I'll sometimes make up an excuse why I can't when my real excuse is that I'm just playing my mental illness card. Now, I am learning to recognize when getting out of bed just isn't an option that day. Those days happen. But, what am I going to do when those days happen? I might not be able to do my normal routine, but there are things I can do. Instead of playing my mental illness card, I have to do what I can for that day. Just because I am extremely depressed doesn't mean I can't try. Maybe I can't go out with friends like I normally do, but I can get out of bed and take a shower. Obviously those "cans" change with each situation, but it's those kinds of decisions that I am learning to make instead of falling back on my mental illness card and not doing anything at all.

It has taken probably hundreds of times of those close to me very nicely saying, "You're giving up to easily." in a multitude of ways before it finally clicked with me. It took, "You need to stop using your mental illness card." At the time, it felt like a slap in the face. But as time has gone on, it has turned into fiery motivation. I may have a mental illness card, but I don't need to play it to win.

10/23/16

I've Been Robbed

When I was a sophomore in High School, my iPod was stolen. I loved that iPod. It was a replacement gift from my dad, as I had accidentally run my own bright-pink nano through the washer and dryer. I listened to it all the time on the bus and at home. It was  It was my fault, really. I left it in my backpack out in the open in the girl's locker room during gym. I trusted people too much and didn't think that I could ever be robbed in Bountiful, Utah. When I came back from class and saw that it was missing, I started crying. In front of everyone in the locker room. I tried to hold back tears as I walked to file a report with the school officer but I wasn't very successful. When I went home, I cried some more. I felt dumb. I I felt like my privacy had been violated. I was angry because it just wasn't fair.







For me, one of the hardest parts about having a mental illness is feeling robbed. I've felt cheated by God and the universe. I had the perfect plan for my life. Go to school, go on a mission, get married, and start a family. A simple request. A normal life. A safe plan. Obviously, that hasn't happened. I've gotten angry at God so many times for "cheating" me. Granted, my challenges are nothing in comparison to the trials that so many go through. But I have still felt like my mental illness has robbed me not only of my perfect little plan, but of who I am. I'm not who I was before I got sick. I used to be so much more kind and thoughtful. I enjoyed going to parties and being around people. I was more driven in academics and I thrived off of success. But then my mental illness came around and stole those parts of me. Because of this I feel dumb. I feel violated. I feel angry because it just isn't fair.


I never got my iPod back. It was gone for good, and I was pretty peeved about it for awhile. I learned from that experience, though. I started locking things up. The next iPod I got I appreciated so much more. I treated it better and kept it safe. My mental illness does the same thing for me that my stolen iPod did. It teaches me to appreciate the things that I do have and to work hard for the things that I don't. When I am depressed and hopeless, I have to work hard to get back up. When I am happy, I appreciate and enjoy it so much more. Just because I haven't gotten what I thought was rightfully mine doesn't mean that I haven't gotten was I actually need. Without the absence of the things that my mental illness has stolen from me, I wouldn't have grown in the ways that I have. My mental illness has caused voids in my life that were filled by things much more important and meaningful than I could have ever imagined. Getting robbed by my mental illness has been something that has changed my life for good, in ways that I am just now beginning to recognize.


Yes, mental illnesses suck. They steal things from you. They hurt. But there's an upside to it all: you have the experiences that you need to have to become who you need to be. It's just up to you to recognize it and do something about it. 

9/22/16

Why Marrying an RM Isn't My Top Priority

When I was in Young Women's, I was taught repeatedly that I should try really hard to marry a returned missionary. For the longest time, it was my number one priority for a trait in my future spouse. We made lists a few times for mutual activities about what traits we wanted in our future husbands. At the top of my lists I always wrote, "Returned Missionary." Well, my priorities have changed since then. 








Sometimes, young men can't serve missions. There are many reasons why they can't, and one of those reasons is because of a mental illness. Missions are extremely taxing emotionally and mentally. The Church recognizes this and understands that not every young man or young woman is healthy enough to handle the strain. I wasn't, and that's why I had to come home. For awhile I thought it was some sort of punishment, some sort of negative consequence for struggling. But I've come to realize that it was all in my best interest. The Brethren care about my health. They want me to be happy and healthy. When it was clear that I was no longer healthy, they did what was best for me. If I had a life threatening cancer, a debilitating injury, or anything of the sorts, I would not be expected to stay (or serve), and neither would anyone else. A mental illness is just as legitimate of a reason to not be able to serve a mission as any other kind of illness is. 

Now, just because a young man is not mentally healthy enough to serve a mission does not seem them undeserving of marriage. It does not make them unworthy priesthood holders. It does not make them worth less than any returned missionary. Recently, I've had correspondence with several young men who have expressed their challenges with dating because it seems like girls only want to date returned missionaries. I was once one of those girls. It was extremely unfair of me. 

But nowadays, my top priority concerning who I marry is this: are they worthy priesthood holders? And along with that, do they love God more than anything else in this world? If so, that is enough for me. Now, of course I support missions. I support missionaries. I fully believe that young men should do all they can to serve a mission. However, if it's not the right thing for them to do for whatever reason, that's okay. Being a returned missionary doesn't equal salvation. Salvation comes through consistent hard work and keeping the commandments. Missions supplement this, but are not the whole of it. 

My fellow single adult women, don't treat a man poorly because he didn't serve a mission. Young women, reevaluate those lists you make in mutual. Don't be blinded by the fact that a man didn't serve a mission so much that you don't get to know who he really is. A little black name tag doesn't define who a man really is and what he is really like, no matter how much you think it does. That little black tag is nothing in comparison to the size of his heart. 

6/30/16

How to Save a Life

A couple of weeks ago, the author of this article-Steve Johnson-reached out to me and asked if he could share some important facts about suicide prevention and I am honored to share his article today. 

The topic of suicide is hard to talk about, but it's crucial that we do. I once found myself in a mental state where I was teetering on the edge of being suicidal. I didn't want to die, but I didn't want to live. I will be forever grateful for those around me who helped pull me away from that edge. I owe them so much more than I can ever give them. 

Just like those who helped me, you can help your loved ones step away from the darkness that engulfs them. They need you, more than you might know. You might be the one who saves their life.




Suicide Prevention and Mental Health


Mental illness affects nearly 10 million Americans, and for some, the weight of the disorder can lead them to substance abuse, depression, and even suicide. It’s a threat that any age group can suffer from, and while it can be overwhelming to watch a loved one go through it, there are things you can do to prevent the symptoms from causing a loss of control. 

For many who suffer with a mental illness, alcohol and drugs can seem appealing because of their ability to curb some of the symptoms, or to help the user cope. Therefore, early detection and diagnosis of the illness is imperative so that medication and/or therapy can begin, especially since alcohol use can interfere with the diagnosis and make a disorder difficult to detect. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, detection is also made difficult when the patient is depressed, and studies show that nearly one-third of people with serious depression also have an alcohol abuse problem. 

It can be tricky to detect a mental illness in another person, and it’s important to remember that only a doctor can diagnose. However, there are warning signs:

Changes at school or work

Frequently getting into trouble, not being able to focus, a lack of motivation, and sudden changes in attendance could be signs of a mental illness or a potential substance abuse problem

Changes in appearance and behavior

Sudden changes in appetite, sleep habits (too much or too little), paranoia, fits of rage or apathy, and changes in dress and hygiene are all signals that your loved one might be using drugs or alcohol and struggling with a comorbid mental illness

Physical changes

Shaky hands, slurred speech, agitation, periods of giddiness or seemingly unable to control their emotions, bloodshot eyes, and dilated pupils are all physical signs of substance abuse.

Also, it’s important to note that because alcohol and drugs physically harm the brain and interfere with the psyche, people with mental illness who also abuse substances are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than the general population. 

Depression and suicide go hand in hand, so it’s important to know what to look for as far as behavior goes. If your loved one talks about feeling hopeless or mentions suicidal thoughts, let them know you’re listening and that you take what they’re saying seriously. Often, mental illness patients feel as though no one understands what they’re going through, so it’s important to let them talk without judgement. Other signs of suicidal thoughts can include:

● Exhibiting self-destructive behavior
● Withdrawing from family and friends
● Sudden loss of interest in things that once gave them joy
● Voicing thoughts of worthlessness
● Severe or violent mood swings, including becoming happy after a long depression

With some mental health issues, symptoms begin to manifest years before diagnosis, which can make it difficult for families to watch for warning signs where behavior is concerned. However, if you notice sudden changes in mood or personality, or if risky behavior is suddenly introduced, it might be a good idea to talk to your loved one. Let them know you’ll help them, and if the threat of suicide is imminent, stay with them or have a trusted friend or family member stay with them until you can get help

Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow pre-med student. The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. He continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website, but also enjoys tennis and adding to his record collection in his spare time.







6/16/16

Church isn't Always For Me

When I started this blog, I had the intention of being open, honest, and forthcoming about my challenges surrounding being and early returned missionary and with having a mental illness. In keeping with that intention, I am going to tell you about a very personal challenge I've had the past two years that has to do with my mental illnesses: 

Church isn't always for me. 


Sometimes, I don't go. And when I say sometimes, in some months it's been more often than not that I don't go. I think you could technically call me  "less active" according to attendance records. 

So what does church going have to do with my mental illness? 

1. Anxiety. I have generalized anxiety disorder and church is a huge trigger for me. For some reason, being around lots of people sets me off. I feel panicky, like something bad is going to happen. I get a tightness in my chest and I feel like I can't breathe. 

2. For awhile, I didn't go to church because I couldn't feel the spirit. Now, that seems counterintuitive and in a way it is. But I got panicky BECAUSE I couldn't feel the spirit because I was depressed. I felt like I was doing something wrong. I would sit in my seat and start getting angry at myself. There was a lot of self-hatred going on in those moments. 

Now here's the deal: I might not always be a consistent church-goer, but I can definitely tell you that I am firm in the gospel.  I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I sustain my church leaders. I know the Book of Mormon is true and I believe that Joseph Smith was called of God. I love being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am currently really working on going to church and I am getting better at it. Those who love me have been incredibly understanding and supportive. They know I'm trying my best. 

Because of my mental illnesses, however, I have a different relationship with God than most. Because I can't really hear or feel Him sometimes, things get tough. Because of my anxiety and bipolar disorder, going to church isn't always an option. I'm not healthy enough to be there. But you know what? I think God understands that. I think He knows that I would be there if I could be. I think He recognizes all the things I DO do in spite of what I don't do.  I think He expects me to try my best, and that my best doesn't always include going to church. 

5/12/16

The New Normal

"Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." Marilyn Monroe 


recently had the opportunity to be a guest speaker for a class hosted by NAMI. The class is called Family-to-Family, and it is intended for the family members and loved ones of those who struggle with mental illnesses. (Find out more here: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/NAMI-Family-to-Family)  I was asked to tell my story and share how I've been coping with my bipolar disorder. At the end, there was a Q&A section. I got asked a question that got me thinking. The question was: "How do you cope with who you are now? You aren't who you were before your mental illness, so how do you move forward instead of just treading water? How have you adapted to the new normal?". 

I am definitely not the person I was before being diagnosed. I used to be better at school, more inclined to be soft and kind, and more social and fun. Those parts of me were damaged or taken away by my illness. I struggle with school now. I went from being a straight-A student to failing three semesters in a row. I used to throw parties and go out with friends a lot. Now I keep to myself and avoid people. I used to be more patient. Now I am sometimes irritated by virtually everything. I mourn that I've lost these things sometimes. I miss the Rachel I used to be. 

It's easy to dwell on what I'm not anymore. It's easy to be caught up on what I've lost, what the normal used to be. I can sit here and be miserable about everything that my mental illness has changed, or I can do something with where I'm at right now. 

Now, I think it's perfectly fine and expected to mourn about my mental illness every once in awhile. I'm okay with that. But I'm not okay when I get down about it. That's not productive or kind to myself because "it is what it is." My life is where it is at right now, and I can't change the past. I can change my future and do everything in my power to be my best. 

Accepting your life as it is post-diagnosis is difficult. But it's possible. I've found the best thing for me to do is to put the skills I've gained from having a mental illness to good use. I may not be good at school anymore, but I'm a better listener. I may be more irritable now, but I have learned how to control my anger better and I'm more understanding others who can't. I may not be the social butterfly I once was, but I am a more emphathetic friend. I've come to accept that I'm not "normal" and my life never will be "normal". But that's okay, because I think normal is boring anyways. 


4/24/16

Anticipation


In every mission call, there is a line that is generally skipped over. In the midst of all of the excitement surrounding where a missionary will go, it kind of just...disappears. A missionary's eyes are so intent on finding the words that tell them where they will spend the next eighteen to twenty four month of their life that they breeze over it. I, too, skipped line. I wanted to know three things from the call--where I was going, what language I was speaking, and when I was leaving. I basically ignored everything else. It wasn't til I came home early that I re-read my call and noticed the line:

"It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of eighteen months."


Three years ago today, I packed up two large suitcases and hopped into our family car to head down to Provo. It had been a crazy few days. Within five days, I took all of my finals, moved out of my dorm, gave a farewell, and packed up to head to Seattle. I was tired, but I was excited for the new adventure I anticipated ahead of me. 

My family and I had a "last lunch" at Olive Garden. I remember seeing two other families with boys dressed up in suits at the restaurant. We smiled politely and nervously at each other. After lunch, my family and I headed over to the Provo temple to get your typical "I'm going on a mission" pictures. I'll be honest, I just wanted the pictures to be done and to be walking into the MTC. 

When it finally came time for goodbyes, I didn't cry. I was a little choked up on nerves, but that was about it. I remember feeling awkward that I wasn't crying. I hugged my mom as she cried and assured her that the time would fly. "I'll be home next October!" I said optimistically. Finally, with all my luggage in tow and goodbyes said, I left my family at the curb and headed off onto my mission.

I anticipated a lot of things that day, three years ago. I anticipated a tough but rewarding experience. I anticipated coming home in October of 2014 to the SLC airport with all of my extended family waiting at the bottom of the stairs for me as I walked down them, triumphant and successful as a returned missionary. But three years ago today, I did not anticipate anything that would actually happen.

I've learned a lot about anticipation since that day. The number one thing that I've learned about anticipation is that it is not a solid thing. It is not set in stone, it is not guaranteed. Anticipation is a hope or an expectation, not a promise. And most of all, man's anticipation does not always align with God's will or plan.

My anticipations of my mission were pretty much all wrong. I thought I was going to do one thing and become one thing, but God had a different idea. It took a long time for me to accept His will. It took months for me to be able to actually mean it when I said, "I know that I'm supposed to be home and not on a mission." I was so stuck on my anticipations for so long that I failed to accept the reality of the plan that God had for me. 

While I didn't get my anticipated 18 month mission, I got a lot of things that are better. I was blessed with experiences that taught me not to judge people as harshly as I had previously. I gained a better understanding, love, and appreciation of the power of the priesthood as I have received countless blessings in the three years since I went to the MTC. My heart grew softer towards those mental illnesses and I was filled with empathy and love towards them. I learned how to appreciate moments of peace and stillness. I became more reliant on the Atonement and on the Savior. In short, I gained so much more out of my mission experience than I anticipated.

Sometimes, life doesn't go according to plan. In fact, in my life, it hardly ever goes according to my plan. But it goes according to God's plan, and that's what matters. Three years ago, I would never have guessed that I would be where I am today in this moment. I couldn't have foreseen all the trials, challenges, blessings, and miracles that would occur. My life hasn't turned out how I anticipated it would. But, it has turned out how God anticipated it would, and that's alright with me.

2/25/16

What We Want You to Know


When I set out on my mission in April of 2013, I was planning on serving an 18 month mission. I remember that when I said goodbye to my mom I said, "It's not that long! I'll be home next November!" I thoroughly meant that. I was geared up and ready to wear my shiny black badge for a year and a half and I was stoked. But, my mission didn't last that long.


A lot of people in the LDS community don't know how to respond to early returned missionaries. This is understandable, as it varies case by case. The lack or responses or the negative responses are, in my opinion, often fueled by misunderstanding. So, to provide some more understanding, I asked a group of early returned missionaries to answer this question: "What would you like the world to know about being an early returned missionary?"

"Just because I seem fine after I came home for medical reasons doesn't mean I can- or should- go back to the field. Even though "finishing my mission" was what I wanted more than anything. Sometimes you finish your mission earlier than you want to, but the Lord is in charge and that's okay. I had cancer, and though most people didn't notice anything but the scar on my neck, I was very much not okay. Even after cancer was "gone", I am still trying to find the right dose of the medication I'll have to take for the rest of my life almost 2 years later. The blood tests and ultrasounds every 6 weeks to 6 months wouldn't have let me go back, even if I seem fine."

"Just treat me like you would if I served the full period. Ask me about my mission. I'll tell you. The mission wasn't the hard part, coming home was. There should be no social repercussions."

"Please please please do not treat my mission as if it were secondary to someone who was able to serve for the expected time. I still served a full-time mission, it was still MY mission, and I still loved every moment of the 6 months I was able to serve. Talk to me about my mission, it's one of my favorite things to talk about. Ask me about my injury, ask me about the people I taught and don't feel bad that I served for "only" 6 months. Those were the most fulfilling 6 months of my life. I still wore my mission tag with honor and pride and I loved all the people I served. Also, don't assume that I didn't want to return to missionary service. My knee surgeries were a lot more grueling than anyone had anticipated. I'm still an R.M. so please treat me like one."

"I'm not afraid or uncomfortable when people ask questions. I'd rather have people ask me about my experience returning home early than for them to speculate."

"We're human. We are hurting and mourning the fact we are home early too. Just love us and be willing to listen. Don't be afraid to talk about it if we initiate the conversation. If your RM isn't talking about it, don't push if they're not willing to talk. Not everyone comes home for worthiness issues. Just because we don't have a cast or aren't bedridden, doesn't mean it wasn't a medical release." (referring to mental illness)

"I love the Lord, and wanted nothing more than to remain in the field. But whether the Lord needed us to serve 2 years, 2 months, or 2 days, He accepts our sacrifice."

"Just because I didn't serve the full 18 months, doesn't mean I didn't serve complete my service."

"It is hard and you feel like no one understands but you are not alone."

"You can talk to me about coming home early."

"Just because I came home early shouldn't mean I'm any less of an R.M."

"It is very hard and even emotionally traumatizing. I'm struggling with feelings of inadequacy and depression. I feel broken, defective, and worthless. I feel like a failure. It can be overwhelming when people ask things like "when are you going to go back?" Honestly, I don't know and I can barely take it one day at a time. A huge part of my life just collapsed and I'm still trying to sort through the mess. More than anything I want validation and crave knowing I have value in someway, because frankly I just don't feel it."

"If I want to tell you my story I will. Don't bombard me with questions! (Especially when I first came home)"

"There may be times that I want to remember my mission and others that I just want to block that time period out."

"I'm just a normal human being with an abnormal problem."

"Missions aren't for everyone, but that doesn't mean we should treat anyone differently. Whether they don't go, come home early for whatever reason, or serve full term, it doesn't matter.
You can talk to me about coming home early."

"I've been home for almost two years. While I see coming home early from my mission as a blessing that led me to finding my husband, it is still a traumatic experience. Please be patient with me. I experience severe social anxiety when I have to be strangers. I know my mission is in the distant past for you, but coming home early affects my life every day."

"It's always going to be a part of me, and while I don't regret it it still kinda haunts me in a way. I don't think it's fair, but that's just the way our culture is."

"I feel the same about my mission as all of you who served for the normal amount of time! I fulfilled my mission as God wanted me to, and when He said I was done, I moved on to my next mission in life. The way He said that I was done and that He was proud of me was a little different than the way He said it to you, but He still said it."

"People need to know that just because someone came home early it doesn't change who they are. The reasons for coming home are way too far reaching for us to judge. Some choose it, some are sent home, and some didn't want to go on a mission in the first place. But the fact that they were there is what counts. God never said you need to be perfect now, He said we need to become perfect. That starts with trying and failing a lot. What early returned missionaries really need is just someone who shows them that they are so happy to see them and that they are loved. Isn't that what being a true missionary means? Lifting those who are down trodden. An early returned missionary knows people will talk about them, but what they need is someone who will talk with them."


We all want you to know a variety of things. We want you to know we are trying. We want you to know that we served full-times missions, but they were on God's timing, not our own. But most of all? What we want you to know is that we need your love.


10/27/15

Meet Aly

I first heard of Aly Ludlow through BYU's women's magazine, Up and Up. When I watched her interview, (see it here) I was really impressed with her openness about her challenges with eating disorders. Then, as fate would have it, two days later I was at the mall with my friend (who has been an avid follower of Aly's blog for awhile) when she said, "Look! It's Aly!" I awkwardly introduced myself and, like a little fan girl, asked for a picture with her. Since then, we've had some great conversations and we decided to do a collaboration. To find out more about Aly, visit her blog "Living Life to My Fullest."




I was 14 years old when I first began my journey with eating disorders.



Although I had struggled with body dysmorphia for as long as I could remember, I didn't do anything to drastically change my body until the beginning of tenth grade. I decided to follow the "advice" of my health teacher and start a "calorie deficit" diet to lose weight (which I now realize didn't need to be lost in the first place).
Around when I first started to "diet".

The diet quickly turned into more than a weight loss plan, it was a disorder...an obsession. I was constantly preoccupied with counting calories and controlling my food intake--I was convinced that I was being "healthy". Food was always in the forefront of my thoughts and I was always hungry; I would go to bed starving just so I could eat breakfast in the morning. However, during this time I wasn't willing to accept that what I was doing was wrong. I was happily miserable.


At my lowest--not healthiest, weight. 

Towards the beginning of eleventh grade, I was bullied. I became depressed and turned to the one thing that I had been denying myself in order to find comfort: food. This quickly turned into a different disorder known as binge eating disorder. I would go into my family's kitchen and gorge on food for hours on end until my stomach couldn't take it anymore. I hated myself and it was also during this time that I became suicidal. 

Dr. Michael Spigarelli was the first person to tell me that an eating disorder--of any kind, is a (curable) mental disease; my disorders were not me or my fault. Additionally, he made sure to emphasize that depression and anxiety are often linked to disordered behaviors as well and also can act as catalysts for disorders to begin. Thanks to him, my therapist, and antidepressants, I was able to overcome my disease along with the depression that resulted. 

In all honesty, this was an incredibly dark time in my life; I had no hope for myself or for my future. There were times when I couldn't and didn't want to find the sunshine in anything. I accepted and feared that my life would always be a constant battle against myself; it felt as if I was slowly burying myself in a grave that I wouldn't be able to climb out of.


Although I'm painting a pretty dark picture of my past, things weren't always completely terrible. My faith in God acted as an anchor when all else failed. To Him, I wasn't a lost cause. He saw my potential and the person that I would become once I overcame my disorder. He constantly gave me moments of joy and relief from the hurricane of emotions and stress that I was experiencing. He blessed me with wonderful friends, wonderful doctors, and wonderful opportunities for change.


He saved me.
His love was like the sunrise after an endless night.


As I began taking steps towards recovery, I was able to find sunshine in the small things too, like going a day or two without bingeing or purging; going a day without hating my body, or being able to eat one meal a day as a "normal" person would.


Medication definitely helped me as well. Recovery was a lot easier once the burden of depression was eased from my shoulders.


From all of this, I was slowly able to take longer and more confident strides towards recovery. And as I did, my pathway seemed to become illuminated with a light that I had forgotten existed. Although it wasn't easy to keep that light burning, by constantly picking myself up and brushing off the mistakes I made as I stumbled along that path, I was able to slowly find my way back into the warmth of the sun.


I’ve learned that the best way to find sunshine through eating disorders, depression, or any other trial, is to be easy on yourself and to accept your own pace--recovery doesn’t happen in a day. Find joy in the small victories and learn from your losses. Remember to tell yourself that: “Even if I fall on my face, I’m still moving forward”.


Also, I've learned that there is no shame in using medication to overcome a mental disease or illness--like physical diseases and illnesses, they should be treated and can be cured. 

I know for a fact that I would not be where I am today without the help of antidepressants, medical care, or counseling.


Although I've been "officially" recovered for almost a year now, I still try to find the sunshine within the trials that I experienced. In order to do this, I refuse to see myself as a victim of the mental disorders and diseases I’ve experienced. They were terrible and difficult, but they made me into who I am today. To me, feeling sorry for myself would be like taking a step backwards into the darkness that I had worked so hard to emerge from.


Going through my eating disorder (and the depression that existed alongside it) was like being thrown into a cold, dark cave. At times I had to crawl on my knees and cling to unseen walls in order to move forward, but eventually I saw the light that existed outside of it. I continued to move forward and eventually, the closer I got to the light, the easier things became. Instead of crawling, I was able to stand. Instead of walking and clinging, I was able to run without any supports.


And let me tell you,

Now that I’m out of the cave, I can see sunshine everywhere.








To learn more about me and my story, head on over to blog.livinglifetomyfullest.com