"Coming home early from my mission was honestly the hardest year of my life. I write this with occasional tears streaming down my cheeks, and a heart that will probably never be fully whole again. This is personal, but I get asked about it constantly. If someone can benefit from my story, then I am that much more grateful to share it.
"While on my mission, I was diagnosed with anxiety, which was really hard on me. I had no idea that anxiety could cause you to throw up, have stomach and chest pains, digestion problems, no ability to sleep, and panic attacks.
"For everyone with an invisible illness: The difference between mental and physical illness is that one is seen and the other is not. It's hard to explain to someone who has no clue. It's a daily struggle being in pain or feeling sick on the inside while you look fine on the outside. We all need to realize we should never judge what we don't understand.
"While on my mission, I went to the doctor several times. It was frustrating not knowing what the problem was. It was thought for awhile I had IBS, but when the doctor suggested mental problems, I was beyond confused. I talked to my mission president's wife, our medical advisor, and it was decided I had anxiety. I received permission from my stake president at home, and my parents, to start taking medication. I was really against it at first because I didn't want to rely on medication, but it was suggested that this was the only thing that could help, and I really wanted to stay on my mission, as hard as it was becoming to keep serving.
"This is a journal entry from my mission on June 27, 2012:
"‘I couldn't sleep tonight, my companion told me to write and let all my thoughts and feelings out, so that's what I'm going to do.
"‘Well... I'm shocked to be quite honest. I never thought this would happen to me, and least of all places on my mission. It's heart breaking. To have wanted to serve a mission my whole life, to dream about it, and to get here and have it be the hardest thing I've ever done, and it to be so hard on me that I have to take medication to cope... it hurts.
"‘It's like I'm not strong enough to do this, to be a missionary. Any missionary could come in and do what I do, so what am I needed for? I'm stuck, at least that's how I feel. I'm a little scared too. What if I can't get over this? I don't know how to handle it and fix it. I also feel as if I'm losing myself.
"‘I don't understand why I have been given this trial, but Heavenly Father does, and I guess that's what really matters. Sometimes I wish I could borrow His spiritual eyes and see what He sees. Hopefully one day I'll understand why all of this is happening to me. Is it because Satan is trying to stop me? If he is, am I going to let him win?
"‘I don't know if I have much fight left in me. I'm lacking faith in myself. Can I really do this? It's just this never ending spiral and I don't know how to make it stop so I can climb back up from how far I've already gone down.’
"(That’s how I felt, and sometimes how I still feel. It still scares me at times. It hasn't necessarily gotten any easier. I have just learned how to deal with it and accept—for the most part—that this has happened and I may have to deal with it the rest of my life.)
"After that journal entry in June, things just got worse.
"I was transferred to the valley to be closer to the mission home so I could get the help I needed. I was able to see doctors and a counselor once a month, although that proved to not help my illness, but it was nice to cry to someone who was trying to understand and help. I was prescribed medication that was supposed to take up to 6 weeks to work, but after more than 6 weeks had passed, I wasn't improving.
"I went back to the doctor and he prescribed something else that I wasn't allowed to take as a missionary because of its maintenance. So I was referred to a psychiatrist. That was really hard on me. I was there with a bunch of kids who had obvious mental disabilities, and felt like I should be put in a mental hospital or something. It was a stab to the soul. The psychiatrist gave me another prescription that was supposed to take 3-4 weeks to work, and after that time had gone by, I still wasn't doing better.
"At this point I was just a wreck. I developed depression with my anxiety and struggled with almost everything. I always thought that mental illnesses were choices, and that you could just snap out of it, but I couldn't have been more wrong. It's not like that at all. It almost controls you... it's not you. I would wake up in the morning with no desire to do anything or see anyone. I didn't care about a thing, not missionary work, not the people. It was horrible because I knew I should and I was disappointing so many people but I didn't care about that either. I had no desire to do anything. And I could never sleep for more than a few hours at a time. I was emotional all over the place. I couldn't sit still to save my life, I wasn't me.
"At this point I had discussed going home with my mission president. At first that's all I could really think about. After talking to him, he helped me realize that it wasn't my decision to make. I will forever be grateful to him for giving me a kick in the butt when I needed it most. He let me talk to my mom, which was more of me listening and crying as she tried to speak strength and love to me. A couple more weeks went by and it was finally decided I should go home. I knew I wasn't going to get better in the field, but that didn't make coming home any easier.
"For the first few days of being home I was doing so much better. It was beyond wonderful to see my family again and have their support. I was able to see my doctor and be put on a medication that finally helped me! But those days didn't last very long. I was still pretty sick, physically and mentally. I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning, there was no point. I didn't want to do anything because I had no desire to, and I just didn't know what to do with myself. I was afraid of talking to people for what they may think and the questions they would ask. No one really understood. Others would try, and I appreciated that, but it didn't help. It was no one's fault, but it made me feel alone and apart from the world. I was ashamed of what I felt I didn't accomplish, and that others assumed I came home because I did something wrong. It was as if I was a failure. And no one likes to feel like a failure, especially when you feel like you failed your Savior.
"I started seeing a counselor every week and that I think made the most difference in the end. He taught me how to deal with my anxiety and realize what was causing it. (Now that I know what causes it I can control it more, but that doesn't mean it's completely gone. I still have it. It's not all just about my thoughts, some of it is just how I'm wired.) I saw improvement over weeks, and eventually was able to stop seeing my counselor, but continue with the medication.
"For a long time I wondered if I would ever feel like my old self again. Through e-mails I sent home while on my mission my mom could tell that I wasn't myself. She wished people from my mission could know the daughter she knows. I don't think I'll ever completely be that person again. You're not necessarily supposed to be the same person you were before your mission, but I changed in a different way. I feel like that gets rubbed in my face constantly, not on purpose of course. It’s every farewell and homecoming, every time someone asks about my mission or talks about theirs, church lessons, etc. It's like I'm getting salt sprinkled in that never fully-healed wound.
"I didn't come home with that fire return missionaries return with. My homecoming wasn't the typical homecoming. It was one of happiness but not the happiness I wanted it to be. My mission president said it'd be something I'll always have to live with, and I knew that, but I thought maybe it'd get easier.
"I talked to one of my cousins who came home early from his mission because of his knee. He's been home now for 8 years, and it hasn't gotten easier for him. That wasn't what I wanted to hear, but talking to him about it helped.
"Maybe that's why things like this happen to us—so that we can share our experience with others who go through the same thing. There have been a few people I’ve been able to talk to who have gone through similar experiences, and feel I like I have been able to help them. In multiple blessings I received on my mission, often it was promised that this trial would help my future family, so I'll cling to that as well.
"The most important reason this may have happened was for me to grow closer to my Savior. He has done so much for me, for all of us, and if I have the opportunity to experience just a little of what He did, then I am grateful and better for it. There is nothing greater than being able to walk in His shoes, even if it's just a step or two. I have a greater appreciation and understanding of His love and sacrifice for me. He experienced all that I have experienced, and will experience, but it is privilege to say the same about Him. And I'm not saying that I get what He did or know fully, because I don't, but I am just that much closer to Him because of the trial He so lovingly placed before me. I couldn't have made it through this without Him.
"I wouldn't change anything I've learned from this experience. I am who I am today because of it. I'm stronger and have been refined into the woman Heavenly Father wants me to be, and that is all that matters."