Kim sent me a message on Instagram a few weeks ago saying that someone sent her the link to this blog and shared her story with me. I am so grateful she reached out to me (and that someone shared this with her!) and she was willing to let me share her story here.
For twenty years Kim grew up in the Air Force, but Arizona is and will always be her home. From October 2012-April 2014 she served a Spanish speaking LDS Mission in the Utah Salt Lake City West Mission. In July 2016 she graduated from BYU-Idaho with a BA in English and after graduating volunteered as an English teacher in Mexico. She loves traveling, reading, writing, colorful knee-high socks, and combat boots.
Sadness is the emotion I remember most from my childhood. I just remember being sad a lot for really no reason. That sadness and loneliness have remained with me throughout the vast majority of my life. It wasn’t until after doing some research in my early twenties that I realized I’ve battled depression since I was a little girl. For three years when I was a teenager, my depression took a turn for the worse and became pretty severe. Looking back, I’m really surprised that I survived that time without any counseling or medication. During those three years, I felt like I was living in the darkest, deepest pit with no sunlight and no way out.
Things got better around the age of sixteen and I was relatively happy. Flare-ups from my depression came only a few times a year. I began questioning if I really had depression when I was younger or if I’d been overreacting to the situations around me.
When I was set apart as a missionary at 21 I foolishly thought that nothing would be able to touch me and that I would be completely fine the entire time I was in the field. I thought being set apart as a missionary meant I’d get “superhuman powers” to deal with anything thrown my way.
How very wrong I was.
Missions are hard, stressful, and taxing on a person – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The day I left the MTC and entered the mission field, the sadness and loneliness crept back into my life with a strong force. But I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I didn’t want to appear weak.
It also didn’t help that when I tried to express or explain how I felt, some of my leaders told me I wasn’t working hard enough, or didn’t have enough faith, or wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy. I’m not sure why depression is sometimes viewed as a “punishment” for being a “bad person.” By no means was I a perfect missionary, but I tried my hardest. There were days I’d wake up and not want to get out of bed because I was so drained. But I forced myself to roll out of bed to pray, study, and plan. There were times when I just wanted to go back to the apartment and not face the world, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I knew that I was a missionary and I needed to do the Lord’s work. How is continuing on in the midst of mental anguish not an act of faith?
Hiding my depression and not acknowledging it was the worst thing I could have possibly done. I felt so alone and felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone without getting berated.
After 15 months in the field, I suffered a severe mental breakdown. Mission life took its toll on me. I’d trained four missionaries back-to-back and had been struggling in my area for five months. The work wasn’t progressing and my stomach was in constant knots from anxiety. The pressure kept mounting every day until I finally broke under the weight. I’d never had a breakdown before. I cried and sobbed for two and a half days. I felt like a zombie. Life wasn’t worth living anymore. That was the lowest point I’ve ever been at in my life. I didn’t just want to die – I wanted my very spirit to stop existing because I couldn’t face God knowing that I was a failure of a person.
My leaders didn’t really know how to handle my situation, so they brushed it under the rug. Part of me honestly can’t blame them because I don’t think a lot of them understood how to handle situations like mine. On the other hand, it was difficult trying to pick up the pieces all by myself. I became angry towards my leaders and even lashed out at my mission president. My last transfer in the field I was sent to a counselor in downtown Salt Lake, who helped me a lot with understanding how our individual worth is eternal. Our struggles and weaknesses can’t diminish our worth.
After coming home I was still very bitter and angry. Then my depression came back for a few months. At first, I was upset because I thought I had beaten this and come off conqueror! But I slowly realized that depression will always be a part of me and the cycles will come and go. Sometimes they’ll hit out of nowhere and other times I can notice the triggers. In the fall of 2015, I went to group therapy to learn how to communicate better with others. Those therapy sessions were the beginning of my determination to not stay silent on this topic. I learned the hard way what keeping everything it can do to a person. I don’t want to experience that ever again and I never want anyone else to feel that way.
Depression doesn’t define who I am. I may not be overjoyed that I have to fight this every day, but I’ve learned a great deal about myself. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that your well-being isn’t just a physical aspect. Mental and emotional health is just as important as physical health. They should never be put on the back-burner just because those problems aren’t readily visible. Admitting that you’re struggling with something doesn’t mean you’re weak. It’s a fact of life that will eventually get better and pass. Anyone who belittles you or your struggles isn’t worth your time. Surround yourself with people who will love, encourage, and comfort you.
The greatest lesson I’ve taken away from this is how important it is to be compassionate to those who do have mental illnesses. Nothing hurts more than not receiving help when you need it most. I never thought that having this kind of darkness in my life could teach me so much about the light and love of Christ.
“Be the love you never received.” – Rune Cazuli