Brooke and I met at an Early Returned Missionary Group Meeting. She is the leader of the group and we attend it monthly. (These meetings are held for Davis/Weber, Salt Lake, and Utah counties. If you want more info let me know.) I’ve heard bits and pieces of her story as we’ve shared things from our missions. She is amazing and I’m so grateful to be developing a friendship with her.
Brooke has been married to her high school sweetheart and missionary for two years. They have a black lab mix named Hurley. She studies Social Work at Weber State University. She works at UTBS as an ABA therapist. She loves working with kids. She served in the Maryland Baltimore Mission. She loves to paddle board, listen to music, do yoga, meditate, and hike. The Office is her all-time favorite TV show. She loves musicals. Phantom of the Opera is #1. Her absolute favorite thing to do is spend time with family and friends. Relationships are everything to her. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in July 2015 on her mission and has become a huge mental health advocate ever since. She hopes to become a therapist for children and families, maybe at LDS Family Services because social work has changed her life.
The Maryland Baltimore Mission was what I called home for 16 months. I was serving in Martinsburg, West Virginia at the time. The Richards have just gone home and here I was shotgunning for the third time with a very shy sister. I met President and Sister Christiansen that transfer who would be my new mission parents of the Maryland Baltimore Mission. Here I was as anxious as ever to explore another area to find, teach, and baptize. It all hit me that Martinsburg would be my last area. I wanted to serve with all my heart, might, mind, and strength just as in D & C 4.
One day, fear crept into my mind of coming home. I was afraid my past would catch up with me. I developed debilitating migraines that kept me in bed for the majority of two weeks. I would sleep in until studies. The only time we would leave the apartment was for our dinner appointment. Even after, I would feel as I did when I woke up. I felt like I had only slept for 5 minutes. Something as simple as smiling became to be an exhausting activity. Anxiety attacks became my daily ritual. I emailed my mom and asked if depression ran in our family. She said it did from both sides. My world fell apart within an hour on that Monday. I felt desperately hopeless. I called my mission president to see what I could do. He referred me to LDS Family Services and to speak with a therapist there.
My therapist asked me, “On a scale of 1-10, how bad is it to the point you need to be home?”
12 was my response.
I was hesitant about the idea of calling my mission president to even consider the option of going home. Going home was never an option in my book. Sister Donehue was going to serve a full-time mission no matter what! I prayed that I could stay. Whenever I did, I felt uneasy. One morning during studies, I knelt down in prayer with my elbows resting on my chair. I asked “Heavenly Father, should I go home?” If I had ever received a more clear answer from the spirit, it was as clear as a summer’s day. It hit me like someone poured a huge bucket of water over my head. It was the greatest comfort and serenity I had ever received during the past three weeks. It was the answer unwanted but it was the one I desperately needed. If I wanted to come home in one piece, this is how I would do it.
I called President to tell him the answer I received. I knew God was speaking to me through him. He told me the Lord was very pleased with me and my service. I would bless the lives of others.
I was the first missionary the Christiansen’s sent home. They were so kind and graceful. They held such a confidence in me stronger than I held for myself.
“You need to promise me two things. Stay faithful and stay in touch,” President told me.
My heart was racing faster than I was to see my family at the airport. I’ve waited for this moment close to a year and a half. Ultimate joy overwhelmed me. There they were: my mom, my three younger sisters holding flowers and balloons waiting for my arrival. My family was so happy to see me. Mom told me that she needed me home. My YSA bishop, who was like a father to me, welcomed me home in open arms along with many others in the ward! My family and friends loved me just the same, if not, more!
The journey returning home was not an easy one. It took me almost two years to find closure. I found closure when returning to my mission to visit old friends and remember the good I found. It was a surprisingly serene experience.
When going to church, I struggled with talking about the spirit and this concept of keeping the commandments. How could I feel the spirit when a mental illness such as depression was numbing my spirit? In my eyes, I was inadequate. Maybe even short from inadequate. I would never reach the kingdom of God with my imperfections.
When I came home, I felt like a huge failure. But coming home was NOT a mistake by any means. It was God’s will for me to get back on my feet and to face the hard reality of living with depression for the rest of my life. Every day I make mistakes. I am far from perfect. I’ve learned in this process that my Heavenly Father is a merciful and loving God. His love is completely unconditional. In the scriptures, we are taught “If you do this, then you receive blessings of so and so.” We call this the Premack principle at my job. Life happens. And sometimes I don’t do the “ifs”. And my Savior has given me so many “life happens” passes so I can continue to grow and receive blessings even when I don’t follow the if-then principle. Life will never turn out the way you want it to be. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have the capability to choose what makes you happy.
I think about the “what if’s” of staying on my mission. I came across a picture of the sisters I went out with who were at the DC temple ready to go home. I was not in it. But guess what? Their lives were not any better than mine just because they served a “full time” mission. I know some of these sisters battle depression and anxiety just as I do. Some married in the temple, just like me. Some go to school, just like me. I was not any less successful than these sisters. That is what I’ve come to realize is that if I continue to compare my life to “full time” returned missionaries, families that have a nice house, families that have children and seem to be happy, people who have met significant milestones before I did, I will continue to rob myself of happiness. For comparison is the thief of joy.
What helped me to overcome these struggles was keeping in touch with friends in the mission. Whether it be members and converts who lived in Maryland or missionaries who served with me. I received many priesthood blessings. I went to my bishop’s house every week to have dinner and spend time with his family. I went to LDS Family Services for over a year after my return. Therapy really helped me tame the demons I’ve had to overcome. I was able to be made whole again. Mission Fortify is the glue that kinda keeps me together. I still have depression and anxiety. I still think of my mission and “what could have been”. I still have days where I lay in bed for most of the day and have no energy to help anyone, even myself. I still have those dark thoughts that tell me “nobody needs me”, “I’m not worthy of God’s love”, or “I don’t deserve to be happy”. I still struggle to go to church sometimes because I think of the things people have told me. “If you pray harder, you’ll feel better.” Or “Are you reading your scriptures every day? You must not be doing it right.”. But I have to remember that God has a place for me here, even when I feel I don’t belong.
For my friends who have returned whether early or not, here are my words to you. Don’t lose hope. Find your trust circle of genuine people. Don’t take it personally when a priesthood leader, friend, or family member tells you something you didn’t find comforting. They have the best intentions at heart but most of the time don’t know how to help during times like these. I’ve had some of those experiences. Don’t sell yourself short. You are NOT a failure. You have an older brother who has felt every single ounce of anxiety, misery, and pain. The Savior suffered it all. I think we suffer so we can understand His sacrifice and how much He truly loves us. Our burdens are not ours to carry. Jesus Christ has paid the debt. He is the One who brings true peace.
A good friend of mine once told me that if we don’t experience suffering, we are helpless to others. You are here for a purpose. You wouldn’t be living and breathing right now if that were the case. If you don’t have the answer right now, keep going. Stay the course. You may not feel it, but a loving, merciful God has been and will ALWAYS be there for you to the everlasting eternities. Your Heavenly Father is mindful of you.
You mean EVERYTHING to Him.
Miracles happen every day.
A miracle is given by the hand of God.
And you are a miracle.