When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Lauren

Lauren and I met at my Galentine’s Day: Self-Love Event back in February. We went to dinner a few months later and were able to talk more there. She shared with me her story of coming home early, since we have that in common, and agreed to write a post too. She has become a dear friend and I’m so grateful our paths crossed.
Lauren is Mom to a 1-year-old boy, Jude, and “dog mom” of a Golden Retriever. She’s a graphic designer currently serving as the Creative Director of a startup branding agency. She’s a huge Harry Potter nerd (and a Slytherin, if anyone’s wondering). She also loves running, fantasy novels, and nature documentaries. She and her husband met in Orlando, FL and miss the weather, beaches, and lush, green landscape.

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I, like many, heard the historic “Age Change Announcement” and knew immediately that I had to go. I got my papers in within a week, received my call to Orlando, Florida 3 weeks later, and went into the MTC December 19th, 2012 with the first wave of 18 and 19-year-old missionaries. It was completely surreal to be a part of.

Despite a family history of mental illness and even experiencing depression my senior year of High School (not really recognizing that that’s what was going on or doing much about it until it lifted on its own), I had no clue I was primed for another depressive period until it hit me like a ton of bricks. Because there were so many sister missionaries coming out, we started splitting areas and that meant a lot of non-glamorous work and a lot of training. I trained as soon as my first 12 weeks were up, and opened new areas for sisters every 6 weeks after that – while continuing to train. I knew I was dealing with massive amounts of stress and change, and my body was being pushed to the limit, but like many, I felt confident that if I remained completely obedient and gave my whole heart and soul to the work, I’d have the strength to “run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.” And truly, I felt so much satisfaction and joy in the work that it was easy to ignore those warning signs. After running on fumes for weeks, all it took was some bad news from home to send me completely over the edge.

Over the course of three transfers, I went from being inexplicably tired and struggling with major stomach problems to only able to leave the apartment for a few hours a day. After seeing a couple of specialists, trying antidepressants, and meeting with the area therapist (who told me that just by looking at me and my positive demeanor, he was floored that I was battling suicidal thoughts), it was suggested I return home for treatment. Surprisingly, and thankfully, I felt at peace about the decision. I was convinced I’d be back out in a transfer or two, anyway.

My symptoms only worsened as I got home. Ward members had no clue what to say, especially because I’d always been “the perfect member” (read: perfectionist and people-pleaser). In the short span of 7 months, most of my friends had moved away, gotten married, or had generally “moved on.” I was too sick to go back to school, and too sick to work. I felt completely isolated, broken and lonely. Though I knew I’d given the Lord my all on the mission, I felt like I’d failed at coming home. The anxiety, insomnia, and depression were so bad, I hardly left my bed for an entire year. My stomach problems made it incredibly painful to eat.

Attending church was one of the hardest parts for me in coming home, and I wish this was talked about more. As is typical of that stage of life/living in Utah County, my mission got brought up constantly. And not just whether you served, but people always seemed to ask when you served and it inevitably came up that I returned home early – which meant I was always explaining why. I literally could not sit through any talk about missionary work – I got sweaty, my heart started racing, and I had the feeling that I had to get out of there NOW. I distinctly remember sobbing uncontrollably at my cousin’s farewell talk. It was only a few months ago, 5 years after returning home, that I realized I can now sit through (most) homecoming/farewell talks without feeling like I’m going to throw up. The social aspect of coming home early has gotten so much easier as time has gone on. The conversation about mental health in the Church has come a long way, and I’m out of the phase of life where a mission (and basically what you’re doing with your life) isn’t brought up in every. single. conversation. I’m learning how to really cultivate and utilize a support system, which is huge. I’ve made leaps and bounds in my ability to say “no” respectfully and not base my goodness or sense of self-worth on how someone else reacts to me.

Anyway, back to the story. A few months after my return, one of my dearest companions emailed me and told me she was coming home, too, to receive treatment for her foot after being hit by a car. She wasn’t released, and since she only lived about 30 minutes from me, I got to be her companion often – it helped me tremendously to talk and be with her. But I found myself feeling deeply hurt and confused by the fact that she didn’t get released, and got to go back and finish her 18 months. Her reason for coming home was also clearly visible, and people constantly told her how strong she was, and how much of a fighter she was to endure such a trial. And she absolutely was! She’s one of the best, most exemplary people I know. But I only ever heard encouragement like that from my immediate family. Mostly, people avoided the topic. I usually sensed pity.

A year and a half after I returned home, I went back to visit Orlando with that same companion. While there, I had the strong prompting to move back – the first time since coming home that I felt God speak to me through that fog of mental illness (and one of two times I’ve felt the Spirit guide me so directly). So, a month later, I found myself back in Orlando, living in the same apartment complex as I had my first area, incredibly. It was there that I met my now-husband. He’s also from Utah, and has absolutely no ties to Florida; he moved down there after grad school to work for The Golf Channel. Amazingly, it was through my husband that I was introduced to the doctor who FINALLY diagnosed me with hypothyroidism. My healing has not been linear whatsoever, and that has been beyond frustrating at times. We’ve been married for 2.5 years, and have a one-year-old boy that is perfect in every way and my bright light in the darkness.

When my son was about 4 months, I felt that dreaded dark cloud creep up on me. My greatest fear when I got pregnant was Post-Partum Depression because I’d had a decent handle on my health for about a year and this time I’d have a sweet, little human to take care of. Unfortunately, it got worse and continued for 7 months. I’ve finally experienced more good days than bad for about three weeks now. I’m afraid of getting my hopes up, but something in my gut tells me that the worst is over. I survived, and my son is thriving.

I experienced a lot of anger with PPD. I guess I hoped that I had enough resources and tools that if / when the depression hit again, I’d be able to fight it off. Especially because we knew about my thyroid problem. Yes, I had more help and more tools, and I can certainly say that my perspective was different this time around, but that didn’t mean I could just pull myself out of it (you’d think I’d know that already). It felt quite different because of my life situation and I experienced entirely new challenges and temptations. I’ve been angry that nothing I try seems to make a real difference. I’ve been angry at God because my son and my husband don’t deserve this version of me. I’ve been angry at myself because, apparently, I’m not humble enough or learning what’s necessary to move past this. I’ve cried to God countless times, “This is obviously not working. I’m not becoming more empathetic or gaining more knowledge and faith like I did those years after my mission. All this is doing is making me more cynical, more unsure about my worth in Thine eyes, more hopeless about my ability to create a meaningful life for my family, and more doubtful that I’ll be able to endure to the end and not turn away from Thee.” The adversary came at me so hard this time around, and for months I thought I’d completely failed and lost my testimony – until I read this: “There is a spirit of doubt that the adversary uses very effectively. It has more to do with temptation than it does with a lack of faith, though it can look and feel as though it is the latter.”

These days, I’m just trying to move forward and re-learn how to trust my Father in Heaven again. I’ve prayed a lot over the past seven months, but the cloud of depression disconnects you from everything – so I’m working on re-kindling relationships and doing things that help me feel like “me” again, like running and fun creative projects aside from working as a graphic designer. Worth the Wrestle by Sheri Dew has been a huge comfort, and taking a step back from social media (using it almost exclusively for connecting with close friends instead of work / un-following a whole bunch of accounts) has helped me give myself grace. I’m trying really hard not to worry about when another depressive episode might hit, and allow space for whatever feelings I’m experiencing at the moment.

Writing out my story like this helped me organize my thoughts and put words to my feelings – especially about the new challenges that the past 7 months of PPD brought. And because some of the most healing conversations I’ve had have been with almost-strangers who’ve shared experiences in similar trials, I’m going to throw this out there: I’d love to talk about everything or nothing with anyone who needs it. Trust me, I’m someone who would rather skip the small talk and have a real heart-to-heart (consistent with my INFJ personality, if you’re into the Meyers-Briggs personality types like I am). Find me on Instagram @laurenhessdesign. We can groan over frilly motivational quotes together.

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