Feature Friday: Brooke

Brooke and I went to high school together. She was a little quieter (and now I know more of why from her story), but was always super nice and smiley. Her story is just another confirmation to me that we truly have no idea what could be going on under the surface.
Brooke was born and raised in beautiful Utah, USA. She loves skiing, working out, and thinks having fun every day is a must. She has schizoaffective disorder but is choosing to learn how to deal with it better all the time. She loves her family, friends, dog, and yes she even loves you! “Let’s be kind, be real, and be there for each other today.”

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I was very humbled when I got asked to share my story of battling mental illness. I know that there are so many stories out there and so many priorities in life you have going on. If you choose not to take the time to read my story, I am not offended. It is long, probably too long, seriously sorry about that. But if anything just know that YOU are LOVED, you are WORTH and DESERVE every bit of love there is. If you need HELP, please please reach out to a professional, friend, or me. We can and WILL get through this together. Please DON’T GIVE UP. Don’t let your battle win, we will WIN, together we can through HIM.

I am just a normal girl, born and raised in Utah. I was oh so very shy growing up. I was timid talking to adults, I had a couple of best friends, but never really valued myself. I worshiped and envied people’s confidence, looks, and personalities. I grew up in a strict upbringing, which actually made me enjoy the different easy-going, fun, relaxed home styles my friends grew up in. (I love my family with all my heart, not trying to say I am not grateful for them, I did, however, struggle with some things in mine. No family is perfect right?) I am telling you this backstory to let you know for me my mental illness started young, there were many factors that affect who I would become and how my mental illness would develop. I’ll spare you most of the details, and try to keep it short. Just know, I have been the girl that seemed like she had a lot going for her. In reality, I had a track scholarship but was so hard on myself for feeling like I didn’t fit in with the team, and did not keep up at practice. I got asked to and went to I think every dance in high school, would research conversation topics to talk about, but I had crippling anxiety I wouldn’t even talk to my date. I seemed to have a lot of friends, but didn’t actually have any close friends at times, got jealous of my friends being better friends with other friends, and ate lunch alone often. Attended almost every church meeting and event, but still didn’t understand that God’s love was a choice and should bring joy. Instead, I couldn’t let go that I was not as “perfect” as I thought I should be.

A fast summary through college, I was relieved to be away from my strict upbringing but started making choices I knew weren’t the way I was taught and have affected me to this day. Thank goodness for the Atonement. I sucked at track, never ran my potential, but learned life lessons that I am so grateful for. I pushed away my family, tried to find value in relationships that devalued who I really was and let my studies be my last priority. My life definitely WAS NOT all negative, I had a blast at dance parties, being with roommates, and fun random “adventures” (yes I am a typical white girl, proud of it. Where my Instagram husband at ;)) I developed self-confidence, felt pretty for the first time in my life, and discovered what it felt like to get noticed. I am just trying to let you know both sides of reality, what really happened and what influenced the person I have become.

I decided to serve an LDS mission, there were so many reasons I was not ready to go. I realize those reasons now, but then decided to move forward with faith, and leave without being healthy personally, emotionally, physically, etc. I absolutely had good desires to serve the Lord, and find out who He wanted me to be, and I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. Long story short I came home early multiple times, ended up in a psych ward and eating disorder facility. I have to say, I am so grateful for these trials that lead me to the help and knowledge I have now. At the time, however, I was absolutely devastated. I was living in fear, not trusting anyone, not trusting God. I developed psychosis and my anxiety acted up like never before. I turned inward and didn’t realize other people were struggling worse than I. I was told I needed to be on medication but thought I didn’t need it. I got frustrated going to counselors, felt like I didn’t have anything to talk about, or thought it wasn’t helping. I tried for four years to live a normal life, in denial of my mental illness and feeling bitter for the way my life had gone. I was depressed, felt alone, turned my back on the Savior, and questioned the purpose of life.

There is a saying that sometimes when we have trials and hardships they can either turn us toward the Savior or make us bitter. I am so grateful that the last time I hit rock bottom I made the choice to turn to the Savior. In the last two months, I have been to the hospital with the desire to get better. I finally accepted and saw my mental illness as something real and I knew I needed help. I have been transparent and honest with my family, friends, and doctors, so that I can be trusted and trust that they can help me. I have started to make choices to keep covenants I have made with the Savior and to take care of my body, mind, and soul. For the first time in a long time, I feel HOPE. I have started to let myself care more about others than myself, and want to genuinely care. I am going back to school, I feel like I have a second chance. I am blessed, I have a loving family, friends, and support system. I have had a change of heart.

Others, sometimes aren’t as lucky. It completely breaks my heart to see so much hurt and pain on the news. Too many deaths, too much violence, too many misunderstandings, and way too many suicides. My heart goes out to the loved ones of victims, and to well everyone because I know everyone is dealing with pain one way or another. We need to help. We need to help each other, love like He did. You don’t know who needs a smile today, maybe someone with a disability, someone who doesn’t have friends, someone you are jealous of because they seem to have a better life or someone who is happier than you. You REALLY don’t know what anyone is going through. Okay, I’ll get off my darn soapbox, and just hope that this helps someone in some way. I am seriously sorry for oversharing my story, sorry to those I have hurt because of my choices and not understanding my illness. But I hope this helps in some way, and whether we ever actually meet or talk, just know that I love you. More importantly, the Savior loves you. However you are, broken and beautiful, please DON’T GIVE UP. We need YOU to STAY. Have HOPE, you are not alone my friend. We are going to make it, let’s reach out and help each other today.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Stacy

Stacy posted in the SALT Gathering group on Facebook about her struggle with infertility so I sent her some of the previous stories that have been shared on this blog to hopefully help her. (Thank you to those of you who have shared, it truly helps people more than you’ll ever know!) She told me she has felt similar feelings and agreed to sharing her own story.
Stacy stays at home with her 4 year old. She loves Target. She loves decorating her home and she loves being with her people! She enjoys watching super dramatic shows and anything murder mystery but also loves the classics like “The Office”!

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I married Cory in October 2014 I’ve always knew I wanted to be a mom more than anything and was hoping we’d have a baby pretty quick – well we did! We were pregnant by December and we had our daughter, Payton, at the end of August!

Being a mom is everything I ever expected and more! I really did always know I’d love being a mom but I didn’t know it was this good! It’s for sure a challenge and sometimes it is insane and hard but it’s worth all of it! I am not very close in age to my siblings and I knew I wanted my kids to be close, so we started trying right at a year after we had Payton to have another one. I wasn’t the least bit stressed because we had no problems getting Payton here! Well it was in August 2016 when we started trying and by December I was a little discouraged, but I knew that it can take a year and others had way harder and longer waits. But by the following August nothing.

I went to the Doctor and he put me on Chlomid, which did nothing. I did a few rounds then I went to a fertility specialist, Dr. Petersen, who is the most amazing guy ever! I thought for sure we’d have no issues, that it’d be something easy and we’d be pregnant by the end of the year. Nope! We did Chlomid as well as Femara, with an injection and nothing. So we redid the whole cycle and same thing thing. This time we had to do an IUI and nothing happened with that either.  I was getting miserable on the Chlomid. I was way uptight, hot flashes, and insane mood swings. I was also gaining weight and was just miserable! Dr. Petersen calls this the “divorce” drug and I totally can see why! We tried a few cycles with Femera and nothing either.

At this point it’d been almost two years since we started trying and I was discouraged. I had to take a break for my sanity and my emotions and marriage and to be a good mom to Payton. When I went back to Dr. Petersen he said we could do injections that were more aggressive so we did. They are so expensive and at this point we had already paid so much, but I felt so confident in it so I went with it and nothing!

I was done. I felt so much anger and hurt at the whole situation. We haven’t done any sort of fertility treatments since then. A week after my negative test my sister-in-law announced she was pregnant, adding to other sister-in-laws who were already pregnant. It’s a very weird feeling… I would never wish them this pain but I’m bitter. I’ve had to keep my distance at times.

I find myself questioning everything. Are we not good parents? Why is God withholding this righteous desire from me? I feel isolated because I know there are others who don’t have one and my heart hurts for them. I have a great husband, an amazing daughter, and so why should I be complaining? I feel guilty even being sad. My heart hurts.

We decided we were going to another round of fertility treatments and I’m nervous but I can’t stop. My faith is so low right now and that makes me more nervous but this pain inside me isn’t going away and I want to try on my end and trust the Lord that the pain will get a little less every day or we will get pregnant. I know it’s in His timing but I’m struggling with that!

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Norma

If you don’t know Norma, then I promise you want to. She became a very dear friend when I moved into her ward two years ago. She has blessed my life in countless ways and I love and admire her so much! I am grateful for the example she is of turning hard things, like going through a divorce, into a way that can bless others.
Norma lives in Utah. She is remarried and is learning the ropes of blending a family. She has taken her experiences and now helps other women find their light through online classes and coaching programs. She is host of SPARK, the Light Within Podcast. She is also a speaker, writer, and educator. You can follow her on Instagram @normazaugg or @sparkpodcast, on facebook @sparkpodcasts, or for classes or coaching visit her website.

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I was in a fog and having a hard time comprehending what was happening to me. I woke up morning after morning hoping that it was all just a bad dream. I was in so much pain, actually it was beyond pain, It was agony. Crying myself to sleep hadn’t eased the pain, it just left me with eyelids that felt like sandpaper and emptiness that I couldn’t fit. That is felt like no one could fix. I was angry at my husband and angry at God. I had been a good person my entire life, how could he allow this to happen.

Sit-ups then more sit-ups
roll over
push ups
do more… keep going!

My little boys sat on the carpet beside me. Three boys ages 8, 6, and 2 with their big eyes and curious minds watching their mommy struggle through the exertion. I couldn’t hide the pain from them, it had become a part of me in such an intense way.

Norma get up. Keep moving!

I was afraid that if I stayed still too long the anxious energy that held my body captive, and the uncomfortable pain coursing through my veins would take over. I worried that if I stopped for even a moment I would become pixelated, and little pieces of me would float away and I would be lost forever.

My body was exhausted from all the tears that had been shed and the restless nights that were filled with terrifying dreams. I would be lying if I said that part of me just didn’t want to give in to the moment and explode into nothingness. I had experienced anxiety before, but never to this extent and honestly, I didn’t know if my heart could take it. It seemed as if my blood had thickened and my poor heart had to work extra hard to push it through my body.

Some days I wanted to give in just like this day, but all I had to do was look into the eyes of my three little boys and know that was not an option.

My arms were shaking from the exertion of the push ups, I fell onto my rough carpet and lay there for only a moment before I recognized I needed something more. I knew myself well enough to know that I needed some time alone to eliminate these overwhelming emotions. The last thing I wanted was for any of this nasty energy to pour into my children. I called a friend and asked her if she could take my little boys for a while. She agreed and I took them over to play so that I could go and calm the battle that was raging inside of me.

That day I went to the park and I ran and ran and ran and prayed. I begged for some relief from the intensity of the moment.

I wish that this was the only day like this, but as time marched forward I experienced many more that tried my heart and soul. I didn’t like the feelings and quickly learned that running and temple attendance were the only things that I could do to calm the storm inside of me. I created a regular routine that included both as I moved forward through my divorce proceedings. The following months were anything but easy. I had to learn how to be a single mom except for the few days a month that my soon to be ex-husband took the boys. I had to learn new things that my husband had done like care for my vehicles and take care of the lawn. Thank heavens for an amazing father, brother in law, and other men in my church that came to help when the work was beyond my skill set. I had to learn to be by myself after 18 years of marriage.

More than anything I just wanted life to become easy, I wanted it to go back to normal and I didn’t want to feel this way anymore. If you asked me at the time I would have wondered if I could make it. I had doubts every single day and worried that my broken heart wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Time moved forward like it always does and God provided hope and relief that was greater than the anguish. It was not easy, but it was possible. I look back on those dark days now and recognize that they helped to form me into something different. Something better than I was before. I promise that if you move forward through times like these believing in God with full purpose and giving him all that you have, you too will find hope and peace and light.

Sending Buckets of Love,
Norma

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Feature Friday: Linn

Linn is in my parent’s ward and I got to take a tour of her beautiful, tidy, and organized home a few months ago to get some inspiration for my own. Her story is one of familiarity and I am sure there are many who can relate to it. I am grateful for her willingness to share.
Linn’s favorite things are the gospel of Jesus Christher family and organization. She is also obsessed with being a picture taker, reader, laugher, memory maker and chapstick user. All of that said, her IG bio sums it up best: Wife to my favorite person ever, momma to my other six favorite humans. What a beautiful life I get to live, what a mighty Savior I get to serve.

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The first time I remember experiencing depression was when I was 18 years old. I definitely couldn’t have named it at the time, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Those few weeks after my high school graduation, after pushing myself beyond my limits for months and months, I felt completely numb and oddly “off” for many weeks. My current 42-year-old self can easily look back and see that it was a precursor of things to come, but it certainly wasn’t obvious then. I have now officially been in treatment for depression for the last six years. I’m extraordinarily grateful for each facet of that treatment. But there is little question to me that I should have been earnestly seeking help longer than I have been.

I believe the depression I know today began when our little family lived back East. Our time on the East Coast was an extremely difficult five years for me. And that was very unexpected. We had moved multiple times and lived in several different cities throughout the US, beginning just shortly after our marriage. But for some reason, my outgoing nature just couldn’t break through in Boston. We had wonderful members of our church congregation that we adored (and still do), but the boundaries of that congregation were huge and our time with them was very limited. I tried for three years to somehow find a friend or two in our town that I could feel close to, someone beyond just an acquaintance I talked to on occasion. I was told more than once, “I’m sorry you’ll never fit it. It isn’t your fault you aren’t a townie.” (Townie refers to someone who was born, raised, and still resided in the same New England town.) I honestly don’t believe the people who told me this were being rude, it was just how it was and they thought I should know. I couldn’t really fix that little problem of mine, so I kept trying. Until I didn’t.

I remember telling my husband after three years of doing everything I could to make a true connection with those around me, “My situation hasn’t changed, but I have.” And I had to let it go. Not out of bitterness or resentment, but just out of a final realization that my extroverted and outgoing personality wasn’t going to win this one.

In addition, and I’m still not sure of the reason behind this, but our time back East just felt hard. Everyday tasks felt like they took a lot out of me, something I hadn’t experienced in the past or since our most recent move. And anything out of the ordinary felt just plain daunting. Obviously those feelings can be signs of depression, but in all honesty, I don’t know how much was because of my emotional health and how much of that struggle might have been causing my depression. I know not everyone who lives in New England feels this way, but I actually have talked to several who do. It is curious to me, if nothing else.

The last two years of our time in Boston were fine; nothing about them was particularly terrible. But I could sense that I had changed in ways that were actually worrisome to me. I could feel my naturally, extroverted self, closing in. A lot of the time, “introvert” better described me during those days. Now let me be clear, I am in no way implying that introverts are depressed, just the drastic change in personality for me was what was notable and cause for concern.

At the same time all of this was happening, I had some terribly difficult struggles with some extended family members that brought me to my knees. Over and over and over again. It was just a lot, for many years, and it definitely contributed to my concerning emotional health.

As did my physical health. I often joke with my husband that I think I received a “refurbished” body when I came to Earth. I have the strangest health issues at times, from high risk pregnancies to an unusual brain disorder (idiopathic intracranial hypertension for those looking for a tongue-twister) to PCOS to bizarre joint and bone problems. I cannot count the number of times a doctor has said to me, “I have never seen anything like this Mrs. Allen.” Nice. And while I usually try to joke about it, physical struggles can most definitely contribute to depression challenges. And those health issues were oddly abundant while we lived on the East Coast.

One last experience in New England stood out to me. I had gone into my OB/GYN for an appointment and I ended up sharing with her how much I was struggling, how hard life felt for me all of the time of late. She told me she thought I should see my primary care, but she also ran a couple of tests herself. Through those tests, she discovered that my hormone levels were incredibly off and advised that I take a small bit of hormone, hoping that would help things. It did. Tremendously. At least for a time.

Shortly thereafter, I did visit my primary care physician. She listened and then suggested that I take an anti-depressant, to see if it would help. I remember being shocked and wondering why she was jumping to something so drastic. I laugh at that now, knowing that she was likely seeing it much more clearly than I was in that moment. (It is so interesting to me that when I think of others with depression or other mental health challenges getting help or taking medication, it feels brave to me. I’m so impressed with them. But when it came to me, it felt weak and lacking. I’m past that now, gratefully, but oh man, it was how my mind operated during that time.) Because the hormones my other doctor prescribed helped so much for a time, I felt almost justified in my reaction to my primary care doctor. I didn’t need anti-depressants, I just needed some help with my hormones. (Insert the emoji where I am shaking my head at myself. Also the prideful emoji that doesn’t exist to my knowledge, but should—at least for me.)

A few months after this experience, we received a strong impression that we needed to move. Through much prayer and fasting and my husband searching for jobs, we ended up with the answer that we should move back to Utah. Both my husband and I cried (and my husband is not a crier). We had lived “away” from our home state for more than a dozen years and while we both loved the state we were raised in, we never imagined moving back. We liked “being away” and it was difficult for that to end. It felt like a bigger change than we had initially thought we would be asked to make.

At the same time, I was expecting our sixth child. As mentioned, I have high risk pregnancies. Every single time. And my last one was especially difficult. It was physically taxing and worrisome, like the rest, but it seemed to take a more emotional toll on me than the other five, likely because of all that was happening in our lives and the large amount of change and challenges throughout my time being pregnant.

I remember about ten days or so after our daughter was born (she was four weeks early, but gratefully, very healthy), my husband approached me and kindly said, “Linn, do you want to call the doctor or should I?” He didn’t need to explain himself. Both of us knew I was in a dark and numb place, deeper in depression than I ever had been before that time. I didn’t even have the strength to make that call. But he did. And I will be forever grateful.

That call was the beginning of me fighting for my mental health and while I wish I could say that initial reason for calling the doctor has remained my worst time, it hasn’t. Not by a long shot. But I have had doctors that I will forever praise their name for going to bat for me and helping me make decisions to help myself. I have an incredible therapist that I have been seeing for years and how I was led to her can only be described as “divine intervention.” And after a few different tries, I have a wonderful medication that I take that has been such a blessing and help to me. It doesn’t change who I am, it clears away the junk, so I can be who I truly am. I have children who know that I have depression and that let me be open with them about it (age appropriately, of course). We talk about it plenty and we joke about it a lot (they are careful to never cross the line in their humor, but it is seriously beyond hilarious, I love it so). And while it may not be right for everyone, it is so right for us for the stigma and secrecy of mental illness not to be present in our family. And mostly, I have a husband who has been through more than anyone else realizes and still keeps coming back and loving and serving and trying and accepting and caring. He is amazing and good and I am eternally grateful for him and how he chooses to love me and how he works to see such good in me, even when I am in a place where I don’t believe him.

Most especially, I have a Father in Heaven and my Savior, Jesus Christ, who love me and have never left my side. When my depression is at its worst, I can’t feel the Spirit. I can’t feel my Father’s love or my Savior’s hope. And that used to shake me and make me feel unworthy and make it hard to pray or read my scriptures or even to care… But more often than not now, it just makes me look forward to when the depression will clear and the ability to feel the Spirit will return. My prayers and my doing everything possible to have the Spirit close to me, especially when I can’t feel it, not only make the post-depression episodes so much better, but they make my actual periods of depression much less. I know how blessed I am to have my depression as manageable as it is. And all of that is due to the above paragraph and to God’s incredible kindness and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It isn’t easy, and there have been many dark, dark times that bring tears to my eyes when I think about them. But I know to Whom I can go for strength and help and healing (no matter how temporary) and mostly, to feel even a sliver of light, in a very dark place.

As I told someone recently, I don’t actually believe my life here in mortality is meant to be free of depression. Who knows? Maybe I am wrong about that. But to be honest, I don’t know if I want to be completely free from my depression. I have had opportunities to help others that I never would have had I not personally dealt with mental illness myself. I have made the choice to be very open about having depression and seeking treatment and seeing a counselor, a choice that works for me. And I have been surprised when that comes back to be a blessing to others. I have gone through situations that have rocked me to my core (most especially in the past three years, the last year being an absolute doozy). But because depression is a part of my life, I am learning to make the effort to take care of myself and help to heal myself from those difficult events and experiences in a way that I don’t know that I would without this struggle.

Depression is real. It is a part of my story. But it isn’t my story. And I have my Savior, Jesus Christ and my God to thank for that. They have surrounded me with my sweet kids that care when I struggle and that laugh when it is most needed. They have given me a husband that is the most hopeful and incredible person I know, even when he has every reason not to be. They have allowed me to struggle with depression, knowing that it had the ability to bring me to Them in a way that nothing else could, if I would make that choice.

If there is anything I have learned over the last six years–and beyond–it is that God loves His children. Every single one of us. Including me. Imperfect, crazy, loud, fabulous, depressed, happy, bodily-challenged, joyful me. And there is nothing that my God wants more for me than to run to Him. In joy and happiness, in pain and agony, in numbness and confusion. He will take all of it, if I will just come.

I’m truly grateful for the experience of writing my story. Of course, there are ten million other significant details I haven’t shared. (You’re welcome.) But good or bad, hard or easy, light or dark, it’s all worth it. It is what my Heavenly Father intended for my life. I’m sincerely grateful for every hard, painful, heartbreaking moment that depression has brought me. I’ll take every bit of it. And bring it to God. Because that is where it belongs. Mostly, that is where I belong. He has never left my side. That I know.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Lexi

Lexi and I are part of a networking group on FB, so when she asked people to share her story I was happy to since that’s part of what I’m all about here. I am proud of her for being so brave in sharing something so personal.
Lexi is 27 years old and has way too many passions for her own good! Between working in healthcare, photography and her blog she stays very busy. She wears her heart on her sleeve and loves to inspire others! Some of her hobbies include cooking, jamming out to music, being social, going boating, and being adventurous!

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Lately, I’ve been somewhat quiet on social media and there’s a reason for that. Life has been a little bit crazy and I’ve been having to make a lot of big decisions and I just didn’t have time or energy to put into social media. One of those big decisions is time sensitive, which was what lead me to finally doing this blog post.

Please bear with me throughout this post, it is not something that is easy for me to write, talk, or ask about. I’ve rewritten this post probably 100+ times over the last year. And here I am again, shaking as I am writing, but this time I have to muster up the strength to hit publish. I’m asking that if you aren’t willing to be understanding or take the time to try to see my perspective that you please keep your comments or assumptions to yourselves. I am going to lay it all out there and be the most vulnerable and transparent that I have ever been.

As some of you may know, I was diagnosed with endometriosis a little over a year ago, I was diagnosed after having surgery. You can read more about that here.

Post surgery I’ve had to make a lot of big decisions and it has been super stressful but I am beyond grateful for the diagnosis that I have now as opposed to not knowing for years from now.

Here’s what has happened since surgery, I hadn’t even fully woken up yet when my OB was telling me that I need to get pregnant sooner than later and that I had no choice but to start on medication ASAP. This was devastating for me to hear, how am I supposed to make that happen when I’m not married yet? I hadn’t even had two seconds to process the fact that I do have endometriosis and this is why I had been getting so many burst ovarian cysts. While I felt a lot of relief that I finally had an answer to my cysts and occasional pain, I immediately started worrying. It was explained to me that the medication I should be on was one that would put me into menopause, at only 26 years old. It would require 6 months of injection and once you’re done with the injections the medication can stay in your body for up to a year as time goes on and it gets out of your system you will begin to ovulate normally again. This did not sit well with me, so I got a second opinion from multiple OB’s and a fertility specialist because knowing my luck my body wouldn’t react well and it didn’t make sense for me to mess up my hormones when they are currently perfect and suitable for a viable pregnancy. I wanted to research all of my options, and avoid the whole ‘temporary menopause’ thing if at all possible. The second and third OB’s advised me in order to protect my fertility that I need to be on some sort of medication, whether that be Lupron or birth control, and that I should look further into freezing my eggs, just in case, because at this point I was 6 weeks post-op and had been having immense pain – worse pain than I had before my surgery. The surgery had removed most of the endometrial cells, but it exacerbated my pain.

I then met with the fertility specialist and I will never forget the feeling I had sitting in the waiting room. I felt incredibly guilty and selfish for being there, my eyes welled with tears as I looked around. Here I was, as far as I know, able to conceive and get pregnant on my own, waiting to meet with a specialist to talk about potentially messing up my hormones and my options for ‘what if I can’t get pregnant naturally’ when I haven’t even been in a situation to try. All I could think about were the other people sitting in the waiting room alongside me who were struggling to start a family of their own and how I felt so selfish for being there when I have a high chance of being able to conceive on my own as long as I manage my diagnosis. The thing that kept going through my head was, “You are so selfish for being here, you aren’t in these peoples’ situation, why are you here?”

But guess what? After speaking with the fertility specialist, I was gently reminded about how smart I was for seeking out her opinion and how proactive I am being for my future family. Especially with such a strong family history of severe endometriosis. Reality is that I don’t know what the future holds for me and being pregnant, I’ve never been in a situation where I have tried to become pregnant. As of right now each of my doctors believes I should be able to conceive on my own but are strongly advising that I begin other precautions as well. I do know that by choosing to manage my diagnosis, staying on birth control and freezing my eggs before the age of 28 (aka-the other precautions) I will have the reassurance that my mom, aunt, and grandmother didn’t have and I am being proactive about giving myself the best chance possible at having a family.

Currently, I am established with a fertility specialist and the first thing we spoke about were the serious issues that could occur if I am unable to get on top of my pain. I am unable to laugh, sneeze, move certain ways, breathe deeply, etc. without being in pain on my left side. Sometimes even walking will cause my ovaries to flare up on a bad day. The pain feels like someone is stabbing a knife into my body and twisting it repeatedly which in turn causes nausea a lot of the time. I am not the type to take pain pills every day, in fact, I only take them if the pain is bad enough to land me in the ER. As much as I try not to let it affect my life, it has. I’ve been living with it for a little over a year now praying that it will get better and more manageable as time goes on, but so far I haven’t had much luck. We discussed that at some point my left ovary may need to be removed. This does not mean I cannot get pregnant, it simply means my eggs are cut in half and it may be more difficult. I hope it doesn’t come to this, but if it does, it is yet another reason for me to take precautions and freeze my eggs.

The second thing we did was come up with a regimen of the medication that would put me into menopause that was pill-based, so if I reacted poorly to it at any point I could stop taking it. I was on this regimen for 9 weeks and had so many awful side effects that my dr. and I decided that for now, I am better off being on birth control and preparing to freeze my eggs.

Since making this decision I have felt immense pressure, physically, emotionally and financially. Enduring and learning how to live with this pain that used to only happen on occasion for me has been a major adjustment. The entire process has been so emotionally taxing and it’s only the beginning. I feel so much guilt about the fact that I am having to make these decisions by myself, especially because the decisions I make now are going to impact a man I’m not yet married to. Vulnerable because it’s not something I necessarily want to open up to people about, especially because I am still single and dating. I really hope that people won’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions about my situation. Also feeling vulnerable because this is the most important decision that I am making in my life and this decision will lead to the most important thing to me: creating a family. Guilt because I have friends who have struggled with infertility, whose hormones aren’t normal when mine are. Lately, I’ve been having panic and anxiety attacks anytime someone announces a pregnancy or has a baby because it’s a reminder about how I am on a time limit to freeze my eggs. Confused because although I love my friends and am SO happy for them, I still get sad. And I don’t feel justified in how I am feeling.

After I met with the finance advisor at my specialist’s office I was under a completely new type of pressure. The process of freezing your eggs is not cheap even with some things being covered by health insurance. I walked out of the office with a bowling ball in my throat and cried crocodile tears in my car for hours. Having a family means more to me than anything, and I know that I will make it happen, but after that meeting I was so overwhelmed. How am I supposed to come up with $14,000 when I’m only making enough to pay my bills and save a little here and there? Financially I have been under so much pressure to save large sums of money without the means to do it. Not able to qualify for grants or scholarships because I’m not in a ‘couple’ or I don’t have a ‘100% diagnosis of infertility’. In order to freeze my eggs within the timeframe suggested by my doctors, I need to come up with $14,000 in 12 months. I’m not in a spot financially that allows me to save a lot, I do what I can but I also have bills to pay. Racking my brain I constantly felt like it would never happen, I felt so defeated and anxious but knew that I would do whatever I could to figure it out.

Then one day I hosted a brunch with girlfriends and my friend Emily came up with the idea as I was telling her about my situation. She said, “Why not do a GoFundMe?” I told her I had thought about it but I didn’t feel right just taking people’s money. And then she said this, “Well you do photography! Offer people a service and have them pay the account instead of paying you directly.” I felt better about this but still wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to do, especially because it meant I would have to open up about what I’ve been dealing with over the past year and a half.

But as you can see, here I am, telling all of you my story, opening up about the fact that I am hoping to begin the process of freezing my eggs before I reach the age of 28 which will be June 2020. As soon as I raise the money, I will be beginning the process. I am absolutely terrified of all of this. Of opening up, of asking for help, of going through the process of actually freezing my eggs. As terrifying as this all may be, I know in my soul it will be worth it. I will do whatever I need to do in order to have a family someday even if it means taking these precautions now and opening up to the internet. I’m not sure what all of the answers are, but I do know I am choosing a route that will be best for me in the long run and I am attempting to do it all while staying positive and vulnerable.

I want to officially announce that I have set up a bank account created for the sole purpose of paying to freeze my eggs. This bank account is also directly attached to a Venmo account if you prefer to donate/pay that way as opposed to making a direct deposit. All proceeds from photography sessions I do that involve anything regarding family will be placed or paid to this bank account.

These sessions can take place now, or you can donate and have your session take place at a later date (for example, you aren’t pregnant but you’d like to donate and receive a future maternity session, or you haven’t had your baby yet but would like to donate and receive a newborn session once the baby is born). I want my clients to know that they are contributing to a cause much bigger than my passion for photography, I want to give back to those that donate. You are helping me to be proactive about having a family of my own someday. To those that choose to donate without doing a session and those that are doing a session, there are no words I could say to thank you enough. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions you might have!

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To see the type of sessions Lexi is offering and the price, along with how to pay/donate you can go here and scroll to the bottom.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Stef

I had the privilege of hearing Stef share her testimony/story at SALT Retreat last fall. I talked to her a little bit in between sessions and as we got talking about sharing our stories she said something that I have never forgotten, “It’s not for attention, it’s for connection.” She has been through a lot with the loss of her son, and more recently, IVF and a miscarriage.

Stefanie has suffered depression, anxiety, PTSD,  pain and loss silently more than once, but after her son died of a congenital condition at ten months old she promised to make something good come from her grief. With a heart broken open she threw out her fear-induced silence and vulnerably shared a difficult journey of healing.
Even after such a nightmarish trial she achieved the happiness she knew Heavenly Father meant for her. Life hasn’t been free of trial since then, but she learned so much about her faith and strength that she has navigated subsequent trials from a more hopeful place. Because after all, hope heals.

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Everything was going according to plan, college, marriage, kids. That is, until our first son, following 3 girls, was born. His pregnancy, like the others, was horrible but otherwise normal until he was born unable to move.

An infant, so tiny and even more helpless than most without the ability to move, was already moving our family toward more love and closeness. We struggled to comprehend what this might mean for our family and grew closer over prayers and frequent visits to see the newest member of our family those first few weeks in the NICU. But when I was alone with my thoughts, the familiar team of anxiety and depression began making their comeback.

Despite Brody’s weight gain and therapies multiple times a week in the first months, his ability to move continued to digress. The uncertainty of his future life relentlessly chipped away at me at a rate faster than I could combat. God made himself known as much as possible. There were silent walks hanging my head, face shielded from strangers beneath a hat, while He sent my favorite sunny rain to help wash away my tears. Earthly angels about His errand came to my aide with wonderful messages of hope and tangible support of dinners and babysitting, but when Brody stopped eating, my despair spiraled into depression.

It was then I experienced my darkest hours. I tried to focus on all the blessings we had received to that point, there was elation every time I met his eyes and felt the strength of his trusting spirit, but it was met with fear. I was falling deeply in love with a child and I wasn’t sure he would stay long on this earth.

With no new information at doctor’s appointments, we opted for a g-tube and decided to have extensive genetic testing. The results would take weeks but would most likely give us a diagnosis and therefore prognosis of what to expect for Brody’s future. The appointments became fewer and farther between to which I was somewhat grateful. This allowed us an opportunity to work toward accepting our new normal and find moments of joy.

On Brody’s six-month birthday we sat in a foreign hospital room. As we waited to meet a doctor for the first time we struggled to connect with my husband on Facetime – all so he could hear our biggest fears spoken,

“His condition is degenerative, life-limiting and terminal.”

The day after Brody was diagnosed, I made truth of a statement I had uttered many times, “I just want to stay in bed all day.” I slept that day away sometimes cuddling Brody, sometimes letting my family step in to offer his care. Once the day was over, I knew there was nothing left but to take that first step out of bed, and then another and another.

Now we knew. Brody would be physically and mentally limited, and may only reach adolescence. We began a new set of expectations. We learned to love and appreciate every moment with him.

Brody lived 4 more months and passed away at home 6 days after his 10-month birthday. Though his funeral was hard, I felt so much love and hope in those moments. He had helped us grow strong enough to be the ones available to comfort others. We knew where Brody was, we knew he was with his Father in heaven in a perfect body.

Heavenly Father stayed close through my grief. Enough faith remained firmly within me that I knew I would be ok eventually. That thought carried me back into public places such as a drive-thru or a grocery store. As I slowly reintroduced myself to the fast-paced world around me, I was so bare that I saw humanity in its rawest forms.

Here I was, living the unimaginable and I was just a number in a crowd. Or was I? If I looked closely, could I tell what other people were going through? Not usually. Perhaps their timid smiles hid difficult circumstances just like my own. I saw people differently, and I began to thank them as best I could for their simple acts of kindness toward me…though they knew nothing of what I was living. I called this extra effort toward gratitude, #brodymoves. It meant I could do hard things and still be grateful.

God continued to put caring people in my path but I also had to learn to move forward on my own. Though I didn’t recognize it at the time I began a journey of self-reclamation. I questioned who I had become, my spirituality, physicality, my purpose. Where would I find those things again?

I fought to regain every piece of what made me who I was, every ounce of what I believed. I fought for the presence of a will to continue better than I had been before.
I cried, begged God for permission to quit, and thought of ways I could leave this life without giving up on my family. My answers all started with two things, “look inward, look upward.”

I was guided to things from my past. Who had I been? Who would I be now? How would I merge the two people before this life event and after this life event? Old yearbooks with pictures, signatures, and comments reminded me of my old self. It had to be within me somewhere. How would I bring it out and continue building on it?

Physicality would be the first thing I would fight to reclaim. If Brody wasn’t able to use his muscles, I should honor mine. I should use my physical abilities to fight toward the first step of reclamation. I would take back my body, and take it to a peak condition I knew was possible but had never achieved. I would use my muscle to fight for my life – to believe for myself that I was this “strong” that people were using to describe me.

I reluctantly started sharing my journey to healing on social media. I wondered if it might appear as if I was somehow exploiting my son for attention, when a pleading prayer resulted in my answer, “It’s not about attention, it’s about connection.”

My hope is that those who find this account or any other helpful, supportive community will know they are not alone.

I wish I could tell you in person it will all be ok. But the next best thing I can do is share my life and joy as an example of overcoming that darkness.

I know it will be ok. No matter what happens, no matter the torment we have been through or might soon go through. It will all be ok. You can find the powers that need to be present in your life. You will, and maybe already have, feel opposite ends of the spectrum for every emotion but I promise you your trials can turn into the most beautiful hurt. They can transform wreckage into building blocks to help you climb to a place higher than you have ever before experienced.

Heavenly Father honored me with 10 borrowed months caring for one of His chosen angels and continues teaching me through my son’s short, impactful existence.

It has been my pleasure to share with you all here, and I wish you a meaningful journey of this life ahead, as for me I will continue my journey to live well after loss.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Anonymous 4

The person who wrote this post is a very near and dear friend. It breaks my heart the things she has experienced in the last several months. What would you do if the person you fell in love with became someone else after getting married and left you one day? Read on to find out what she did.

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Hello! Ally asked me to write a blog post about some of the struggles that I have had during my marriage, and why I am currently grappling with the decision of whether or not to get divorced. I will frankly discuss verbal and emotional abuse/manipulation, as well as mental health, including suicidality and self-harm, which may be upsetting to some. I have decided to remain anonymous—first of all, because my story is ongoing, second of all, to protect my husband and me—some of the things I will discuss are sensitive, and I would prefer to keep them confidential at this time. However, if you or someone you know is going through something similar, and needs someone to talk to, please feel free to ask Ally for my contact information. I would also be willing to share my story in other ways, although I would still prefer to remain anonymous at this time. I sincerely would be happy to help however I can. Something I have learned in the midst of my trial is that support is absolutely crucial to being able to work through your thoughts and feelings and to see things clearly.

To explain how I got into this situation, I think it would be prudent to explain why I got married in the first place. When I first met my husband, the thing that stood out the most was how easy he was for me to talk to. While we were dating, he was attentive, charming, kind, compassionate, empathetic, honest, and charismatic. He was a true gentleman, and he was always going out of his way to make me feel special, and to show me respect. It seemed like so many things in both of our lives had lined up perfectly for us to meet each other. At one point, while we were dating, I unknowingly quoted part of his patriarchal blessing to him. It seemed like the stars were aligning. I usually take time to get to know someone, but I began to open up to him in ways that I hadn’t been able to open up to anyone before, and he listened with great care. I slowly began to fall in love with him.

I feel like it would be misleading to leave out a few parts of this love story. First of all, I have gone back many times and wondered if I made a mistake by dating him at all. I remember having an impression that I shouldn’t date him, very early in our courtship, and it troubled me a lot. I was afraid of diving into a relationship, and so I wondered if I was just letting my own fear and doubt cloud my judgment. On the other hand, I also really did want to date him, and so I worry that my own desires may have gotten in the way of real revelation. Truthfully, even now, I am not completely sure what is true. There is nothing I can do about it now but offer myself grace in knowing that I did the best that I could at the time and that I was truly trying to seek the will of the Lord, and do what is right. I discussed these thoughts with another friend of mine who was divorced, and I really appreciated his thoughts. He said, “I’m not so confident in my revelation receiving abilities as to think that I was for sure given confirmation that I should marry her (his ex-wife.) Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. I did the best I could at the time. I just know God doesn’t stop life from happening, so Christ makes up for it.”

There were some big concerns through our dating life. He had struggled heavily with pornography in the past (before we started dating) and had ongoing issues with masturbation because of it. He hadn’t served a mission or gone to the temple, and these issues made me the most unsure about continuing to court him. I had always strived to live the gospel, and I went on a mission and knew for sure that I would not settle for anything less than a temple marriage. I prayed a lot for discernment, and to know what to do, because this was obviously a major concern. However, he was incredibly honest about his struggles, and he was accountable to me, his bishop, and the Lord. He attended addiction recovery meetings diligently and taught the prospective elders class in his ward. As I watched, he made significant progress, turned his life around, and began to prepare himself to receive his endowment. He told me how happy he was, and I could see changes in his very core. I saw the Atonement at work. He received his endowment, was worthy of the temple and the Spirit, and his actions continued to demonstrate a deep commitment to me and the Lord. All of his actions all pointed to him being and continuing to become the kind of man I had always wanted to marry.

During this time, he had started to ask me about going ring shopping. We had introduced one another to our families, and our relationship was progressing. However, I was a little uncomfortable with how fast it seemed to be moving, and I kept putting off ring shopping, wanting to be sure that he could take me to the temple, and that he was the right man. I also wanted to make sure that the spiritual changes he was making were permanent, and that they were not just for me. He seemed frustrated by my uncertainty, and I began to feel a bit pressured to make a decision about whether or not I wanted him to propose. I continued to ask him to wait, as kindly as possible. However, I realized that our relationship was reaching a point where, if I wasn’t prepared to marry him, I needed to end it in order to be fair to us both.

I’d like to reiterate that he treated me very well—he was attentive and went out of his way to serve me and pursue me. He brought me flowers at work, took me on thoughtful dates, drove an extra 20 minutes to scrape the snow off my windows in the morning, and took care of me when I was sick. He was kind and caring. I feel like, because you, the reader, know that this isn’t going to end well, I feel obligated to share all of the challenges and concerns in our relationship. However, please don’t make any mistake that I was incredibly happy for the vast majority of the time that I was dating him, and early in our marriage—happier than I had ever been before in my life.

My then-boyfriend told me that he had received an answer in the temple that he should marry me. I was diligently seeking my own answer but didn’t get it as soon as he did. I wanted to, and continued to fast, pray, read the scriptures, go to the temple, and seek guidance from my bishop. Scriptures began jumping out to me—and over and over, the message was basically the same, “Don’t be afraid to do good.” I remember hearing something similar as I prayerfully went into General Conference in April of 2017, and I decided that I had my answer. Getting married was a good thing, right? I didn’t want to live in fear of doing something that seemed to promise so much happiness, and I felt like I was making a good choice.

Our dating and engagement lasted for a year and several months before were married in November of 2017. We honeymooned in Hawaii, which was pure bliss. We came home and quickly signed on a home that we had bought, and moved in. Immediately after, we hit the holidays hard—switching between families, and scrambling to make sure we had all of our last minute Christmas gifts ready. It was pretty chaotic and definitely stressful as newlyweds—still trying to figure out how to live together and adjust to all of the changes in our lives.

I also had started taking birth control shortly before our wedding. I was a little nervous about it, because I had never taken it before, and I did not know how it would affect me. I had struggled through periods of anxiety and depression prior to that, and I had even had suicidal thoughts in the past. However, they had never been severe enough to be debilitating, and I had always been able to manage it in silence. I had been honest with my husband about these tendencies prior to us getting married, and had even expressed that I was worried about how the birth control could potentially tap into those tendencies and make them worse.

Unfortunately, I was right. Birth control took my feelings and amplified them. I felt anxious and paranoid, and depression started to rear its nasty head. I began to experience regular suicidal thoughts. To make matters worse, our transition to marriage wasn’t going very smoothly. I come from a family where we are able to confront issues and deal with them directly, and my husband comes from a family that does not confront. It was a challenge for him and me to work through even the smallest of problems. I think that he had expected marriage to be much easier and smoother than it was proving to be, and I remember distinctly receiving a text from him that essentially told me that he wasn’t sure that he wanted to be married and that he felt like he was having a crisis of faith and identity. I was already an anxious mess, and this made all of the alarms in my head go haywire. I desperately wanted to fix things. I mentioned to my husband that I was worried that the birth control was affecting me negatively, but I felt pressured to continue to try it. To be clear, some of that pressure was from my husband, but a great deal of it was from myself—I figured that women take birth control all the time, we were going through a stressful time, things would get better, etc. I was terrified to admit that I might have a real problem, so I made every excuse I could think of to just try to “tough it out.”

January of 2018, I took a trip to go visit my mom and grandma. My husband stayed behind. He was acting strangely, and I remember feeling desperately anxious and worried, especially after his texts about a crisis of faith and identity. He was not communicating with me, which made me feel really insecure and scared—as it turned out, rightfully so. I remember calling him, angrily, and trying to explain how the lack of communication was making me feel. I tried to explain to him that I felt insecure and that not having open communication was amplifying the issues I was experiencing with anxiety and depression. I probably didn’t handle it the best, but I tried. That conversation was one of many that did not go well.

However, I was still completely shocked when I arrived home, and my husband of two months informed me that he had spent the weekend I was away contemplating divorce. Even though our marriage had been a little difficult from the start, I was still in the honeymoon phase, and still thought that he was also madly in love with me. I remember just collapsing into a heap and bawling my eyes out. I am not much of a crier (usually), but this just flayed me. Before we got married, he and I had discussed what things would be grounds for divorce, and we had agreed that it was not an option except for in very exceptional circumstances—and even then, that marriage was sacred and that we should try to make things work between us. Therefore, when he told me what he had been thinking, I was in absolute shock. I had just given this man everything, and he was rejecting it and rejecting me—like I was a donor’s kidney. He told me that he thought I was an abusive wife, and I was completely shocked by that, too. I dug through my mind and probed him for an explanation. I could admit that I had been less pleasant than usual, with all of the stress and the hormonal changes from the birth control—but abuse? This accusation also shook me to the core and made me question myself deeply. I didn’t understand how he could possibly think I was an abusive person, but I also worried that maybe I just didn’t see myself clearly. I was terrified of being that kind of person and resolved to figure out whether or not my behaviors really were abusive, and to try to fix them. I was also alarmed by the fact that he didn’t feel like he could confront me before his feelings had become so extreme.

I finally confessed to my husband that I didn’t think I could continue on the birth control, and described in detail some of the symptoms that it was giving me. He agreed, and we stopped using it, hoping that it would ease some of the burdens on our marriage. I accepted much more blame for our situation than I probably should have, but I genuinely wondered if it was my fault that he was considering leaving me. Was I really as broken as he was telling me? Was I really breaking him? I began to obsessively read every article about healthy marriages that I could get my hands on, desperate for answers.

Unfortunately, the security was taken out of our marriage for me. I kept trying to rebuild trust, but things kept happening that would break it again. After the initial shock of the divorce threat wore off, I became angry and resentful. I needed to talk through what had happened, to try to heal. I needed to express to my husband how much hurt and fear he had caused. I needed to understand his rationale, and why he hadn’t tried to talk frankly with me before making such a threat. I was trying to stand up for myself, because I had always been a relatively strong and independent woman, and I had enough self-confidence to realize that I couldn’t be the only one doing things wrong. However, every time that I began to talk about it, my husband would reply viciously, using cutting remarks to silence me. Looking back, I believe many of the things that he told me were verbally and emotionally abusive. I also felt like I was walking on eggshells, questioning many of my behaviors so that I couldn’t again be accused of abuse. My husband told me that the only reason he hadn’t left me was for my own sake and that he thought that I might be a good mother for his future children. Those words made me feel like he had dropped another bombshell on me because I felt so devalued and unloved. The bombshells just kept coming.

I can’t say that there was any one event that made our relationship cross the line from loving and respectful into what it became–it was so insidious that I hardly realized how bad things had gotten until I was eventually removed from the situation. However, there were some events that were noteworthy, so I will briefly mention those:

· My husband asked me to attend counseling with him after his first divorce threat in January. I was terrified and had never done counseling. I resisted it at first because of all of the stigma that I had associated with it—partially because of the way I was raised, and partially because of the culture in the church. I thought that for a marriage to require counseling, it must be on its last leg. I asked instead if we could try taking a healthy marriages class in the community, which I arranged for us. We took that, and it helped for a short time. However, when things still were rocky in April, we began regularly seeing a marriage counselor. While I do think that this helped, I also do not think that this particular counselor was the right fit for us and our marriage, and sometimes I would walk away from the sessions feeling more depressed and discouraged, and even more like everything was my fault.

· There were several nights that felt noteworthy to me because they were so heart-wrenching. I remember having an argument with my husband one night, and he rolled over and went to sleep, while I literally cried the entire night by myself. Every time he woke up, he would treat me with scorn and anger, and I felt so incredibly abandoned. I was so distraught by our argument, and he seemed so callous. My heart was broken. Please keep in mind that while I would consider myself to be an emotional person, I have never been much of a crier. I have always been somewhat stoic about my feelings, so I have to be hurting really badly to cry like that. I remember mechanically getting up and going into work the next morning, not having slept, eyes were swollen, desperate to not let anyone know that anything was wrong in my life. Little did I realize that this was the first night of many where I would have to do that. I would wait the next day for apologies that almost never came until I eventually would apologize, just to try to make peace, even though I usually wasn’t sure that I had done anything wrong.

· There were nights where I left the house and walked alone, in the dark, because I felt like I had no other choice. I was in so much pain that I felt like I would explode, and my house didn’t feel safe anymore, because the source of the pain was there. There were some nights I considered not going home at all and thought about where I might sleep. My husband later described these incidents to try to prove that I was mentally unstable.

· My husband has never been physically abusive to me, but there was one time that he came close, and that was a very sobering experience. We were talking about something trivial, and suddenly, he got irrationally angry. Alarmed, I asked him what was going on, and he asked if I would just leave him alone. This upset me, and I told him that I hadn’t done anything and didn’t understand why he was angry. I tried to ask him, and he slammed his hands down on the banister of our stairs, telling me that he was doing it to intentionally scare me into silence. It worked, and that was a wakeup call for me. He had crossed a line that he had never crossed before, and in my mind, it sort of clicked—his actions at that moment were to consciously use fear and manipulation to be domineering and control my actions. That was an alarming realization.

· My husband began to lie to me. I do not know to what extent, but I do remember catching him once. When I told him that it was unacceptable, he told me that it was my fault—if I were more trustworthy, he could have talked to me. He didn’t feel safe, because I was so critical of him. He made me feel guilty and responsible for his mistake. This blaming became an ongoing pattern.

Obviously, things were in a downward spiral, and getting worse. My husband, who had rarely exhibited anger towards me when we were dating, was now angry almost all of the time. Everything I said could cause him to lash out at me, and say things that cut me to the core. It was so inconsistent—sometimes he was the man I knew and loved, but most of the time he was scary. He knew exactly how to hurt me. I was extremely depressed, and despite the reprieve that getting off of the birth control gave me, I still experienced thoughts of self-harm and suicide, most days, and persistently. I would fanaticize about just not waking up, and being released from the situation I was in. I felt like I was just hurting my husband, who constantly told me how abusive, critical, unsupportive, and broken I was, despite tremendous effort on my part to be the best that I could be for him and our marriage. The harder I tried, the more I seemed to disgust him, and the more he seemed to despise me. He would hold things against me for weeks and months, resenting me, while I tried to figure out what was wrong. I thought it was all my fault because that is what he kept telling me. I thought that the world might be better off without me. I began to feel fairly certain that my husband would be happier if I was gone. I felt desperate all of the time—desperate to make him happy, desperate to overcome my own feelings, desperate to make things work, desperate to be a good member of the church. It was so consuming. It was destroying me. I felt like I had nowhere to turn—I didn’t want to talk to my family or friends, because I was trying to be loyal to my husband, and I didn’t want them to know how deeply we were struggling. Even heaven began to feel dark, as I became so engulfed in misery.

I will now discuss something that I am deeply ashamed of, and that I have not been able to admit to many people. At one point, I did act on an impulse to harm myself, creating a shallow cut in my hand with a pair of scissors. I was horrified by this and felt so much shame. I hadn’t really meant to hurt myself, and honestly didn’t think that I had it in me to do anything like that. I can’t explain what happened, other than that I was just hurting so badly, and I wanted my emotional pain to stop. I felt like I had no outlet for my emotional pain, and it felt good to focus on anything else—even physical pain. When I realized that I had actually cut myself, I immediately stopped, realizing what a bad place I must be in. I had crossed a line. My body is a temple, and in an effort to temporarily ease some of the emotional pain that I was feeling, I had defiled it. I called my husband over and over again until he answered, and, crying, I asked him if he thought I needed to go to the hospital. He answered with contempt and anger, and that amplified my fear of reaching out for help.

Supposedly, it was the self-harm that made my husband decide to abandon our marriage and to leave me. I guess it is time to move on to that part of the story.

In October of 2018, he and I went up to my parent’s house to watch General Conference. Supposedly, during that conference, he received an answer that he should move out of our house and ask me for a divorce. He did not tell me this until much later, but he began to make preparations to leave that very day, calling his parents and asking them to help him move out and to help him hire a divorce lawyer.

During this time, he did many things that deeply violated my trust. He staged a conversation with me, asking me loaded questions with his phone secretly recording the responses that he was trying to get me to say. He lied to me repeatedly—telling me that he was committed to our marriage, that he loved me, and that we were going to work things out. I even asked him directly at one point if he had been considering leaving, and he told me no. He told me he was going to talk to the bishop, and instead went and called my parents, telling them about my mental health issues (something I had not been ready to discuss with them,) and telling them about his plans to leave. There is much more that happened—he told me that everything that happened that week was a lie, staged so that I would not uncover the truth. He even took me to the place where he had proposed to me, the night before he left me. He sat there laughing and reminiscing with me, fully knowing that he was about to break my heart. His lies and manipulation during that time continue to haunt me deeply.

On October 12, he went home early from work. He told me he was meeting his dad to do some yard work at the house. Something didn’t quite add up, but I trusted him enough that I didn’t question his motives.

My parents were supposed to be with my extended family that day, and they had called to cancel plans. They were upset and told my grandparents and some of my extended family about my husband’s phone call to them. Because of that, I started getting strange texts. My grandparents texted me to tell me that they were there for me, and to keep my chin up. My cousin told me that she wanted to reach out to me because she heard that he was moving out. My heart stopped, but if I am completely honest, I didn’t believe her at first. I was that convinced that I would call him, and we would laugh about some misunderstanding later.

I went and called him, and he confirmed that he was leaving, but told me that ‘things weren’t over.’ I was in complete and utter shock. I left work in a panic, drove home, and found him and his dad sitting on our front porch, bags packed up in his car and his parent’s van. He had written me a letter, telling me that he was leaving and that he never planned on coming back. He told me our marriage was over and told me later that the only reason he didn’t have divorce papers in hand was that they couldn’t get them ready fast enough. My world was flipped upside down in a matter of minutes.

I begged him to reconsider, to try to work with me and to save our marriage. I asked him to pray, to go to the temple. I cried a lot. He listened for a while, but he ultimately left. I remember standing in our living room with my mom. The photo from our wedding had been stripped from the wall, and I wrung my hands and paced, scared to leave. What if he came back, and I wasn’t there?

The days and weeks that followed were absolute hell. Even though our marriage had been struggling, I was in complete shock. I missed him terribly. I couldn’t sleep at night, and if I did manage to doze off, I would wake up having a panic attack, reaching out for someone who wasn’t there. I didn’t want to eat, and I lost ten pounds in a matter of days and continued to lose weight over the coming weeks. I kept throwing up for no particular reason—my body was just under so much distress that I would get sick out of nowhere. I went to work because I had nowhere else to go, but I would not do anything productive—I would just go stare at a computer between episodes of running to the bathroom to cry. I tried to avoid our home at all costs because being alone there was almost unbearable—so I tried to only be there to sleep. I remember at one point trying to exercise and laying on the ground gasping for air, heart pounding, wondering if I was having a heart attack. I worried that it was a matter of time until I wound up in the hospital. Everything triggered memories of him, and they were all so incredibly emotionally painful. I kept stumbling across things he had forgotten or opened a drawer only to realize that his things were gone, all over again.

I was so unhealthy during this time that I decided I needed to be medicated. I went to see a psychiatrist, which was a humbling experience for me. He prescribed me anti-anxiety and depression medication, as well as sleep medicine. I had a hard time admitting I needed this help. However, I no longer feel any shame about it and have discussed it openly with many people. If anyone is on the fence or is scared about getting help or treatment for their mental health, please let me encourage you to not let stigma or pride keep you from really taking care of yourself. I do not know how long I will need to be medicated, but what I do know is that it has dramatically increased my quality of life right now.

My husband and I have been separated for about six and a half months at this point. It has been the most exhausting, emotionally draining, traumatic, and difficult experience of my life. Throughout this time, many things have happened. Since this is already pretty lengthy, I will try to summarize. My husband and I have had significant ups and downs—we have come very close to getting divorced. I have asked him to come home and try to work things out with me many times. He has asked for the divorce and then backed out of it. We have both undergone a lot of counseling. We both have gained a lot of perspective. To be honest, I have no idea what will happen. I think part of the reason Ally asked me to write this post is to share my experience through the eyes of someone who is still suffering through a difficult trial.

Everyone’s situation is different, but for me, right now, I have decided to give our marriage one more chance. I have no intention of tolerating abuse or allowing anything to drag me back to the depths of depression that I described earlier. I realize that this will take a lot of help. We will need ongoing help from our counselors, bishop, each other, and most importantly, the Savior, to have any chance of restoring our marriage and having it be healthy. There is a lot of damage that has been done.

I know some of you, at this point, are undoubtedly wondering why I stayed at all after my husband left me, or why I am not already divorced. From an outside perspective, it would be easy to ask, and I would probably be wondering the same thing. However, there are several factors that I think make a big difference. Again, this is just for me, personally—I cannot speak to the situation or choices of anyone else, and my heart sincerely goes out to anyone else who has had to endure something similar. I am also not advocating that anyone stay in a situation that is toxic or abusive—I have no intention of doing so, myself. Elder Holland said in a recent conference talk, “It is, however, important for some of you living in anguish to remember what He (Christ) did not say. He did not say, ‘You are not allowed to feel true pain or real sorrow from the shattering experiences you have had at the hand of another. Nor did He say, ‘In order to forgive fully, you have to reenter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive, destructive circumstance.’” I fully know and understand that a loving and merciful God does not expect us to be in a situation that destroys us. He loves us enough that he does not want us to be tormented, miserable, or abused.

However, I have had counselors, mental health professionals, and church leaders all tell me that it is possible for my husband and me to still have a happy and healthy marriage. I have tried my best to stay close to the Lord and to try to receive personal revelation throughout our separation and all of the trauma that it has brought with it. I have never felt at peace with a decision to move forward with the divorce. I am not completely sure why, but I believe that the Lord will let me know if and when the time is right to move forward.

One of my favorite quotes from Preach My Gospel says: “Satan is attacking the family on many fronts, and too many families are being destroyed by his efforts. The message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that all individuals are part of God’s family and that families can be united now and in eternity…Through the light of the gospel, families can resolve misunderstandings, contentions, and challenges. Families torn by discord can be healed through repentance, forgiveness, and faith in the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” What a hopeful message! I truly believe that my family could be healed if my husband and I are both willing to repent, forgive, and accept the Atonement in our lives and in our marriage. However, those blessings are conditional on our actions. I recognize that we BOTH have to choose that, and I cannot control the actions of my husband. I am also sure that it might be one of the most difficult things that either he or I will ever do—but I would like to have the opportunity to test this promise. I know that I have not done things perfectly, and there are many things I have learned throughout this trial. I have realized that, for me, I need to be able to have the closure of knowing I gave it my best. That way, if our marriage does end in divorce, I can hold my head high and know that I put my heart and soul into doing what I believed to be the right thing.

I also believe that my husband is a good man, in his core, and I still love him. I think that a great deal of what has happened was due to a lack of skills on one or both of our parts. The more he has begun to acknowledge and accept his role in what has happened, the more hopeful I am that we can find a way back to a happy and healthy place. I believe that he has struggled with his own mental health issues, and also has some issues from the way he was raised that have played into how things have gone in our marriage. Now that we both have learned lessons and skills, perhaps we can do better. I am not certain that it will work out, but I am certain that I do not want to live with regret.

I’d like to end with some lessons I have learned:

· It is okay to get help. Find support. Don’t try to go through hell alone. It is not worth it, and it is not necessary. You will be surprised by how many people understand what you are going through. I have been overwhelmed by the compassion and understanding of others, and I have also been overwhelmed by how many other people have suffered through tragedy that is similar to mine. Reach out, and you will be surprised who reaches back. God puts people into our lives who can help us, and when tragedy strikes, know that he has prepared a way for you to endure. It may not be what or who you expected, but there will be a way.

· I have several suggestions to anyone who is doing marriage counseling (or counseling of any kind)—first, find a person who makes you feel empowered, and preferably someone who shares your faith/values. Those things have made a tremendous difference for me. Second, be willing to be 100% honest with your counselor. If you don’t feel like you can be that vulnerable, you probably don’t have the right counselor, or you probably aren’t being completely honest with yourself. Finally, be patient with yourself. If you, like me, are hesitant to see a counselor at first, be honest about it. If that is where you are at, it is okay to own up to it. It is surprisingly common, and counselors are equipped to deal with those kinds of doubts and fears.

· Real, unconditional, Christlike love is respectful, forgiving, and kind. Unfortunately, humans are still trying to learn how to develop this kind of love. Be patient with them, and with yourself. Look to the Master Teacher for His example of love, and try to emulate it.

· At the same time, do your research and set healthy boundaries. I have delved a lot into research about narcissism, codependency, addiction, attachment style, love languages, and so forth. Arming myself with knowledge has helped me to understand both myself and my husband better. It has also helped me realize what things are and are not acceptable.

· I found a quote by Hank Smith that I really loved, regarding boundaries. He said, “Being Christlike means being tolerant and forgiving. However, Jesus had boundaries. When Nazareth tried to kill Him, He never returned. He told Peter when he had crossed a line. He called out leaders for hypocrisy. He refused to speak to Herrod. Clear boundaries are Christlike.” Again, our Savior and Heavenly Father expect us to be loving, and tolerant, and patient, but they do not expect us to allow other people to abuse us or to walk all over us. Taking care of yourself and standing up for yourself is not wrong. Being Christlike does not mean that we have to subject ourselves to abuse. There IS such a thing as being too self-sacrificing, too understanding, and too willing to overlook the mistakes of others. Be careful, because we each have the responsibility to protect and care for ourselves, and to stay true to ourselves and the things that we know are right.

· Remember that you deserve to be loved and to feel safe. Elder Holland once said, “In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, one who is constantly critical of you, one who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care, you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.”

· If you find yourself in a situation where this is not the case, like me, then get help. And, if necessary, get out. Life is tough enough.

· Give yourself grace. One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou is “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I know I made mistakes, and I could spend all day delving into the “what ifs” and the “why me’s.” That is a dark, downward spiral that I have learned is better to avoid. I can offer myself grace knowing that I have done the best I can throughout this trial, and I have learned a lot. Now that I know better, I can continue to do better. However, there is no point on being hard on my past self, or dwelling on things that have been repented of and cannot be changed—it just damages future possibility. Be humble, but remember to be kind to yourself.

· Recognize what you can control, and do not accept responsibility for anything else. After my husband abandoned me, he told me that he believed I was too emotionally unstable for him to be honest with me. He also told me it was my fault that he had asked for a divorce. I believed him. It took me quite a while to reject the idea that it was my fault that he had left me, because it was something that he reinforced almost every time I talked to him, for a long time. I had become convinced that I was damaged, and that I was the entirety of the problem. I also had become co-dependent in our marriage, and I accepted far more blame than I should have. This is where an excellent counselor has been extremely valuable in helping me to see things clearly and to heal. Again, I would encourage anyone to seek this help.

· Don’t judge people. In the midst of this crisis, I have been on the receiving end of judgments that have felt unkind and unfair. I have been shunned by friends who I thought would be there for me. Many people have said and done things that have been very hurtful, whether intentionally or not. Many of them simply do not understand my situation. Please do not judge situations that you do not understand. I, in turn, have had to learn to be less judgmental of the people who have hurt me and to expand my willingness to forgive. It is easier to forgive others if you believe their intentions are good, even if their actions sometimes are not.

· Remember to look outside yourself and to count your blessings. Gordon B Hinkley said, “For many years there was a sign on the wall of a shoe repair shop I patronized. It read ‘I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.’” Sometimes, it can be incredibly difficult to look outside of ourselves in the midst of a bitter and painful trial, or when we are sad and depressed. However, the times that I have been able to do so have been very meaningful to me. I have developed a deeper empathy for those around me, and have realized that my trials are small compared to some—even though this has been an extraordinarily difficult one for me, personally. I also keep a running list of blessings and good things that happen to me each week. This helps me to see the hand of God in my life, and also helps me to try to stay positive.

· The Savior will be there, no matter what. One of my favorite scriptures is D&C 84:88. It says “And whoso receiveth you, there will I be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” I have seen this. There have been so many times throughout this trial where the right person has stepped into my path, or someone has sent me a message that helped, or someone has simply called at the right time. God is merciful. He is mindful of us, and He is there whether or not we feel or recognize His presence and love.

· Healing is always possible. Always. Elder Holland said, “However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.” Find the courage to start over, if necessary. But know that you are never too far gone to come back and for the Savior’s Atonement to make you whole.

Thanks for taking the time to read this very lengthy post. Again, if you would like to reach out to me directly, please ask Ally for my contact information. Sending hope and love and encouragement to everyone who suffers in silence.