Jenna was (I say was because she has no graduated) a Laurel in my ward (I serve as the second counselor in YW’s), and she is as beautiful on the inside as she is the outside. She has a kind tenderness about her and she truly radiates light and love. I have enjoyed getting to know her and am so grateful for her bravery in sharing her struggles at a younger age.
Jenna is eighteen years old and graduated high school at the beginning of June. Life is crazy and busy for her right now because she has been at Davis Technical College doing cosmetology! She loves it so much and she feels so fortunate to work with amazing and new people every day. Right now she has a BIG goal and that is to spread mental health awareness, to make anxiety and depression and other disorders talked about more. “The only way things can get better is to talk about it and to show people that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s why I love what Ally has done with her blog and I’ve actually started my own! Mine is all about my story and mental health, follow along if you’d like here and follow my Instagram @jennalyn.franks.”
It’s really hard to pinpoint a moment when you realize you’re depressed. For me at least. It definitely didn’t happen suddenly or right in front of my eyes. It happened, slowly, over time and in a way I didn’t even know what I was feeling.
Summer of 2015, the summer leading up to my sophomore year is when it started. Depression often has triggers, and me already having anxiety for as long as I can remember, it was easy for there to be a trigger. I was about to take a huge step forward in my life, I was going to be in high school now! Exciting right?! Well… not for me. As I was saying goodbye to my junior high friends and as summer was coming to an end I found myself feeling down. Sophomore year started and my anxiety was the highest it had ever been, I felt no peace and I constantly felt sick. A lot of people are so excited to start at a new school because they can “re-invent” themselves. And I guess I sorta did, but not for the better. I lost myself. Being around all of these pretty girls, with faces caked full of makeup, and then finally getting social media and seeing society’s expectations of pretty, I did not feel like I could ever compare. My self-image plummeted, and with that formed a new, shy Jenna because I didn’t have the confidence not to be. I just got stuck; I got stuck in my head, I got stuck in my dark room, I got stuck in the same repetitive days of high school while feeling anxious and never confident in who I was.
Months went on like this. I would sit in my room and listen to depressing music, only to come out for meals or school. I pushed my only two friends away, and I was alone. Or at least felt like it. I had started to hate doing the things that I loved, like playing guitar, or singing, being outside and I even started hating going to church. Not because I didn’t like church, I just didn’t like socializing IN church. I also think a part of me was a little mad at God for the way my life was. Until one day I was sitting in my church sacrament meeting, and I had such bad anxiety about going to Sunday school that I just broke down and sobbed during the closing song. I remember the embarrassment I felt and I remember thinking, “Oh no, the jig is up. Now people will know how I feel and I can’t hide from them.” I don’t know why, but depression makes you feel like you have to hide like you should be ashamed. I remember my mom taking me outside and I literally just told her everything because there wasn’t anything else I could do, and because I had wanted someone to tell all along I just didn’t know how. I told her how I felt, and the thoughts I had been having. But after I told her, I felt bad, because I felt like now it was not only my burden but hers.
But the thing is, and I wish I knew this then, the longer you wait to get help and tell someone, the harder and darker it gets. Depression takes over your mind and you see the world and life in an entirely different way. If my judgment wasn’t clouded, I would’ve known that my mom wouldn’t see it as a burden because she loves me and wants to help me. Long story short, I got on some Prozac and got into therapy with an amazing counselor who literally saved my life and changed the way I think and cope. Never be too ashamed to go to therapy or take medicine, it helped me so much.
During this whole process of getting help, I realized that I had completely pushed God away. I started to understand that not only was I depressed but I didn’t have the spirit with me anymore, and that made things more awful than they had to be. I started to see that although my circumstances sucked, they could be made better with Christ. I turned to him. I started pouring out my soul in prayer and having conversations with God, real conversations. Christ truly became my best friend, and even if I didn’t feel like I had any friends in high school, I knew I had Him.
The hardest part of my life so far was also the most growing experience and brought me to humble myself and truly come unto Christ. What I went through sucked, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world! Not only have I been able to be more in tune with the spirit but I’ve been able to be a vessel for God’s light to help people going through similar things that I went through. I am so thankful for the empathy I have for them and my awareness towards mental illness. Because I never would’ve understood. Being close to God helped me see my worth, forming me into a (mostly) confident teenage girl for the remaining years of high school. Junior year I really did get to re-invent myself, for the better this time. I was so different that so many people asked if I was new… I basically was.
My favorite scripture that got me through everything is Ether 12:27, my Dad said it once during a father’s blessing and ever since then it has helped me and I know for a fact it was God giving it to me because He knew that I would need it. A while later, I definitely did. It reads: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” God’s grace extends to everyone, and I’ve felt it more times than I can count. All you have to do is let Him in. Having God by my side with my depression made things ten times easier than when I pushed Him away. Don’t push Him away. I can assure you, He is waiting with His arms wide open for the day when you turn to face Him and accept His love and beautiful gift.
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.
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.
I know Michelle as Hermana Crowley, we were in the same MTC District. She has the kindest heart and sweetest spirit. I loved being able to serve with her.
Michelle grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho. After she graduated from High School, she attended BYU-Idaho. In the middle of her education, she made the decision to serve a mission. She served in the Texas, Houston mission, Spanish speaking. Her mission is something that she holds very dear to her heart and she will forever be grateful for that experience. Through her mission, she learned how much she loves people as well as how much she loves to teach and help others. After she returned from her mission, she was blessed to have more opportunities to teach. She was an EFY counselor for two summers which was an amazing, growing experience. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Science and a minor in Marriage and Family in July of 2016. After she graduated she moved to Salt Lake where she is currently living. She works at St Marks Family Medicine. She is a receptionist and a prior-authorization where she works with insurances to approve certain procedures for patients. She loves her current job and the skills it has given her. She has worked with and met amazing people. Though, she hopes to one-day shift her focus again to teaching more. She is currently researching options to return to school or become certified in a skill where she is able to connect and help people more on a personal basis. She loves to dance! Latin dancing, ballroom dancing, or random dance parties. She was a Latin dance instructor for a period of time at BYU-I, and it’s something she is passionate about. She loves music and singing. She loves spending time with people she loves. She has 3 nephews and 2 nieces that she ADORES. She likes to watch movies, play games, laugh, and eat good food. Anxiety is something that she has struggled with throughout her life, but it wasn’t labeled for her till fall of 2014. She was diagnosed with depression Spring of 2016.
My first full-blown panic attack was one of the most terrifying and awful moments of my life. It was late. I had just broken up with my boyfriend. We had been dating on and off for nearly two years. Though I didn’t realize it until I was out of it for a while, our relationship had some serious issues that I believe would have become more serious and more damaging in a marriage. I didn’t see that though, or didn’t choose to see it. Every couple had problems, right? No relationship is going to be perfect, right? I loved him. I wanted to be with him. I was determined to make it work. It didn’t matter that my anxiety had become nearly unmanageable. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t sleeping. It didn’t matter how thin and exhausted I was. It didn’t matter that my heart would race – even in the middle of the day just sitting at a desk. It didn’t matter that I was constantly worrying and on edge. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t myself. It didn’t matter how worried my family and close friends were. I was committed to this relationship regardless of how unhealthy it was. It was my life in a very toxic way. Over the last couple of years, things gradually had gotten to the point where I had lost myself. How I felt about myself was governed by how HE felt about me and how HE perceived me. And if I didn’t have him, who was I?
It was our second attempt at discussing marriage. I had been away from BYU-I for the semester for an internship. Long distance had its challenges, but it only solidified my desperation to be with him. We were in the beginning stages of looking at possible rings, talking about wedding dates, discussing future plans. It was early April of 2016, right before I headed back to BYU-I for my final semester. Lately, in our conversations together, I had been noticing some things that he would say that didn’t quite add up or settle in my gut. It was becoming more and more apparent something was wrong. I was trembling and sick to my stomach the night I confronted him about it. My world shattered when he finally told me the truth… that he had been pursuing a girl for some time and they had started dating. An awful wave of realization washed over me and betrayal churned in my stomach. I don’t know if I was driven by anger, heartbreak, courage, or all of the above – but I almost instantly felt in my heart and soul that I needed out. Right then. I ended it. I was done. I deserved better than this. I felt completely disrespected. Did he not love me? He would tell me that he did every day… but maybe he didn’t mean it? Am I not good enough? Why was he wanting to be with her? Did I do something wrong again? Is this my fault? Why would he do this? I was so angry. I’ve never felt anger like that before. But I still loved him. I still worried about him. I worried how he was doing because I just tearfully and angrily broke up with him. Was he okay? Was he hurting? Did he feel bad? Or maybe, he was relieved? Was he happy to be rid of me? Am I not worth it? I remember walking straight into my sister’s room, sobbing and fuming about what had just occurred. My stomach was tight. My head was spinning. I felt out of control. Leaning on my sister, who just held me, I felt myself losing grip on reality. I all of a sudden couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t I breathe!? I felt like I was suffocating. Choking. I was trying, but could not catch a breath, which caused me to panic even more. I remember my sister’s faraway voice and her light hand on my back, “Breathe Michelle.” Her gentle presence slowly brought me back down to earth. I was nowhere near calm though. As I learned how to breathe again, I felt dizzy and lightheaded. My stomach was still it tiny little knots. I felt sick. I could not stop crying.
Sleep did not come to me that night. My angel of a sister stayed with me. She didn’t leave my side. It was probably 2 or 3 in the morning when we put in a movie to try and help distract my mind. Which worked only a little. My sister fell asleep. I continued to lie there on the sofa in my parent’s basement. I felt more and more sick. I felt hopeless. I still felt angry. And my brain couldn’t get rid of the images I had created of him and her together. I was heartbroken. But I was also worried about the man that I still very much cared about. There was a confusing amount of feelings and thoughts coursing through me. I was exhausted. But sleep still didn’t come.
A week or so later I was back in Rexburg for my final semester at BYU-I. Things did not get better. I had spiraled into severe depression. I had experienced depression before, but not to this degree. I felt numb. Unmotivated. I would break down in the middle of class and have to leave the classroom because I couldn’t get a hold of myself. I struggled to keep up in almost all of my classes, which was unusual for me. I felt heavy and weak. I wasn’t sleeping at night even though I was always so tired. I couldn’t eat even though I could tell my body needed food. There were many days I would just stay in bed. I was stuck in a very hopeless, dark hole, and I didn’t know how to get out. Even if I did know how I wasn’t sure if I’d even have the motivation or strength to make it. Fortunately, I did. Just not on my own.
Mental health wasn’t something that my family discussed very much growing up, if ever. I believe anxiety has affected me since I was a little girl. It has manifested itself in different ways in different periods of my life, but I had never really labeled it for what it was. I served a mission in Houston, Texas where I taught the Gospel in Spanish. It was an incredible experience that I will forever be grateful for. Anxiety, and for the first time, depression, were both things that affected me at different points on my mission. But, again I didn’t understand what I was actually experiencing till later in my life. I was blessed to be able to successfully cope with these struggles, but I don’t believe they were as severe as they would become in later years. It wasn’t until the summer of 2014, at 23 years old, that I started to understand anxiety and depression for what they were. These were discoveries that I gained through certain health classes and conversations with others. I started to realize that these struggles were keeping me from living the life I wanted to live. I began to take steps in getting help. One of the hardest steps in this journey was the initial admitting that I had a mental health struggle. I remember talking to my mom and one of my mission companions about my concerns. In both of the conversations, I was shaky, tearful, and almost ashamed of having a mental health problem. With their encouragement, I began to see a counselor on campus. This was also a very difficult step for me. I felt embarrassed to walk into that office. Me? Needing therapy? But as I continued to see my therapist, I noticed that every time I’d sit in the waiting room, I saw someone I knew. It began to feel like my struggles were more normal than I had thought. So many people have a relationship with mental health struggles, and people often need help with these struggles. Therapy was an incredible, eye-opening experience for me. My therapist helped me label my emotional distress as anxiety and helped me understand how I could manage it.
There are a lot of things that have helped me cope with my anxiety and depression over the last several years. Therapy, medication, taking walks, breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and nutrition – to name a few. All these things are in what I like to call my “toolbox.” This toolbox continues to grow and evolve as I progress and change. All of these coping mechanisms I believe are things that I have been led to by Heavenly Father. My mental health is something I have continually prayed for guidance about. There are often times when I don’t know what I need. But, I know Heavenly Father knows and understands me and can help me know what steps I need to take. A key component in my perpetual coping and healing is the Atonement. To be honest, this is something I sometimes forget to turn to. But, it has consistently been a strength to me as I’ve made my way through this complex and layered part of my life.
On my mission, I was introduced to a talk by Elder Bednar that had an immense impact on my mission, but also in my life after the mission. I believe this talk was in the April 2012 Ensign. It’s titled: The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality.
In this talk Elder Bednar discusses different examples in the Book of Mormon where the enabling power of the Atonement is used. One of these examples is a moment with Nephi and his brothers. Nephi’s brothers took him, bound him, and left him in the wilderness. In this challenging moment, Nephi prayed. But, he wasn’t praying to have the Lord take away the situation. “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound” (1 Nephi 7:17; emphasis added). He asked for STRENGTH in his circumstances – strength and ability that was beyond what he could do on his own. He was ENABLED to break the bands that held him. Another example that Elder Bednar uses to illustrate the enabling power of the atonement is with Alma and his people who were in bondage.
“I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs. …And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:14–15; emphasis added). Again we see that the Lord did not take away their burdens. Instead, He gave them added strength and capacity beyond their own, and their burdens were lightened. Elder Bednar teaches, “The enabling power of the Atonement of Christ strengthens us to do things we could never do on our own… The enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.”
How does this process work? How does this happen? I honestly don’t know how to fully comprehend it. But I can testify that it’s real. And I know that this power comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ.
“He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people… And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12; emphasis added). Jesus Christ suffered for us. He has felt every heartache. Every panic attack. Every numb, unmotivated spiral into dark, heavy depression. Every meltdown. He knows perfectly and intimately how it feels. Because He knows exactly how it feels, He knows perfectly how to help us, how to succor us. If we trust Him and allow Him into our hearts, if we reach out to Him, He can heal. He can strengthen. He can comfort and lift our spirits. He can help us survive each day.
I have seen the power of the Atonement in my life. Especially in times of darkness. I felt it that last semester at BYU-I when I didn’t know who I was, heartbroken, numb, unmotivated. I made it through the semester. I passed my classes. I graduated! There were so many times I felt deeply alone, but I know now that I wasn’t. Whether it was direct strength from the Lord, or through other people that were placed in my life, I was not alone. Over time, I began to feel lighter. I felt hopeful. There were days when I even felt overwhelming joy and gratitude for my life and what it was.
Mental and emotional struggles are very much still a part of my life. I still have days where I struggle to get out of bed. I still have days where my heart races and I’m stuck in my head. I still have panic attacks every now and then. Depression and anxiety are a part of my life – a part of who I am. Though it’s a challenge, many blessings have come from this trial. It’s not easy to look at it this way every day, but I am grateful for the lessons I’m learning and continue to learn.
“You and I in a moment of weakness may cry out, ‘No one understands. No one knows.’ No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many phases of our life. He can reach out, touch, succor—literally run to us—and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do through relying upon only our own power.”
This quote, also from Elder Bednar’s talk, is so close to my heart. We are not alone in navigating this life. And we most definitely don’t have to heal, cope, or manage mental illness on our own. How grateful I am for the beautiful gift of the Atonement. It truly can help us pull through our hardest, most challenging days. It has for me.
Caitlin and I went to the same jr. high and high school. Last week she posted about the 5 year anniversary of the stillbirth of her son and was willing to share her experience with it.
Caitlin Bowen is a stay-at-home mom of five. Leo (7), Thomas (6), Nola (3), Rudy (almost 2), and baby Isaac who is watching over from Heaven. She and her husband Tyler have lived in Virginia for 6 years and are now happy to be back in Utah by family.
That night I was so restless. I woke up around 4 am in a complete panic and I knew something was wrong, I could feel it in my heart. I couldn’t remember if I had felt kicking the day before or not. I woke my husband Tyler up and he tried to comfort me, but I could see the worry in his eyes too.
My appointment was at 8 am that morning. We didn’t have time to get a babysitter, so I went alone while Ty watched our two boys. I have never felt more nervous or uneasy in my life than I did driving to that appointment. Looking back, I realize the Holy Ghost was warning me, telling me something wasn’t right so that I wasn’t completely blindsided. As soon as I was called back I looked at my doctor with tears in my eyes, trying so hard to compose myself, and I asked her if we could do an ultrasound even though I didn’t have one scheduled because I was worried something was wrong. She was so kind and told me not to worry, that I had a perfectly healthy baby and we would do an ultrasound to put my mind at ease.
As soon as she began the ultrasound I knew he was gone. Her face dropped and tears rolled silently down her cheeks before she even said a word. There was no heartbeat. I was staring through watery eyes at a lifeless little body up on the screen. She turned off the machine, took my hand, looked at my face and said, “I’m so sorry”. Before she could get the words out I said it for her. And she said “yes. I don’t know why, but your baby has died.” She held me and cried with me. Our baby was too big for a D&C and I would have to go to labor and delivery to be induced like I was with my two little boys.
I didn’t want to tell Ty over the phone, so I texted him and told him to put a movie on for the boys. The moment I walked in the door I knew he already knew too. He cried and we held each other. To me that was much worse than finding out, I couldn’t stand to see him so crushed and heartbroken. That night neither of us slept. Not for even a minute. He rubbed my back and tickled my hair all night long, telling me it would be okay and telling me how much he loved me. I would not have made it without him.
Friday, June 21st at 11:10 Isaac Bowen came into this world. Weighing an ounce under 1 pound. I did not know how painful silence could be. I was handed his tiny body and I cried. I stared at him in shock. Mostly because I didn’t expect him to be quite so cute. Tyler and I laughed through our tears when we realized he already had my husbands’ eyebrows just like my other little boys, and the sweetest dark fuzz coming in on the top of his head. His nose was perfect and he had the tiniest little round cheeks. We held him and admired him for most of the day. That night we left the hospital, holding each other tightly, empty-handed. As we walked down the hall we could hear the cry of a newborn and my heart absolutely ached.
The weeks and months that followed were so much harder than I could have ever anticipated. The worst part was healing from childbirth with no baby to love and take care of. When my milk came in I had to bind myself to try and get it to go away. It was such a painful time physically and emotionally. I kept thinking that if he had only survived one more week he would have been 23 weeks and been born alive he could have made it. I wondered if I had done something wrong. I questioned myself constantly and doubted my abilities to take care of these tiny human beings that God had entrusted me with. I had never struggled with anxiety before, but as time went on I stopped sleeping. My heart would pound so hard at night I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. I was so scared of something else happening to one of my boys or to Tyler it began to paralyze me. Suddenly, scary things that had only crossed my mind from time to time now consumed me.
As my anxiety grew, so did my feeling of negativity. For a very long time, only close friends and family knew about Isaac. I have wrestled for quite a while with thoughts that my feelings aren’t justified because I knew many others who have gone through so much worse. I wondered what people would think when comparing me to a mother who had lost a baby at full term? Was my grief validated or was I weak for feeling so much pain and heartache? In my mind, I have lost my child. But what would others think? One day that changed. I don’t know why, but I finally decided that regardless of what others thought, I knew and I knew the Lord knew that Isaac is my son and I had lost him and it was okay to grieve. I finally felt like it was okay to mourn him in front of others, to love him and to talk about him. As I did this and really started to rely on my Father in Heaven, my heart started to heal.
I think about Isaac every single day. There are still days I miss him so much it makes my heart physically hurt. I think the hardest part of losing a baby is to constantly know somebody is missing. Missing from pictures and birthday parties and missing from so many “firsts”. But I take so much comfort and peace knowing exactly where he is. I look forward to the day when we will embrace and I won’t have to miss him anymore.
So for now, we will love him, talk about him, honor him and learn from him. He has taught me compassion, patience, love, understanding, and so much more. We are here to be tried and tested, and I know for a fact that we can use our trials to strengthen our families and ourselves. We can use what we have learned and felt to lift others around us and hopefully make this world a better more wonderful place. I have been taught that even after something so painful, life is still so full of joy! And even though we are missing someone, I know he’s always close by. What a privilege and honor it is to be his mom. I feel so blessed to have an angel watching over us.
Brooke and I met at an Early Returned Missionary Group Meeting. She is the leader of the group and we attend it monthly. (These meetings are held for Davis/Weber, Salt Lake, and Utah counties. If you want more info let me know.) I’ve heard bits and pieces of her story as we’ve shared things from our missions. She is amazing and I’m so grateful to be developing a friendship with her.
Brooke has been married to her high school sweetheart and missionary for two years. They have a black lab mix named Hurley. She studies Social Work at Weber State University. She works at UTBS as an ABA therapist. She loves working with kids. She served in the Maryland Baltimore Mission. She loves to paddle board, listen to music, do yoga, meditate, and hike. The Office is her all-time favorite TV show. She loves musicals. Phantom of the Opera is #1. Her absolute favorite thing to do is spend time with family and friends. Relationships are everything to her. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in July 2015 on her mission and has become a huge mental health advocate ever since. She hopes to become a therapist for children and families, maybe at LDS Family Services because social work has changed her life.
The Maryland Baltimore Mission was what I called home for 16 months. I was serving in Martinsburg, West Virginia at the time. The Richards have just gone home and here I was shotgunning for the third time with a very shy sister. I met President and Sister Christiansen that transfer who would be my new mission parents of the Maryland Baltimore Mission. Here I was as anxious as ever to explore another area to find, teach, and baptize. It all hit me that Martinsburg would be my last area. I wanted to serve with all my heart, might, mind, and strength just as in D & C 4.
One day, fear crept into my mind of coming home. I was afraid my past would catch up with me. I developed debilitating migraines that kept me in bed for the majority of two weeks. I would sleep in until studies. The only time we would leave the apartment was for our dinner appointment. Even after, I would feel as I did when I woke up. I felt like I had only slept for 5 minutes. Something as simple as smiling became to be an exhausting activity. Anxiety attacks became my daily ritual. I emailed my mom and asked if depression ran in our family. She said it did from both sides. My world fell apart within an hour on that Monday. I felt desperately hopeless. I called my mission president to see what I could do. He referred me to LDS Family Services and to speak with a therapist there.
My therapist asked me, “On a scale of 1-10, how bad is it to the point you need to be home?”
12 was my response.
I was hesitant about the idea of calling my mission president to even consider the option of going home. Going home was never an option in my book. Sister Donehue was going to serve a full-time mission no matter what! I prayed that I could stay. Whenever I did, I felt uneasy. One morning during studies, I knelt down in prayer with my elbows resting on my chair. I asked “Heavenly Father, should I go home?” If I had ever received a more clear answer from the spirit, it was as clear as a summer’s day. It hit me like someone poured a huge bucket of water over my head. It was the greatest comfort and serenity I had ever received during the past three weeks. It was the answer unwanted but it was the one I desperately needed. If I wanted to come home in one piece, this is how I would do it.
I called President to tell him the answer I received. I knew God was speaking to me through him. He told me the Lord was very pleased with me and my service. I would bless the lives of others.
I was the first missionary the Christiansen’s sent home. They were so kind and graceful. They held such a confidence in me stronger than I held for myself.
“You need to promise me two things. Stay faithful and stay in touch,” President told me.
My heart was racing faster than I was to see my family at the airport. I’ve waited for this moment close to a year and a half. Ultimate joy overwhelmed me. There they were: my mom, my three younger sisters holding flowers and balloons waiting for my arrival. My family was so happy to see me. Mom told me that she needed me home. My YSA bishop, who was like a father to me, welcomed me home in open arms along with many others in the ward! My family and friends loved me just the same, if not, more!
The journey returning home was not an easy one. It took me almost two years to find closure. I found closure when returning to my mission to visit old friends and remember the good I found. It was a surprisingly serene experience.
When going to church, I struggled with talking about the spirit and this concept of keeping the commandments. How could I feel the spirit when a mental illness such as depression was numbing my spirit? In my eyes, I was inadequate. Maybe even short from inadequate. I would never reach the kingdom of God with my imperfections.
When I came home, I felt like a huge failure. But coming home was NOT a mistake by any means. It was God’s will for me to get back on my feet and to face the hard reality of living with depression for the rest of my life. Every day I make mistakes. I am far from perfect. I’ve learned in this process that my Heavenly Father is a merciful and loving God. His love is completely unconditional. In the scriptures, we are taught “If you do this, then you receive blessings of so and so.” We call this the Premack principle at my job. Life happens. And sometimes I don’t do the “ifs”. And my Savior has given me so many “life happens” passes so I can continue to grow and receive blessings even when I don’t follow the if-then principle. Life will never turn out the way you want it to be. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have the capability to choose what makes you happy.
I think about the “what if’s” of staying on my mission. I came across a picture of the sisters I went out with who were at the DC temple ready to go home. I was not in it. But guess what? Their lives were not any better than mine just because they served a “full time” mission. I know some of these sisters battle depression and anxiety just as I do. Some married in the temple, just like me. Some go to school, just like me. I was not any less successful than these sisters. That is what I’ve come to realize is that if I continue to compare my life to “full time” returned missionaries, families that have a nice house, families that have children and seem to be happy, people who have met significant milestones before I did, I will continue to rob myself of happiness. For comparison is the thief of joy.
What helped me to overcome these struggles was keeping in touch with friends in the mission. Whether it be members and converts who lived in Maryland or missionaries who served with me. I received many priesthood blessings. I went to my bishop’s house every week to have dinner and spend time with his family. I went to LDS Family Services for over a year after my return. Therapy really helped me tame the demons I’ve had to overcome. I was able to be made whole again. Mission Fortify is the glue that kinda keeps me together. I still have depression and anxiety. I still think of my mission and “what could have been”. I still have days where I lay in bed for most of the day and have no energy to help anyone, even myself. I still have those dark thoughts that tell me “nobody needs me”, “I’m not worthy of God’s love”, or “I don’t deserve to be happy”. I still struggle to go to church sometimes because I think of the things people have told me. “If you pray harder, you’ll feel better.” Or “Are you reading your scriptures every day? You must not be doing it right.”. But I have to remember that God has a place for me here, even when I feel I don’t belong.
For my friends who have returned whether early or not, here are my words to you. Don’t lose hope. Find your trust circle of genuine people. Don’t take it personally when a priesthood leader, friend, or family member tells you something you didn’t find comforting. They have the best intentions at heart but most of the time don’t know how to help during times like these. I’ve had some of those experiences. Don’t sell yourself short. You are NOT a failure. You have an older brother who has felt every single ounce of anxiety, misery, and pain. The Savior suffered it all. I think we suffer so we can understand His sacrifice and how much He truly loves us. Our burdens are not ours to carry. Jesus Christ has paid the debt. He is the One who brings true peace.
A good friend of mine once told me that if we don’t experience suffering, we are helpless to others. You are here for a purpose. You wouldn’t be living and breathing right now if that were the case. If you don’t have the answer right now, keep going. Stay the course. You may not feel it, but a loving, merciful God has been and will ALWAYS be there for you to the everlasting eternities. Your Heavenly Father is mindful of you.
You mean EVERYTHING to Him.
Miracles happen every day.
A miracle is given by the hand of God.
And you are a miracle.
With Mother’s Day just having come and gone I asked my Mom if she’d be willing to share her side of me coming home early from my mission. I know children’s struggles can be just as hard for their parents as they are for them. No one wants to watch someone they love go through something difficult, life-changing, heartbreaking, etc. There can be just as many hardships for the parents who have an ERM as there are for the actual missionary.
Susan Harris is Ally’s mom… though she hasn’t gone by that title so much since Ally’s soccer days, haha! She’s a mom of three children who are very different from each other and keep her on her toes. Grandmother to two adorable girls and one more baby coming! That truly is a wonderful title and her favorite! She likes to read, sing, garden, play the piano (in her home), ride bikes and her new sport, pickleball. She was born on a cold, snowy day and she loves those kinds of days, and she’s far happier to be behind the scenes than ‘spotlighted’ like this. But the things one does for their children.
Ally had asked me a while ago if I would talk to another parent who had a child come home early from a mission, that maybe I could offer something. I believe I said I would but that didn’t ever happen, and I have wondered if there really is anything to offer from my experience. And then she asked me to contribute to her blog which I had been thinking about doing so even before that. So. I guess here goes.
I come from a family of all girls, and my dad had served in the Army so no mission for him and so I can’t honestly say when that became part of my plan, it was just always there for me. I very happily served in the Canada Calgary Mission (remember that love of cold?!) and it was a huge blessing for me to do so. And I admit, I started the ‘brainwashing’ of my daughters serving a mission from very young, because it was such an incredible experience for me. And to have Ally want to do this was wonderful, I was so excited for her to have that opportunity. She is fun, outgoing, has a strong testimony and belief of the gospel, finds it easy to talk to people so it would be a win-win. I wasn’t sure it was always going to happen, Ally is a social butterfly and has always had many friends and plenty of those being male.
But she made it, not without some rocky times in there, and thus received a call, we waited for 4 months and then did the drop off at the MTC. I know I have spent more time at the bank than I did that day dropping off my daughter for her new adventure. It was in November and so she spent all the holidays in the MTC and was there for 10 weeks. Finally, off she goes to Texas, meets her Mission President and his wife, and gets assigned to her trainer and area.
Ally had been sharing that she was having some health issues and not feeling great a few months in and I had been trying to encourage her to forget herself and just go to work, to make sure she got to exercise for she had always been very active and that is a tough transition, to eat good, and to stay hydrated in the heat. And may I just insert here that I’m not really a warm and fuzzy mom, more of a tough love gal. I can cry at the drop of a hat about my kids or the gospel, but I’m the one that says, ‘walk it off’, ‘you’ll be okay’ or one of my staples – “Be a duck”. I don’t know the day of the week or the date that I received that first phone call from the mission other then it was in June. Our caller ID was hooked through the television at that time, I was putting some IKEA furniture together later in the evening and so when I saw my daughter’s mission come up on the screen, I figured ‘this can’t be good.’ My husband was out of town, this and every time they called actually, so when the President asked to speak to him I responded with that information and waited to hear why he was calling. They wanted to put Ally on some meds, having diagnosed her with anxiety and depression. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. As he and his wife described the Sister Harris they were working with, I wasn’t sure what to say. It wasn’t “my” Ally, and as they asked if there was a history of this, was she prone to it and I’m telling them, no, my heart ached and my brain reeled.
Another insertion, I didn’t care where Ally served – I teased her all the time that she would go to Columbia, I wanted my children to have a chance to see humble circumstances and hopefully improve their gratitude. But my one and constant prayer had been that their mission presidents would be what they needed. That is a huge responsibility, and one of the longest lasting influences ever, you always hear RM’s talk about how they perceived their mission president(s).
As I’m listening to this good man and his wife tell me what’s been going on, and they are seeking information from me as well, it was hard for all of us. They don’t know what kind of person I am, how Ally was raised if she has been pampered and this was an excuse if the history was there and we hadn’t revealed it during the initial interview process… they just don’t know. And I don’t know what’s truly going on and how she is doing. I asked if I could talk to Ally, I wanted to hear from her what was happening but they said they didn’t think that would be a good thing at this time. I didn’t agree, but that is their call. Ally and I had tried to go back and forth in email, but it just didn’t really work well, there was lagging in the service, I was working, it was tough to get an actual picture. She was trying to stay positive, and trying to do what she could, but was certainly struggling.
I had no basis for this kind of thing and everything is so different when you’re a missionary. There are many rules and restrictions of what you use for medication, you’re not seeing a consistent doctor, nor in Ally’s case one familiar with a mission and what that life is like, and you don’t have time to ‘rest and heal’. I’m trying to reconcile what Ally is telling me is happening to her and how she’s physically feeling with the Ally that left home and it was difficult to do. In hindsight, we both recognize some things from her past that showed she had some anxiety, but it had never been debilitating… at least that I knew. That tough mom thing. Everything is so pronounced on a mission, and Sister missionaries often get a bad rap… some certainly is deserved, some is not, and I didn’t want Ally to be ‘one of those’. I start going to the temple weekly, I try and write inspirational letters, adding humor and fun with less detail about home for I don’t know what to do to help at this point. I envision the scenario in my mind of flying to Texas and ‘happen’ upon her and her comp so I can physically see her and have a heart to heart chat about what’s going on. They call again and the meds don’t seem to be working for her, they want to try something else but it takes close to 3 weeks before any influence could be felt. They are trying so hard and I’m so grateful, I know they love my daughter and really are trying to help her. And help her stay.
I finally got to talk to Ally, about mid-August. But she is crying so hard that the conversation is difficult to hear and understand and we make little progress. Her mission president’s wife is present and Ally doesn’t feel like she can really talk to me. She mentions coming home and I tell her that’s not really up to her, you don’t “self-release”. They have brought her close to the mission home so they can keep an eye on her, and she has glorious companions. I don’t know what to think, feel, write… is it better that she comes home, or will that be harder on her, what is the answer? I have withdrawn into myself, I don’t talk to many people about it, I’m not out and about, I don’t want people to ask me about Ally as I don’t know what to tell them. There have been prayers, fasts, pleadings… it doesn’t seem to help Ally, she is like the ‘walking dead’, her letters are hard to read and how many times can you come close to sobbing in the celestial room?!
It became apparent that the only way Ally would get better was for her to come home. That just seemed to come calmly and we’d deal with everything else. We had about 2 weeks notice she was coming mid-transfer. My fear still was that I didn’t want this coming home early to define her, and to this day we have that conversation. We had a family trip planned that we hadn’t told her about, but with her coming home small miracles happened so she could come with us. It was a tough trip as she wasn’t “Ally”, but it was a beginning. A great counselor, a helpful prescription, time, rest. It wasn’t easy on her, and it certainly wasn’t easy on me or our family. Still isn’t as we come to understand how it is for her. And as this happens, you learn of others that struggle with the same, and your amazement grows to have been witness to how they function and now knowing of the struggle they travel with.
I keep things more inside and not on the stage as I call it, but she is trying to help others by her experience and that is a blessing. But it’s not her defining moment. Nor is her diagnosis. And I still don’t understand how, why, when and she gets frustrated. But hopefully, we’re all learning some patience and empathy for the different roads we each take in this life’s journey. I try to help when she needs me, and I’m still not warm and fuzzy, but there is progress. I don’t think anyone’s life turns out as they planned. I’m more of a pragmatist, and I believe that is the purpose, to learn HOW we act when things don’t go as we planned – that’s the point, it’s not our plan that we should want. And that is what makes us reach up, to remember that there is ONE who came and experienced all, that He may know our struggles and be there for us. We may not always notice when He steps in – at least I don’t, you are just ready for the next step somehow. The Spirit is a gift, our Savior is a gift, and I know I’m so grateful for both on the journey!
Happy Mother’s Day! And to those of you who are not yet Mothers, my heart goes out to you. I wish I knew your why, and I wish I knew what to say to take away your ache and heartbreak. Just know you are loved, prayed for, and thought about constantly.
I wrote this post for my personal blog almost two and a half years ago and I had several promptings that I needed to share it here, so with Mother’s Day being tomorrow, it seemed like a good time to finally do so. I deleted some things that were no longer pertinent and updated it to add how I’m currently dealing with this illness as a Mom.
Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. It is not something you do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.” – Neil L. Anderson
Sometimes it’s really hard for me to admit that I struggle with mental illness, especially as a Mom. And for some reason writing about it helps. I guess I do this to know that I’m not alone and that there are others experiencing the same thing. And also because when I share others share too, and we can learn and grow from each other.
In March of 2015, I decided to go off my Prozac. When I found out I was pregnant that was one of the first questions I had, would being on this medication affect my baby? My doctor told me that I would be ok until the last few weeks of my pregnancy and should go off it then if I could. I ran out of refills in March and that was what forced the plunge. I haven’t been back on medication since, with the exception of taking Xanax twice when we flew to Hawaii in January of this year. I haven’t wanted to be on a medication roller coaster through pregnancies and breastfeeding, especially because there was only one month of no pregnancy or breastfeeding between Hayley and Evelyn.
The work of a mother is hard, too often unheralded work… Mothers, we acknowledge and esteem your faith in every footstep. Please know that it is worth it then, now, and forever. – Jeffrey R. Holland (Because She Is a Mother)
No love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child.
To all of our mothers everywhere, past, present, or future, I say, “Thank you. Thank you for giving birth, for shaping souls, for forming character, and for demonstrating the pure love of Christ.” To Mother Eve, to Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel, to Mary of Nazareth, and to a Mother in Heaven, I say, “Thank you for your crucial role in fulfilling the purposes of eternity.” To all mothers in every circumstance, including those who struggle—and all will—I say, “Be peaceful. Believe in God and yourself. You are doing better than you think you are. In fact, you are saviors on Mount Zion, and like the Master you follow, your love ‘never faileth.’ – Jeffrey R. Holland (Behold Thy Mother)
After going off my medication when I was pregnant with Hayley I had a really hard month full of school and finals, and then stressed about her arrival, but did surprisingly well after she was born… until about two months postpartum. It was then I went to my Doctor and discussed my options with him. I was going to go back on medication when she was six months old but ended up switching my major in school so that I could be done sooner and focus on her, while also avoiding loads of stress from the Athletic Training program. I toughed out a final semester of school and felt pretty good about life.
Then I got pregnant with Evelyn in August of 2016. I struggled practically every day with her pregnancy; emotionally, physically, and mentally (surprise right?). All of my symptoms came on sooner and it seemed like they were worse too. I think I have some PTSD from that pregnancy (and giving birth) because I am absolutely terrified of going through another one. Like there is going to need to be divine intervention for me to go through this again.
There is no role in life more essential and more eternal than that of motherhood.
There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. – M. Russell Ballard (Daughters of God)
My second daughter, Evelyn, turned one last week and I was feeling weird about it all day. I realized the reason I was feeling so weird about it is that I feel this pressure to now have another baby, and I’m so not ready for that. Anyone else feel like they need to have kids about every two years? I don’t know if it’s my age, the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, the fact that I actually can have kids when so many can’t and long for them, or something else. Whatever the cause is… it’s there.
And I know I have so much to be thankful for and that I am truly blessed, and that’s why having anxiety and depression is so extremely frustrating – I know I have so many blessings and things to be happy about but I just can’t sometimes. I cannot “choose to be happy.” I feel alone because of what this illness does to me. And it’s hard for me to talk about it with people who don’t understand because sometimes that only gets me more frustrated and depressed. It’s a horrible cycle. I know it’s not their fault for not being able to understand so I just don’t say anything to avoid the conversation I know is coming that won’t do me any good. And maybe that’s selfish of me but I need to be a little selfish with this illness or things only get worse than they need to. And when I can’t take care of myself then I can’t take care of others and I really hate not being able to do anything for others, especially my husband and daughters.
Your children are the greatest gift God will give to you, and their souls the heaviest responsibility He will place in your hands. Take time with them, teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can faith. When you are old, nothing else you’ve done will have mattered as much.” – Lisa Wingate
Becoming a Mother is a huge life changer, I know any Mother can tell you that. Since I’ve become a Mother I don’t get as much time with my husband, I feel like I don’t have as many friends as I used to, I don’t have much of a social life, and I don’t get any time to myself because it’s harder to do things with people or for yourself when you have a demanding little human that needs to eat 3-4 hours and take naps and play and be held and all the things that babies need leaving you with little time for anything else. Even when I do get out I still have to put Hayley and Evelyn first and “miss out” on things because I’m feeding them or changing a diaper or they’re crying/throwing a tantrum and I have to calm her down. And I know that every Mom deals with this but when it’s coupled with anxiety and depression it’s different. I worry about all that the future will bring and how I am going to deal with it. Constantly.
At the same time that being a Mother gives me anxiety and depression, it also heals it. I am so grateful for Hayley and Evelyn. They are the reasons I can handle this as well as I do, most of the time. I think that if they weren’t here I would be doing a lot worse, they are the reasons that I have to get out of bed. They rely on me for almost everything but I need them more than they need me. When I have hard days, weak moments, struggles, etc. they will bring me back to life with their smiles or laughter or the new thing that they learned or do. I have been blessed with beautiful daughters and I love them more than they’ll ever know.
Mom was the biggest word in her world. It made her want to dance, and it made her want to hide. And on some nights, when the house was dark and still and the moon peeked through the window, it made her wonder. – Emily Watts (Once There Was a Mom)
I know those previous two paragraphs contradict each other but that’s what having a mental illness will do to you. Welcome to the life of someone living with one. The same thing that runs you into the ground can also be the thing that lifts you out of that hole.
And of course, there’s the loss of identity that we feel as new Moms, and even as experienced Moms. There becomes little time to do the things we love and enjoy, therefore we learn how key it is to MAKE TIME for our hobbies, but even then that time has limitations. Everyone talks about finding the balance, but I am on the fence about believing if it even exists. I do believe in prioritizing, and I’m slowly learning that me, myself, sometimes needs to be placed higher on that priority list. I need to feel like Ally every once in a while, instead of Hayley and Evelyn’s Mom. And let’s just get rid of and let go of the “mom guilt” we feel when we do focus on ourselves. My dear Mom has told me for years that I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone else. Can I get an amen? Crazy how this works, but that helps me be a better Mom and feel good about my role as Mother when I’ve taken time to fill my needs. It also helps a lot with managing my anxiety and depression.
Motherehood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels. – First Presidency Message
I had this thought in December of 2015, it was Fast Sunday during Sacrament Meeting. I was thinking about my mission, where all of this started, and how hard it was while serving and since then. I thought about how “unfair” I thought it all was, and what it did to me. I was a different person while suffering through it on my mission and when I came home. Of course, I will never be the same, and most of the time I can live with that, but other times I still resent the person this illness causes me to be. And as I was thinking all this I turned to look at my baby girl in my husband’s arms and thought about the baby blessing he gave her in September. I thought about how she was blessed to be a source of happiness and brighten other’s lives… and it hit me, that she is going to do that more for me than possibly anyone else. She was given to me by a Heavenly Father who understood what I went through and still go through, and I don’t have to do it alone. She is going to help me through it all. Hayley (and now Evelyn) is going to be my saving grace. My heart just about burst as I had all these thoughts and I feel so overwhelmed with love from my Father in Heaven and grateful that He is so aware of my needs and sends me the help that will get me through my trials.
I feel like having kids has helped my depression lessen but totally increased my anxiety. There are so many more things to worry about and kids are hard to control, and I like to be in control. I’ve definitely had more panic attacks since having kids. A vacation is not a vacation when your children are with you. I feel overwhelmed by all the things I should be doing and teaching or feeding them. And then I feel guilty when I’m not. Or I feel guilty for how easily frustrated I get with these little people who are just trying to learn and figure out their own emotions. And I definitely enjoy their company and the fun we have but most days I’m counting down until it’s bedtime. Every so often I have thoughts of, “I don’t get paid enough for this!” It’s hard and draining and I’m already looking for grey hairs.
The spiritual rewards of motherhood are available to all women. Nurturing the young, comforting the frightened, protecting the vulnerable, teaching, and giving encouragement need not – and should not – be limited to our own children. – Russell M. Nelson
Photo by Haley Parlogean Photography.
Photo by Haley Parlogean Photography.
So why do we do it? I have those days where I wonder what on earth I’m doing and if I’m really making a difference. Did I really agree to this? If only I would’ve known what I was signing up for… but I guess it’s good I didn’t? Someone else could be a better Mom for these sweet little girls. Am I doing everything I should, and I am I doing it right? Am I good enough?
But then Heavenly Father steps in… He’s so good, isn’t He? And He reminds me that I’m doing the most important work there is. He tells me it’s worth it and that I’m doing better than I think. And my girls… Evelyn finally smiles and laughs with me. She gets super excited and is so happy to see me. She crawls over to me and once I pick her up she rests her head on my chest. Hayley always tells me how pretty I look when I get dressed for work or church. She randomly tells me I’m the best. She thanks Heavenly Father for me in her prayers. And that’s why we do it.
A Mother is she who can take the place of all others, but whose place no one else can take. – Unknown
Photo by Jennie Grange Photography.
Photo by Jennie Grange Photography.
I’m so grateful for the Plan of Salvation and that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a Mom. I’m grateful for how it stretches me, teaches me, pushes me to my limits, and rewards me. And I’m grateful for YOU. I’m grateful for your help in mothering my children, for your examples, for your strength and faith, for your advice, for your sacrifices, all of it. Whether you have given birth or not, you’re a Mom if you’ve helped a child. Thank you!
Hayley and Evelyn are huge reasons I can cope but I would be ungrateful if I didn’t mention that my husband and my family also make a huge difference in how I’ve been able to deal with this, too. They will never know how much their help means to me. The words from Come, Come Ye Saints come to mind as I think about the future and how I’m going to tackle it all… happy day, all is well! And all will be well, as long as I stay close to Him who knows me best and take things with one arm in Daniel’s and the other wrapped around my girls.
I hope that you mothers will realize that when all is said and done, you have no more compelling responsibility, nor any laden with greater rewards, than the nurture you give your children in an environment of security, peace, companionship, love, and motivation to grow and do well. – Gordon B. Hinckley (Stand Strong against the Wiles of the World)
I remind mothers everywhere of the sanctity of your calling. No other can adequately take your place. No responsibility is greater, no obligation more binding than that you rear in love and peace and integrity those whom you have brought into the world. – Gordon B. Hinckley (Bring Up a Child in the Way He Should Go)
You have nothing in this world more precious than your children. When you grow old, when your hair turns white and your body grows weary, when you are prone to sit in a rocker and meditate on the things of your life, nothing will be so important as the question of how your children have turned out. – Gordon B. Hinckley (Your Greatest Challenge, Mother)
Sue has been following this blog for about a year now and I have loved and appreciated her comments. One of her more recent ones made me wonder why I hadn’t asked her to write her story, so I finally did. I love her unique perspective and bravery. I hope what she shares helps us be slow to judgment when we see someone leave after Sacrament Meeting or when someone says no to a certain calling, giving a talk, or saying a prayer.
Sue Wilson lives in Carlsbad, California with her husband Ed. They’ve been married for 37 years. Her husband recently retired from the Fire Department and they are loving the retirement life! They run a motocross racing business for firefighters and police officers. They love to travel in their motorhome and visit all the beautiful places this country has to offer. They have one son who is married to the most amazing girl and they have three daughters. Being a grandmother is the absolute best thing in the entire world. She would spend every moment with her granddaughters if I could! She loves it so much. She serves as a family history consultant, Activity Days leader, and ward newsletter editor in her ward. Some of her favorite hobbies are walking on the beach, doing family history, camping, and crafting.
“Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead.”
That is one of my favorite quotes by Jeffrey R. Holland and it’s something I tell myself during those really hard moments. If you are tempted to quit trying, to quit going to church, or even quit at our most precious gift, which is life, then I hope you’ll read my story and find hope to keep on trying. I am so honored to be able to share my story. This blog has meant so much to me. It was here that I discovered that there are many kindred spirits out there. I’m not alone!
My journey with anxiety and panic attacks began 50 years ago. I was seven-years-old when I first began having panic attacks and I would literally become sick every morning because I didn’t want to go to school, where I was being bullied by my second-grade teacher. As soon as the school year was over so were my panic attacks. But they would come back on and off throughout my childhood and I would just “white knuckle” those episodes. All of those frightening experiences developed into an anxiety disorder because I lived in fear of the next panic attack. The fact that this journey has been 50 years in the making sort of blows my mind.
The hardest part of this whole experience is that it has taken so long for mental health issues to become more accepted and not something of which we should be ashamed. I hid my anxiety and panic attack issues for so long because the few times I did try and explain my struggles I would get this bewildered look from people. If you’re like me, you probably know the look I’m talking about. The only one who knew the true extent of my condition was my husband, and I didn’t even share with him all that I was experiencing. Mental health issues can isolate us and make us feel very alone and scared. Not many knew what anxiety or panic attacks were back in the 1960’s so I was never correctly diagnosed until 1996. I tried medication (which didn’t help me) and read many books that taught me relaxation methods but all of those treatments were just band-aids. It wasn’t until, after many prayers, in 2012 I came across a program called DARE that was developed by a man who had suffered anxiety and panic attacks. This program taught me how to diffuse those anxious thoughts and feelings and accept the physical sensations. As soon as you do that the grip of anxiety loses its power.
Though I experienced times of anxiety in my teen years and in my 20’s my anxiety/panic issues really began to be constant in my life when I was in my early 30’s. I had joined the church when I was 19 years old and loved everything about the church. I was always called to serve in the Young Women’s Program and loved working with the young women. It wasn’t until I was called to be Young Women President in my ward that I was forced to step way outside my comfort zone. I did that for three years and then soon after was called to teach early morning seminary for three years. I loved working with the youth but these callings stretched me to my limit.
I have a personality which is hard even for me to understand. I am good at carrying on conversations with people I don’t know well but I don’t always enjoy it. I really only enjoy talking to people I know well and feel comfortable with. So I am an extroverted introvert if that makes any sense. Standing before a group of people and teaching or speaking is one of the very hardest things for me to do. If you’re the president of an organization or a seminary teacher, it’s pretty hard to avoid standing in front of groups of people. I believe with anxiety that every bad experience you have builds upon itself and you eventually crack under the weight of those experiences if you don’t deal with it. But instead of being honest with my Bishop or my friends or those I served with I would hide how I was feeling. That only made the situation worse. I was scared of what they would think of me. I didn’t want to be known as weak, crazy, or lazy. It’s hard to admit that you have a weakness. Even as a young convert I quickly saw that there was this “Mormon mold” that you should try and fit in to. We were often taught that you don’t say no to a calling or to any assignment. I fought hard to fit that mold and do everything I was asked to do and do it to the best of my ability. That’s great in theory but if you suffer from a mental disorder that could be more harmful than helpful. And since mental health issues weren’t talked about or those in leadership had little knowledge of them it was hard to try and explain why certain things were so difficult for me. The stress from the anxiety began to take a toll on my physical health.
For years I thought I must be a weak person and lacking in faith. I would pray and fast for help but still struggled immensely. I finally decided enough was enough and I wasn’t going to hide my struggles anymore. I began to confide in my friends and to my Bishop and found everyone to be way more compassionate than critical. It began to free me from the heavy burden I was carrying. Before I began being honest I would go to church filled with so much anxiety that I would literally be shaking. I sat in the back row of every meeting, just in case I needed to run out. I was always afraid of what someone at church might ask me to do. Would they ask me to speak, or pray or teach a class or serve in a calling that I was sure would finally push me over the cliff into insanity? That’s how my mind worked. Once I was honest with my Bishop, the Relief Society President, etc. that fear began to dissipate because they were aware of my situation and began to ask me to serve in callings that were a good fit for me. I never thought of leaving the church because of my fears. In fact, my testimony became firm because of it. If I still wanted to go to church every week feeling the way I felt then this church HAD to be true, right?!
The scriptures teach us that we can turn our weaknesses into strengths and one of my strengths is now my testimony. I’ve seen the Lord’s hand in my life more prominently because of my weaknesses. I have been blessed with Bishops who are kind and compassionate. They have been inspired to call me to positions where I can serve and know the service I give is of importance and feel like I still contribute well to my ward. I have had many experiences that taught me we are all different and we shouldn’t compare ourselves to anyone else. We don’t have to fit into any mold. We can follow the promptings of the Spirit and be of great service in His Church.
I have no doubt that many people leave the church not because they don’t believe it to be true, but because of mental health issues and that makes me so sad. There is no reason that should happen. If all they are capable of doing is to come to church and sitting through a Sacrament meeting, then that is good enough. They shouldn’t be made to feel like it’s all or nothing. And I know, from experience, that people can be treated that way. Nobody said these words to me and I wish someone would have so I am saying this for all of you who struggle as I did. It’s okay if you can’t speak in church or serve as Relief Society President or serve a full term mission! You will not be kept out of the Celestial Kingdom because of these things! Just don’t quit. Keep trying your best and allow God to help you.
I will say that the acceptance of mental health issues among church members has gotten so much better in the last 10 years. Talks “Like A Broken Vessel” by Jeffrey R. Holland have done so much to change the way we think about mental health issues! But, also, those of us who struggle need to come out of the shadows and share our stories. This has been what has finally freed me. I can now go to church without a ton of anxiety. I feel so much stronger and better equipped to be honest if I am asked to do something that I know would not be good for my mental health. We have to become our own advocates.
Having a mental illness is no different than a physical illness and people are not ashamed to share their physical limitations so we should never be ashamed to share our mental limitations. It’s a trial we are given to learn and grow from and become a stronger version of ourselves. Every trial I now experience I look for the beautiful blessings that come from that struggle. The blessings are many and if you look for them you will be amazed. Nobody says its better than Jeffrey R. Holland:
“Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”
Here is a link to the DARE program that has helped me the most:
Taylor posted her story on Facebook, and our mutual friend tagged me in it because she thought it would be a good idea to share it on here. How cool, right?! So I messaged Taylor and she thought it was a good idea too. And here we are.
Taylor Devuyst is 19 years old. She was born and raised in Mission, British Columbia until she moved to Cardston, Alberta when she was 17. She’s a convert to the LDS church and was baptized when she was 16. It changed her life forever, and she is so grateful for that. She’s currently attending the University of Lethbridge, and she’s majoring in Neuroscience. She absolutely loves to write, and she hopes to one day be able to share her story on a bigger scale. She also plays the piano and some sports in her free time. She loves this life and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all of her heart! She owes everything to Him.
I never thought the day would come where I would be telling the world about my darkest trial. But, I think it’s time. I’m talking about this so that maybe I can help just one person feel a little less alone in the world. If I can accomplish just that, this will all be worth it. There is a huge stigma against mental illness, and each time that we talk about it, we free people from suffering in silence.
We all face challenges in our lives, trials, and hard times. We live in a fallen world, where we are not immune to pain and heartache. In honor of Bell Let’s Talk Day, I want to share a bit of my experience with mental illnesses.
It started 7 years ago. I have suffered from Severe Depression, and Major Anxiety Disorder since I was 12 years old. I was diagnosed officially when I was 14. Then when I was 18, I was also diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s a lot, but it’s not all of me.
Having severe depression for me, never really consisted of not being able to get out of bed. I have always been very high functioning. I wake up, get ready, eat, go to school, hang out with friends. I take my responsibilities very seriously because I don’t like to disappoint myself, or others. My depression has always been silent and hidden. What really happened, was that I lost purpose. For as long as I can remember, I didn’t understand the meaning of life. I lost myself, and I lost hope. It got worse over the years, and at 12 years old, I started having suicidal thoughts. I became someone that I didn’t recognize. I lost the little girl who once loved herself.
Having an anxiety disorder is the worst. I had my first panic attack when I was 12 years old, and I still have them to this day. It’s not funny, it’s terrifying. Nothing triggers them for me. I could be eating lunch, or sitting in my room doing homework, or trying to go to sleep, and I will have a full-blown panic attack. They are horrifying. More than that, having an anxiety disorder means struggling to make your own appointments, or call a friend. It means not being able to stay in the mall for too long. It also means having a panic attack, because you’re afraid of having another panic attack. It’s a vicious cycle.
Borderline Personality Disorder. This is a tricky one. I guess I would describe it as living in the extremes. I am either on cloud 9 or at rock bottom. My emotions are intense in the way that a house fire is, a plane crash, or an earthquake. They are life-changing, earth-shattering, and most of all painful. I cannot experience “kind of happy, kind of sad, kind of bored, kind of angry.” My emotions have one level, and that level is catastrophic. The smallest events can trigger the hugest feelings, and those huge feelings demand huge reactions.
I believe that the scariest part of all of this is that I can honestly say that I have an amazing life, and yet I still have suicidal thoughts. It makes zero sense. I have a good family, lots of friends. I have many opportunities, I get to go to university. I have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my life. I am physically healthy, and I love life. But apart of me is constantly trying to destroy all of this. It is a fight. A battle every single day, against myself. A war to stay alive.
Now, recovery. It is a lifelong process. I have been on medications now for 2 years and in therapy every week for 3 years. I have been to countless doctors and psychiatrists. I have been admitted to the hospital 4 times in the last 2 years. It’s hard. It’s hard to talk about. It’s hard to say that I have an “appointment,” when that really means that I’m going to therapy, again. It’s hard to say that I’m “going away for a few days,” when that really means that I’m going to the hospital. It’s all hard. It’s hard to fight for months at a time with what feels like little success. It’s hard to want to die, and yet continue to get out of bed anyway. It’s painful.
But that’s not the point. The point isn’t the pain. The point is that there is hope. There is always hope. I used to not believe that, but then I learned about God. I learned that He has a plan for all of us, and that “the sufferings of this present time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).” At times it becomes too much, but I just try and hold on to hope with every last piece of me. I am still learning to rely on my Savior’s promise. The promise that as I come unto Him, He will give me rest and strengthen me. I am so in need of His strength because on my own I am weak. This life is a beautiful struggle, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I am grateful, for everyday that I get to spend on this earth, becoming the person that God needs me to be.
To the one out there who is struggling. To the one who feels like they are losing the war against their demons, I promise that it gets better. Please hold on. Please don’t give up just yet. One day you will look back on your life, and see why everything had to happen the way that it did. You’ll cry with tears of joy as you fall at the feet of your Maker and Savior, knowing that you did all that you could. So for now, hold tight to your faith, whatever it may be. Don’t be afraid, “but have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions (Alma 34:41).” I promise you that the darkness doesn’t last forever, and that the small moments of joy in between, are worth more than you could ever comprehend. You are worth more than you could ever comprehend. You are so loved.
I hope you know that there is always someone there for you. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Don’t be scared to reach out, there are people waiting to catch you when you fall. I didn’t used to believe that. I used to think that I was all alone in the world, but then I worked up enough courage to reach out. I suffered in silence for far too long, talking about it gave me the freedom that I desperately needed. There have been so many people along my journey who have saved me. Little by little, they have saved me. I would not be here today without them. So please, talk about it. Reach out, and let the light of recovery into your life. I promise that you won’t regret it. God is so good, and He has provided us with resources to help us make it home to Him. Don’t be ashamed, there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Life isn’t easy, but it really is beautiful. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the darkness that has consumed me at times, and still does. And I’m really starting to like who I am. I have learned some of my greatest lessons amidst the storms of life. It’s a good life. Don’t give up on it too soon. You will be okay. You will have a happy life. You will make it. You will be free. I just know it. You’ve got Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world fighting with you, and you’ve got me too.
It has been a while since I’ve posted a Feature Friday, so I posted about my blog in a Facebook group I’m part of and Kayla was willing to share her story. I love her sweet testimony.
Kayla grew up on the east coast in Florida her entire life but when she moved to Utah, she became interested in the concept of blogging. 4 years later, she started her website and knew she always wanted to talk about fashion. Throughout the year, it slowly evolved into more lifestyle topics surrounding her main goal: to help women embrace natural beauty while feeling comfortable in their own skin.
Faith over Fear: How I Live with Anxiety
I never realized how faith was the opposition of fear until a doctor diagnosed me with anxiety last week. I know I am completely new at all of this, but my entire life I knew I was more anxious than most people were, but growing up in the LDS (Mormon) faith, has definitely been an integral part in how I cope with everything. My journey is a lot different from most and I hope to be able to relay my experience on how I live with anxiety.
When I describe my anxiety, the only way I can explain it is that it is paralyzing fear over trivial things. There are times where it is over something huge, but I finally started realizing it when my husband started school. I worked full-time and he was a full-time student with a part-time job. Since I was further away from home, I took our only car and he biked everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE! Knowing the behaviors of most drivers in the area, I was petrified! Every morning when he would kiss me goodbye, I thought that was the last time I would ever see him again because I was terrified a car would hit him. A few months later, I went off my birth control because of other health concerns I was having and it got 1,000 times worse. That is when I knew I had to change.
It all began with the October General Conference session. My husband and I were lucky enough to score some tickets. We went and with a prayer in my heart, I pleaded with God on what I could do to erase these thoughts from my mind. It was not until the next couple of days that I got my answer. During our Family Home Evening, my husband received a strong prompting after we listened to President Russell M. Nelson’s talk that we needed to read the Book of Mormon… by the end of the month! We were only in 1 Nephi (along with most it seems) and I had zero faith that we could do it. I assured him I would try my best but probably would not make it. My husband said he had faith that we would finish on our desired date. I was not so sure.
I began listening to it every second that I had and over time, I slowly realized that my fear was fading. I started to feel at peace and that was not a feeling I have experienced in a long time. It made me want to listen to be able to tear my mind away from the things of the world. By the end of the month, I already finished and started listening to it for a second time.
I have a huge testimony of the power of the Book of Mormon and the peace it brings into my life. I know the words in it are true and if we are diligent in our study, our faith will destroy our fear. I cannot say it took away my anxiety for good, but it became an aid for me to turn to during my times of despair. For that, I am eternally grateful.