Feature Friday: Sarah

Sarah and I were in the same ward growing up, and then we got called to the same mission within about a month. She has always been very wise and down to earth and I admire her for that. I love her story because I feel like admitting to ourselves that there’s a bigger problem is sometimes half the struggle.

The first real memories I have of depression are from high school. When I got really stressed out with my load I would start to feel down and depressed. I guess I just figured that it was normal to feel this way from time to time. I would try my best to make changes and avoid things like procrastination so I wouldn’t get so stressed out. My mom was always one of my biggest supporters in helping me get through it. She has also struggled with depression and taken antidepressants since before I was born.  She always had the right things to say. I always just coped. I thought that’s just what you did. I hadn’t been able to admit to myself yet that I struggled with a mental illness.

So I continued like this through college and my mission. Sometimes I did pretty well and other times I struggled. Whenever it was really tough I remember asking for a priesthood blessing. It was like feeling like you were in a deep dark pit and someone suddenly shines a flashlight and throws you a rope, and you feel loved and you know everything is going to be okay.

I remember putting in my application papers to serve a mission and I was afraid that it would keep me from being able to serve, or would limit me on where I could go. I kept telling myself that it really wasn’t that bad and that I could manage. I think part of me was in denial, and yet also I do think that it has gotten progressively worse and harder to deal with over time.

When I returned home from my mission, everything was going great – I started up school again, got a job, and within a few weeks met and started dating seriously the man who is now my husband. Then my depression returned.  After crying and talking with my mom, she suggested that I try getting on medication. At first I was resistant. I had coped for so long on my own. The argument that convinced me was that with getting married I had to think of my husband. It wasn’t fair to him to “just cope” and not truly get the help that I needed so I could better support him. This wasn’t just about me anymore, I had a future family to think about and how it would affect them. So the next day we went to the doctor.

That decision was a turning point in my life, that’s when I was able to actually admit to myself that I suffered from a mental illness. By doing so I was able to start being able to talk about it more openly and has helped me to recognize things that trigger my depression and things that help me overcome it. The more I am able to talk about my depression with others the stronger I feel. By communicating about it with my husband more, he is better able to support me. Being on medication has not taken my depression away, but it has mellowed it out so it is not so severe.

Being a mom while dealing with depression can be a challenge. Some days their laugh and smiles lift my spirits and are just what I need. Other days their tantrums and crying make me want to hide in my room all day. But that’s motherhood, right?

Feature Friday: Taylor

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.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Mallory

I met Mallory at the Munchin’ with Mogul’s dinner. We had a kind of Q & A panel there and I asked a question about what you’d say to someone who is the spouse of someone that has a mental illness and she raised her hand and said some things that moved me to tears, one of those being that you need to find someone who can be your safety net. That really resonated with me. She gave me her Instagram info and I sent her a message asking her to write this for the blog.
Mallory comes from a family of 9 kids and loved growing up in a busy household full of laughter. She went to BYU and majored in English and minored in Anthropology. She’s been married to her sweetheart Kory for almost 6 years. They have two beautiful kiddos – their son is almost 4 and their little girl is barely 2. She loves the mountains, a good cup of tea, and a great read. She loves to write and to sew and has spent all her free time in the last 5 months working on remodeling her first home. Together, she and Kory run a men’s shoe company called Taft.

December will mark 6 years of marriage to my sweetheart, Kory. We met through a field-study to India. We both signed up to spend 4 months in the country researching and met at a pre-departure class before we left. Meeting Kory sort of felt like being a magnet. The moment he walked into the room everything changed, and it really has never been the same since. I knew within weeks of knowing him that I would marry him.

Like every dating couple, Kory and I spent endless hours talking. We talked about our families, our aspirations, our hopes, our worldviews, our jobs, our majors, our friends, our favorite movies, our favorite music, our favorite food, our parenting philosophies, our thoughts on religion. Over time, I felt like we knew everything there was to know about each other. Somewhere in the mix of it all, Kory mentioned that he struggled with depression. I hardly even remember it, to be honest, because it was such a non-issue in my mind. I don’t remember my response but I’d imagine my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of  “we love each other so much, I hardly think that will ever be a problem.”

Despite seeing my fair share of loved ones struggle with mental illness, I knew very little about depression. Kory and I, obviously, went on to be married and I hardly gave his depression a passing thought. Over time, I started to notice his depression in subtle ways. Though I was well-intentioned, I really couldn’t grasp the depths of depression. It took years to find a groove. There were a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of misunderstandings on my part. It wasn’t until we had been married for 2 years, and we welcomed our first son into our lives, that I began to understand Kory’s struggle. After the birth of our son, I slipped into postpartum depression. I was totally blindsided by it, I’d lived my entire life very joyfully and optimistically, and I realized for the first time that depression wasn’t a sadness you could just snap out of.

It was a critical time for us, because while I meant well all along the way, before having our son I often found myself frustrated with Kory’s depression. It made me feel inadequate – I had this underlying belief that if I could just get it all right, Kory wouldn’t be depressed. I planned dates, made dinner, kept the house clean, and managed our lives in a way that I thought would alleviate Kory’s depression. Really, I was trying to have control over a situation that I truly had no power over. Over time I realized nothing I did helped and rather than turn to sympathy for Kory, I turned to frustration. All of that changed, though, when I experienced depression first hand. And while it only lasted the first few months of our son’s life, it was a poignant enough experience that it completely changed how I approached Kory’s depression. It really, in retrospect, was a huge turning point.

From that time on, I decided to approach Kory’s depression with nothing but love. I realized that for the first 2 years of our lives, I had tried to fit our marriage into a box of what I thought marriage should look like. The moment I realized our journey, our marriage, was ours alone and didn’t have to look like anyone else’s, I felt so much freer. We always had a deep love for each other, but our relationship deepened as I showed more love and understanding and Kory, in turn, felt more confident confiding in me with even his deepest feelings. It became a cycle, where I loved unconditionally, and Kory shared openly. We grew immensely as a couple over the next few years as we navigated mental illness and several other heavy trials. I soon came to realize that marriage is just taking turns carrying each other.

I also realized the importance of being relentless in pursuing health. When Kory didn’t have the energy or the motivation, I made countless calls to doctors and therapists. We went to homeopathic healers, integrative medicine professionals, psychiatrists, chiropractors, family doctors, hormone specialists, concussion specialists, and more. Kory is inherently frugal and had no desire to spend money on his health and it dawned on me one day that we needed to take his depression as seriously  as we would take cancer. If Kory were diagnosed with cancer we would make any financial sacrifice necessary to make sure he’d have the care he needed. I knew in my heart that his depression could be just as deadly, and needed to be treated with as much caution and aggression. So we’ve attacked it aggressively. I read somewhere that there are 10 different factors that contribute to depression, and you have to have at least 3 of them to become clinically depressed. Reading through the list, Kory had 8+, and some of them were in our control, so we set to work making them non-issues. We’ve had a lot of breakthroughs along the way, and there are a lot of reasons to have hope. The brain has so much neuroplasticity, it really can change and adjust and make new pathways, but it takes active effort. Treating mental illness takes active attention, focused energy, which, I think, is why it consumes so many for so long. While for some it’s as simple as taking a pill, for many its years of focused healing, and it can be exhausting, but I know it can work.  I know the appointments, and the diet changes, and the lifestyle adjustments are all worth it.

While it’s been a long road for Kory (15 years of depression) we’ve had a lot of breakthroughs in the last few years. Kory was diagnosed with MTHFR (you can look it up and read all about it) and discovered he has low testosterone as well. We’ve worked to remedy both of those problems, but it still takes work beyond that. I know that the answers are out there and that, eventually, you meet the person who can help you. Most recently, we met with a psychiatrist who told Kory he thinks OCD is at the root of his depression. “I think you’re all O and no C,” he told him, “which is why it would have gone undiagnosed for so long, you don’t have the normal red flags.” We’ve approached it from a hundred angles, and with countless doctors and it feels like we’re finally getting some traction, but it requires so much hope, which isn’t something many depressed people have in abundance, so I’ve really felt the need to carry the hope in our marriage.

That being said, there’s still a lot of fear. Because even though I can feel it, I can feel that we’ll make it, I know there are times Kory doesn’t feel the same. I know there are times when he feels like he has his back to the corner and there are no ways out. The most poignant example I’ve heard to describe depression and suicide was one Kory shared with me – he said depression feels like being in a burning building, and of course, you don’t want to jump, but it feels like the options are to jump or be consumed – so people jump. I think anyone’s worst fear is losing their loved ones, and it’s heart-wrenching to be in a position where that doesn’t feel far out of reach. I can hardly think about it without sobbing. When I see women who have lost their husbands my breath catches in my chest, because I know that could easily be me, but I can only have faith that it won’t be. The whole experience has been remarkable because I’ve learned that none of us are in control, really. We’re not in charge, but if we spend our lives trying to be, we’ll only be met with misery. You reach a point where you have to surrender to the fact that you’re not in charge, and realize that you can still have joy even if you don’t have control.

Recently I was looking back on our last 6 years of marriage, and it occurred to me that while I still have a lot of hope that Kory will be able to overcome his depression, I wouldn’t take it away from the last 6 years. Kory’s depression has taught me to love more deeply and unconditionally, to see people as they are and accept them as is. It’s taught me to enjoy every good day, even in its simplicity. It’s taught me to handle others gently because I never know the darkness they may be battling. It’s taught me to think before I speak, think before I act, because each of us, really, is more fragile than we realize. I’ve learned to accept my life and my trials and be grateful for them because they teach me in ways I couldn’t otherwise learn. I’m grateful for Kory’s depression because my children have seen, first hand, how to support others through trials, how to be a steady hand and soft shoulder. They’ve seen selflessness as Kory chooses us each and every day, as he chooses to be present with them even as he battles. I’m grateful because I have a marriage I feel so incredibly proud of. A marriage that’s a safety net for me, a marriage that is full of true laughter and joy and light, because we’ve also seen tears and hardship. We’ll continue to battle and to grow, and I know in my heart we’ll come out on top. I know because I’ve prayed and prayed and felt that steady hand reassuring me we’ll make it. I know because we’re tough, because we’re determined because our best days are truly ahead.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Emily

Emily shared this on my friend Aumberly’s Instagram, @trekthruconference, and she asked if Emily would be alright with me sharing it here. Obviously, she said yes so here we are!
I seriously admire her and the hardships she has gone through because her husband deals with depression. A little while ago I wrote a post about how mental illnesses are tough on everyone and one of the three people I mentioned was someone who lives with someone with an illness. I couldn’t fully comprehend what that meant and tried my best to write about it, and so I am extremely grateful Emily has opened up about this and is willing to share. Read on for some enlightenment.

Growing up, I didn’t expect to have the perfect marriage but I did have an idea of what I wanted. I wanted to be a stay at home mom, my husband to have a regular 9-5, a nice little house suited for our needs and a backyard for the kids. I anticipate 4 kids or more because being Mormon means having a large family. I expected the normal trials of marriage and adulthood: finances, busy schedule with church callings, kid’s sports and extracurricular activities, friends, and family gatherings and so on. Even though this picture-perfect life isn’t what I have now, what I never, ever thought would be a trial of mine was mental illness. And the mental illness isn’t even mine, it’s my husband’s.

Ever since he was a kid he’s struggled with anxiety and depression. I don’t comprehend what it’s like to have these illnesses. I mean, I get nervous when I have a presentation but I don’t understand what it’s like to live in a constant state of fear and stress, to struggle to get out of bed in the morning after getting a few hours of restless sleep, to not have the energy to do even the most basic tasks. I don’t understand it and I don’t think I ever will.

Our first two years of marriage were fine. I didn’t see him struggle even though he probably was. The next 3 years he got increasingly sick. Eventually, he was missing a day of work every other week. I thought that he was going to get fired because there was no way he had enough sick/vacation leave to cover the amount of time he took off. He would have stomach cramps, couldn’t keep food in his system and couldn’t sleep. I hated seeing him like this but what I hated, even more, was him not doing anything about it. He didn’t like going to doctor because he couldn’t get an answer as to why he was sick.

I was getting increasingly frustrated because he was sick ALL THE TIME. I felt like I was doing all the chores and taking care of the baby and doing our church calling while working full time. I felt very alone. And I still do. Frequently the thought has crossed my mind that I was a single parent and that I would be better off on my own. I would blame my husband for my lack of interest in going to church, reading my scriptures or even saying my prayers and I felt that he was dragging me down. Marriage was supposed to be about being equally yoked and we are not. I am mentally, spiritually and physically exhausted. To be honest, I’m sick of hearing him say that he is tired or that his stomach hurts when I ask him how he’s doing. I just need to hear him saying that he’s doing okay and that he has the energy to play with our daughter or help me around the house. We’ve had many conversations about how we felt as if we both are drowning and needed the other’s help and support. We try harder again to work together as we figure out how to survive each day. I made a covenant with my husband when we got married. I will stick with him regardless of the trials we go through in this life because I promised him I would. And I know God will help me keep that promise.

I see little relief from my sisters at church or other friends and family. I hate going to church because I am so alone. No friends to lift and support me or my husband. No home teachers to give blessings of health or comfort. Few friends to pour my heart out to. Rarely is mental illness talked about because no one wants to admit they struggle with it even though it is so prevalent in our society. Frequently you see posts on Facebook and Instagram on what it’s like to have anxiety and depression and how to be patient and sympathetic or empathetic for those that struggle with mental illness but there is absolutely nothing, no support group, no awareness video, nothing for those who live with those with these illnesses. We are just expected to figure out how to love, support, encourage, and heal our spouses and children as best we can with what information is out there about their illness. I have read Elder Holland’s talk, Like a Broken Vessel, many times seeking help and understanding on what I can do for my husband.

Finally, my husband agreed to go to a mental health doctor. He had acknowledged and accepted that his illness was affecting his physical health, happiness, job performance, attendance and church attendance, his relationship with his daughter, my happiness, and sanity, and our spirituality. I was so happy that he took that step and it was a big step to acknowledge that he needed help. After going to the doctor, I think that I expected him to be better and functional right away, but no, that’s not how this works. It’s still a journey and I still need to be patient and compassionate toward him as he gets better. I have to remind myself to not be a stumbling block for him as he works towards better health.

He constantly says he doesn’t want people to treat him differently because of his illness but because he is physically sick, I have to. I’m sorry, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be treated “normal” while being incapable of fulfilling basic household responsibilities. He’s ashamed of his illness and still struggles with letting people know, especially his family. One thing that has angered me on this mental illness journey is that his parents saw him struggle as a child and teenager and did nothing to help. But when you are the source of your child’s anxiety I can understand why the child wouldn’t want to talk to you about it. As a parent myself, I don’t understand how you can see your child struggle and not do anything about it. He did tell his dad recently, who had felt spiritual promptings that something was going on with him. He received a father’s blessing and was told to serve others and he has sought out those opportunities.

I remember one day (of many) that I was angry at him. When we wake up in the morning I always ask how he is and he always responds with “Tired.” He decided to stay home and I got madder throughout the day. Typically, when he stays home no chores are done. He would rest and play video games and watch TV. Knowing that I would come home to a dirty house with a list of chores to do, dinner to make and a needy toddler (and husband) while still finding time to train for a 5K, I wasn’t happy. So, my anger grew and tears were near the surface when I came home. I was shocked to find a clean kitchen and him cleaning the bathroom. He explained that he was mad at me for not being compassionate, patient and understanding but as he was reading his scriptures that morning he read about charity and thought back to his father’s blessing and realized that he needed to serve me. There are moments that help me know that God is helping us out through this veil of tears and this was one of them.

My husband’s been on medication for 2 months now. He still isn’t 100% better but he is getting there. I honestly believe he will never be at 100% but I will help him get as healthy and functional as he can be. I will never understand what my husband goes through, but what I go through is something else entirely. I have had to give up on my dream of being a stay at home mom, of having a “normal” marriage. I have had to learn to communicate better with him what I need and learn what he is capable of giving. I have had to adjust my expectations of what he is able to do and what I can reasonably ask him to accomplish around the house. Our conversations are frequently filled with tears, love, and apologies as we try to figure out how to help each other and live with this different aspect of our lives.

I can’t do this by myself. I can’t. I have drifted away from my Father in Heaven because I am so exhausted. Reaching for Him is just one more task I have to do in my day. I am trying to do better but I fail more often than not. Mental illness doesn’t just affect those that have it. It affects all those around them. It is an invisible disease that will destroy unless you rely on Heavenly Father, family, friends and professional help. There are those that struggle more than my husband and I, and I feel for them. All our struggles are different, but the same. But we should all pull together, mentally ill and loved ones, as a family. We all need help.

Feature Friday: Joan

Joan and I have known each other since elementary school and played with each other in those years. Later, during high school, we worked at Cherry Hill together. She has always been a fun person to be around. When I came home from my mission I remember she sent me a message saying she was there if I needed to talk because she had come home early too. Back then I wasn’t really ready to talk about it, but I was so grateful she was thinking of me and cared enough to let me know.
One thing I love about Joan’s story is that she knew herself well enough to demand what was necessary to feel better. I don’t think enough of us do that. It’s ok to put yourself first sometimes and do what you need to take care of yourself!
Joan was born and raised in Kaysville, UT attended BYU Idaho where she got her degree in Public Relations. She uses her degree to fulfill the best and worst career she could possibly think of, motherhood. She is married to Tyler Brough and has two little spitfire girls. Life seems to be going by so fast Joan tries very hard to never blink as not to miss a thing. Keep on reading for her story.

From a young age, I knew I never wanted to serve a mission. I was the one in Young Women’s who never raised their hand when asked who wanted to go on a mission. I knew what I wanted, and it was to get married. In college, I still held firm to the idea of never wanting to serve a mission. It’s not that I didn’t believe in the Gospel, or love God I just didn’t want to leave my family for 18 months.

After many failed attempts at serious dating, and two years into my degree, in the month of November 2011, I got an overwhelming feeling that I needed to go on a mission and all I could think was “oh no, no, no, no….I don’t want to.” I battled with God, but as usual, God knows better than I do, in all things. I started my papers that weekend and had them submitted by Christmas of that year.

In January 2012 I received my call, with family gathered around I opened my call and was devastated that I was called to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I pulled up my big girl pants and I packed my bags for the Provo, MTC the end of March 2012. From the very beginning I felt off, I remember I would write a family email and then write a “mom” email where I would tell my mom things didn’t feel right, but I pushed on.

I entered the mission field and in my entrance interview with my mission president the only words I seemed to remember “I hope you brought good running shoes because you’ll be hitting the ground running in this area. It’s our busiest area in the mission.” That first transfer I killed off my trainer (she completed her mission and went home after six weeks) so I wasn’t fully trained and right after her, I got a companion who was, in my mission presidents words “a hard sister who needs love.” It was not what I was expecting.

I became so overworked and stressed my body started shutting down. I was becoming depressed and I wanted to go home. After several meetings with my mission president, I would leave his office feeling more overwhelmed as his response was essentially “no you can’t go home, you need to batten down the hatch and forget yourself.” I tried that, but anyone who has experienced depression will know that it can make you numb to almost everything. During very spiritual lessons I would feel nothing. The desire to be out and see people whom I absolutely loved was gone. After months of going back and forth and my depression became worse I knew that the next transfer I was going to tell President C. I was going home. The Sunday before transfers I got a call from President C., who called me to be a trainer. I was heartbroken and felt completely trapped.

Being called as a trainer could not have been more of a Godsend. All my companions before my trainee had some form of anxiety or depression. My trainee was ready to work and so happy to be out in the field. I finally felt that this was God saying, “I have found someone who can handle this area and the people you so dearly love and have worked for these past few months.”

Two weeks into the transfer I broke mission rules and called my Dad. I needed to talk to a man who was by no means emotional and very calming in these situations. I was struggling with the idea of coming home early. I was so embarrassed and afraid of what people would think. I felt that if I came home early God would surely punish me and not bless me with a husband. (Irrational fears.) I called my dad and poured my heart out to him, his response was directly from my Father in Heaven. He said “Joan, I could never be disappointed in you, so no matter what you choose I will always love you…..” after a small pause he said, “and Joan, God will always love you too, and He will always be there to bless you.”

That day I called the President and I said, “You’re sending me home on the next flight.” I went home that next Wednesday. My exit interview with my mission president made me feel small and like I was breaking covenants and that God was not pleased with my efforts. Thankfully when I was released from my mission, my Stake President told me “Sister Johnson, when people ask you if you’ve served you tell them you served a full mission. Time does not matter, all that matters is you went and served.”

The next Sunday I got asked all the stupid questions, “Why are you home early?”…. “Wait a minute, you’re not supposed to be home, are you?” I felt the only way to respond was to be honest. So my response was always “Yes, I’m home, I have been diagnosed with stress-induced depression.” I even announced it over the pulpit, because even though it’s no one’s business, I felt people are too curious for their own good and this would maybe help them be a little more kind/cautious when asking questions to others who come home early.

Fast forward five years and who knew that coming home after only five months in the mission field I would meet my eternal companion in the sealing room of the wedding of my two high school friends. Only God knows what’s going to happen, and if I put all my trust in him, everything will work out. Even when the path flips, and curves in very uncomfortable ways the Gospel is always straight, God is always constant. We must always trust he knows better than us.

Feature Friday: Shantel

Shantel and I went to high school together and had some mutual friends. She commented on one of the stories I shared via Facebook and asked if she could share hers. I am so grateful she was brave enough to ask me and willing to share. I can relate to several things she went through and I know there are others who can as well. Keep reading for her story.

I used to think that people that were depressed were always sad, they kept to themselves, they were antisocial, they slept a lot, etc. I didn’t understand the disorder and didn’t consider myself to be a depressed person. I tried to be a happy person or so I thought. In my first year of teaching, I taught a girl who came to school regularly, was an excellent student, seemed like such a happy, bubbly, sweet girl. She was hardworking and got good grades. She was just a great girl. One of those students that all the other students like, and I loved teaching. One day we as faculty were informed that this girl had attempted suicide and would not be returning to school for a while because she was getting treatment. Many of us were shocked. I was especially. How could this girl, the girl that sat in my class day after day, the girl who was so happy, bubbly and sweet, struggle with depression so bad that she had attempted suicide and I had no idea that she was even sad, let alone depressed. I tried to justify that it was because I was on maternity leave for so long that I didn’t really know her that well. I just couldn’t believe that I had not noticed she had an issue. At this time, I didn’t connect that people with depression don’t have to be sad, sleep a lot and be antisocial but this happened around the time that I first began to realize I had an issue of my own.

In high school, I never had a super high self-esteem. I have never thought I was super pretty, or very good at much. However, I would have never considered myself to be depressed, but now that I really know what depression is and what it feels like I would say that I have struggled with depression for a lot of my life, beginning as early as junior high. I specifically remember feeling the way I do often now in my Junior year of high school. I had stress fractured my leg and was on crutches or in a boot most of the year. I was not exercising as much as I normally did. I couldn’t run with all my cross-country/track friends. Also, that year my two really good friends, that I spent pretty much every lunch and weekend with and worked with, started fighting and going their separate ways and I was stuck in the middle not sure what to do because I didn’t want either of them to think I liked one more than the other or that I was picking sides, so not only did I feel like I wasn’t part of my group of running buddies because my leg but I also felt like I lost my friends that I spent all my time with. Luckily, I had one really good friend that I hadn’t done anything with in a while that I started to spend time with, otherwise I would have felt like I had no one. When I talk about that year I always say it was the worst year of high school. However, nothing super bad really happened, any different than my sophomore or senior year, but now that I know what depression is, I now realize that I was depressed to the point that I thought the world would be better off without me.

That summer my parents told me they wanted to move to Logan, Utah. They said they would wait until my senior year was over if that was what I wanted to do. I immediately said I didn’t care as long as I went to a school with a good cross-country program. When I tell people that I chose to move my senior year they are shocked, but for me, all I could think about was getting a new start, with new friends. It actually turned out to be the best year of high school for me. I met friends there that I am still friends with today and were even my roommates in college. I stayed friends with a few friends from Davis high but for the most part, I didn’t feel like I missed much. After that, I don’t remember struggling very much. I remember being sad off and on throughout the rest of high school and throughout college but nothing major stands out.

It wasn’t until I was married and had a newborn baby that things got a lot worse. I was in the middle of my first-year teaching. Anyone that is a teacher knows that the first year is the worst. Almost everyone feels like they aren’t meant to be a teacher at the end of their first year so they always tell you if you make it through your first year you should make sure to try a second year before deciding if you were meant to be a teacher or not. My first year was not just hard because it was my first year but I also had a baby a month before my first anniversary, and 2 months into the school year and was on maternity leave for 6 weeks (not long enough) with a substitute that had no classroom discipline so when I returned trying to control my students was a nightmare. I came home every day saying how much I hated my job, how I didn’t want to go back the next day, even though I loved teaching and loved the students I worked with, I could only see how bad I was at it. I felt like I was a terrible teacher, that all my students hated me, and that I wasn’t really making a difference in any of their lives like I wanted to be.

At my 6 weeks after birth appointment with my OB, I filled out a paper with questions trying to diagnosis post-partum depression. Yeah, that questionnaire is terrible. It just helped me convince myself that I wasn’t depressed. This made me feel like I was just a terrible person because I acted poorly and wasn’t good at anything, rather than there being a reason for all these feelings of hatred and self-loathing.

When I returned to work after maternity leave, I was still trying to breastfeed Hadley and pump but I could never find the time to pump and so I got several batches of infection. I felt like I was only working because I had to or we wouldn’t have any money and we would be homeless not because I liked my job or was good at it. I wished every day that I could just stay home with Hadley and never go back. I just was counting down the years, the months, the days, until my husband was done with school so I didn’t have to do this anymore. Even though the school I worked at was the best school any teacher could ever work at, with the best students any teacher could ask for and the principal there is phenomenal. Seriously, the best administrator and boss. I decided to stop breastfeeding because I couldn’t keep missing work and it had become a chore rather than a time to bond with my child, I started to hate it and resent my child for it and I didn’t want to feel like that. However, lots of people made me feel like I was a terrible mom because I wasn’t giving my child the BEST food she could have. I already felt like I was inadequate to be a mom, a teacher, a wife, and this just added to it. Inside I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I wasn’t sad necessarily, more I was angry all the time. I was always yelling at my students because they wouldn’t listen and I couldn’t control them after the substitute had let them get away with everything. I was always fighting and upset with my husband, or crying to him because I had been mean to him and I hated myself for acting that way. The thing that was the worst is that I would become so angry at Hadley, an innocent child who knew nothing of being bad or misbehaving. She was just this innocent Child of God who Heavenly Father had entrusted me with and all I could do was get angry when I couldn’t figure out why she was crying.

My husband, Chris, would try to bring up how he was concerned that I could become so angry with a newborn child, he had struggled with depression and suggested maybe I was having issues with it. I told him he was wrong because I wasn’t sad all the time, I didn’t sleep all the time, I wasn’t losing my job, I was fine. One day, however, I just broke down and cried saying that I hated myself for how I treated him and our daughter and that I thought they were better off without me. He said he thought I needed to get help, so I went to a therapist because he thought I needed to not because I wanted to.

In April of 2013, 6 months after Hadley was born, I began to see a therapist. I saw her for about a month. I didn’t like her much. She had said a couple helpful things but not much. I felt like it was useless and so I just got her to say she thought I needed medicine so that I could go to my family doctor and get on medication. Medication helped but it didn’t solve anything and created some problems of its own. It helped me not be a mean wife and mom. It helped me be a better, happier teacher but I still hated myself and every time I wasn’t perfect I felt like my family was better off without me. That I should just leave so they didn’t have to deal with me and the terrible person I was. This ate away at my marriage and caused issues in many areas of my life, it just hid the true issue better.

The first medication I tried caused me to gain lots of weight. Which was awful because I already felt terrible about myself and thought I wasn’t pretty enough and this just made the feelings worse. I switched to a different medication and things were a lot better but it has taken me years to lose only some of the weight I gained. Then about 2 years ago, to help my negative self-image, even more, my face suddenly decided it wanted acne. I never struggled with acne as a teenager, but something happened that one day my acne was so bad and nothing I did helped. After a year and a half of trying different medications and treatments from dermatologist to every person on the planet thinking that they had to stop me to tell me they had some new acne treatment or face cream that would help, it was better but still not great. Over this time period my self-esteem, and self-image got worse and worse. I felt like I was so ugly and fat. How could my husband love me when I was so hideous? Then I finally gave in and went on Accutane (not advertising that people should use this), even though it is so hard on your body, and after 5 months, I can now look at myself in the mirror without being disgusted and thinking I’m hideous. The point is medication didn’t solve my problem. I needed something more if I was going to get better.

A year ago, Chris and I decided that I should get tested because I was having a hard time focusing and making sure I was taking care of my daughter’s needs. I would focus so much on a task that I didn’t hear Hadley calling for me, I would stare at the wall when Chris was trying to talk to me like no one was home. After multiple visits, I was diagnosed with ADHD. It was also brought up that I struggled with depression and anxiety. I had never really thought I struggled with anxiety but now I know different. At some point, I decided I should and I wanted to really see a therapist. I went on a search for the perfect therapist. This time seeing a therapist was different because I had the desire to get better and I knew I had a problem to solve. I have been seeing my therapist for the last year and I would suggest everyone could use a therapist. I love my therapist. He is the best, not that my first therapist wasn’t good, I just found one that worked for me and was able to communicate with me. That was one of the best decision I have made.

Working with my therapist I now know that I struggle with depression and anxiety as well as ADHD. I am on medication for all three and have tried going off them but my life is just better and I am a happier person with them. I may not need them one day but for now, if it makes it so I don’t feel the feelings I felt for so many years, I will take them forever. Between medication, and regularly seeing a therapist I have begun to manage these mental disorders so they don’t define me any longer. I have come far enough that I feel like I am actually improving my self-esteem. At this point, I feel like things are going really well but I often struggle with symptoms of these disorders that I will probably struggle with my whole life, but I have slowly learned how to not let them control my life.

Now I am doing something I love, I am currently teaching a class at and getting my Master’s degree from Utah State University in Mathematics and I hope to get my Ph.D. so I can one day be a professor. I love being a mom and I know that I can be the person God intended me to be.

I have learned that anyone can struggle with these things and you never know who. These disorders can affect so many different types of people. People you would never even think had issues like this. Depression is not just about being sad and anxiety is not just about having an overwhelming fear of something. When I am anxious I talk a lot. I get anxiety in many situations that I never realized. I feel like I will always be learning how to deal with these disorders but I finally feel like I am winning. That I am a good mom and wife and though I am not perfect, I have worth. Depression and anxiety are scary and many times you cannot beat it and learn to overcome it without help. Most of the time you cannot do it alone, we all need help. If you can’t ask someone, you always have a Heavenly Father waiting with concourses of angels ready to come to your aid.

Elder Holland said, “In the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have help from both sides of the veil. When disappointment and discouragement strike—and they will—we need to remember that if our eyes could be opened, we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see, riding at great speed to come to our protection. They will always be there, these armies of heaven, in defense of Abraham’s seed.

I have learned I can do hard things and do anything with his help. That whenever I feel unloved, inadequate, or unworthy, Christ has felt it all. If I turn to the scriptures or a priesthood holder for a blessing, I will feel His love, overwhelmingly. He will lift me and carry me through it if I turn to Him and follow Him. If you need help, please find someone that can help you, you do not have to make this journey alone. There are so many that struggle with this disorder or are familiar with it, that if you can simply reach out and ask for help, help will be there.

I am so grateful for Ally and the opportunity she has given me to share a small portion of my story, my story that is not over but now feels worth living, in hopes it helps someone figure out their story and find the help they need.

Feature Friday: Anna

Anna and I went to high school together so I saw her post on Facebook from her own blog. I am so grateful for all those people who are brave enough to share their stories on their own and then let me share them on my blog too. Keep reading for Anna’s story.

Life Happens in the Pauses.

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for hours, trying to decide how to start this entry of my very private and vulnerable feelings regarding a recent experience I’ve gone through. I’ve struggled for weeks on whether this information and this part of my life needs to be shared with people. It’s deeply personal to me and it’s an experience that is extremely important to me.

The last seven months have been hard, scratch that, they’ve been unbearable. It’s hard to put into words just how broken and devastated I’ve truly been. The months have been filled with huge life changes that have left me with some big questions and such a noise filled mind. Its left me with some extremely dark thoughts and sad perspectives. I know that in these last few months my faith was truly put to the test. More than it ever has been. It’s hard to think you believe in something so much but when it is truly tested, do you really? For those who know me, I don’t do well with change, especially big changes. I was put to the test through so many changes at once, that I shut down. I became disconnected from my life and from who I am.

It started with small and simple thoughts, does this matter? Do I care about this? Am I happy? Does any of it matter? I found myself taking steps backward for weeks. I changed my mindset from my happy, optimistic self to someone who didn’t really care about anything anymore. It’s like everything had lost its meaning to me. I think the worst part about that was that I knew I was hurting more than I could handle, but I didn’t care. I let myself sink further and further away from this person I thought I always was. It’s like looking in the mirror and not even know who is on the other side. I was a stranger to myself.

I really struggled to get a grasp on my life and what I was going through. It’s like I couldn’t accept that I was in the place that I was in. That was my first mistake. Days would go by and I would feel myself drifting further and further away. I started to think; Am I important? Do I really make a difference? Would anyone notice if I was gone? Am I helping people in my life enough for it to make a real and definite difference? I began to convince myself that people would be fine without me in their life. They would find someone else who fulfilled my spot and that I didn’t matter too much anymore. I honestly was so wrapped up in my own mind and my own thoughts that I believed the lies I told myself. Looking back, I think the part that hurts me the most was that I knew I needed to tell someone, but I was so scared of judgment from anyone and someone being insensitive that instead I quietly suffered. I began to truly understand what it felt like to have no control over my emotions and my thoughts. My heart was aching to be understood and not be told what to do, or how to fix it. I just needed to know that what I was feeling wasn’t anything than that, it was what I was feeling.

There was a particular day in April where I allowed my emotions and my fear drive my mind. I ended up in a place where I was struggling to understand what the point was of going on. I hadn’t shared any of my thoughts or any of my experiences with my family, my roommates or my friends. I felt so alone and was so scared. I knew that my thoughts and my heart were experiencing two different emotions. I knew that what I was feeling was not sent from Heavenly Father and that it was the adversary. In those last few months leading up to April, I knew but didn’t care. It was easier to not care and not to deal with my emotions. That was the smart move, I thought. The adversary sadly, works in so many ways, in ways that are so incredibly personal and fragile to who we are. If we are not careful to discern the difference between the Savior and the adversary, we become trapped. Trapped in a false reality and living within all of your vulnerabilities and insecurities.

I heavily relied on the Savior that day. I had many beautiful, inspiring and perfect moments with Him that day. I didn’t have a lightning bolt answer. I didn’t have a gust of light or see any personages. I simply felt love in a moment that I needed more than ever. I never realized the power in our desires and His ability to truly heal and strengthen us, as His children. I sat weeping and knew that my prayers and my heart had been heard.

Words won’t ever be able to describe the love that I felt in that moment from my Heavenly Father and His son, my best friend, Jesus Christ. My heart and my soul were saved. I understood my importance and my role to play in this life. Most importantly, I knew Heavenly Father loved me, without a doubt. It is something I will never ever question again. I have never been one to doubt the Gospel or its teachings. I have believed and served faithfully in my callings. I always try to be kind to others and exemplify Christ. It was so out of character for me to feel the way I was feeling.

It seems so silly, like how could I not know that, right? I’ve always been with people that I love and felt surrounded growing up. But for some reason, I didn’t feel that, not because of them, because of me. I had convinced myself that everyone would be okay without me. I am so happy that I was wrong and that my thoughts were not truly mine. It was an internal struggle. I had allowed myself to feel horrible instead of fighting back.

I will never be able to describe fully how thankful I am for this day. I am even thankful for the saddest days, where I questioned myself that much. I have gained more compassion, more empathy, more kindness and more love for those in my life than I ever thought possible. I’ll never truly know why I had to suffer for those months. Why I had to feel so alone and feel that I was not cared for or loved by those who love me more deeply than I can comprehend.

I will forever be grateful to you, Brooke. You’ll never know how much you did that day. You were everything. Thank the heavens we decided to become best friends so long ago in eighth grade. I think God knew how much I would need you then and now. What an incredible person you are in my life. I love you.

There are so many things that I did wrong through this process. The first and foremost was not reaching out to my family or my closest friends when I needed it. I kept to myself and chose not to tell anyone for fear that they would act differently, treat me like a child, or simply not even try to understand. Because they hadn’t felt that, that it couldn’t possibly be real. Or that I was feeling that way because I wanted attention. There were a million thoughts that would run through my mind, making me feel more and more closed off from ever telling anyone. I know there were moments I would try to work up the courage, and then silently return to my room. I was scared that everyone would be against me, rather than with me. Instead of trusting in the good, I believed the worst would come out of my loved ones. The power of empathy and understanding has truly helped me to believe that the people in our lives are everything and I’ll admit I took some for granted.

The second, I didn’t admit to myself that I needed help until I was already suffering. I shouldn’t have waited so long to know for myself that something was wrong and that I was off. I am thankful to have a patient and understanding counselor who guided me and helped me. By the simplest of ways of just listening and validating that it was okay for me to feel how I was feeling. She always trusted in me that I would be safe, even when I didn’t. I have since had conversations with her and she has said that she knew all along I would find this and be happy. That I had to feel my emotions and not repress them. Which if you know me, I am pretty good at being emotional, so I never thought I would do that.

I’ve never struggled with any kind of mental illnesses in my life. Not like this, I’ve always just found different ways to cope with my sadness, stress, and experiences. Writing has always been a therapeutic way for me to release my emotions. I have known a lot of people in my life who have struggled and I’ve tried my best to be there for them and their struggles but never quite understood it. I am in no way saying that my seven months of depression compare to someone who has struggled all their life, but it helps me to have a greater insight and more empathy and compassion to others. For me, this was my experience. I know that not everyone has an experience that is like mine or even close to mine. I want to emphasize that this was my experience and a new chapter of my life that I hadn’t discovered. I in no way want to downplay depression or make light of any of this experience. I know that everyone will cope differently and this is just how I was able to cope and become happier with my life.

Looking back, I realize the Lord was always there as He always has been. I was making changes and decisions that would be my foundation and my strength in the months following. At the moment, I needed it the most, my foundation upheld me and strengthened me. My foundation is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I began working as an ordinance worker in March. I started the Book of Mormon over in January and it’s like reading it for the first time. I began doing service for others in my life because I couldn’t sit in silence anymore. I started reading Preach My Gospel, so that if an opportunity ever came I would be ready to teach someone else. I have read over ten books on how to better myself. I was scared to be farther away from my Savior. I could feel myself drifting and clung to what I knew. I didn’t realize how much I already knew about the Gospel until it really mattered.

I can now say that without a doubt, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its teachings are what truly save me every day. Heavenly Father has sent so many tools and angels along the way. I see them so clearly now. I have over a million reasons to be happy. I can’t believe that I ever questioned it. I can’t believe that I allowed my heart and my soul to be swayed in thoughts from the adversary. Thoughts that would harm me. I can’t believe that I even went through this experience. It’s hard to put into words because I know it’s the farthest thing from who I truly am. But I am so grateful for it. Because it taught me the meaning of life, and most importantly my life.

I sit and think if I had chosen to be impulsive and not waited and listened for my answer, what I would have missed. It’s the first steps and first words of my nieces and nephew. It’s the long talks and long hugs with my mom and the unconditional everything that she provides. The sweet and kind temperament of my sister. The jokes and loving conversations with my brother in law. The patience that Abby teaches me as she goes through her life and Shania Twain dance parties. The real and hilarious moments with the girls and Nate. The advice and love from Alison and Eric. It’s the late-night conversations and laughs with Chantelle and her ability to be my best friend still through it all, the Face-Time conversations with Brooke and Sabra and my nieces from them. The four to five-hour phone conversations with Tan and the love that she radiates. The moments of watching Ashley’s family grow by number each year and her guidance throughout my life. Singing Celine Dion with Bay until our lungs hurt and all the heart to hearts we have. The late-night dance parties in my house with my beautiful roommates. The lessons and experiences that everyone in my ward has taught me. The friends that I made when my world fell apart. It’s my life and I can’t believe for one second that I thought it would be okay to miss it.

I reflect on this experience often since it has happened and feel incredibly sad for this girl. Even reading and writing this has been so painful. I have kept so much inside for too long. Knowing that my heart has changed immensely and I am so far from this girl I am writing about just gives me strength and courage to love myself. It’s okay for me to love myself, even when I was that girl. Like, I can accept all parts of who I am, even when I never suspected I would go through this. It’s not okay or healthy to feel the way that I felt and I knew that throughout my entire process.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my living room staring at a picture of the temple and wondering if I will ever reach my goals and if my life will truly mean something. Waiting for the perfect job, my list of hobbies to grow, my heart to love someone completely, etc. I’ve felt like my life has been on pause mode. As if I am sitting here pressing play but the disc is stuck. I thought that my life was going nowhere and that these past few months have been the worst of my life. That may be true but they have also been the best. I didn’t realize that my life happened in the pauses. My heart was rediscovered in the best way. I am a better person because of the pauses, who knew?

I have learned more in these past seven months about myself than I ever thought I could. I have sat at home a lot and pondered my meaning and the meaning of life. Where we fit, where we don’t. My mind has been given the ability to be clear and think concisely. I understand God’s plan for each and every one us. My testimony is more than a testimony. It is knowledge, undoubtedly that this Gospel is true. I’ve said it before but not like this. It’s like this time, I mean it wholeheartedly and I thought I did before. My heart and my spirit are routed within this Gospel. I love the Lord more than I ever thought I could. I love my Savior more than I thought humanly possible. I trust in Him and His teachings. I love the temple and know that we can be healed and strengthened by attending regularly. People are what make this Church good. I am thankful to have met the best and to have them in my life continually. Kindness and charity have played a huge role in my understanding of how Christ yearns for us to love one another. I know that my family will be together forever. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that it healed my heart and my soul. I have no doubt that I am here for a reason and that it is great.

In sharing this experience, I think this is the scariest thing I have ever done. I want the message from this post to be “There are a million reasons to be happy and live your life, trust in the Lord and His teachings and your plan.” That is the biggest lesson that I learned, one that I thought I had already learned. It’s interesting how we are constantly refined throughout our lives. Progression, it’s the most beautiful gift that we are given. I know that this post is very invasive of my life and my heart. I hope it is treated with kindness and understanding. I know that it may seem like I am not doing well from this post, but the truth is, I’ve found my happiness. I understand now that it truly was never one thing or one person. It was me all along. I always had the power to be whatever I wanted to be. I hope that someone out there who is struggling and feeling alone knows that they are so deeply loved by our Heavenly Father and His Son. I believe that we go through experiences to teach and help one another. I think that this experience taught me everything about my life that is important. I want someone else to feel that. I felt so strongly that it needed to be shared. Even if it’s just one person, it’s enough. I mean it when I say, the Gospel saved me on April 12. There is so much more to be had in my life, I know that. I love the Lord, I love my family and I love this Gospel, with every single fiber of my being. It is my foundation and my salvation. I have come to know the Savior and trust in Him. This is real, I know it. This is my full and most raw testimony. I know with all my heart, He lives and He heals. Amen.

Feature Friday: Kim B

Kim sent me a message on Instagram a few weeks ago saying that someone sent her the link to this blog and shared her story with me. I am so grateful she reached out to me (and that someone shared this with her!) and she was willing to let me share her story here.
For twenty years Kim grew up in the Air Force, but Arizona is and will always be her home. From October 2012-April 2014 she served a Spanish speaking LDS Mission in the Utah Salt Lake City West Mission. In July 2016 she graduated from BYU-Idaho with a BA in English and after graduating volunteered as an English teacher in Mexico. She loves traveling, reading, writing, colorful knee-high socks, and combat boots.

Sadness is the emotion I remember most from my childhood. I just remember being sad a lot for really no reason. That sadness and loneliness have remained with me throughout the vast majority of my life. It wasn’t until after doing some research in my early twenties that I realized I’ve battled depression since I was a little girl. For three years when I was a teenager, my depression took a turn for the worse and became pretty severe. Looking back, I’m really surprised that I survived that time without any counseling or medication. During those three years, I felt like I was living in the darkest, deepest pit with no sunlight and no way out.

Things got better around the age of sixteen and I was relatively happy. Flare-ups from my depression came only a few times a year. I began questioning if I really had depression when I was younger or if I’d been overreacting to the situations around me.

When I was set apart as a missionary at 21 I foolishly thought that nothing would be able to touch me and that I would be completely fine the entire time I was in the field. I thought being set apart as a missionary meant I’d get “superhuman powers” to deal with anything thrown my way.

How very wrong I was.

Missions are hard, stressful, and taxing on a person – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The day I left the MTC and entered the mission field, the sadness and loneliness crept back into my life with a strong force. But I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I didn’t want to appear weak.

It also didn’t help that when I tried to express or explain how I felt, some of my leaders told me I wasn’t working hard enough, or didn’t have enough faith, or wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy. I’m not sure why depression is sometimes viewed as a “punishment” for being a “bad person.” By no means was I a perfect missionary, but I tried my hardest. There were days I’d wake up and not want to get out of bed because I was so drained. But I forced myself to roll out of bed to pray, study, and plan. There were times when I just wanted to go back to the apartment and not face the world, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I knew that I was a missionary and I needed to do the Lord’s work. How is continuing on in the midst of mental anguish not an act of faith?

Hiding my depression and not acknowledging it was the worst thing I could have possibly done. I felt so alone and felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone without getting berated.

After 15 months in the field, I suffered a severe mental breakdown. Mission life took its toll on me. I’d trained four missionaries back-to-back and had been struggling in my area for five months. The work wasn’t progressing and my stomach was in constant knots from anxiety. The pressure kept mounting every day until I finally broke under the weight. I’d never had a breakdown before. I cried and sobbed for two and a half days. I felt like a zombie. Life wasn’t worth living anymore. That was the lowest point I’ve ever been at in my life. I didn’t just want to die – I wanted my very spirit to stop existing because I couldn’t face God knowing that I was a failure of a person.

My leaders didn’t really know how to handle my situation, so they brushed it under the rug. Part of me honestly can’t blame them because I don’t think a lot of them understood how to handle situations like mine. On the other hand, it was difficult trying to pick up the pieces all by myself. I became angry towards my leaders and even lashed out at my mission president. My last transfer in the field I was sent to a counselor in downtown Salt Lake, who helped me a lot with understanding how our individual worth is eternal. Our struggles and weaknesses can’t diminish our worth.

After coming home I was still very bitter and angry. Then my depression came back for a few months. At first, I was upset because I thought I had beaten this and come off conqueror! But I slowly realized that depression will always be a part of me and the cycles will come and go. Sometimes they’ll hit out of nowhere and other times I can notice the triggers. In the fall of 2015, I went to group therapy to learn how to communicate better with others. Those therapy sessions were the beginning of my determination to not stay silent on this topic. I learned the hard way what keeping everything it can do to a person. I don’t want to experience that ever again and I never want anyone else to feel that way.

Depression doesn’t define who I am. I may not be overjoyed that I have to fight this every day, but I’ve learned a great deal about myself. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that your well-being isn’t just a physical aspect. Mental and emotional health is just as important as physical health. They should never be put on the back-burner just because those problems aren’t readily visible. Admitting that you’re struggling with something doesn’t mean you’re weak. It’s a fact of life that will eventually get better and pass. Anyone who belittles you or your struggles isn’t worth your time. Surround yourself with people who will love, encourage, and comfort you.

The greatest lesson I’ve taken away from this is how important it is to be compassionate to those who do have mental illnesses. Nothing hurts more than not receiving help when you need it most. I never thought that having this kind of darkness in my life could teach me so much about the light and love of Christ.

“Be the love you never received.” – Rune Cazuli

Feature Friday: Hailey

I apologize for not posting a feature in a while. Life has been a little crazy lately and I haven’t really had stories to share. So if you know someone who is struggling who would be willing to share their story here then please let me know! I would greatly appreciate it and I know others would benefit as well.
Hailey is a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho studying Marriage and Family Advocacy and Policy. She loves God, her husband, and her cute little Instax camera. Her philosophy in life is donuts and even though it doesn’t make sense, it’s worked well for me! I actually met her when my friend asked me if I would be a second photographer at her wedding. So I took her pictures but I don’t really know her personally. The same friend asked if I could share her story and she said yes, so here it is!

COPING WITH MENTAL CHALLENGES

Life has a tendency to throw up on you. Everything is so good and then all of a sudden these icky trials are poured all over you and it’s impossible to make sense of it all. Has anyone else felt this way before? I sure have! Especially the past year. Let me tell you a little bit about it.

Ever since I got engaged, I have become very emotional. And not just the monthly womanly mood swings. I’ve experienced a constant battle to be happy and positive which has been so frightening because growing up I was always happy and positive. I used to have no problem facing the day. But starting about a year ago I would wake up and the only things that would cross my mind were all the things on my to-do list, all the things that might possibly irritate me that day, and how I am incapable of handling it all. UGH. Definitely not how I wanted to start my day. At first, I thought, “Oh, I’m just stressed with planning a wedding and a tough school load.” But then, school ended and it was still there. Then I thought, “Oh, it’s simply the birth control.” But a year has passed and it hasn’t simmered down.

This semester has been extra trying on both Sam and I. I am not myself when I come home and am not distracted by a busy day of classes and work. I’ve had many mental breakdowns and have dumped tears on hundreds of Sam’s shirts. I’ve felt stressed and overwhelmed; I have been easily irritated and confused; I have felt broken and weak. And I have not enjoyed it, not one bit. To make everything worse, Sam has really had a hard time too. Don’t get me wrong, he has done an excellent job at supporting me and he is one of the major things that has gotten me through the long months. But, of course, it has become taxing, especially when he doesn’t know why I am acting like this. Thankfully, we have great family members who are in the medical field and he was able to talk to them about what was going on. One of the suggestions offered was that I might have depression.

Depression.

A few days ago, on a particularly hard day, he told me what he had learned. Holy cow. I had no idea how to respond. I felt weak, confused, surprised, sad… but most of all I felt so relieved and hopeful. I kept thinking in my head, “I MIGHT NOT BE CRAZY!”

One of the hardest parts of the past year was my inability to explain all of this. Imagine you’ve hurt yourself pretty bad internally and someone finds you and asks you what’s wrong but you can’t speak. You can’t tell them why you are in pain. And it turns into a big guessing game. That would be so frustrating right?!? That is how I have felt when Sam tries to understand how I’m feeling. Usually, all I can say is “I don’t know.” I resent that answer but that’s all I can come up with because nothing makes sense.

But now things make sense! Huzzah!

Of course, I can’t know for sure if this is what it is. I’m going to see a counselor next week to get a professional opinion. But it gives me hope to know that all will be well.

Now, you might be wondering, “Hailey, why did you write this random post about your struggles?” Good question. In class, we talked about “coping”. Families face hundreds of trials and a few of them tend to be extreme. So what do we do when we face these trials? Some people say they just cope with it. But what does coping really mean?

To a lot, including myself, coping has a negative connotation to it. It means just pushing through whatever is happening and hoping for the best. But I learned in my class that coping is much more than just pushing through something. It includes our outlook of the situation and using the resources available to you.

For a year I simply tried to push through everything. But now I’m trying to use the resources I have, like family, priesthood blessings form my husband, scriptures, and the counseling center on campus, and oh, the difference that has made! It has brought my husband and me closer together because we are working as a team to cope with this trial. I also feel more in control. Rather than outside forces pushing against me, I have tools to help me push back.

In Chinese, “crisis” is the combination of the characters “danger” and “opportunity”. Coincidence? I think not! In this crisis Sam and I have faced, we have seen the danger of a struggling marriage, but we have also seen the opportunity for growth and increased love. The same goes for any crisis you and your loved ones might face. Instead of simply pushing through, try coping. Sit down and write down all the resources you have around you. You’ll be surprised by how many you have!

Then, after writing them down, take action.

If you can’t think of any resources, I know of one that every single person has. His name is God.

God loves you no matter if you are black, white, purple, polka-dot, or invisible. He loves you even if you have messed up. He doesn’t keep a “favorite children” list. We are all His favorite. If you are struggling, simply petition Him for help. Pray. If you don’t know much about God or prayer, I invite you to go to http://www.mormon.org  where you can learn more about God, prayer, and the Book of Mormon, three marvelous tools that will help you in the midst of happy times and sad times. Promise.

Alright, guys. Thanks for letting me talk about some personal things. I hope that someone out there might gain some personal revelation from what they read. We live in a big bad world filled with wonderful people who have probably gone through a lot of the things that we are currently going through. Let’s help one another, shall we?

Feature Friday: Brittany M

Brittany, Hermana Platt to me, and I served in the wonderful Texas McAllen Mission together. She mentioned a little bit of her trial when we were on exchanges one day but I had no idea the extent of what she went through. She recently wrote a blog post about her experiences and was willing to let me share. She is an amazing missionary, I really look up to her. She married her husband in 2014 and they are living in Nevada.

Living at an 8

Every time you go to the hospital or doctors when something is wrong they ask you on a scale of 1-10 please rate your pain. Most people on any given day say 2-3. For a good portion of my life the last 7 years I have lived at an 8.
Each of us goes through different things in our lives that cause us pain. Depending on what happens our pain scale increases or decreases and sometimes stays there. Each of our pain tolerances is different, each 8 is different for each person. I went through a traumatic experience about 7 years ago, and it is something that has caused my pain scale to be at an 8 for years.
I am a survivor of abuse.
I grew up in a family that loved and was simply the best you could hope for. I had parents that did everything to support each other and to show that they loved and cared for each other. They were always first in each other’s lives, followed closely by the seven lucky children they brought into this world. As a child in this family I learned how to have a healthy marriage; one that puts the other person first. One where parents do everything in their ability to help their children be safe and become the best person they could be. I learned how to handle tough situations and to calmly talk things through. I was taught to treat people the way you want to be treated, and that everyone is important and matters. I learned that each person is a child of God and that He loves each of us no matter what we do or who we are. I say this because I want you to know and understand that I grew up in an amazing environment and that in a way I was sheltered to the pain people could cause.
I didn’t understand what abuse was. But my junior year of college I ended up rooming with a girl that had a horrible background and the way she handled it was to take it out on her roommates. She was scary. I found myself at first telling people jokingly things like yeah my roommate is crazy…she threw glass vases at me the other day. Or she just won’t stop yelling. I think I was just hoping they would say something like hey B that’s not normal or you should do _____ to try and help. But most people laughed awkwardly because what do you say to someone who is abused and has no idea how to handle the situation? I was scared of somewhere that was suppose to be a safe place. A place where I could relax and feel comfortable, but that was taken from me.
After a while I finally got up the courage and I told my bishop, he is the one person I knew I could trust and that would have my best interest at heart.  After a visit from the bishop and his counselors, I was told that they talked to her and things should be better. You see one problem with abuse is the abuser is really good at hiding their abusive tendencies and is able to make people think everything is okay. So anytime the person receiving abuse is told it’s better because of this, the fact is that things will only get worse. I learned from this experience that by me asking them to come it only made things worse. That’s another problem with abusers, once you start telling people and they find out things get worse. And the next time someone came to help things got even worse. This is what they call the battered woman cycle, the person abused begins to fear for their life and tells someone only to find out that telling people only makes it worse. So when it comes down to things getting really bad they don’t call or tell anyone. When things were getting really bad I went to my landlord to see if I could move somewhere else. Just switch apartments or something and that’s when things became even worse. I was told by my landlord that I needed to call the police when things happened next and that I needed to start documenting things. But you see I could only imagine what would happen if I did that. What would be the retaliation if I actually brought the police in?
This is how it works, you reach out and things get worse and suddenly you have no fight left in you. You start believing all the horrible things you are told. You believe no one cares about you and that you are worthless. You believe you are crazy and just making things worse and that you deserve whatever is happening to you. This is a lie!! It is not true but in that situation, you become so helpless that you don’t know what to believe. I eventually became so afraid for my life that I had to move out and just pay two rents. I was lucky to be taken in by an amazing adoptive aunt who could tell that I needed a safe place. Even though I was out of physical danger I had no idea the lasting effects I would face. I sank into a deep dark hole after leaving. I hadn’t realized how much I had changed and that I wasn’t the same person I was before. I struggled with depression so deep and dark that I thought the only way out was to die. I felt abandoned by my friends, family, and the God I grew up trusting. I remember someone telling me that I just needed to pray more and read my scriptures and that only made me feel like I was the one who caused this. That by my actions I was creating this dark hole. When in fact it had been caused by someone else’s actions, and I was in a place that would take more than prayer to pull me out.
It was in this deep dark hole that I realized what a true friend was. I realized what it was like to have someone drive 10 minutes because I needed a hug and was so on the edge of a tipping point. I learned that when people struggle they don’t need someone to fix it, but instead someone to be there with you. I had a friend say hey B if you ever get to the point of jumping off a bridge call me and I’ll go jump with you. To know that someone cared enough and was willing to be there for the darkest moments of my life taught me that we have to make people important. PEOPLE ARE WHAT MATTER!!!! It was these people that helped me realize I was not alone and that I mattered. After being told that I was worthless and that no one could ever love me having someone do these things meant the world to me. To this day these people are considered saviors to me. They saved me from doing things that I knew wouldn’t solve any problems.
I knew I needed help, that I needed something more than just praying. I realized that in order to let prayer heal me I needed outside help from a therapist or Doctor. I needed to work through my problems before God could heal and help me overcome it. That’s the secret, we can’t just expect God to heal us when he has given us the tools to help us become whole again. That’s not how He works, He has given us people on the earth to help us overcome our troubles and that is nothing to be afraid or feel bad about. Life is meant to be enjoyed not just endured.
So seven years later, I still struggle with anxiety, and sometimes depression. It’s tough to explain what it’s like to struggle with anxiety every day. It’s tough to explain what it’s like, the only way to explain it is that it’s like living with stress every day. Some days it’s at a normal level and some days it’s like the whole world is depending on you. It’s crushing and it leads to panic attacks and scary dark holes. I am afraid of that dark hole and do my best to keep things at a reasonable level. My depression isn’t what it use to be because I don’t let myself go there. But I manage. I am a survivor. I am not a victim and yes I have triggers, but I am a survivor. Now when I get woken up by someone I don’t wake up with fears of dying. Do I still have triggers that set me back? Yes! I’m sure for a while I will still need to work through things. I manage and I probably need to see a therapist to help with managing, but I am no longer a victim.
It was a scary part of my life, one that for the past 7 years only certain people would learn small things about it. There are still only a handful of people that know exactly what things were like and how deep and dark things got. But I felt like I needed to get it out, to help someone (if even only myself) to be free and to know I’m in control and you can be too. For a while, I was embarrassed about what happened and that I could let something like that happen to me, but I realize it was not my choice and I AM STRONG! I saw being a victim of abuse as a weakness and something that made me less than who I was before this happened, but that is not true. It was tough and a part of my life that made me wonder if I would ever be whole again. I was afraid that when I told husband of my baggage that it would be too much for him to handle. I was afraid that I couldn’t be loved because of what happened to me. But I was wrong! Yes I have way more baggage than I thought I would, and yes my anxiety and panic attacks are tough and something my husband had to see before we got married so he could know what he was getting himself into. But we both knew that baggage and what has happened to a person isn’t the most important thing. It’s who they are and who they have become that really matters. And yes I may have been living at an 8 but because I am strong that 8 has now become my 2-3. I am stronger because of my struggles and because of this horrible experience and I wouldn’t change it now looking back.
So finally years later I am opening up. I felt like it was time to be open. After all hope and healing are not found in the dark abyss of secrecy, but in the light and love of Christ.  If you have gone through something like this and would like to talk or are in need of feeling like you are strong I am here. Know that you are strong. Know that you are not alone and that I am here. I survived and I am stronger than before. I am here if you would ever like to talk.