The Gospel is EVERYTHING

On Fast Sunday in April, I taught my last combined young women lesson in my current ward. I knew it would be the last one for months and so I had months to think about and prepare for this lesson. I decided I wanted to leave these beautiful young women with one thing, a knowledge that this Gospel is true happiness and that nothing else matters. If they learned and remembered one thing from Ally/Sister Hayward, I wanted it to be that. This lesson was probably more for me than for them, but isn’t that how it usually is?

I started off by asking the young women how they find joy amidst their trials/hardships. They gave some great answers: by serving others and helping relieve their burdens, by focusing on what God wants us to learn from what we’re going through, by finding something that can be a temporary distraction. I then invited them to think of a time when they found joy despite going through something difficult and that I wanted them to share later on.

The previous month (March) on Fast Sunday I bore my testimony about how I have been in a sort of wrestle with Heavenly Father lately. I feel that everything used to come so easy to me and it has been a little harder lately, but I also feel like He is trying to teach me that this Gospel is worth fighting for. An Area of Seventy, Elder Kopischke – who is also in our ward but is rarely there due to his calling, was there and later on that evening he sent me an E-mail. Screenshot_20190303-185246_Gmail

That email was an answer to my prayers. I knew after receiving it and reading his talk that Heavenly Father was aware of me and my needs. I am so grateful Elder Kopischke listened to that prompting to share this with me. God is good.

I have read this talk at least 5 times now (this isn’t the full address, but was the best I could find. I’d be happy to email the whole thing if you would like it. Just use the contact tab to let me know and I’ll send it). To summarize it a little he gives three suggestions to “help you – even during the most difficult phases of life – to stay cheerful, trusting that Heavenly Father knows and loves you and that He will guide you.” Those three suggestions are: 1) hold on to divine law and absolute truth, 2) live after the manner of happiness, and 3) stand ye in holy places.

In reference to his first suggestion, he talks about how laws can be proven. I asked the young women what kind of things they struggle with and then challenged them to think of a divine law that would counteract it. They mentioned things like struggling with self-worth and anxiety. We came up with the divine law of being created in God’s image and that we are his daughters to counteract negative self-worth, and the divine law of faith to counteract anxiety. I challenge you to think of a divine law that will counteract any of your struggles too! It is quite amazing how we have the ability to prove that God and His laws are right.

In reference to his second suggestion, he mentions Lehi’s Dream/Vision of The Tree of Life. And then one of my favorite talks from General Conference was by Sister Becky Craven, and she also talked about The Tree of Life. Even before I read and heard either of these talks, though, I had been thinking about this account in the scriptures. So a few weeks before my lesson I asked three of my YW to read Lehi’s Dream and share how it applies to them in their lives today or something that stood out to them as they read it. They each did a great job and I love hearing their input. The young women are truly prepared and wise beyond their years.

“The vision of the tree of life shows us how the effects of casualness can lead us away from the covenant path. Consider that the rod of iron and the strait and narrow path, or the covenant path, led directly to the tree of life, where all the blessings provided by our Savior and His Atonement are available to the faithful. Also seen in the vision was a river of water representing the filthiness of the world. The scriptures describe that this river ‘ran along’ the path yet passed only ‘near’ the tree, not to it. The world is laden with distractions that can deceive even the elect, causing them to be casual in living their covenants—thus leading them near the tree, but not to it. If we are not careful in living our covenants with exactness, our casual efforts may eventually lead us into forbidden paths or to join with those who have already entered the great and spacious building. If not careful, we may even drown in the depths of a filthy river.” – Sister Craven

I told my sweet young women that I have felt that lately, my knees have been dragging as I’ve been holding on to the rod. I’m not just casually walking along while letting it glide through my fingers as I go, I am on my knees clinging to it struggling to put one knee in front of the other while going uphill on stony ground. BUT I’m still holding on. I refuse to let go no matter how hard it may get because I know what is waiting for me at the end – eternal life, never-ending happiness, joy beyond anything I can possibly imagine. And nothing or no one is worth losing that over.

I then asked the young women to share a time they had found joy despite something difficult like I had asked them to earlier. We had discussed focusing on blessings, trusting in God, having faith and hope.

This past conference I also loved Brook P. Hales’ talk and Kyle S. McKay’s talk.

I concluded my lesson by reading a little bit out of Sheri Dew’s book, Worth the Wrestle. She talked about how she met with Randall Wallace, a writer, and producer of movies (some of which being Pearl Harbor, We Were Soldiers, Secretariat, and Heaven Is For Real), and asked him why so many were about war. He said, “I write love stories. I want to know what a man or woman loves enough to fight for.” She then writes, “Perhaps that sentiment is the very essence of being willing to engage in the wrestle: to demonstrate to ourselves and to the Lord that we care about Him and His gospel enough to fight, to wrestle, to grow in knowledge and in faith. There are many things that are worth the wrestle.” How profound, right?! So I asked my young women, “What are you willing to fight for?” I hope and pray that this Gospel is it, and to remember the reward that awaits them if they do fight.

Why Silently Surviving Souls?

Silently Surviving Souls is 2 years old! I thought it was finally time I explained a little more about what it really is and why I chose the name.


When I was trying to come up with a name for this Blog and Instagram account I kept thinking about how there are people out there who are fighting those daily battles that we know nothing about, the ones that can’t be seen, the ones that are hidden in the heart. The first idea that I had that really resonated with me was Silently Suffering Souls. But when I ran it past a friend she mentioned that it sounded sad and that surviving sounded more positive. I liked that because I definitely wanted it to be something positive. And so Silently Surviving Souls was born.

Every time I hear someone say that they are suffering in silence I just think, “Bam, yes. There it is.” I really prayed and pondered about the name for this whole endeavor and didn’t decide to do it willy-nilly. I really want people to know they aren’t alone in the things they experience in this life.

Even though we each have different, unique, and specific challenges that are given to us there are things we can learn from one another. I haven’t been divorced or had to bury a child but I can resonate with some of the feelings that these souls have experienced. I have learned from their struggles and been blessed by their faith and example. And while each trial is catered to our needs, there are things that we can all relate to. Each trial of infertility or being single is different but similar thoughts and feelings are experienced across the board.

Because of blogging, I learned that I enjoy writing. I like to share my thoughts and experiences in hopes of blessing others. But this blog would not be as successful without all of the wonderful souls who have written their experience or story for it. I am so grateful for their bravery, kindness, example, and love. I have learned so much from them and from sharing some of their deepest feelings and hardest moments in life. And I have seen firsthand how their stories and experiences have blessed and helped others as well.

Am I the only one who gets the vibe that if you’re not happy all the time then you’re doing something wrong? You literally cannot always choose to be happy. I want others to know that it’s ok to struggle and have a hard time. Our trials can be downright hard and instead of acting like we have it all together or that our lives are perfect we should take them for what they are and FEEL WHAT THEY MAKE US FEEL while also learning from them and trying to do and be better because of what they put us through.

And when someone else is the one struggling, don’t overlook those struggles. Don’t rate them on a scale and think they are more or less than yours. What’s hard for me may be a total walk in the park for someone else, but hard is hard no matter what and don’t let anyone downplay that. Just be there. Just listen. Just show up. Let them experience their struggle instead of telling them, “It’ll all work out,” or, “Everything happens for a reason.” And the same goes for you, too, experience your struggle. I don’t think anything good ever comes from trying to suppress your feelings.

I have truly come to know that we have no idea what people are going through and therefore it is of utmost importance to treat everyone accordingly. I have also come to know that once you know someone’s story, it is a lot easier to love them. Maybe that’s why Heavenly Father has an “easier” time loving all of us? He sees the whole picture, He knows our whole story.

“Ye are the SALT of the earth…”

I cannot stop thinking about the SALT LDS Retreat I went to on Saturday, September 8, and I wanted to share some of my golden nuggets from the event.

It was held at the Marriot City Center in Salt Lake City, UT and was an all day long event. We started and ended as one big group, but had breakout sessions and roundtable discussions in between.


The first speaker was Elise Curtis, the founder of SALT. She talked about “Blessed is she that believed,” and it resonated with me because of the quarter-life crisis I feel like I’m going through currently. Are you recognized as a believer? She challenged us to think about why we believe throughout the day. Alma 32: 26 & 27 – let your desire work within you and then act!

The second speaker was Tamara Chamberlain, and spoke to us about The Atonement. I loved her right away because she told us about her love for Oreos, and I am a little obsessed with them myself. But the reason she told us about Oreos was because of this commercial she saw (GO WATCH IT! Wouldn’t it truly be wonderful if an Oreo could do all those things and more?) and how it made her think about the word wonder. Do we stand in awe and wonder of the Gospel? Wonder: a cause of astonishment or admiration. Let’s pass the wonder on, like in the commercial! Tamara then told us about 4 wonders of the Atonement: 1) complete forgiveness, 2) power of healing – repentance is God’s plan, knowing that we will fail, 3) change of heart, and 4) reality of our divine nature. What fills our time often reflects who we are. What is the daily state of my heart? “Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me enough to die for me. Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me.”

We then had 3 different breakout sessions, with lunch in between, and had the option to choose between 2 different sessions. At the beginning of each breakout session, a Sister shared her testimony, and they were all beautiful and so touching.

The first breakout session I went to was with Lydia Defranchi-Nelson called, “But Mary Kept These Things, and Pondered Them in Her Heart: Letting Revelation Percolate in Our Lives in a Culture of Instant News.” It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but still very good. Lydia talked about how we are constantly bombarded by information these days and how we CHOOSE what we allow into our minds. Does the information you’re receiving serve a purpose? Maximize your time and space with The Spirit. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Wait (in discomfort) on the Lord – His timing is different than yours.

The next breakout session was, “Finding Joy in Motherhood,” with Cheri Magill and Melisa Osmond. Cheri spoke first and asked, “What makes you a good Mom?” At the end of the day, it’s the fact that we keep trying. Your child’s behavior is not a reflection of your ability to Mother. Recognize what is in and out of your control. Every day is a fresh start. The obstacle is the way. Motherhood is REFINING. How has God helped you through your wilderness (and how are you documenting it)? Stop trying to prove something! Create a “Mom Mission Statement.” You’re not missing out on today because you’re holding tomorrow in your arms (loved that one!). She played some beautiful songs for us that she had written about Motherhood, and then Melisa took her turn. She told us that hard times build our character and to EMBRACE the Mom you are! VALUE Motherhood. She talked about a hard experience her family went through, but how at the end of it there was joy. There will always be joy.

And the last breakout session I went to was, “You Create Your Life,” with Brooke Snow. I had a slightly hard time in this session because of my dealings with anxiety and depression and how that can sometimes inhibit your ability to choose how your life goes, but it was still good and gave me things to think about. I have the power to CREATE! Things we see, say, and feel turn into actions which equal results.

The roundtable discussions were next, and we got to pick 3 to go to. I went to “Mindfulness for Moms: Simple Practices For a More Peaceful, Present, and Purposeful Life” first with Kim Christensen. She told us about an experience she had that turned her to mindfulness, which means remember, awareness, connection. She shared 4 things that help her be mindful: 1) seek meditative moments (intentional if possible), 2) rewire your thoughts – observe the thought, where it came from and why it’s there, and guide it (affirmations), 3) don’t let your phone rule your life (experience first, post later), and 4) let go of perfect in favor of being you. The second one I chose was “Regaining Peace Each Day, Each Hour, Through Learning What It Means to Become New in Christ” with Briana Johnson. She talked about how we can walk with Christ to have peace. How would having more peace change you? When all other relationships fall away the one with Christ remains. In life, you’re not always going to be happy but you can have peace. Live undaunted! Be riveted! And the last, but certainly not least, discussion I went to was “Everyday MOMents: Discovering Christ in the Details and Filling Our Holes with Him,” with Jessica Poe. She shared a few scriptures and quotes with us about discovering and having new eyes. We discussed the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-6) and how he made an effort to see Christ and was rewarded for it. Find Him. Feel Him. Share Him. She shared an amazing story about how she develope a hole in her dura and what it took to heal it. You can’t always heal yourself. Healing takes order. Christ’s blood is what heals our holes – The Sacrament.

We all came back together after the roundtable discussions and talked about what to do next. Brooke Watson led the discussion and said, “Christ takes what we have and makes it enough.” Bam! Needed that too. She gave us a call to repentance of sorts, to do better and be better. Repentance is a fresh view of oneself.

Our final speaker was Kim White and she spoke to us about how God is in the details. She has been battling cancer for 4 years and is literally a walking miracle. She told us about various things that have happened to her throughout her cancer journey and they are by no means coincidences. God can handle anything you need to say to Him. Don’t take life for granted. What an amazing woman she is and I am so grateful she was able to share her strength, wisdom, and testimony.

What an amazing event it was! I needed it more than I thought I did. I met new friends, IG friends in person, and spent time with old ones. This day hit the refresh button for me, and I hope that even though you may not have been there yourself that something I shared with you touched your heart and mind.


Motherhood With A Mental Illness

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

Photo by Jennie Grange Photography.

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)

Photo by DeannaPaige Photography.

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)

Photo by Elise Airmet Photo.

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

Hayward, Allyson 2016-05-05-25
Photo by Fotofly.

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)

Photo by Brittany Stewart Photography.

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

Photo by Moments by Ally Photography.

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

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

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)


A Letter For the Struggling Missionary

Dear Elder/Sister,

First, I am incredibly sorry that this is your burden to bear, especially whilst serving a mission. I just want you to know that it is OKAY to have hard days and to take time to take care of yourself. My mom always told me that I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone else and it’s so true, probably especially true for missionaries. If you aren’t your best then you can’t do much good for others. So talk about what you need with your companion and/or leaders and hopefully, you can make something work that will help you and not cause guilt. Heavenly Father and our Savior understand what you are going through, and They love you for your service and doing what you are ABLE. Don’t force yourself to do more because it could only make matters worse.

“‘But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.’”
Isa. 40:31

Second, it is OKAY to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak or a bad missionary, something that I wish someone had told me. Remember, even our Savior Himself asked for His burden to be removed. Looking back now I am actually grateful that my illness manifest itself while I was on my mission because it forced me to get the helped I needed. If I wasn’t constantly with someone, my companion, then I could have more easily slipped farther into that dreary pit and may never have gotten out. You have someone who is there for you 24/7 and who wants the best for you. Let them help you. And tell your mission president what you’re experiencing, let him help you too. Another regret I have is not filling my mission president in on everything that I felt and thought. I could’ve gotten help faster and possibly served for longer.

“For those of you who earnestly seek to bear another’s burdens, it is important that you refortify yourself and build yourself back up when others expect so much of you and indeed take so much out of you. No one is so strong that he or she does not ever feel fatigued or frustrated or recognize the need to care for themselves.
Jesus certainly experienced that fatigue, felt the drain on His strength. He gave and gave, but there was a cost attached to that, and He felt the effects of so many relying on Him. When the woman with an issue of blood touched Him in the crowd, He healed her, but He also noted that “virtue had gone out of him.”
I have always been amazed that He could sleep through a storm on the Sea of Galilee so serious and severe that His experienced fishermen disciples thought the ship was going down. How tired is that? How many sermons can you give and blessings can you administer without being absolutely exhausted? The caregivers have to have care too. You have to have something in the tank before you can give it to others.”
– Jeffrey R. Holland

Third, you are not alone. Please always remember that and that you are SO loved. It’s hard to feel love when you’re going through what you are but the people in your mission love you, your family loves you, your Savior loves you, and your Heavenly Father loves you. YOU CAN DO THIS!

In an effort to help me rest from missionary work and relieve some of my anxiety and depression, my Mission President sent me on a 3-day exchange with a Sister who had surgery. She was required to rest and heal from her surgery and so I got to rest with her. We didn’t leave the apartment for the entire 3 days. I spent quite a bit of my time watching The Living Scriptures and my temporary companion showed me this video: Missionary Work and The Atonement. I have no idea how she had it but looking back I feel like it was divine intervention that I saw this.

“I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation was never easy. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, He is Our Great Eternal Head. Why would we believe, why would we think, that it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? In turn, how could we possibly bear any moving, lasting testimony of the Atonement if we have never known or felt anything of such an experience? As missionaries we are proud to say we are disciples of Christ – and we are. But mark my word. That means you must be prepared to walk something of the path He walked, to feel something of the pain He felt, to at least occasionally some time during your mission shed one of the tears of sorrow that He shed…
I don’t believe missionary work has ever been easy nor that conversion is, nor that retention is, nor that continued faithfulness in the Church is. I believe it is supposed to require something of our soul. If Jesus could plead in the night, falling on His face, bleeding from every pore and crying, “Abba, Father, [Papa], … [remove] this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). Well little wonder that salvation is not a whimsical or “easy” thing for a missionary. This is the Living Son of the Living God saying, “Isn’t there some other way?” So, presidents, if your missionaries wonder why this isn’t easy, they should remember they are not the first ones to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot better asked it a long time ago. He asked if there were not a less excruciating way – and for Him, there wasn’t. So, perhaps, for us in token and symbolism, there won’t be an entirely easy way either.”
– Jeffrey R. Holland

You are standing shoulder to shoulder with The Perfect Missionary when you experience the rejection, the struggle, and the pains of a mission. I know it’s hard to be grateful for those times but you are being blessed with the ability to see a little bit of what Christ went through for you, for us. You are His representative, so shouldn’t you know in the slightest what it feels like to be Him?

A mission is supposed to be hard.

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
– Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own

This is not the end. Another sun will rise and another day will have come and gone. You are stronger than you know and you have help from both sides of the veil. You have been called to this work for a purpose and it can be a challenge to find out what that purpose is, and sometimes it takes more time than we want to find out, but don’t lose sight of that. Remember why you decided to serve, remember how you felt receiving your call, remember that time that investigator finally understood or that family that needed the message you felt inspired to share. Again, you can do this!

But if you really can’t… He understands. And He still loves you. He knows your heart and how you feel and what you’re going through. He accepts what you have done and how hard you tried. You are still precious and valuable to Him.

“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly.”
– Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Remember your mission call said, “it is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 18/24 months.” ANTICIPATED. I’m positive that word was specifically chosen for circumstances like yours and mine.

Stay close to this Gospel, for it will see you through the hard times ahead. Keep the faith and return with honor.

Xoxo, Ally

Losing Yourself to Find Yourself

I heard this song on FM 100 on a Sunday while driving to or from something and it inspired me to write this blog post.

I had been looking, it’s true
I just didn’t know I was looking for You
You introduced me to me,
By showing me glimpses of who I could be
Yes, I found You then I found me

Let’s stay together, always
You bring out the best in me
I know I’ll never be lost again,
Now that I found You

I found You
I found You then I found me
– I Found Me by Hilary Weeks

In the MTC I decided to pick a scripture to be a constant theme and reminder throughout my whole mission. The one I chose was Matthew 10:39:

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Looking back now I kind of find this to be ironic because I feel like I definitely lost my life, but not in the way the scripture suggests and not in the way I planned to.

Photo by Moments by Ally Photography

People tend to throw out the “Sunday school answers” when you’re going through a trial/difficult time in life. Are you praying? Are you reading your scriptures? Are you going to church? Are you serving others and forgetting about yourself? Are you exercising your faith? Are you really trying? I was a missionary. I prayed more times a day than I can count. I read my scriptures every morning for hours and then shared them with others throughout the day. I went to at least 6 hours of church every week, sometimes more. I left my family, friends, schooling, job, home, comfort zone, ways to communicate (besides E-mail once a week and letters), etc. so that I could share a message with God’s children – I think that counts as service and forgetting myself? I had enough faith to leave everything I just mentioned to go live with people I’d never met, in a place I’d never been. I felt like I was trying: I’d get up and go to bed on time, I’d knock on door after door trying to find someone who’d listen, I dedicated time and energy to learning a new language, I quickly learned how to do everything (including ride a bike) in a skirt. And yet… I suffered.

Yes, I was being the best version of myself and living the best life when the worst trial I’ve ever gone through hit me. I know I’m not the only one who’s had that happen. And I’ve been guilty of asking why, why when I was a representative of Jesus Christ did this happen to me? I’ll let Elder Holland answer that one, cause he’s only an Apostle…

“Every one of us, in one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail – spiritually speaking. We will face things we do not want to face for reasons that may not have been our fault. Indeed, we may face difficult circumstances for reasons that were absolutely right and proper, reasons that came because we were trying to keep the commandments of the Lord. But when we promise to follow the Savior, to walk in His footsteps and be His disciples, we are promising to go where that divine path leads us. And the path of salvation has always led one way or another through Gethsemane.”
– Jeffrey R. Holland

And there it is. I needed to go through Gethsemane. I needed to spend time in Liberty Jail. Why? Because I needed to lose myself to find myself. As good as I like to think the old Ally was, the Hermana Harris who was serving in McAllen, Texas, she wasn’t good enough. She needed more understanding, more humility, more submission, more patience, more love, more faith.

Again, looking back I am grateful this experience happened while I was a missionary. I was forced to get the help I didn’t know I needed. Heavenly Father placed me with companions and a mission president who would care for me and make sure I got better. I know it would have taken a lot longer to diagnose my illness if I had been anywhere else, which also means it would have taken longer to get better and start healing. I was actually one of the lucky ones. And trust me, I never thought that was something I would say.

Life can be funny. I think Heavenly Father and I are going to have a good laugh about my choice in mission scripture one day. And that is one day I really look forward to.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Ally

I have recently talked to some people who are very near and dear to me about righteous desires not always being granted, being put on hold, or not going as planned; be it infertility, divorce, coming home early from a mission, being single, and those who live with/are married to someone who suffers from a mental illness. So I decided that I would expand this blog a little bit to include those things and share from those who have gone through such moments in their lives.

“In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.”
– Hymn 220

I apologize if you are sick of hearing from me about my experience, but I wanted to go first and share my two cents on the topic. Because even though we all have gone through different experiences, we can relate to one another by not getting what we want(ed).

Photo by Moments by Ally Photography
The Texas McAllen Mission was bilingual so I got to teach in both English and Spanish.

I had a desire to serve a mission since I was in primary. I used my Mom’s mission scriptures and I thought it was the coolest thing ever to see her notes and know that she had the set I was now using as a missionary. I decided way back then that it was something I wanted to do. Before I received my Patriarchal Blessing I was told that if there was something that I desired to know or hear during this blessing that I could ask for it, remembering to keep in mind the will of God. Immediately serving a mission came to mind. I prayed that Heavenly Father would let me know about this desire in my blessing, and He did. I was told that I would serve a mission… “when the time is right.” I was 17 at the time and so I was a little confused about what that could mean. Did it mean that I’d have to wait ’til I was older and go with my husband? Or did it mean something that I couldn’t comprehend yet? Well FINALLY, about 6 months before I turned 21 I started working on my papers and submitted them 4 months before my birthday.

I received my mission call on July 6, 2011, and was called to serve in the Texas McAllen Mission preaching in the Spanish language. I reported to the MTC on November 16. I can now see that I started developing some early signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression in the MTC but they didn’t fully rear their ugly heads until my second and third transfers.

(I’m going to skip over the details of what happened after I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression since I’ve already written about them, and focus more on how I was feeling as I went through the remainder of my mission and coming home.)

After I was diagnosed I was not a very good missionary. I couldn’t sleep very well at night anymore so when 6:30 AM rolled around I wouldn’t always get out of bed. I would have to stay in the apartment sometimes for part of the day or the whole day because I felt so sick and so exhausted and I had no motivation or care to do anything. Little things like this made me feel even worse. What was I doing here? I had this righteous desire for more than half my life and here I was struggling with it, failing at it, having moments of not even caring about it.

That’s when I started thinking about going home. Cause honestly, what was the point anymore?! So eventually it was decided that’s what was going to be best for me. Home. I felt a relief at first but that didn’t last very long. Because once I was back home I was constantly reminded of my failure – from other return missionaries, from people asking about why I came home, from this new illness I was still trying to understand and resolve.

I became bitter and resentful. Why was this happening to me? Why did Heavenly Father instill in me such a strong aspiration, this life goal, to serve a mission and then take it away? I know that’s not really what happened, but that’s how it felt. And it hurt. It hurt badly. I stopped reading my scriptures, and the only “prayers” I said were angry ones. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to be around people. I hated life. I hated my body and all the crap it was going through. I was in a horrible place and I had no idea how I was going to get out. But somehow I did.

It took a lot of time (we’re talking years) and prayer and reflection and learning and therapy and love to turn my wound into a scar. Looking back at your trials is usually easier than going through them because in the midst of them it’s the worst thing ever and it’s hard to always remember that eternal perspective. I can now understand a little bit of the why and I never would have created this blog if it wasn’t for the burden of mental illness, and this blog has been a huge blessing to me so I’m grateful for what has come from what I went through. I am grateful for the new perspective I have gained and a better understanding of mental illnesses. I am grateful for those who have shared and will share their stories, you have changed my life and the lives of others.

Heavenly Father loves me, even though His plan for my mission wasn’t different than my own. He loves His children, even when He doesn’t grant the desires of their hearts. One day all the questions will be answered and everything that was unfair about this life will be made right. Until then, I try to have faith and remember that He, my Savior and Redeemer, knows exactly how I feel. And that is all that matters in the end.

Love, Ally


P.S. I am really excited to be able to relate to more people who need it and hopefully bless more lives. In the past week, I met some amazing people who are willing to share so please feel free to follow my blog and keep an eye out for those future experiences!

Why Mental Illnesses Are Tough On Everyone

I had an eye-opening conversation with my sister-in-law, who I look up to in so many ways, and I wanted to share some of the things we discussed. I learned new things about mental illness, even though I’ve had it for almost 6 years now, and I hope the things I learned will benefit others. That is always my goal!

The overall kind of “topic” that I took away from our conversation was that mental illnesses are tough for everybody; whether you are the person diagnosed with the illness, the person living with someone who has the illness, or even the person who knows someone who struggles with the illness, it is tough for anyone who may be involved.

The person diagnosed with the illness. Personally, I think this is the toughest to deal with. I know I am biased, but it’s one thing to see someone going through something hard vs. experiencing it for yourself. Just like with any illness or disease. There are so many new experiences a person goes through when first experiencing this illness, and continues to go through during the duration of their time suffering. And that time suffering may end after getting medical attention or seeing a counselor, but it also may be something they deal with for their entire life. Either way, it is tough. Each new phase of life can bring with it a new type of disorder (bipolar, depression, anxiety, postpartum, obsession/compulsion, etc.). I feel like I will get a handle on my illness and then life will present itself with something I haven’t experienced before, such as: an intense college program, a pregnancy, a baby, a new job, etc. And those are just things I’ve experienced myself. It could be other things like a mortgage, an unfaithful spouse, infertility or a miscarriage, a mission, being denied a job or grad application. There are any number of things that can trigger a mental illness, and each time can be different. I feel like I have figured out, for the most part, how to help myself and what I can do to feel better or move on when I’m having a hard time, but it’s something I have to keep adapting to. It changes. I have often said that having this illness hasn’t gotten any easier, I’ve just learned how to deal with it. It’s tough, but it evolves into a different kind of tough.

Looking back on my life I can see little bits of anxiety, but I didn’t know that’s what it was until I was diagnosed and decided to learn more about mental illness. I think that’s where mental illness gets the short end of the stick, we aren’t really taught much about it. Growing up I was taught that I shouldn’t smoke so that I won’t develop lung cancer, to put sunscreen on to hopefully prevent skin cancer, to eat well and exercise to prevent cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes, to use a condom or abstain from sex to prevent STDs or an unwanted pregnancy. Of course sometimes the things we do to prevent illness isn’t enough (a flu vaccine and still getting the flu), I realize that. Sometimes we can only do so much, and that can be when getting sick is the most frustrating, when we have done all we were supposed and yet here we are… in a Doctor’s office talking about treatment options. My point is, I feel like I learned a fair amount about disease but it wasn’t until college, and I had to seek it out, that I learned about mental illnesses. And maybe the things they teach in primary education have changed, I honestly hope it has, because I think this could be crucial in helping people who suffer. Oftentimes it’s about education. If you have the chance to learn more about mental illness please don’t hesitate. It seems that there are more and more resources becoming available. (This blog is supposed to be one of those resources, so please let me know if there is anything I can talk about or help with.) And if you are the one who suffers you are kind of forced to learn more (at least that was my experience), but if you aren’t please choose to learn more so you can help those who do. Which leads me into the next person who this is tough on.

But before I talk about that person I do want to ask the person diagnosed with the illness to be willing to accept help from others. I know how tough that can be, trust me, but when we deny others the chance to help and serve we deny them blessings. I had a dear friend in my old ward text me one day and ask what she could do for me or if I needed anything. I usually say no and that I’m doing alright in those situations, but this time I had the feeling I needed to let go of my pride and just let her do something for me. She asked me what my favorite treats/drinks were and she brought me some Gatorade and SoBe. It was something very simple, but she was persistent, and it made me feel better. She blessed my life and I know Heavenly Father blessed her for helping out one of His children.

The person living with someone who has the illness. Anyone who has lived with me since 2012 has had a hard time in one way or another, and that is not my fault (although it has taken me some time to realize that). I want to make that very clear. IT’S NO ONE’S FAULT. It’s life. And life happens. It’s a disability, and anyone who has lived with or served someone with a disability knows that it’s no one’s fault but that it’s just part of their life and your life and it is what it is. Sometimes this person chooses to live with someone who has the illness and other times they don’t have that choice. People in my life have experienced both. I had companions on my mission who didn’t have a choice but to live with me and I have a wonderful husband who knew that I had this illness (but maybe he didn’t really know what he was getting himself into ha, sorry honey). And then there’s also my parents, who kind of had to take care of me but chose to as well, a little bit of both.

When I look back on my mission I often feel bad for most of my companions (I say most because I wasn’t diagnosed until 5 months into my mission when I really started struggling, so the first few companions got the more sane version of me). I was going through my own personal Hell and I feel like I dragged them through the coals with me. I know that I wasn’t easy to live with, serve with, talk with, or be with a majority of the time. Even though I knew that I still couldn’t help what I was experiencing. Sometimes I would try and push it aside and get over it and other times it would consume me and there wasn’t much I could do or even wanted to do, and my poor companions just had to roll with it. Bless their hearts. I enjoy being liked, and I was worried that these people who saw me at my worst would hate me for what I put them through, but Heavenly Father is oh so good and He blessed me with companions who I will cherish and love forever. I have some amazing friendships now because of my mission, and I will be forever grateful. Heavenly Father blessed me with companions who were understanding and did their best to help me. I know our time serving together as companions was as tough for me as it was for them. So quick little shout out to my AMAZING companions, I love you Hermanas, more than you’ll ever know!

I’ve mentioned this a little in previous blog posts but my husband and I don’t go into much detail about my illness. We did more so when we were engaged and at the beginning of our marriage because I think Dan was trying to understand and adjust to something he hadn’t dealt with before. But now I just tell him when I’m having a hard day so he has a heads up. He asks me what he can do and I used to talk to him about what I was experiencing, but sometimes it’s just hard to explain and that can make it hard to understand so now I just ask him to bring me chocolate or hold me. I think it’s easier to keep it simple, for both of us. Example: a few weeks ago I had a total breakdown and he came home to me sitting on the couch, bawling, and all I wanted was to snuggle with him. Neither of us said anything, we just sat there, and at that moment nothing could’ve helped me more. Words aren’t always the answer, which works out well when you don’t know what to say. I’ve learned over the years that it can be hard for people to know how to help me, especially when I don’t always know.

The person who knows someone who struggles with the illness. I think we are to a point in our lives where we all know someone who has a mental illness, even if it’s just an acquaintance. With that being said I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve wanted to help someone but didn’t really know how, and that can be tough for several different reasons. How do you ask someone with an illness about it without crossing the line? Because there is a line. And that line changes depending on how this person is doing. But how are you supposed to know that? As my sister-in-law and I were discussing these things it hit me how truly tough this can be for people who have the desire to help. I have been in several situations where someone has had good intentions but those good intentions didn’t help. And it’s not their fault, again no one is at fault because their heart was in the right place. I hate to say this but sometimes having your heart in the right place isn’t enough, and that’s why this is SO TOUGH! When people tell me not to worry and that everything will be ok and that I should just focus on others instead of myself, I know they mean well, but they aren’t helping. That is not what I need or want to hear, but again, how are they supposed to know that? Especially when everyone who has a mental illness has a unique situation and what works for one may not work for another. Hopefully, I can provide a little bit more help and insight into this problem.

I think persistence is key. If you really want to help someone with a mental illness then don’t give up on them. It can be hard to open up about what they’re experiencing and going through, but if they see you genuinely care and are interested then I know you will be able to provide that help eventually. Sometimes we’re not in the right mood or mindset to talk about our illness, and other times we are. It can be all about timing, so don’t give up! After you ask, “How are you?” and you get the vague answer, if you feel like you can ask again then DO IT, but maybe ask, “How are you really?” so they know you really care and want to know.

Another thing that my sister-in-law told me she had talked with someone was to take the focus off of the person with the illness and make it about you, which I thought was a pretty good idea. Example: “Hey, I need to get out of my house. Want to go to lunch/go for a walk?” or “Want to come watch a movie with me?” Make them feel like they’re helping you, it takes off some of the pressure they may feel.

One thing that has always stuck with me from Preach My Gospel and my missionary days is how important it is to listen. In missionary context, we were told that people would always talk about something that could be related to the Gospel, and it was true. Somehow anything anyone would say could be tied back to the Gospel and we could take it and run with it. The same kind of thing applies here, if you are listening to what this person has to say and genuinely care about helping them then I promise you will be able to do so. And the thing that they say may not even have anything to do with their illness but if you’re listening you will be able to help. Always have a prayer in your heart and I promise Heavenly Father and the Spirit will guide you. I know that He wants to help His children and that He needs us to help others.

I hope this provided some insight and help for everyone. Please comment with any thoughts you may have or things that have helped you, and please share this blog with anyone that could benefit.

With love and hope, Ally


Q & A

First of all, I just want to thank those of you who gave me questions to answer! Obviously, this would not have been possible if it wasn’t for those questions, so I am really appreciative and grateful that you took the time to think of one and ask. If any of my answers inspire further questions please feel free to comment and ask, I am more than happy to answer more!

Second, these are the opinions and experiences that I have/had, but I am going to do my best to answer how I feel would best help others too, that is the overall goal of this post after all.
Q: Is there a specific thing you have changed or done differently to help with anxiety or depression?
A: One thing that helps me with my anxiety and depression is trying to let myself feel what I’m feeling and not feel guilty about it. If I feel sad and need to cry when I try and let it out. If I feel anxious when I try and figure out why and if there is a reason then I try and solve it, if not then I try to focus on my breathing or distract myself from thinking about it anymore. Also, learning to recognize my symptoms and use cognitive therapy, which I learned by seeing a counselor, really helped me as well.
Q: Does the lack of strict routine after coming home increase symptom triggers?
A: For the most part, yes. Yes because, depending on when you come home, school may not start right away and you may not have a job lined up, etc. and so you go from being busy all day long to coming home and having not much to do. So it’s hard to fill your time with valuable things and feel useful, needed, successful, etc. – things you felt as a missionary. And I would also say no because you are finally able to do what you want when you want, and that can be somewhat of a relief and time for you to breathe and get the help you need. You can finally focus on you.
Q: After coming home, were your Ward and Stake members compassionate and loving towards your situation?
A: My Stake President had known about my situation for months, I had to get his permission to start taking medication when I did, and so he was very compassionate and understanding about it all. In my interview with him the night I got released he told me to be proud of myself and that my mission was acceptable to the Lord. My Bishop was the same way. When I reported to the High Council about my mission I don’t think they knew I was honorably released so it wasn’t any different than the other missionaries who reported with me.
Q: Did anyone seem to be judgmental, and if so, how did you handle it?
A: There were definitely people who were surprised that I was home early, I had wanted to serve a mission since primary and lots of people knew that, so I think they didn’t know what to say or do when they found out. Thankfully, the first weekend I came home was General Conference so I didn’t have to go to church, I wasn’t ready for that. And then my family and I went on a cruise so the first time I was back in my ward was the day I spoke about my mission in Sacrament Meeting. I didn’t say why I came home, it took me a while to openly say the why, and I could tell there were questions/speculations. For the most part, I felt loved and welcome back, but there were a few who I expected that from that didn’t give it to me. That was hard, having people who I thought would be very open and understanding about it to not be there when I needed them most. At first, it made me very upset and I was hurt, but in time I kind of realized that it wasn’t necessarily their fault, they just didn’t know what to say or do.
Q: What is helpful? What is not helpful? Are you in favor of balloons and banners for early returned missionaries, just like for “full term” ones? What about speaking in sacrament meeting? A big welcome home with friends and family? Or a quiet private ride home from the airport?
A: I think this totally depends on the missionary and their circumstances. My mom had a banner and an inflatable air dancer for me and it made me happy because I felt like she wasn’t ashamed for me and was still proud of my service. Over the next few days I saw people who I wanted to see that knew I was coming home, and some neighbors who expressed their love and concern for me, but I was grateful there wasn’t a big party. I don’t think I could have handled that and I’m not sure how others would have either, i.e. if they would have known what to say or do. My situation was maybe a little different because my family had known for 2 weeks I was coming home, and some families find out the day before. My family also knew about my situation the whole time I was going through it, and I know some missionaries don’t share that they are struggling with their families so it in that situation it may be best to wait to celebrate until things can be sorted out and the families know what is really going on. I would suggest talking to your missionary about it, if possible.
Q: Does it help or hurt when people ask you about why you came home early? Would you prefer that people just didn’t mention it at all or did it help you to be able to talk about it?
A: In the beginning, it definitely stung a little when MOST people would ask about it or when it would come up, there were some that I felt surprisingly comfortable with. And I honestly don’t remember that many people bluntly asking me why I came home early. If it came up from other questions being asked about my mission (i.e. When did you leave and when did you come home? November 2011 & October 2012, easy to deduce that I didn’t serve for 18 months) then depending on the person I was talking to I’d either give a brief or more detailed explanation. It was definitely hard and a little embarrassing for me to talk about it in the beginning (several months), but as the years have gone by it helps me to talk about it and I have gotten to the point where I think I can turn it into something that helps others as well. In the beginning, I was very closed off about it and avoided it so my advice would be to pay attention to the way someone is discussing their mission and do your best to respect that.
Q: What are the right questions a good friend could/should ask an early returned missionary?
A: I wish more people would have asked me how they could make coming home early easier. I might or might not have always had an answer for them, but just to know that they were thinking of me and wanted to help would have been a huge step in getting me back on my feet. Just having the “what can I do to help?” attitude will go a long way.
Q: What are some things parents can do to support their missionaries who serve less time than expected?
A: For this question, I thought it might be a good idea to ask my parents what they thought. My Dad gave the short and sweet answer, “Love them and support them in their decisions.” My Mom said that they did their best to try and make things normal for me and made sure to get me the medical attention that I needed (visiting my doctor and getting in to see a counselor).
Both my parents served a mission so I never felt like I had anything to hide. I know some missionaries don’t share that they were held at gunpoint or constantly threw up for two years from the food to spare their Mother’s hearts, but I never felt like I needed to do that. Even though I didn’t experience anything life threatening I did tell my parents everything that was going on with my health. My family was able to pray for me and it helped me to know that someone knew what I was going through because I was doing my best to hide it in the field: from members, from other missionaries, from investigators. So my two cents would be to suggest letting your missionaries know that they have nothing to hide from you because you can’t do anything to change their circumstances anyway. If anything you can then pray for them and appreciate what they are sacrificing even more. And that applies if they then come home early too. It’s a balancing act of giving enough space but then being there for them in this dire moment of need. The elephant in the room needs to be acknowledged but how much acknowledgment is going to differ from missionary to missionary. Continue to pray for inspiration and guidance in how to help your child and stay close to them, they need to know that they can always turn to you for help and love.
Q: What about when you don’t know the returned missionary very well? If they’re more of an acquaintance is it best to give them space? Or reach out?
A: This is kind of a tough question because I think it would depend on the missionary, BUT in my opinion, it is always better to reach out than to give space. You never know what kind of influence you can have on someone and they may be exactly what you need. Even if they don’t respond to you or say much to you reaching out it doesn’t mean that you failed or they didn’t need you. I know for me every little text or visit from someone made a difference and helped me feel cared about.
Q: What is the best response to someone coming home early from a mission? What is an appropriate way to show your love and support without making it a negative conversation or bringing out any sense of shame?
A: LOVE. Love is the best response. And an appropriate way to show that will be different for everyone and could depend on how well you know the person, but if you really want to help them and show them that love PRAY to know how and then TRUST THE SPIRIT. Do your best to put yourself in their situation and think about what might help you. Ask them to do things with you, even if it’s just going for a walk or on an errand; keep them busy if you can and if they will let you. Send them a text, write a card, drop off balloons or flowers, or set up a time to go visit. Most importantly, let them tell you about their mission when they feel ready, don’t push or pry or force anything that doesn’t come naturally.
Q: What was one of the hardest things about coming home?
A: Knowing that I would always have to live with being an early return missionary. My mission president told me I’d always have this with me and I knew that, but I didn’t think about how often it would come up and that I’d be reminded of it constantly. It was hard being “different”, not the typical RM with fire and drive you usually see. Also, I kind of thought I would be magically healed when I came home and I was so wrong. I felt better the first few days and then went right back into the hole I thought I’d climbed out of. It was hard realizing that this was something that could be with me for the rest of my life.
Q: What do depression and anxiety look like to you physically/mentally/emotionally on a daily basis?
A: Physically I will occasionally struggle to breathe and/or have panic attacks. I sometimes have little motivation to do anything so nothing gets done and I sit or lay around all day. Mentally I have to constantly consciously think about my thoughts and if they are valid or not. I have to talk myself into doing things or out of thinking the worst. Emotionally there can be a lot of crying. All of it can be very draining and make it hard for me to function. I have bad days and good days but it’s always there and I just try to take it as it comes.
Q: What’s the difference between who you were before and who you are now?
A: The person I was before knew little fear, and now I can’t seem to do half of the stuff I did before because I am so afraid of what could happen to me. I have fears that I didn’t even think about before. Things that didn’t phase me before can now give me loads of stress and cause panic attacks. I am also more insecure. I was very happy with, content with and confident in the person I was. I was happy with where I was in life and the things I had done and accomplished. The things I do/accomplish now are never good enough and I am rarely satisfied/happy with my life. Now I compare myself and worry about what others think more than I should.  Little things that I never would have thought about twice now consume my mind.
Q: How do you feel medication has helped?A: I felt more like my “old self” when I got on the RIGHT medication, the wrong medication is wrong for a reason but that’s another story. I started to see more of the Ally I once knew. I still struggled but the struggle didn’t seem as bad. A little of the weight and difficulty of everything I was going through seemed to be lifted off somewhat. People who have cancer get treatment for their illness and medication helps you get the treatment you need to feel better with this illness. Elder Holland said it well when he said, “If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.”

Even though I came home early and have anxiety and depression I don’t have all the answers, but I hope this was helpful! I would love any feedback.XOXO

Do Not Judge

I used to be that person that thought that mental illnesses were just something you could “snap out of.” That you choose to be happy and depression is something anyone can overcome. Little did I know.

I came across this picture a few months after I came home from my mission. It struck a chord with me because I felt like I had been wrongfully judged at times. Yes, I came home from my mission after 11 months because I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression after serving for 5. I came home a completely different person, a broken person. My Mom has said that the girl who came home was not her Al. That’s when I needed love and understanding the most, and I did receive that from others who had mental illnesses and could relate, but from those who didn’t… they didn’t get it. Some would try and get it but sometimes that made things worse because they would try and fix me and find the source of my suffering when there isn’t really one to be found. It’s just there. It just is. It’s part of you. I wish everyone could understand that. I wish I understood it before all this happened to me.

We, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, are supposed to love unconditionally and lend support when others need it the most. I am sad to say that I didn’t always feel that. And if there is anything you can do for someone who is experiencing what I went through, it is to be there for them and LISTEN. Don’t try and fix them or figure out the reasons behind their behavior. The storm they are walking through is sometimes beyond comprehension. Sometimes it’s beyond our own comprehension and even we don’t understand what’s going on and why. Yes, it’s frustrating. Another reason why we shouldn’t judge.

At times I believe Heavenly Father gave me this trial so I could understand better that this is far from something that can be shrugged off. And I want to believe that He gave me this handful so that I could help others with their handfuls. So that’s what I’m doing, I’m trying. Please let me know how I can help YOU or what you would like to hear/see come from this blog. Thank you.

XOXO, Ally