Feature Friday: Julie

I found Julie through watching her on a Hi-Five Live with Ganel-Lyn Condie and then was lucky enough to meet her at a launch party in May. We have become close friends since and she has been a huge blessing to me in my life, I don’t know what I would do without her. Her story is one that I believe many can relate to.
Julie Bristow is originally from Holladay, Utah, but has resided in Orem, Utah for the past 13 years with her husband and 3 young children (including boy/girl twins). She graduated from the University of Utah in Human Development and Family Studies. She is passionate about people and making meaningful connections. She worked in health administration at various clinics and hospitals for over a decade after college graduation. She met her husband, Jared, when they were both working as “Especially For Youth” counselors in Rexburg, Idaho. Currently, she is a full-time stay at home mom. She is incredibly passionate about being a mental health advocate. She aims to break the stigma associated with mental health in hopes to pave the way for open conversation of such critical matters. Mental health struggles, mainly in the form of chronic depression and anxiety, have been a part of her life since she was a teenager. She is determined to live a life full of joy despite any darkness trying to pull her down. Some of her other passions include: time spent with family, interior design and decor, writing, photography, dancing in the kitchen with her family, and naps.

Photo by Michelle Cluff Photography.

“Joy Amidst the Sorrow”

I am not depression and anxiety. I am Julie. Just a regular person. My circumstances and hardships do not define me. Your circumstances and hardships do not define you. They are a part of our earthly experience. Twenty-one years of suffering from chronic depression and anxiety are part of my story. I have to accept that. Remembering that along the way our trials help shape and mold us in the refiner’s fire so that we may someday reach our Divine potential. To that end, I endure. To that end, I find joy, hope, and fulfillment despite the darkness, pain, and loneliness.

In my personal experience, I am taught that joy and pain can coexist. That even though I often feel wrapped up in darkness, somehow a knowledge of hope somewhere deep inside of me gets me through one day at a time. I am living, breathing, walking proof of daily struggle and daily joy.

Teenage years/Onset

I first felt of depression and anxiety when I was 17-years-old. Between my Junior and Senior years of high school.

I had no reason to be depressed. No trauma, no unpleasant situations or experiences. No environmental factors. Nothing. In fact, my life had been pretty golden. Why, one day, could I not get out of bed? I still don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that a medical history of depression and anxiety run heavily in my family. At this time, I was the Junior Class president in my high school, a nearly straight-A student, surrounded with a good family, amazing friends, a joyful countenance, and a testimony of Jesus Christ.

I then went to not being able to get out of bed by my Senior year of high school. I remember missing my morning classes and sometimes full days. My friends teased me that I had “senioritis”. I laughed with them, while simultaneously feeling hurt and confused inside. I didn’t know how to explain to them what was going on because I myself didn’t know what was going on. I was just reacting to this strange, new way of being as it came creeping in day by day.

My dear mom eventually dragged me to see some sort of mental health specialist. I don’t remember who because I was too busy throwing an epic fit of protest.  I screamed, cried, and yelled at her. I didn’t want to be different from my peers. I didn’t want to have problems. I told her I didn’t need medicine and that if I just had enough faith and believed in Jesus Christ enough, that He could heal me. I really thought I could pray it away. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t pray my depression and anxiety away. I ended up starting on some medication and counseling, which is what I personally needed.

High school graduation came and I did graduate from high school, although not with the grades I had kept up my whole schooling and really hoped to graduate with. But I did graduate. That was the beginning of many miracles that the Lord would provide for me as I continued and tried my hardest to be faithful to what I believed to be true despite feeling awful inside due to depression and anxiety plaguing me.


After high school, I attended college and graduated by another God-given miracle. Part of that particular miracle was the American with Disabilities Act. After missing so many classes and finding it nearly impossible to focus and study with the raging depression and anxiety I went to the disabilities office on campus and asked what I needed to do to qualify. I needed a note from both my counselor and psychiatrist. I turned in the notes with my diagnosis and recommendations from my doctors and now I was on the “disabled” list which in effect meant I had extra time to get my homework in and extra time to take tests or turn in projects. I don’t know that I would have graduated college without that.

But I did, I graduated college with a Major in Human Development and Family Studies. I cannot deny God’s hand in the achievement of yet another milestone of my life. It was another life line He threw out to help me achieve my dreams to live the kind of life I so desperately wanted despite my limitations and challenges.

Full-time work

Entering the full-time workforce after college graduation was no easy task. I have had a job ever since I was fifteen years old. After the depression and anxiety kicked in, there wasn’t one job or employer that I held where I didn’t get reprimanded for tardiness. Tardiness usually because getting out of bed felt next to impossible.  It was always so humiliating. But, for the most part, employers were understanding, compassionate, and gave me second chances as long as our communication remained open. I found it was so important to speak up about my struggles when it was needed. To give people a chance to give me a chance.


I had good dating experiences throughout high school and college.

I met my now husband, Jared, in my early twenties while we were both working as counselors at Especially For Youth up at BYU Idaho. We started dating and fell in love fairly quickly. I think Jared a little more quickly than me. 🙂

I told him two months after we started dating about my struggles with depression and anxiety. He stayed with me and he supported me. He saw me at my best of times and at my worst of times.

Our dating life and engagement was not easy. Satan used my already established illness of anxiety and depression and messed with my mind big time as I tried to make a decision as big as choosing an eternal companion. I would have these moments of distinct clarity and felt like I was making the right decision, a righteous one to choose and accept Jared as a potential husband. But then, when the anxiety and depression were dialed up, my doubt crept back in and became unbearable at times. To make a long story short, Jared and I endured through the hard times and continued to fight for each other.

We dated a little over a year and were married and sealed in the Salt Lake City temple in 2005.

Photo by Michelle Cluff Photography.


We decided a few years after we are married that we were ready to try for children. We went on to struggle with the heartbreak of infertility and other health issues.  Eventually, we were blessed with three miracle children.

Our firstborn a daughter,  and a few years later we welcomed boy/girl twins into the world.

When the twins were born, we went from one child to three overnight. Three children 3 and under.

I wish I could say it has been bliss ever since because we got what we pleaded and prayed for.  But it would be dishonest to say that. It was and has been hard… really hard. However, through this process, especially of having twins, I was sent earthly angels in the form of family, friends, and neighbors who buoyed us up and kept us going that first year or two. Earthly angels. Life was even harder, but I desperately wanted my children. I fought hard for them and I will never forget that fight.

Family life

It used to be that taking care of only myself, waking up, and showering was considered a “good day” for me… a feat to be overcome. Heck, if I brushed my teeth it was a GREAT day. A reality of living with depression and anxiety is that sometimes the simplest of tasks seem DAUNTING.

I now had four people who depended on me. I was a mother and a wife of a family of five. Often I still feel inadequate to take care of myself, let alone my home and my family. The feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, shame, and guilt are there and are very real.

But I’m here and I’m doing it. I have a good husband by my side. I have the support of family and friends when I need it. We are a happy family, despite all the struggles, we truly have so much joy in our home.

And I really don’t know how, but by the grace of God, I am plugging along one day at a time. Another miracle.


Twenty-one years later after that first encounter of this illness, I still take medication. I see my psychiatrist every 2-3 months. We often change things around. Adding this, taking away that, or trying something entirely new. I’ve tried going off medicine as well, and that is not an option right now. I crash every time and I really cannot function. I am thankful for modern-day medicine to take the edge off even if it doesn’t fully take away my symptoms. No single treatment has ever really worked for me. Medication may not be the answer for everyone. There are many things out there to help, but it is there for those who need it, like me.  I still go to counseling intermittently and I still need all the support and help I can get. My particular diagnosis is called “Treatment Refractory Depression and Anxiety” which means that conventional methods of treating depression and anxiety don’t work for me.


As of late, anxiety has been more prominent in my life lately than straight depression, even though they go hand in hand in a vicious cycle.

Stress and anxiety are part of life, no matter who we are.

Stress (and even anxiety) provide motivation to get something done or to overcome an obstacle. However, sometimes it turns into more negative forms and the very things that can propel us in life can cripple us. My particular anxiety is categorized under “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” which more or less means I often feel intense anxiety or panic about nothing in particular. It simply is just there.

The only way I’ve been able to explain my experience with it to those who are not familiar with the feeling is this:

Imagine you have just received a phone call from the hospital that your child, your parent, or a sibling has just been in a terrible accident and they are in the operating room. You get to the hospital waiting room and all you can do is pace back-and-forth not knowing whether that person is going to live or die. Essentially, you are in a state of panic for fear of the worst.

Now take those same feelings of fear and panic of something horrible happening, and imagine feeling that way, but for NO APPARENT REASON. And with this, I  try so hard to figure the WHY of you feeling this way, but simply cannot.

Sometimes these episodes lead to debilitation. Sometimes all I can do is maybe curl up in a ball underneath the covers and ride out the storm.

Many times the discomfort of anxiety has been so bad, I’ve barely been able to bring food to the table for my kids. I’ve barely been able to cope and function throughout the day.

Periodically, when Jared arrives home from work, I literally see no way out of the pain, than to just go to my room and “check-out” by trying to fall asleep. Exhausted with the mental and physical battle that has been raging in my body all day long, I escape again to the unconscious mind. You could say that sleep is my “drug” of choice.

I have felt like I wanted to die because of the deep, uncomfortable pain. I, myself, have not been truly suicidal, but suicide is real. I have lost loved ones to this due to mental illness. I have witnessed that they felt like they were a burden to the ones they loved,  and they honestly felt that the world around them would be better if they were gone.

When I personally go through periods of deep darkness and hopelessness, I logically know I’ll make it through even though it feels like I won’t. I consider that knowledge of hope one of the greatest blessings of my life even when I can’t feel hope. It’s a perspective that has taken many, many years with lots of therapy to fully grasp.


For me, after enduring the darkness, I know the Heavenly promises come and that there are joys on the other side of that dark tunnel, even when the dark seemed impenetrable. I have felt that dark. I have felt the light. Little by little I sense that I will see the sun rise again, no matter how many days I  have missed it and I vow to never stop fighting.

In Alma Chapter 26 we read about the prophet Ammon who led his brethren who were seeking to do missionary work among the Lamanites against much opposition. At one point in their journey, they were so overcome with defeat they were ready to turn back. In verse 27 it says: Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.


I myself, am still learning to bear with patience mine afflictions. I have not always done it with grace, but I have seen time and time again the success that the Lord has given unto me as I continue to endure. I am still fighting. The battle of this illness continues every single day.

I know that I am not alone. I am not broken, even though I may feel otherwise. As with any physical illness, I continue to seek treatment for my brain. I don’t know why it stopped functioning optimally. It wasn’t caused by anyone else’s actions, or by any fault of my own. I’m not sure why the serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in my brain isn’t balanced. I don’t know why the synapses and neurotransmitters are not doing their job correctly. What I do know is how I feel. I do know how it feels to be severely depressed, to have chronic debilitating, paralyzing anxiety on a daily basis. I do know what it feels like to want to be in bed all day,


My struggles, my illness are not a punishment from God. In fact, I feel that they help keep me headed towards God and focused on my Savior, for through His Atonement is the ONLY way I can make it through this.  The Book of Mormon teaches us in the book of Jacob: “Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.” And so it is by my weakness, my human struggle that I am reminded of my great dependence on my Savior.


President Russell M. Nelson said:

“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives…..if we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?”

When I reflect about this principle of truth and the different trials we go through as well as times of reprieve, I realize that sometimes we get to stand in the sun, enjoy its rays, feel of its warmth and light. Other times in life, we have to rely on our memories of that warmth and sunshine. In either situation, there is always room for the light to enter our souls and permeate us with joy.


I want to reemphasize that as much as I talk about hope and joy, a lot of the time I do not always feel hope and joy. I often don’t have the relationship with the Holy Ghost that I wish I did, because sometimes the very faculties to reach my Father in Heaven are the ones that are crippled. That is where obedience comes in. Remaining true to my covenants and having faith in Heavenly Father’s promises. So, at times it is my knowledge of hope and joy that carry me through on my darkest of days when feeling anything like joy just isn’t possible.


That knowledge that carries me through is my testimony of Jesus Christ and this gift of endurance is given only in and through Him. So I have hope. Not necessarily hope that this trial will be taken away from me permanently, but hope that I can continue to endure, endure it well, and find joy amidst the pain. Ultimately becoming the person Heavenly Father intended me to be.

Feature Friday: Kim C

I met Kim at a launch party back in May and have been following her on Instagram since. I also had the opportunity to hear her roundtable discussion at SALT in September. The term “boss babe” comes to mind when I think of Kim because she is so gorgeous and just read her bio. She has a heart of gold and I am excited to see what other amazing things she does.  I love how she opened up about having postpartum depression and how she used mindfulness to help her overcome.
Kimberly is a freelance writer, journalist, creative brand namer, and book-loving mom. She talks about mindfulness, motherhood, and books online at Talk Wordy to Me, and is a contributor on Utah’s top lifestyle show, Studio 5. She is co-creator of the Loom Journal, a revolutionary parent-child journal that fosters mindfulness and screen-free connection and development. She’s also working on a historical romance novel inspired by her visit to the picturesque Cotswolds in the English countryside. She is a fan of BBC dramas, teaching and practicing yoga, ice cream, traveling the world, simplifying her life and home, and encouraging other women to live their dreams.

Photo by Brittany Allred

How mindfulness helped me out of postpartum depression and how it can help all of us

I had just had my third child—the sweetest addition to our family and our most mild-mannered baby. We were so happy to have her. We had tried for her for awhile, and had a few scares during my pregnancy that we’d lose her due to a significant blood clot I had in my uterus. So when she arrived, healthy and whole, we were overwhelmed with gratitude.

But despite that gratitude and her sweet temperament, I started struggling with postpartum depression about four months after she was born.

The days felt like a never ending carousel of overwhelm and not being able to meet my three little childrens’ needs. Every day felt like a gigantic wave crashing harshly against a cliff, then retreating back, just to crash into the cliffs again.

Adding a child to the family is overwhelming for everyone, but I could tell there was something else going on aside from the normal adjustment to having a new baby. I didn’t feel like myself. Anger, sadness, anxiety, and stress pervaded my thoughts and emotions and I felt like I could never quite rise above it.

Anyone who has experienced any form of depression knows what it feels like to have that heavy cloud following you around everywhere. Life just doesn’t hold the vibrancy or hope it used to, and self-love is far away. It’s replaced with shame, despair, and a desire to disappear.

Sometimes, when I was driving the car with all of my kids in it, one of them would freak out or fight or melt down, and I felt an intense loss of control. I remember wanting to crash the car on more than one occasion. I just wanted to escape.

The worst of it for me was that I started feeling uncharacteristic anger. It’s hard to explain the intensity of it, but something would trigger it, like a child’s meltdown, and I reached a point where I couldn’t process my anger or keep it inside any more. It was like it wasn’t even part of me, but something that rose up like an ugly monster when it was set off. I had to do something physical to release it. I would slam a wall, throw something, or knock something over to release this wave of emotion that was too strong for me to handle. I lost it with my kids too. I didn’t hurt them, but I had thoughts of doing so. And sometimes I yelled, swore (all the words), and grabbed them too harshly. Those moments scared me, and they scared my kids. They were always followed by a wave of intense shame and guilt, and a desire to escape this monster inside of me.

Here’s something I wrote in my journal about my newfound anger before I learned that anger can be an indicator of postpartum depression:

It’s the thing I hate the most about myself.

It makes it harder that it’s not even something I struggled with until I became a mom of multiple children. I’m trying to figure out where the frustration comes from.

I went on to write about a time my boy (4 years old at the time) was relentlessly begging and whining about something he could not have. After trying to hold it together for awhile, I eventually lost my temper.

Something about the sound and the loss of control and ability to reason with him breaks something in me and I snap. So, I did. I pushed a small table down and a few things tumbled to the ground. I swore too.

Camden’s cries changed instantly from whiny “I want my way” cries to more genuine “mom is scary” cries. He yelled to me that I was being mean and breaking our things, and he ran to his room. I thought I should do the same, so I proclaimed a time-out and shut myself in my room to write this.

Meanwhile, Ellie broke into sobs and started calling for me.

I, of course, felt like the piece of something I yelled out in my rage minutes before and hugged and apologized to my son, then did the same with my girl.

Those apologies are becoming pretty commonplace around here. I hope they don’t lose their meaning.

More than that, I hope to God that my sweet children’s childhood memories are not laced with vivid (or even blurry) scenes of me losing it out of frustration with them.

What does that do to their self-esteem? What does that teach them? How will my behavior affect them as they grow up and become parents?

How is it affecting them now? Ellie and Camden both “lose it” out of frustration for each other and for us. They threaten to hit and throw just like I catch myself doing from time to time. They yell and scream, just like I do. Is that my fault? Would they be much kinder and more patient if I was?

How do I break this habit? How is it possible to break a reaction to something negative when the negative thing isn’t going to change?

The guilt I feel over this behavior of mine is a bottomless pit. I wish I could magic it away, but it keeps coming back. Worse when I’m tired. 

Would I be able to control my temper better if I worked less? Was less involved in Instagram and blogging? If I planned my days around my children instead of around my agenda? How do I even go about doing that?

First, I’ll start with prayer.

Prayer to know if there are things, distractions in my life that I need to let go of. And to know which ones are important for me to hold on to. Because I don’t think letting go of everything I’m doing outside of motherhood is the answer. I think the other things I do go a long way to help me feel fulfilled and more well-rounded and happy as a person and mom.

But what is causing this imbalance?

Is there a change I can make in my health that will help me have more balance, more calm, more control, more energy?

Is there something lacking in my spiritual life? Will reading scriptures more, going to the temple help me overcome this weakness?

Do I need to cut way back on Instagram and being on my phone? How do I stick to disciplinary goals I’ve made in that regard?

I know I want to be more in tune with my kids. Their needs, what makes them tick. I want them to feel so heard, understood and valued. I want them to know they are more important to me than anything else.

Looking at my phone while they talk to me is not going to communicate that. Kids can tell if they’re being put first or not. I need to put more energy into making them my primary focus.

Because these years are short. They go by quickly, then there’s no time to start over or go back and spend more time with them or erase the parental temper tantrums. This is what I’ve got. Today. So I need to pay attention.

Five years from now, will I look back and be happy with how I spent my time? Addicted to social media and the responses I get there? Is there a middle ground? I’d like to be part of it, but not consumed by it.

As I pray for guidance in this anger issue and social media addiction issue, I hope I will get an answer that will lead me to a better, more present and productive version of myself.

I did get that answer. It came as three distinct steps:

First, I needed help. I wanted to fix things on my own, but I realized that was I was experiencing was not entirely in my control. I saw a therapist who diagnosed me with postpartum depression and helped me realize that many of the feelings I was struggling with (including the anger) was not my fault. I did not need to keep shaming myself for it. She gave me some tools for processing emotion that I still use today.

Second, I needed to look after myself in a productive, meaningful way. I needed to reconnect to who I was and what made me feel whole.

Third, I needed to care less about the world of my to-do list and my phone, and more about the little people in front of me.

At this time, mindfulness was becoming a buzzword. It’s been around for centuries, but we are all learning about it now because of social media and technology, instead of it being kept in therapist’s offices or monasteries. When I started learning about mindfulness, is felt like I was refamiliarizing myself with grounding practices that were already a part of my intuition, I just had forgotten how to access them.

Studies show that mindfulness can help prevent and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. It helped me in a huge way to climb out of the darkness I was in and it continues to help me access happiness and stay grounded every day. Here are just a few ways mindfulness helps me:

  1. Mindful technology and social media use

The worst thing about this PPD and social media addiction I was experiencing was that they disconnected me from my kids and my husband. I wasn’t connected to the things that really mattered–the life and the people right in front of me. They disconnected me from my own intuition, the voice that tells me what I need to be doing instead of just watching what everyone else is doing and trying to fit myself into that box was quieted by the whoosh of my scrolling and tapping.

Once I had my wake-up call, I set some ground rules with my phone. No more going to it first thing in the morning. Instead, I turned it off by 10 at night and kept it out of my bedroom. I stashed it in a drawer during the day in favor of more eye contact with my kids. I left it behind on purpose. I still used it, but with intention instead of mindlessness now. My kids noticed, and our relationships and their behavior improved. All of our behavior improved. Our kids deserve so much more than being brushed off in favor of a screen. My social media use still gets out of whack sometimes, but creating boundaries and staying connected to my real-life relationships has helped immensely. I wrote more tips on healthy social media use in this article.

2. Meditative moments

I love meditation, but an hour-long session of seated silence just isn’t realistic for me right now. Instead, I find other ways to “meditate” throughout the day:

  • A three-minute guided meditation on Headspace
  • Three deep breaths anytime during the day
  • Youtube yoga
  • Meaningful prayer
  • Journaling
  • Anchoring myself in moments by observing all of my senses
  • Making a mental gratitude list

Working these moments of pause into my day go a long way to helping me feel more calm and grounded.

3. Thought work

All of our emotions are a result of our thoughts. Everything we believe, do, and are starts in our thoughts. Once I started paying attention to and changing the course of my thoughts, I noticed a huge change in my emotional health. I stopped believing everything I thought and chose my thoughts instead of letting them rule my emotions.

No one is immune to feeling the effects of depression and anxiety. We are all on the spectrum, and there are things that trigger it and things we can do to prevent and manage it. Beyond the medication that is necessary in some cases, I think mindfulness is the most powerful thing we can invest in to take care of our mental health.

Click here for Kimberly’s guide, Everyday Mindfulness: Simple practices for a more present, peaceful, purposeful life.

How My Mental Illness Has Changed My Outlook On Life

October 3, 2012, was a Wednesday just like today. How do I know that? Because it was the last day I would be known as “Hermana Harris.”

The age change was announced the weekend I came home from my mission. I was shocked like everyone else, and that shock eventually turned into anger and fueled more of my bitterness of returning home earlier than anticipated.

“Are you kidding me?! You made me wait until I was 21, put me through Hell, and then the weekend I get home you announce that 19-year-old Girls can go?!”

It was a cruel irony to me. And now as I see these young girls get called and leave I struggle to be excited for them. I think negative thoughts like, “I hope your mission doesn’t ruin you like it ruined me. I was excited and wanted to serve all my life and look where it got me.” Etc. I feel like I’ve been ruined and I find myself envious of these young women who prepare and return with that missionary fire. (I feel like my flames were put out with 3 different fire hoses.)

But that’s not the only way I feel like my outlook has changed.


I used to hear things like, “You choose to be happy,” or, “Serving others will help you forget about yourself,” or, “You create the life you want,” and agree completely.

Not anymore. I was so naive.

Now I listen to conversations, speeches, and sit in church meetings wanting to contest those types of statements. I get that there is good intention behind them, but that’s not sufficient anymore. Because I know that happiness is not always a choice. I know that serving others isn’t going to just take away pain and suffering. I know that you can’t always creat the life you want.

And my mental illness already makes me feel guilty for not having enough faith, I don’t need someone to add to it. Because I KNOW that doing the small and simple things will bless my life, but I still struggle.  I do believe in praying, reading your scriptures, going to church, etc. because all those things strengthen our testimonies and bless our lives, but when they’re used for the cure-all that’s when it bothers me.

Christ is the cure-all. The Atonement is the cure-all.

So the next time you’re giving a talk, a speech, or commenting in a church class and you want to tell everyone that life is all rainbows and sunshine if they just have more faith or pray harder or read their scriptures longer or serve others more… think about the lost sheep. The one that Christ went after. He didn’t scold the sheep or tell the sheep that it wasn’t doing enough, He just went to it and brought it back. Go after that sheep and think about what your comment will do to them.

I know that might be asking a lot, but that is another way we can set ourselves apart from the world. We have the opportunity to go after those lost sheep just like our Savior, and we need to do that now more than ever.

You might be reading this thinking that I now have a super negative outlook on life. I’ll be the first to admit that yes, I kind of do. I have become a little more bitter and cynical because anxiety and depression are pits of darkness, and although I feel like my pit isn’t as big as it used to be I can’t erase the memories of that larger pit. But at the same time, I know the pits that I experienced have helped me become an advocate for others who are feeling the same way. I can, hopefully, help others climb out of their own pits. I may have been too scared to say things in the past, but not anymore.

Feature Friday: Alexis

I found Alexis’ Instagram account and asked her to share her experience with anxiety. Her account is great and can be found here, she also has a Facebook page.
Alexis Graff is 22-years-old and a mom of two little boys under age 2. She recently graduated from Dixie State University with a psychology degree, aspiring to one day become a substance abuse counselor. She would love to help end the stigma of mental health by educating others about it and letting others know it is okay to have trials. “As we share our vulnerabilities we can be of great help to others around us!”


I learned what it was at 18 years old. It started in 4th grade, at age 10. My parents switched me from public to private school because they felt like I was wasn’t learning enough in school. I always had straight A’s, which I think played a huge role in the switching of schools.

A few months into school, there was a social studies exam I needed to take the next day. My cousins had come into town that night, so instead of studying, I played. (Keep in mind I was only 10!) I took the test the next day, knowing I had missed almost everything. Then we graded them. Before we even started, I knew I failed that exam miserably. My teacher started giving us the scores based on questions missed. I could feel my heart racing so fast, my stomach becoming a huge knotted mess. I had never felt so afraid in my whole life. I asked to go to the bathroom as my voice shook, you know, when you’re trying to prevent yourself from crying. I got to the bathroom and began sobbing on my knees, by the toilet. I felt like the knot in my stomach was going to come out of my throat. It didn’t.

I failed that test. My parents were going to be so disappointed. Why didn’t I study? I shouldn’t have played, I should have been responsible. What if I didn’t pass the 4th grade? I just sat there miserable, afraid, not knowing what to do.

My teacher came and found me and I told her I was so sick. My stomach was hurting so bad. She called my mom and she took me to Instacare thinking I had something wrong with me. After waiting for what seemed like forever, the doctor saw me and said I was fine. Nothing was wrong with me. He mentioned an ulcer but that was the extent of that. So for years, I battled daily migraines, headaches, waking up with stomach aches, and more.

When I got into middle school, I finally had an MRI done because these headaches were not normal. Guess what? The MRI came back clear. What the crap?!

After that, I just decided that I was probably going to have these problems forever and I’d better get used to them.

All of those symptoms were present in anything I did. At work, at school, in volleyball, in choir, at church, at the store, and pretty much everywhere else.

I graduated high school, started college and that’s when everything made sense. There I was studying psychology, and we were discussing different mental disorders. As the professor went over GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), I finally felt understood and knew I was clearly not the only one facing this awful disorder.

Fast forward a marriage, and a baby later (3 years) I started a page to help others understand what mental health is, what living with a mental illness is like, and how to cope. I want people to know they are not alone, and that sharing their experiences can help others in ways nobody else can.

Feature Friday: Ian

Ian is my husband’s cousin. He is the nicest guy and has made me feel like part of the family since day one. He asked me if he could share his story about his attempted suicide and I am glad he is brave enough to share that experience. Mental illness definitely has a stigma, that I think is slowly diminishing (which I love!), but suicide is a whole different can of worms. It needs to not only be talked about, but discussed. Read on to learn about Ian’s attempt and what he’s learned since.
Ian Airmet is single, studying Outdoor and Community Recreation Education at Weber State. He served a mission in the New York Utica Mission and deals with depression and anxiety.


“I don’t belong here. Nobody loves me, nobody wants me around.” These were the thoughts floating through my head. I was 14 and dealing with these thoughts 24/7. I was told I was useless, worthless and wasn’t going to accomplish anything. I was the invisible kid who fell through the grid unless someone needed a punching bag. I didn’t have friends and was bullied at home and school. I wondered why the kids I saw at church were nice on Sundays but then the rest of the week just awful towards me. I had two best friends, one who after 5th grade went to live with his dad in Mexico and by the time he got back to town he had made other friends and got involved with drugs. To this day I don’t know if he is alive or dead. In 6th grade I made another best friend, however, as the years went on we just went down different paths. At home, I come from divorced parents and lived in a neighborhood were divorcees were not so common, at least in my eyes they weren’t. There were a lot of things out of my control that somehow felt like they were my fault. Many years went by of pent up feelings of being a social outcast added to the fuel my depression and anxiety. Finally as I was entering high school I received the same advice as when I entered jr high, “You want to do this and do that to fit in with this group. That is the group that will make you cool.” Essentially change who you are to fit in with another group of people. Tired of all of it I decided it was time to end it all. Life wasn’t worth living.

So one Sunday afternoon while everyone was off at church I stayed home and drank some antifreeze with the intention of killing myself. After a few minutes I changed my mind and did what I needed to get the antifreeze out of me. When my mom came home I told her what had happened and we rushed to the E.R. After being cleared I was checked into a mental hospital where I first learned about depression and anxiety. However, when I first got there one of the counselors asked me if I ever killed someone or watched one of my friends die. When I answered I didn’t he asked, “Then why did you try to kill yourself?” It was a question that I didn’t have the answer to yet but I was on the journey to answer it.

I want to say after that experience I went to work to figure out what I was dealing with and how I could manage it. Truth be told is I didn’t. I looked for love and acceptance in all of the wrong places. Friends that I had to change and be someone I wasn’t to be accepted, porn, blaming God for everything wrong, and the list could go on. The way I describe it is I was soulless and allowed my depression and anxiety to destroy and control my life.

There came a point where I got tired of the life I was living. I already had my suicide attempt and that was no fun and I certainly didn’t want to go through another hospital visit again. It was during this time where I had my coming to Jesus moment. I had looked for something to believe in before – things like pagan worship and other ways before settling to be an atheist. This time was different and despite my rule to never become a Mormon I started reading the Book of Mormon and saying my first prayers. In that moment I knew I had a testimony, but I had run away from it instead of embracing it and it was time to change that. It was also time to prepare for a mission again which was another rule I had, don’t go on a mission. Elder Ballard just issued the challenge to raise the bar for all missionaries going out so instead of going out into the field, I had to work hard to prove myself that I was ready and it was something that I wanted to do. That involved learning about depression and anxiety and figuring out how to deal with them, especially if I was to be in a different state or country. It took me two years to do it but I learned tools along the way that I did not have before and they were useful during the mission as well.

I am taking a pause from the story to say this: during this time I started over and got rid of all my previous friends or people I was hanging around. A girl that I had gone to elementary school with and was in my home stake reached out to me one night at a youth activity. When I got active again I called her and attempted to make friends with her. She has been an angel to me. During those years where I was learning to deal with my depression and anxiety and had to talk about a lot of this stuff for the first time, it was with her. It was scary for me and I am sure not the easiest thing for her but she as I stated earlier she was an angel to me and without her I wouldn’t be here today.

I served a faithful mission and I guess that means I defeated depression and anxiety and am living free of it ever since? NOT. The mission and getting active in the church have all helped but the reality is that I have to fight every day. A few years ago I asked a friend out, now in my head I have to focus on just the day in front of me. I don’t go jumping to conclusions or thinking that something bigger is going to happen. I do this because of my depression and anxiety, meaning if I ask someone out and start to think she is going to become my girlfriend or I’m going to marry her then when it doesn’t pan out the depression is there holding me down with thoughts of “you’re useless, you won’t accomplish anything in your life, nobody is going to love you.” So I focus on the here and now. This friend thought I was asking for more and started avoiding me. When I was able to talk to her I would get yes/no answers. My depression took this reaction as “nobody will love you” and thoughts of suicide popped back into my head and I almost sent a heartbreaking goodbye text. Here is the thing about depression and anxiety, they will make mountains out of mole hills. I have been rejected by plenty of times by girls and, heck, they tend to do that sort of thing but for some reason this one stung a bit more than I thought it would. I have talked about tools and here is where I want to share the tools that I have learned.

Recognize the difference between depressive thoughts and actual thoughts. Just as members are encouraged to recognize the spirit, for someone with depression often times the depression influences our thoughts to believe things that aren’t true. When I was rejected by my friend the first reaction wasn’t my thoughts. I love life and enjoy it so why would I want to end it. Recognizing it as a depressive thought helped me to readjust my thinking and do something different.

2 Nephi 2:25 – men are, that they may have joy. As someone who has depression there have been times where I felt like I should be happy, life is good and I have a lot going on but I’m not happy. It is ok to be depressed and sad and angry and all sorts of emotions. Nobody is happy 24/7. Learning this and taking things one day at a time I have learned there are some days where it is better to be just depressed than trying to fight it and try to overcome it. I realize that day was a waste and there are things I want to accomplish so I get back to work and I’m able to get back on feet faster than if I tried to fight it. Also I learned to laugh. My dad taught me to not take myself so seriously and I will look for things that I do that get a laugh. Even the most serious of events can be easier to deal with if you learn to laugh at them.

When I first got active I had this picture of what a perfect Mormon would be. As a guy he was clean shaven, part in the hair, only listened to MoTab, dressed with the sweater over a button up shirt, and only said nice positive things. I felt bad because those were not me. I felt bad because I did not grow up with family home evenings, watching Disney movies, or family scripture time. However, in response to a prayer I had said, an answer I got was why try to be something you are not? You have been through a lot of different things that allow you to get to people who others cannot get to. Lesson learned, don’t try to be someone you are not. The experiences you have make you you. Use them, learn from them, and don’t try to fit some mold that doesn’t exist. I felt bad as a child being a social outcast, and today I might still be a social outcast in someway but I don’t care because I learned to love myself – the good and the bad. I have a loving Heavenly Father who wants the best for me and doesn’t want me to change who I am for some latest trend or a person who doesn’t have my best interest at heart.

Last one, forgive. I didn’t mention names or go too in depth of how others have hurt me. I did this because I have forgiven everyone and there is no place in my heart for hatred, no place in my heart for grudges, or to talk bad about others from years ago. I tried to kill someone (me), and someone has tried to kill me (again me). I had to forgive myself for one of the top sins, and yes, it was hard as all hell. But in the end it is an experience that has taught me about living and given me a perspective that others don’t have. 20 years ago my life almost came to an end. The flip side is it started me on a path that led me to finding my life.

Feature Friday: Saralyn

Sara and I went to high school together. We had mutual friends and spent a few days in East Canyon together after graduating. She is easy to talk to and has a very kind heart. She recently started sharing about her own mental health journey and was gracious enough to let this blog be part of that too.
Sara is an artist and she loves the outdoors. She is a 27-year-old, single gal living at home, working part-time, and trying to get back to school in January.


I often hear the phrase, “I have a mental illness, but it doesn’t define me.” My mental illnesses may not define me, but they have definitely RE-fined me. Through my illnesses, I’ve been able to have experiences with God that I never would have thought possible. I’ve learned more about myself and grown closer to my own spirit. My relationships with others have been strengthened, my ability to recognize and appreciate beauty has increased, and I’ve had some beautiful, sacred interactions with those beyond the grave.
While all those things are true, I don’t want to make it sound like everything is sunshine and daisies for me. I’ve been suicidal more times than I can count, and have felt mental and spiritual pain more extreme and agonizing than any physical pain I’ve experienced (including kidney stones). I’ve felt isolated, terribly alone, and completely removed from God and those I love. Fear and depression have been my constant companions for most of my life. I have days when I cannot get out of bed, days when it takes all my willpower to eat anything, and days when I just want to go back to my spiritual home.

Despite all the pain and suffering I’ve experienced, I can truly say that I am grateful for it. Some days it’s hard to remember that. But the things I’ve gained and the blessings I’ve received far outweigh the suffering and hardships. Struggle is a part of this life, pain is a part of this life, but God has gifted us with His Son, who is the source of all truth and light. He picks us up when we fall, He stands by our side when we face challenges, and He holds us when we weep. Things may not be okay, but they will be one day. And until that day, I’ll keep moving forward, taking one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Because it truly is worth it to be alive.

Feature Friday: Jenna

Jenna was (I say was because she has no graduated) a Laurel in my ward (I serve as the second counselor in YW’s), and she is as beautiful on the inside as she is the outside. She has a kind tenderness about her and she truly radiates light and love. I have enjoyed getting to know her and am so grateful for her bravery in sharing her struggles at a younger age.
Jenna is eighteen years old and graduated high school at the beginning of June. Life is crazy and busy for her right now because she has been at Davis Technical College doing cosmetology! She loves it so much and she feels so fortunate to work with amazing and new people every day. Right now she has a BIG goal and that is to spread mental health awareness, to make anxiety and depression and other disorders talked about more. “The only way things can get better is to talk about it and to show people that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s why I love what Ally has done with her blog and I’ve actually started my own! Mine is all about my story and mental health, follow along if you’d like here and follow my Instagram @jennalyn.franks.”

Photo by Sydney Spackman

It’s really hard to pinpoint a moment when you realize you’re depressed. For me at least. It definitely didn’t happen suddenly or right in front of my eyes. It happened, slowly, over time and in a way I didn’t even know what I was feeling.

Summer of 2015, the summer leading up to my sophomore year is when it started. Depression often has triggers, and me already having anxiety for as long as I can remember, it was easy for there to be a trigger. I was about to take a huge step forward in my life, I was going to be in high school now! Exciting right?! Well… not for me. As I was saying goodbye to my junior high friends and as summer was coming to an end I found myself feeling down. Sophomore year started and my anxiety was the highest it had ever been, I felt no peace and I constantly felt sick. A lot of people are so excited to start at a new school because they can “re-invent” themselves. And I guess I sorta did, but not for the better. I lost myself. Being around all of these pretty girls, with faces caked full of makeup, and then finally getting social media and seeing society’s expectations of pretty, I did not feel like I could ever compare. My self-image plummeted, and with that formed a new, shy Jenna because I didn’t have the confidence not to be. I just got stuck; I got stuck in my head, I got stuck in my dark room, I got stuck in the same repetitive days of high school while feeling anxious and never confident in who I was.

Months went on like this. I would sit in my room and listen to depressing music, only to come out for meals or school. I pushed my only two friends away, and I was alone. Or at least felt like it. I had started to hate doing the things that I loved, like playing guitar, or singing, being outside and I even started hating going to church. Not because I didn’t like church, I just didn’t like socializing IN church. I also think a part of me was a little mad at God for the way my life was. Until one day I was sitting in my church sacrament meeting, and I had such bad anxiety about going to Sunday school that I just broke down and sobbed during the closing song. I remember the embarrassment I felt and I remember thinking, “Oh no, the jig is up. Now people will know how I feel and I can’t hide from them.” I don’t know why, but depression makes you feel like you have to hide like you should be ashamed. I remember my mom taking me outside and I literally just told her everything because there wasn’t anything else I could do, and because I had wanted someone to tell all along I just didn’t know how. I told her how I felt, and the thoughts I had been having. But after I told her, I felt bad, because I felt like now it was not only my burden but hers.

But the thing is, and I wish I knew this then, the longer you wait to get help and tell someone, the harder and darker it gets. Depression takes over your mind and you see the world and life in an entirely different way. If my judgment wasn’t clouded, I would’ve known that my mom wouldn’t see it as a burden because she loves me and wants to help me. Long story short, I got on some Prozac and got into therapy with an amazing counselor who literally saved my life and changed the way I think and cope. Never be too ashamed to go to therapy or take medicine, it helped me so much.

During this whole process of getting help, I realized that I had completely pushed God away. I started to understand that not only was I depressed but I didn’t have the spirit with me anymore, and that made things more awful than they had to be. I started to see that although my circumstances sucked, they could be made better with Christ. I turned to him. I started pouring out my soul in prayer and having conversations with God, real conversations. Christ truly became my best friend, and even if I didn’t feel like I had any friends in high school, I knew I had Him.

The hardest part of my life so far was also the most growing experience and brought me to humble myself and truly come unto Christ. What I went through sucked, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world! Not only have I been able to be more in tune with the spirit but I’ve been able to be a vessel for God’s light to help people going through similar things that I went through. I am so thankful for the empathy I have for them and my awareness towards mental illness. Because I never would’ve understood. Being close to God helped me see my worth, forming me into a (mostly) confident teenage girl for the remaining years of high school. Junior year I really did get to re-invent myself, for the better this time. I was so different that so many people asked if I was new… I basically was.

My favorite scripture that got me through everything is Ether 12:27, my Dad said it once during a father’s blessing and ever since then it has helped me and I know for a fact it was God giving it to me because He knew that I would need it. A while later, I definitely did. It reads: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” God’s grace extends to everyone, and I’ve felt it more times than I can count. All you have to do is let Him in. Having God by my side with my depression made things ten times easier than when I pushed Him away. Don’t push Him away. I can assure you, He is waiting with His arms wide open for the day when you turn to face Him and accept His love and beautiful gift.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Lauren

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feature Friday: Michelle

I know Michelle as Hermana Crowley, we were in the same MTC District. She has the kindest heart and sweetest spirit. I loved being able to serve with her.
Michelle grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho. After she graduated from High School, she attended BYU-Idaho. In the middle of her education, she made the decision to serve a mission. She served in the Texas, Houston mission, Spanish speaking. Her mission is something that she holds very dear to her heart and she will forever be grateful for that experience. Through her mission, she learned how much she loves people as well as how much she loves to teach and help others. After she returned from her mission, she was blessed to have more opportunities to teach. She was an EFY counselor for two summers which was an amazing, growing experience. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Science and a minor in Marriage and Family in July of 2016. After she graduated she moved to Salt Lake where she is currently living. She works at St Marks Family Medicine. She is a receptionist and a prior-authorization where she works with insurances to approve certain procedures for patients. She loves her current job and the skills it has given her. She has worked with and met amazing people. Though, she hopes to one-day shift her focus again to teaching more. She is currently researching options to return to school or become certified in a skill where she is able to connect and help people more on a personal basis. She loves to dance! Latin dancing, ballroom dancing, or random dance parties. She was a Latin dance instructor for a period of time at BYU-I, and it’s something she is passionate about. She loves music and singing. She loves spending time with people she loves. She has 3 nephews and 2 nieces that she ADORES. She likes to watch movies, play games, laugh, and eat good food. Anxiety is something that she has struggled with throughout her life, but it wasn’t labeled for her till fall of 2014. She was diagnosed with depression Spring of 2016.

Photo by Whitney Majors.

My first full-blown panic attack was one of the most terrifying and awful moments of my life. It was late. I had just broken up with my boyfriend. We had been dating on and off for nearly two years. Though I didn’t realize it until I was out of it for a while, our relationship had some serious issues that I believe would have become more serious and more damaging in a marriage. I didn’t see that though, or didn’t choose to see it. Every couple had problems, right? No relationship is going to be perfect, right? I loved him. I wanted to be with him. I was determined to make it work. It didn’t matter that my anxiety had become nearly unmanageable. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t sleeping. It didn’t matter how thin and exhausted I was. It didn’t matter that my heart would race – even in the middle of the day just sitting at a desk. It didn’t matter that I was constantly worrying and on edge. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t myself. It didn’t matter how worried my family and close friends were. I was committed to this relationship regardless of how unhealthy it was. It was my life in a very toxic way. Over the last couple of years, things gradually had gotten to the point where I had lost myself. How I felt about myself was governed by how HE felt about me and how HE perceived me. And if I didn’t have him, who was I?

It was our second attempt at discussing marriage. I had been away from BYU-I for the semester for an internship. Long distance had its challenges, but it only solidified my desperation to be with him. We were in the beginning stages of looking at possible rings, talking about wedding dates, discussing future plans. It was early April of 2016, right before I headed back to BYU-I for my final semester. Lately, in our conversations together, I had been noticing some things that he would say that didn’t quite add up or settle in my gut. It was becoming more and more apparent something was wrong. I was trembling and sick to my stomach the night I confronted him about it. My world shattered when he finally told me the truth… that he had been pursuing a girl for some time and they had started dating. An awful wave of realization washed over me and betrayal churned in my stomach. I don’t know if I was driven by anger, heartbreak, courage, or all of the above – but I almost instantly felt in my heart and soul that I needed out. Right then. I ended it. I was done. I deserved better than this. I felt completely disrespected. Did he not love me? He would tell me that he did every day… but maybe he didn’t mean it? Am I not good enough? Why was he wanting to be with her? Did I do something wrong again? Is this my fault? Why would he do this? I was so angry. I’ve never felt anger like that before. But I still loved him. I still worried about him. I worried how he was doing because I just tearfully and angrily broke up with him. Was he okay? Was he hurting? Did he feel bad? Or maybe, he was relieved? Was he happy to be rid of me? Am I not worth it? I remember walking straight into my sister’s room, sobbing and fuming about what had just occurred. My stomach was tight. My head was spinning. I felt out of control. Leaning on my sister, who just held me, I felt myself losing grip on reality. I all of a sudden couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t I breathe!? I felt like I was suffocating. Choking. I was trying, but could not catch a breath, which caused me to panic even more. I remember my sister’s faraway voice and her light hand on my back, “Breathe Michelle.” Her gentle presence slowly brought me back down to earth. I was nowhere near calm though. As I learned how to breathe again, I felt dizzy and lightheaded. My stomach was still it tiny little knots. I felt sick. I could not stop crying.
Sleep did not come to me that night. My angel of a sister stayed with me. She didn’t leave my side. It was probably 2 or 3 in the morning when we put in a movie to try and help distract my mind. Which worked only a little. My sister fell asleep. I continued to lie there on the sofa in my parent’s basement. I felt more and more sick. I felt hopeless. I still felt angry. And my brain couldn’t get rid of the images I had created of him and her together. I was heartbroken. But I was also worried about the man that I still very much cared about. There was a confusing amount of feelings and thoughts coursing through me. I was exhausted. But sleep still didn’t come.

A week or so later I was back in Rexburg for my final semester at BYU-I. Things did not get better. I had spiraled into severe depression. I had experienced depression before, but not to this degree. I felt numb. Unmotivated. I would break down in the middle of class and have to leave the classroom because I couldn’t get a hold of myself. I struggled to keep up in almost all of my classes, which was unusual for me. I felt heavy and weak. I wasn’t sleeping at night even though I was always so tired. I couldn’t eat even though I could tell my body needed food. There were many days I would just stay in bed. I was stuck in a very hopeless, dark hole, and I didn’t know how to get out. Even if I did know how I wasn’t sure if I’d even have the motivation or strength to make it. Fortunately, I did. Just not on my own.

Mental health wasn’t something that my family discussed very much growing up, if ever. I believe anxiety has affected me since I was a little girl. It has manifested itself in different ways in different periods of my life, but I had never really labeled it for what it was. I served a mission in Houston, Texas where I taught the Gospel in Spanish. It was an incredible experience that I will forever be grateful for. Anxiety, and for the first time, depression, were both things that affected me at different points on my mission. But, again I didn’t understand what I was actually experiencing till later in my life. I was blessed to be able to successfully cope with these struggles, but I don’t believe they were as severe as they would become in later years. It wasn’t until the summer of 2014, at 23 years old, that I started to understand anxiety and depression for what they were. These were discoveries that I gained through certain health classes and conversations with others. I started to realize that these struggles were keeping me from living the life I wanted to live. I began to take steps in getting help. One of the hardest steps in this journey was the initial admitting that I had a mental health struggle. I remember talking to my mom and one of my mission companions about my concerns. In both of the conversations, I was shaky, tearful, and almost ashamed of having a mental health problem. With their encouragement, I began to see a counselor on campus. This was also a very difficult step for me. I felt embarrassed to walk into that office. Me? Needing therapy? But as I continued to see my therapist, I noticed that every time I’d sit in the waiting room, I saw someone I knew. It began to feel like my struggles were more normal than I had thought. So many people have a relationship with mental health struggles, and people often need help with these struggles. Therapy was an incredible, eye-opening experience for me. My therapist helped me label my emotional distress as anxiety and helped me understand how I could manage it.

There are a lot of things that have helped me cope with my anxiety and depression over the last several years. Therapy, medication, taking walks, breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and nutrition – to name a few. All these things are in what I like to call my “toolbox.” This toolbox continues to grow and evolve as I progress and change. All of these coping mechanisms I believe are things that I have been led to by Heavenly Father. My mental health is something I have continually prayed for guidance about. There are often times when I don’t know what I need. But, I know Heavenly Father knows and understands me and can help me know what steps I need to take. A key component in my perpetual coping and healing is the Atonement. To be honest, this is something I sometimes forget to turn to. But, it has consistently been a strength to me as I’ve made my way through this complex and layered part of my life.

On my mission, I was introduced to a talk by Elder Bednar that had an immense impact on my mission, but also in my life after the mission. I believe this talk was in the April 2012 Ensign. It’s titled: The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality.

In this talk Elder Bednar discusses different examples in the Book of Mormon where the enabling power of the Atonement is used. One of these examples is a moment with Nephi and his brothers. Nephi’s brothers took him, bound him, and left him in the wilderness. In this challenging moment, Nephi prayed. But, he wasn’t praying to have the Lord take away the situation. “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound” (1 Nephi 7:17; emphasis added). He asked for STRENGTH in his circumstances – strength and ability that was beyond what he could do on his own. He was ENABLED to break the bands that held him. Another example that Elder Bednar uses to illustrate the enabling power of the atonement is with Alma and his people who were in bondage.

“I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs. …And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:14–15; emphasis added). Again we see that the Lord did not take away their burdens. Instead, He gave them added strength and capacity beyond their own, and their burdens were lightened. Elder Bednar teaches, “The enabling power of the Atonement of Christ strengthens us to do things we could never do on our own… The enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.”

How does this process work? How does this happen? I honestly don’t know how to fully comprehend it. But I can testify that it’s real. And I know that this power comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people… And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12; emphasis added). Jesus Christ suffered for us. He has felt every heartache. Every panic attack. Every numb, unmotivated spiral into dark, heavy depression. Every meltdown. He knows perfectly and intimately how it feels. Because He knows exactly how it feels, He knows perfectly how to help us, how to succor us. If we trust Him and allow Him into our hearts, if we reach out to Him, He can heal. He can strengthen. He can comfort and lift our spirits. He can help us survive each day.

I have seen the power of the Atonement in my life. Especially in times of darkness. I felt it that last semester at BYU-I when I didn’t know who I was, heartbroken, numb, unmotivated. I made it through the semester. I passed my classes. I graduated! There were so many times I felt deeply alone, but I know now that I wasn’t. Whether it was direct strength from the Lord, or through other people that were placed in my life, I was not alone. Over time, I began to feel lighter. I felt hopeful. There were days when I even felt overwhelming joy and gratitude for my life and what it was.

Mental and emotional struggles are very much still a part of my life. I still have days where I struggle to get out of bed. I still have days where my heart races and I’m stuck in my head. I still have panic attacks every now and then. Depression and anxiety are a part of my life – a part of who I am. Though it’s a challenge, many blessings have come from this trial. It’s not easy to look at it this way every day, but I am grateful for the lessons I’m learning and continue to learn.

“You and I in a moment of weakness may cry out, ‘No one understands. No one knows.’ No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many phases of our life. He can reach out, touch, succor—literally run to us—and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do through relying upon only our own power.”

This quote, also from Elder Bednar’s talk, is so close to my heart. We are not alone in navigating this life. And we most definitely don’t have to heal, cope, or manage mental illness on our own. How grateful I am for the beautiful gift of the Atonement. It truly can help us pull through our hardest, most challenging days. It has for me.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Brooke

Brooke and I met at an Early Returned Missionary Group Meeting. She is the leader of the group and we attend it monthly. (These meetings are held for Davis/Weber, Salt Lake, and Utah counties. If you want more info let me know.) I’ve heard bits and pieces of her story as we’ve shared things from our missions. She is amazing and I’m so grateful to be developing a friendship with her.
Brooke has been married to her high school sweetheart and missionary for two years. They have a black lab mix named Hurley. She studies Social Work at Weber State University. She works at UTBS as an ABA therapist. She loves working with kids. She served in the Maryland Baltimore Mission. She loves to paddle board, listen to music, do yoga, meditate, and hike. The Office is her all-time favorite TV show. She loves musicals. Phantom of the Opera is #1. Her absolute favorite thing to do is spend time with family and friends. Relationships are everything to her. She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in July 2015 on her mission and has become a huge mental health advocate ever since. She hopes to become a therapist for children and families, maybe at LDS Family Services because social work has changed her life.

Photo by Photos by Kaylie

The Maryland Baltimore Mission was what I called home for 16 months. I was serving in Martinsburg, West Virginia at the time. The Richards have just gone home and here I was shotgunning for the third time with a very shy sister. I met President and Sister Christiansen that transfer who would be my new mission parents of the Maryland Baltimore Mission. Here I was as anxious as ever to explore another area to find, teach, and baptize. It all hit me that Martinsburg would be my last area. I wanted to serve with all my heart, might, mind, and strength just as in D & C 4.

One day, fear crept into my mind of coming home. I was afraid my past would catch up with me. I developed debilitating migraines that kept me in bed for the majority of two weeks. I would sleep in until studies. The only time we would leave the apartment was for our dinner appointment. Even after, I would feel as I did when I woke up. I felt like I had only slept for 5 minutes. Something as simple as smiling became to be an exhausting activity. Anxiety attacks became my daily ritual. I emailed my mom and asked if depression ran in our family. She said it did from both sides. My world fell apart within an hour on that Monday. I felt desperately hopeless. I called my mission president to see what I could do. He referred me to LDS Family Services and to speak with a therapist there.

My therapist asked me, “On a scale of 1-10, how bad is it to the point you need to be home?”

12 was my response.

I was hesitant about the idea of calling my mission president to even consider the option of going home. Going home was never an option in my book. Sister Donehue was going to serve a full-time mission no matter what! I prayed that I could stay. Whenever I did, I felt uneasy. One morning during studies, I knelt down in prayer with my elbows resting on my chair. I asked “Heavenly Father, should I go home?” If I had ever received a more clear answer from the spirit, it was as clear as a summer’s day. It hit me like someone poured a huge bucket of water over my head. It was the greatest comfort and serenity I had ever received during the past three weeks. It was the answer unwanted but it was the one I desperately needed. If I wanted to come home in one piece, this is how I would do it.



I called President to tell him the answer I received. I knew God was speaking to me through him. He told me the Lord was very pleased with me and my service. I would bless the lives of others.

I was the first missionary the Christiansen’s sent home. They were so kind and graceful. They held such a confidence in me stronger than I held for myself.

“You need to promise me two things. Stay faithful and stay in touch,” President told me.

My heart was racing faster than I was to see my family at the airport. I’ve waited for this moment close to a year and a half. Ultimate joy overwhelmed me. There they were: my mom, my three younger sisters holding flowers and balloons waiting for my arrival. My family was so happy to see me. Mom told me that she needed me home. My YSA bishop, who was like a father to me, welcomed me home in open arms along with many others in the ward! My family and friends loved me just the same, if not, more!

The journey returning home was not an easy one. It took me almost two years to find closure. I found closure when returning to my mission to visit old friends and remember the good I found. It was a surprisingly serene experience.


When going to church, I struggled with talking about the spirit and this concept of keeping the commandments. How could I feel the spirit when a mental illness such as depression was numbing my spirit? In my eyes, I was inadequate. Maybe even short from inadequate. I would never reach the kingdom of God with my imperfections.

When I came home, I felt like a huge failure. But coming home was NOT a mistake by any means. It was God’s will for me to get back on my feet and to face the hard reality of living with depression for the rest of my life. Every day I make mistakes. I am far from perfect. I’ve learned in this process that my Heavenly Father is a merciful and loving God. His love is completely unconditional. In the scriptures, we are taught “If you do this, then you receive blessings of so and so.” We call this the Premack principle at my job. Life happens. And sometimes I don’t do the “ifs”. And my Savior has given me so many “life happens” passes so I can continue to grow and receive blessings even when I don’t follow the if-then principle. Life will never turn out the way you want it to be. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have the capability to choose what makes you happy.
I think about the “what if’s” of staying on my mission. I came across a picture of the sisters I went out with who were at the DC temple ready to go home. I was not in it. But guess what? Their lives were not any better than mine just because they served a “full time” mission. I know some of these sisters battle depression and anxiety just as I do. Some married in the temple, just like me. Some go to school, just like me. I was not any less successful than these sisters. That is what I’ve come to realize is that if I continue to compare my life to “full time” returned missionaries, families that have a nice house, families that have children and seem to be happy, people who have met significant milestones before I did, I will continue to rob myself of happiness. For comparison is the thief of joy.


What helped me to overcome these struggles was keeping in touch with friends in the mission. Whether it be members and converts who lived in Maryland or missionaries who served with me. I received many priesthood blessings. I went to my bishop’s house every week to have dinner and spend time with his family. I went to LDS Family Services for over a year after my return. Therapy really helped me tame the demons I’ve had to overcome. I was able to be made whole again. Mission Fortify is the glue that kinda keeps me together. I still have depression and anxiety. I still think of my mission and “what could have been”. I still have days where I lay in bed for most of the day and have no energy to help anyone, even myself. I still have those dark thoughts that tell me “nobody needs me”, “I’m not worthy of God’s love”, or “I don’t deserve to be happy”. I still struggle to go to church sometimes because I think of the things people have told me. “If you pray harder, you’ll feel better.” Or “Are you reading your scriptures every day? You must not be doing it right.”. But I have to remember that God has a place for me here, even when I feel I don’t belong.

For my friends who have returned whether early or not, here are my words to you. Don’t lose hope. Find your trust circle of genuine people. Don’t take it personally when a priesthood leader, friend, or family member tells you something you didn’t find comforting. They have the best intentions at heart but most of the time don’t know how to help during times like these. I’ve had some of those experiences. Don’t sell yourself short. You are NOT a failure. You have an older brother who has felt every single ounce of anxiety, misery, and pain. The Savior suffered it all. I think we suffer so we can understand His sacrifice and how much He truly loves us. Our burdens are not ours to carry. Jesus Christ has paid the debt. He is the One who brings true peace.

A good friend of mine once told me that if we don’t experience suffering, we are helpless to others. You are here for a purpose. You wouldn’t be living and breathing right now if that were the case. If you don’t have the answer right now, keep going. Stay the course. You may not feel it, but a loving, merciful God has been and will ALWAYS be there for you to the everlasting eternities. Your Heavenly Father is mindful of you.


You mean EVERYTHING to Him.
Miracles happen every day.
A miracle is given by the hand of God.
And you are a miracle.