When Your Loved One’s Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Susan

With Mother’s Day just having come and gone I asked my Mom if she’d be willing to share her side of me coming home early from my mission. I know children’s struggles can be just as hard for their parents as they are for them. No one wants to watch someone they love go through something difficult, life-changing, heartbreaking, etc. There can be just as many hardships for the parents who have an ERM as there are for the actual missionary.
Susan Harris is Ally’s mom… though she hasn’t gone by that title so much since Ally’s soccer days, haha! She’s a mom of three children who are very different from each other and keep her on her toes. Grandmother to two adorable girls and one more baby coming! That truly is a wonderful title and her favorite! She likes to read, sing, garden, play the piano (in her home), ride bikes and her new sport, pickleball. She was born on a cold, snowy day and she loves those kinds of days, and she’s far happier to be behind the scenes than ‘spotlighted’ like this. But the things one does for their children.


Ally had asked me a while ago if I would talk to another parent who had a child come home early from a mission, that maybe I could offer something. I believe I said I would but that didn’t ever happen, and I have wondered if there really is anything to offer from my experience. And then she asked me to contribute to her blog which I had been thinking about doing so even before that. So. I guess here goes.

I come from a family of all girls, and my dad had served in the Army so no mission for him and so I can’t honestly say when that became part of my plan, it was just always there for me. I very happily served in the Canada Calgary Mission (remember that love of cold?!) and it was a huge blessing for me to do so. And I admit, I started the ‘brainwashing’ of my daughters serving a mission from very young, because it was such an incredible experience for me. And to have Ally want to do this was wonderful, I was so excited for her to have that opportunity. She is fun, outgoing, has a strong testimony and belief of the gospel, finds it easy to talk to people so it would be a win-win. I wasn’t sure it was always going to happen, Ally is a social butterfly and has always had many friends and plenty of those being male.

But she made it, not without some rocky times in there, and thus received a call, we waited for 4 months and then did the drop off at the MTC. I know I have spent more time at the bank than I did that day dropping off my daughter for her new adventure. It was in November and so she spent all the holidays in the MTC and was there for 10 weeks. Finally, off she goes to Texas, meets her Mission President and his wife, and gets assigned to her trainer and area.

Ally had been sharing that she was having some health issues and not feeling great a few months in and I had been trying to encourage her to forget herself and just go to work, to make sure she got to exercise for she had always been very active and that is a tough transition, to eat good, and to stay hydrated in the heat. And may I just insert here that I’m not really a warm and fuzzy mom, more of a tough love gal. I can cry at the drop of a hat about my kids or the gospel, but I’m the one that says, ‘walk it off’, ‘you’ll be okay’ or one of my staples – “Be a duck”. I don’t know the day of the week or the date that I received that first phone call from the mission other then it was in June. Our caller ID was hooked through the television at that time, I was putting some IKEA furniture together later in the evening and so when I saw my daughter’s mission come up on the screen, I figured ‘this can’t be good.’ My husband was out of town, this and every time they called actually, so when the President asked to speak to him I responded with that information and waited to hear why he was calling. They wanted to put Ally on some meds, having diagnosed her with anxiety and depression. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. As he and his wife described the Sister Harris they were working with, I wasn’t sure what to say. It wasn’t “my” Ally, and as they asked if there was a history of this, was she prone to it and I’m telling them, no, my heart ached and my brain reeled.

Another insertion, I didn’t care where Ally served – I teased her all the time that she would go to Columbia, I wanted my children to have a chance to see humble circumstances and hopefully improve their gratitude. But my one and constant prayer had been that their mission presidents would be what they needed. That is a huge responsibility, and one of the longest lasting influences ever, you always hear RM’s talk about how they perceived their mission president(s).

As I’m listening to this good man and his wife tell me what’s been going on, and they are seeking information from me as well, it was hard for all of us. They don’t know what kind of person I am, how Ally was raised if she has been pampered and this was an excuse if the history was there and we hadn’t revealed it during the initial interview process… they just don’t know. And I don’t know what’s truly going on and how she is doing. I asked if I could talk to Ally, I wanted to hear from her what was happening but they said they didn’t think that would be a good thing at this time. I didn’t agree, but that is their call. Ally and I had tried to go back and forth in email, but it just didn’t really work well, there was lagging in the service, I was working, it was tough to get an actual picture. She was trying to stay positive, and trying to do what she could, but was certainly struggling.

I had no basis for this kind of thing and everything is so different when you’re a missionary. There are many rules and restrictions of what you use for medication, you’re not seeing a consistent doctor, nor in Ally’s case one familiar with a mission and what that life is like, and you don’t have time to ‘rest and heal’. I’m trying to reconcile what Ally is telling me is happening to her and how she’s physically feeling with the Ally that left home and it was difficult to do. In hindsight, we both recognize some things from her past that showed she had some anxiety, but it had never been debilitating… at least that I knew. That tough mom thing. Everything is so pronounced on a mission, and Sister missionaries often get a bad rap… some certainly is deserved, some is not, and I didn’t want Ally to be ‘one of those’. I start going to the temple weekly, I try and write inspirational letters, adding humor and fun with less detail about home for I don’t know what to do to help at this point. I envision the scenario in my mind of flying to Texas and ‘happen’ upon her and her comp so I can physically see her and have a heart to heart chat about what’s going on. They call again and the meds don’t seem to be working for her, they want to try something else but it takes close to 3 weeks before any influence could be felt. They are trying so hard and I’m so grateful, I know they love my daughter and really are trying to help her. And help her stay.

I finally got to talk to Ally, about mid-August. But she is crying so hard that the conversation is difficult to hear and understand and we make little progress. Her mission president’s wife is present and Ally doesn’t feel like she can really talk to me. She mentions coming home and I tell her that’s not really up to her, you don’t “self-release”. They have brought her close to the mission home so they can keep an eye on her, and she has glorious companions. I don’t know what to think, feel, write… is it better that she comes home, or will that be harder on her, what is the answer? I have withdrawn into myself, I don’t talk to many people about it, I’m not out and about, I don’t want people to ask me about Ally as I don’t know what to tell them. There have been prayers, fasts, pleadings… it doesn’t seem to help Ally, she is like the ‘walking dead’, her letters are hard to read and how many times can you come close to sobbing in the celestial room?!

It became apparent that the only way Ally would get better was for her to come home. That just seemed to come calmly and we’d deal with everything else. We had about 2 weeks notice she was coming mid-transfer. My fear still was that I didn’t want this coming home early to define her, and to this day we have that conversation. We had a family trip planned that we hadn’t told her about, but with her coming home small miracles happened so she could come with us. It was a tough trip as she wasn’t “Ally”, but it was a beginning. A great counselor, a helpful prescription, time, rest. It wasn’t easy on her, and it certainly wasn’t easy on me or our family. Still isn’t as we come to understand how it is for her. And as this happens, you learn of others that struggle with the same, and your amazement grows to have been witness to how they function and now knowing of the struggle they travel with.

I keep things more inside and not on the stage as I call it, but she is trying to help others by her experience and that is a blessing. But it’s not her defining moment. Nor is her diagnosis. And I still don’t understand how, why, when and she gets frustrated. But hopefully, we’re all learning some patience and empathy for the different roads we each take in this life’s journey. I try to help when she needs me, and I’m still not warm and fuzzy, but there is progress. I don’t think anyone’s life turns out as they planned. I’m more of a pragmatist, and I believe that is the purpose, to learn HOW we act when things don’t go as we planned – that’s the point, it’s not our plan that we should want. And that is what makes us reach up, to remember that there is ONE who came and experienced all, that He may know our struggles and be there for us. We may not always notice when He steps in – at least I don’t, you are just ready for the next step somehow. The Spirit is a gift, our Savior is a gift, and I know I’m so grateful for both on the journey!

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)


When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Jenny

Jenny and I have been following each other on social media for a while and she asked me if she could share her story. I seriously love when people ask to share their story! My goal has been to create a place for people to speak up about their trials and hardships without feeling guilty, like they failed, or weak. I love Jenny’s story and her beautiful testimony.
Jenny Jamison lives in Utah County and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. She loves music, the mountains, rainy days, autumn, cookie dough, and her dog Bridger. She is passionate about helping women understand their identity as daughters of God to help them avoid the pain found from searching for fulfillment, love, and acceptance from anything or anyone other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father. It’s her belief that women feel joy, are confident, and can change their own life and the world when they know their innate divine worth.

Photo by Hashtag Fly.

I remember distinctly thinking, “How am I still breathing?” I didn’t understand how you could hurt so much emotionally and mentally and still be alive. I had just discovered my husband struggled with an addiction.

I had been in a battle with anxiety and depression for as long as I could remember. I already felt less than from the sexual abuse that happened to me when I was a teenager. I had been harboring pain my entire life because I desperately longed for more of an emotional connection with my father (who also struggles with mental illness). Overwhelmingly, I didn’t feel lovable, wanted, or enough at all. I never had. I didn’t know how much more could I take. The pain seemed unbearable.

I felt completely shattered and broken. Irreparable. I got to a point where I could only see darkness and pain in my past. I felt like all of my own regrets from sin, the heartbreak that had entered my life from the decisions of others, and the consequences of living in a fallen world completely overshadowed any moments of light and joy in my life. I remember just hating all the things that made up my life and I didn’t want any of the regret, the devastation, the sorrow.

I thought, “Maybe if I pray hard enough, I’ll wake up decades in the past, and I’ll redo life; I’ll avoid all pain and make no mistakes!” I even thought that maybe I would just forget all the pain over the years, and that forgetting was the only way to find peace and joy in life. In my darkest times, I remember wishing with all my heart that I could literally gather up all my broken pieces from my life and somehow throw them away forever and get rid of them for good. I wanted a miracle that could somehow change my past so that it never existed.

Over time, I started to realize that all of these wishes and hopes were the Adversary’s attempt to get me to avoid true healing found in the Atonement of Jesus Christ… but I didn’t want to turn to Him or to God; I didn’t want to accept that my past was what it was.

I already had been having a hard time turning to God for years because I didn’t trust Him. I was convinced for a long time that He was only there to correct me harshly, punish me, control me, and show me how much He was in charge of my life — that it didn’t matter what I wanted or what I felt, and that He would make all decisions. I remember avoiding the temple, prayer, scriptures, church — anything that would give me time to be still and quiet. I avoided it all in varying degrees for years because I didn’t want to give Him the chance to talk to me. I was certain all He had to say to me would cause me pain and even more sorrow — and I couldn’t take anymore.

Eventually, I separated from my husband right before the holidays. It was excruciating, but I knew it was the right thing for me to do. Being alone is something I have felt my entire life and it has always been difficult for me… but now living alone after being married seemed more than I could handle. I felt more alone than I ever had. I cried continually and uncontrollably every day for weeks. I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t do anything most days. Leaving the house felt impossible. I felt less important and more forgotten than I ever had. I knew that I was at my rock bottom. I had no one there 24/7 to help me, listen to me, and comfort me whenever I needed them — no one, except my Savior.

In all honesty, I think the major turning point was when I finally talked with complete honesty and vulnerability to God for the first time in years. And I was upset! I yelled and screamed so much I could hardly breathe. I told Him all of my pain and told Him how much I hurt and why. I asked, “When will this end?! Haven’t I had enough?! Why am I constantly left alone and hurting? How much can one person take? When will I finally have someone notice and care for me?” I sobbed and sobbed. And then, things started to change.

My understanding of having a broken heart and contrite spirit expanded. I used to think it was just a nice way to say “be humble”, but now I was beginning to understand on a deeper level because I definitely had a broken heart. Very slowly, timidly, and apprehensively, I started to give some of my broken pieces to the Savior. I needed to know He was safe. I needed to know He could be trusted. I felt so hurt by so many people in my life, and even by myself, that it was difficult to trust anyone. So I went at my pace.

I started to feel small amounts of joy. I started to feel the Spirit more and more. I started praying more often and sometimes would share personal things — going beyond the safe limits of just praying over my food and for safety. I started looking outside myself and serving others in small ways. I was testing the waters, and they were proving to be calm and still and safe. Eventually, I started going to the temple again. I was so afraid of going there — the one place on earth that is the epitome of peace. What would the Lord tell me there? How would I feel? I went in with total faith… and came out with complete relief, peace, and gratitude. And I kept going. And I haven’t stopped! I feel complete safety there. I know Heavenly Father is safe. I know He loves me. Each time I go to the temple, I feel extremely proud of myself and completely aware of the miracle that it is that I am even there by choice. After all I had been through I never thought I could find peace and joy there ever again.

For years I felt certain that Heavenly Father and the Savior had abandoned me. In some very dark times, I would yell and shout at Them about how I felt. I blamed Them. I didn’t want Them. But now I can see that They never left me — that was how much They loved me. I hadn’t turned to Them for years and I had even blamed Them… but They never left my side. They waited. Lovingly. And when I finally pleaded for help, They immediately came and showed me love and joy.

While I still am a work in progress and struggle with many things, I have learned a few things through all of this. I know that your brokenness can be made beautiful through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He truly can take our broken heart, if we offer it to Him, and make us strong in our weak places. He can enter us in our brokenness and show us what true love is. He can help us see ourselves as He does, and we can feel greater self-compassion. He can take away the sting of the past.

There are so many things that can leave us feeling broken in this life — even beyond repair. We will all experience sorrow and regret and heartbreak in this life. But God has more in store for us than that — He created us to feel joy! No matter what you have been through, or are going through now, know that it is not yours forever. Know that whatever has happened to you, is not who you are. You are more than the pain that comes to you in this life. You are a literal child of a living God. He is there for you — always. And He will wait for you and be ready to help you heal when you are ready, at whatever pace you can handle.

I am learning more and more that the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ is real and all-encompassing. It is the only way to healing, and it is the only way to peace. We don’t have to forget our pains, or try to avoid them our entire lives, to find peace — there is a better way, and it is found through the Prince of Peace. Turn to Him. I know that as you do, you will find peace and you will find healing. He is safe. He is loving. And He is there for you. Always.

When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned: Chase

I met Chase at the SL ERM (early returned missionary) group. It was his turn to share his story (each month members of the group take turns sharing their story of coming home early) and I was so touched by it, I shed a few tears as Chase shared his experience. Part of that was because this really hit home for me, and part of it was because of Redd. I hope we can all be a Redd to someone who needs us to be.
Chase is from Midvale, Utah. He is 21 years old. He served an LDS mission in the Washington Yakima Mission. He is going to be attending either BYU or BYU-I. He will be aiming to achieve a Master’s degree in Psychology with a hopeful focus being on helping young adults dealing with mental disabilities and diseases. He is single (so if you have any friends who are single let him know haha). He enjoys virtually all forms of sports recreationally. He loves the outdoors and doing anything involved in nature. His real passion lies in people and culture. What drives him the most is the decisions every unique person makes and what drove them to make that decision. He is fascinated by the sheer variety we have on the earth from all the unique factors we all are exposed to. He currently works full-time as a Quality Assurance Specialist as well as an Ordinance Worker in the Draper Utah Temple!


When I was younger, I think I was around 8 years old, to be honest, I don’t remember much about it as I blocked a lot of it out, but long story made short my “picture perfect family” came crashing down when my dad was sent to prison as a sex offender and pedophile. We had a nice house with really good parents and then everything changed very quickly in my life. I remember feeling worthless and alone because I couldn’t understand how my dad could do those things and come home to his family every single night. We had to have been on his mind and he just didn’t care about us. It was really rough then…

Fast forward to me turning 18 and I had been active in the church for about 1-2 years at this point and I was hard set AGAINST serving a mission, it was definitely not for me. There was no way I was going. It was not the path I was supposed to take. I was not going to serve. My mindset stayed like this until I was 19, two years ago, when my grandfather passed away, because of what my dad had done my grandfather was the “father figure” I had in my life and let’s just say I didn’t take it very well. But while at his funeral it was at that moment where I had an incredible spiritual experience that completely shifted my mindset of going on a mission. And I knew at that point I needed to do whatever it takes to go out. So I spent the next year and a half studying, saving money, working hard, and trying to get myself to a place where I could actually serve and I did!

I made it to my mission, and I was so happy to go. I was an incredibly good missionary, I don’t know necessarily why or what it was but I seriously just flourished with success. I served in two areas on my mission and both were considered “low baptism areas,” one averaged maybe one per year and the other was previously closed down due to no baptisms and they wanted me and my companion to open it back up. After leaving both areas I had gotten 3 baptisms, or 3 really strong on dates. I actually wasn’t there long enough to see the baptisms themselves but they had all gone through the interview already and had it scheduled. I had almost no issues adjusting to missionary life and worked hard and got stuff done. I had so many incredible experiences while I was out there and I was so happy to be experiencing them as I had worked so hard to get there, then after only being out in the field a few months, I started to have some really bad problems with my brain. These problems, in turn, caused my physical health to plummet, but to explain the issue first, the doctors and therapists in the field diagnosed me with a form of PTSD. Similar to how a soldier in battle comes home and sees a firecracker and their brain makes them think they are back in that traumatic moment, mine was doing that with the events that happened with my family when I was younger.

They said the likely cause was probably a combination of not having any of my usual stress outlets combined with the fact that I was now talking about eternal families literally all day every day and that was triggering it. We tried to work on a few techniques and tools I could use to try and control the trigger while I was there but it started to affect my physical health far too quickly. The culmination of this was in my heart. You know how when you are in a tense moment in sports or in danger and you have that adrenaline flowing and your heart is pounding? My heart was basically in that mode 24/7 and was over-working itself to death. It got to the point where I honestly did not have the strength to get out of bed on one of the days because my body couldn’t physically do it (it should be noted that I passed the physical before my mission with flying colors). Needless to say, the result was that my mission president, the therapists, my stake president, etc, all advised me to “return home, but that it was my choice to do so.”

This pissed me off so much, for a variety of reasons, for one I was literally dying and they are like “you can choose to stay and die if you want” and it just made me feel even worse knowing that I needed to come home because it was “my choice” to do so.

It took me so long to feel ready for my mission, I didn’t want to go unless I knew I was ready, and I finally got to that point only to be ripped apart and sent home after only serving a few months. My mission completely shattered me in just about every aspect of my life. I didn’t know who I was, what value I had, where I wanted to go with my life, what testimony I had, I knew nothing about me.

I came home Saturday night (the 23 of December) but it was like between 9 and 10 o’ clock at night when I landed and so it was basically Christmas Eve when I came home. I honestly just wanted to cry. I wanted to hurt. I wanted to feel something, anything that night because I was just numb. Everything was numb. I got released and told to take off my badge and it honestly felt like the last shred of light inside of me just got ripped off of my chest. My bishop also called me that night and told me he wanted me in church the next day (Christmas Eve).

I was absolutely mortified, especially because of how powerful a farewell talk I gave. I had a member of the 70 at my farewell talk come and tell me that he hadn’t ever heard such a powerful farewell anywhere else and now I had to do the walk of shame back into my ward after just a few months… However, I swallowed my fear and promised my bishop I would be there. And so I was.

I walked into the chapel just barely before the Sacrament was about to start and I kid you not, the moment I walked in, the prelude music stopped and every head in the chapel turned towards me. (I was in the Elders Quorum Presidency for a year before I left as well so I knew everyone in the ward very well.) So they all turn towards me and there is just this moment of silence for about 15 or 20 seconds. After a moment a guy in my ward named Redd stood up and started to walk over to me, all eyes still fixed on me. He walked up to me and just said, “Welcome home Elder Whitehead, we love you.” And hugged me. I just started crying.

There are many amazing things and people that have helped me to recover and come back into the world since I have been home and, honestly, I feel so blessed because of everything that has happened, especially because of how truly incredible I feel right now about all of it. But that was the first moment where I experienced Christ’s love in a completely pure form.

All in all, since then I have had a ton of downs and quite a few ups, the downs were mostly in January and February, and the ups have mostly been in March and April, which is good. I don’t know if I really feel like my mission was a waste, I mean feelings of failure definitely come and go along with self-doubt, but I have admitted and will continue to admit for quite some time that my mission was the best single decision I have made in my life up to this point, and I stand by that. The things I have learned, experienced, and seen because of my mission, both in serving where I did and in coming home early, are all a part of me.

I really feel like now, right now, I am at a pretty good place in my life and a large part of that is due to all of you. So thank you for all of the love, all of the support, all of the emotions you all so willingly shared because all of that has helped me in so many ways, and that is my story.

Feature Friday: Sarah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feature Friday: Taylor

Taylor posted her story on Facebook, and our mutual friend tagged me in it because she thought it would be a good idea to share it on here. How cool, right?! So I messaged Taylor and she thought it was a good idea too. And here we are.

Taylor Devuyst is 19 years old. She was born and raised in Mission, British Columbia until she moved to Cardston, Alberta when she was 17. She’s a convert to the LDS church and was baptized when she was 16. It changed her life forever, and she is so grateful for that. She’s currently attending the University of Lethbridge, and she’s majoring in Neuroscience. She absolutely loves to write, and she hopes to one day be able to share her story on a bigger scale. She also plays the piano and some sports in her free time. She loves this life and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all of her heart! She owes everything to Him.

I never thought the day would come where I would be telling the world about my darkest trial. But, I think it’s time. I’m talking about this so that maybe I can help just one person feel a little less alone in the world. If I can accomplish just that, this will all be worth it. There is a huge stigma against mental illness, and each time that we talk about it, we free people from suffering in silence.

We all face challenges in our lives, trials, and hard times. We live in a fallen world, where we are not immune to pain and heartache. In honor of Bell Let’s Talk Day, I want to share a bit of my experience with mental illnesses.

It started 7 years ago. I have suffered from Severe Depression, and Major Anxiety Disorder since I was 12 years old. I was diagnosed officially when I was 14. Then when I was 18, I was also diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s a lot, but it’s not all of me.

Having severe depression for me, never really consisted of not being able to get out of bed. I have always been very high functioning. I wake up, get ready, eat, go to school, hang out with friends. I take my responsibilities very seriously because I don’t like to disappoint myself, or others. My depression has always been silent and hidden. What really happened, was that I lost purpose. For as long as I can remember, I didn’t understand the meaning of life. I lost myself, and I lost hope. It got worse over the years, and at 12 years old, I started having suicidal thoughts. I became someone that I didn’t recognize. I lost the little girl who once loved herself.

Having an anxiety disorder is the worst. I had my first panic attack when I was 12 years old, and I still have them to this day. It’s not funny, it’s terrifying. Nothing triggers them for me. I could be eating lunch, or sitting in my room doing homework, or trying to go to sleep, and I will have a full-blown panic attack. They are horrifying. More than that, having an anxiety disorder means struggling to make your own appointments, or call a friend. It means not being able to stay in the mall for too long. It also means having a panic attack, because you’re afraid of having another panic attack. It’s a vicious cycle.

Borderline Personality Disorder. This is a tricky one. I guess I would describe it as living in the extremes. I am either on cloud 9 or at rock bottom. My emotions are intense in the way that a house fire is, a plane crash, or an earthquake. They are life-changing, earth-shattering, and most of all painful. I cannot experience “kind of happy, kind of sad, kind of bored, kind of angry.” My emotions have one level, and that level is catastrophic. The smallest events can trigger the hugest feelings, and those huge feelings demand huge reactions.

I believe that the scariest part of all of this is that I can honestly say that I have an amazing life, and yet I still have suicidal thoughts. It makes zero sense. I have a good family, lots of friends. I have many opportunities, I get to go to university. I have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my life. I am physically healthy, and I love life. But apart of me is constantly trying to destroy all of this. It is a fight. A battle every single day, against myself. A war to stay alive.

Now, recovery. It is a lifelong process. I have been on medications now for 2 years and in therapy every week for 3 years. I have been to countless doctors and psychiatrists. I have been admitted to the hospital 4 times in the last 2 years. It’s hard. It’s hard to talk about. It’s hard to say that I have an “appointment,” when that really means that I’m going to therapy, again. It’s hard to say that I’m “going away for a few days,” when that really means that I’m going to the hospital. It’s all hard. It’s hard to fight for months at a time with what feels like little success. It’s hard to want to die, and yet continue to get out of bed anyway. It’s painful.

But that’s not the point. The point isn’t the pain. The point is that there is hope. There is always hope. I used to not believe that, but then I learned about God. I learned that He has a plan for all of us, and that “the sufferings of this present time, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).” At times it becomes too much, but I just try and hold on to hope with every last piece of me. I am still learning to rely on my Savior’s promise. The promise that as I come unto Him, He will give me rest and strengthen me. I am so in need of His strength because on my own I am weak. This life is a beautiful struggle, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I am grateful, for everyday that I get to spend on this earth, becoming the person that God needs me to be.

To the one out there who is struggling. To the one who feels like they are losing the war against their demons, I promise that it gets better. Please hold on. Please don’t give up just yet. One day you will look back on your life, and see why everything had to happen the way that it did. You’ll cry with tears of joy as you fall at the feet of your Maker and Savior, knowing that you did all that you could. So for now, hold tight to your faith, whatever it may be. Don’t be afraid, “but have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions (Alma 34:41).” I promise you that the darkness doesn’t last forever, and that the small moments of joy in between, are worth more than you could ever comprehend. You are worth more than you could ever comprehend. You are so loved.

I hope you know that there is always someone there for you. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Don’t be scared to reach out, there are people waiting to catch you when you fall. I didn’t used to believe that. I used to think that I was all alone in the world, but then I worked up enough courage to reach out. I suffered in silence for far too long, talking about it gave me the freedom that I desperately needed. There have been so many people along my journey who have saved me. Little by little, they have saved me. I would not be here today without them. So please, talk about it. Reach out, and let the light of recovery into your life. I promise that you won’t regret it. God is so good, and He has provided us with resources to help us make it home to Him. Don’t be ashamed, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Life isn’t easy, but it really is beautiful. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the darkness that has consumed me at times, and still does. And I’m really starting to like who I am. I have learned some of my greatest lessons amidst the storms of life. It’s a good life. Don’t give up on it too soon. You will be okay. You will have a happy life. You will make it. You will be free. I just know it. You’ve got Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world fighting with you, and you’ve got me too.

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