‘My dad has bipolar disorder and I grew up understanding that it’s OK to talk about mental illness. My dad was always my hero and he always spoke very openly about the challenges of his life and that’s a big part of why I am where I am today.  I was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder when I was sixteen. I went to counseling and, at eighteen, I started taking medication. I started a low dosage of Prozac. The medication and the counseling worked. When it was announced that women could serve a Mormon mission at age nineteen instead of twenty-one, that was the first time when I knew, right away, that I really had something to do in the world.  So, I called my bishop and put in my papers and I got called to the Washington Seattle Mission. Initially, I was surprised because Seattle and depression don’t exactly go hand in hand because of the weather. But, I figured, if that’s where I was being sent, that’s where I would go. I would ‘forget myself and go to work.’

At first, it was hard. I started to feel myself starting to tumble into some dark places, emotionally.  I was told that depression is selfish and that I need to repent. That happened in the first two weeks of the mission and it really broke me.  I started to write about how I was feeling in a journal and I wrote at the beginning that I was doubting I would be able to serve the full eighteen months in Seattle.  Gradually, things got worse, even though I tried to suppress how I was feeling. So, I told my mission president about it and he sent me to a counselor.  He just handed me some papers. He told me to read them and that, in doing so, I would feel better. I had to take a test to see how depressed I was and, at that time, I was pretty low. I retook the test on a later appointment and scored low again. The counselor still didn’t help. The third time, I took the test and I actually faked my answers and pretended that I was just fine. The counselor got excited to see the higher, more positive results and asked me what had changed. I told him it was the papers he had given me but it was just a joke. There was a rumor that, after three counseling sessions, you’d get sent home.

I didn’t want to get sent home.  I was in a great area and I had an awesome companion. I worked with amazing people. Regardless, I couldn’t get out of bed some mornings. I wanted to just sleep it off or keep pretending that it wasn’t there.  It wasn’t working.  Later on, a new companion wrote my first name on a chalkboard. She then asked me, ‘who is this?’ and I wrote, ‘a loser, selfish, rude,’ and as I wrote my negative words, she would cross them off. Then I wrote, ‘trying’ and she circled it. She helped me to have a better understanding of who I was and that all these lies I was telling myself just weren’t true. Still, at that point, I was too far gone with the depression and the anxiety.  I wasn’t suicidal but I did think things like how many Ibuprofen would I have to take to kill myself.  I emailed my mom and told her that things were getting really bad.  I went to a doctor and we tried to figure things out.  They told me that the medication they wanted to put me on would take a long time to kick in so they thought I would need to be sent home.  I kind of knew that was coming because I didn’t want to go home but I didn’t want to stay either. In fact, I didn’t even want to exist. I can understand how people can think that committing suicide is selfish, but until you’ve been in that dark place where you can’t find another way out, you just don’t know. I’ve learned not to judge anyone who commits suicide or who is suicidal because I know what it feels like to be so trapped.

On the last day of my mission, I was given permission to go shopping. I bought a Seattle t-shirt and, the next morning, I was on a plane to Utah. My dad came to pick me up so we flew home together. Knowing that I finally wasn’t alone and that my dad had been in those same dark places as I had been was really comforting.  He asked me how I wanted to handle coming home early because of the stigma of coming home early. I told him that I wanted to be open about it and to talk about my mental illness.  I decided to help people knowing that there are people out there who are just like me, or even worse.  Since I’ve opened up about it, people come to me and tell me they know how I’m feeling and that’s has been so reassuring. So, I started a blog called Finding the Sunshine where I share my insights on mental illness, being an early returned missionary, and how I feel like Christ helps me through. The URL for the site is www.yellowinthegray.com.  I’ve since discovered that this was the mission. Yes, I spent six months in Seattle but I wasn’t meant to be there for eighteen months. The intent was to take what I learned in that six months and use it to help others for the rest of my life. It’s OK to be open about mental illness. It’s crappy but it’s helped me to be a better me and that’s why I think it was worth it.’

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