For years I suffered from anxiety and depression, but didn’t know it. Things like that were never talked about in our home. I would hear of people that suffered from anxiety and depression and what they were going through, but never stopped to realize it was going on inside of myself. Even though I studied psychology in college, it still didn’t occur to me that I was being accompanied by those unwanted companions.
I didn’t start to acknowledge it until I served in the Texas Houston East Mission. Every 6 weeks, my mission had transfers in which missionaries were moved to different areas and would receive new companions. Every 6 weeks, I either got moved to a different area or I would get new companions. I was never with missionaries for more than 6 weeks.
When you hear missionaries talk about their missions, they will almost always say that it was the best time of their lives. They will highlight all of the great things about serving a mission. Missions are definitely rewarding, but nothing rewarding comes without a struggle. Missions are hard.
For me, it was hard because every companion (except one) that I served with struggled with some kind of mental illness or was controlling. It was hard because I didn’t think that I understood it as well as I thought I did at the time and didn’t know what to do. Most of my days as a missionary were spent inside the apartment because mental illness would wipe out my companions’ ability to work and feel confident in themselves. At times I would try to find a way to push them to go to work, but it would end badly.
Most of my companions felt that I was pushing my problems onto them. They felt that they were being obedient and that they were doing all that they could. They felt that I didn’t love them and didn’t want to be around them. They felt that I had more fun and connected more with other missionaries with them. That was understandable.
Thinking about it now, I’m sure that’s when my anxiety and depression really started to become recognizable. Because we weren’t going out to work like other missionaries were, I felt like a failure. I felt that I hadn’t done enough and that God was so disappointed in me. Mission leaders would tell us that if we weren’t living the mission rules with exactness, then we aren’t living up to our calling as missionaries. Having spent most of my time in the apartment, I felt that I was failing in my calling as a missionary.
There were some mission leaders that would compare our success as missionaries to the number of baptisms we were able to get. If we didn’t have any baptisms, they would tell us it was because we lacked faith. They would always reassure us that it’s not about the numbers and that we were getting the wrong idea.
Let me get on my soap box for a minute. The success of a missionary is not determined by the number of baptisms he or she gets. Sometimes we are called to serve not because the people need us, but because we need the people. I strongly feel that a missionary’s success is measured by his or her conversion through serving, not through the conversion of someone else. I also strongly feel that a missionary’s success measured by how well he or she invited the Spirit into their lives and acted on the promptings they received. Missionaries not experiencing baptisms in their mission has nothing to do with lacking faith. After all, you can have all the faith in the world, but your faith can never interfere with a person’s agency to choose whether he or she will be baptized. So, back to my story…
What triggered my anxiety and depression even more was when some of my companions told me that all I was good for was what I looked for. Some would even feel the need to keep me away from the male missionaries (elders) because in their words, “You’re a distraction” or “It really gets to me that they love and respect you, but won’t do the same for me.”
I held in a lot of my emotions and said nothing because I felt I would be a bad person if I went off on them. To me, I felt I wouldn’t be a good enough missionary if I said something back or didn’t handle my problems in a “loving and kind” way. Many times, I would call my mission president just to talk to him about how I was feeling. I loved and respected him because he was like a father to me. He was always there for me and listened. Whenever I needed him, he was there.
While I was serving my mission, I received a phone call from my mission president’s wife informing me that my grandfather had passed away. If you read my first blog about my upbringing and how my dad was, you would understand how painful was to find out that my grandpa had passed. He was the one man that I knew loved me and was a father figure to me.
This is when I started to recognize that I had anxiety and depression. I had some mission leaders tell me a day or two after my grandpa’s passing that his passing wasn’t such a big deal because he was a grandparent. They told me to suck it up and put it aside because I had promised the Lord that I would serve Him no matter what came my way. There were some mission leaders and missionaries I served around that told me that my loss was nothing because there were others suffering more than I was.
Distraught, I did everything to put it all aside and work through it. At night when I would sleep, I would have a hard time breathing. My grandpa’s passing triggered anxiety and panic attacks on my mission, but at the time I didn’t recognize it as that. I pushed it aside and went to work because I felt that my problems meant nothing and if I let it get in the way of someone receiving the gospel, then I would be held accountable and be a failure.
The event before my breaking point that really had me recognizing my anxiety and depression was being given one particular companion that triggered it all. Now, the things that I mention aren’t to make my religion or church that I attend look bad. It’s all for the purpose of understanding why I acted in certain ways or struggled with certain things in my life. Despite what happened in this companionship, I have come to love her and get over all that has happened.
Usually some of us girls can change in the same room because we turn our backs and don’t look at each other. In this particular companionship, this sister missionary would watch me as I would change. She would make comments about my body that were uncomfortable. Struggling with her own demons and past, she had self-esteem issues and was clingy. There were many times when she would touch me inappropriately.
My anxiety and panic attacks got worse because her actions brought back memories that I had long suppressed and buried; memories of being touched inappropriately and sexually harrassed several times in my life by people in whose care I placed in. My greatest fear surfaced. Rape. Not because I had ever been raped, but because of an incident that occurred in my family in which a woman lied to me that she had been raped by someone very close to me. In actuality, she was saving herself from admitting that she was having an affair with that person. Even when the truth came out, I couldn’t shake her lie and it’s carried on with me throughout my life.
During this time in my mission, I reached out to my mission president. He visited it me and I told him some of the struggles that were going on, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was uncomfortable because of being touched inappropriately. I was scared that I wouldn’t be believed. It may sound stupid, but I had that mentality that anything bad that happened to me was because I was doing something wrong and it was my fault. I was afraid that my companion would get in trouble and have more problems on top of the ones that she already had. Sounds dumb, but that’s what was going through my mind.
Things got worse and one day, we did our normal exchanges where we switch companions for a day to have our STL (sister training leader) help us improve in our areas. I was sent to another area and was companions with a sister missionary that I knew and got along well with. I poured out my heart to her and she advised me to call my district leader and tell him what was going on.
I did as she advised me to and my district leader didn’t know what to say or do. He just told me to hang in there and that it would all be over soon. The sister missionary I was with called her zone leaders to give me a Priesthood blessing. They came over and did so. She then advised me to tell them what was going on. I knew one of the zone leaders really well because he had been one of my leaders in my first few months in Texas. I told them what was going on. The zone leader that I knew wanted to help me, but he didn’t. His companion told him, “Elder, you know the rules. Elders are not allowed to advise sisters.”
Nothing was done and I went back to my area feeling completely helpless.
Honestly, my mission was hard, but it was worth it. It was the time of my life that brought the most light. It brought the light that enabled me to see what I couldn’t see before; the faces of my anxiety and depression. This light… This illumination… This realization led me to the first woman in the scriptures that began my journey of healing; Esther.