LDS Daily reader Amy Keim shared with us her story of battling depression on her mission and what she learned from it.
“Amy, I love you and I will never be disappointed in you, but I would be disappointed for you.”
I will never forget that moment, staring at the computer screen, willing tears not to come to my eyes. The words in that email from my father will forever be etched in my mind. I had just asked my dad a question that plagued my soul: “Would you be disappointed in me if I came home?”
My mission is, without any shadow of a doubt, the most difficult thing I have ever experienced in my life.
My whole life, I’d heard returned missionaries say during their homecoming talks that the mission was hard. I’d heard more times than I can count that missionary work is work; that it’s not fun and games; that it’s harder than it seems. But those words never meant anything to me until I was in the middle of it.
I’ve always been a happy person and I’ve always loved other people and loved my Father in Heaven. That’s why when it came time for me to decide whether or not I’d serve a mission, the choice wasn’t a hard one to make. I filled out my papers in just a few weeks and received my call just forty-five days prior to when I entered the MTC. I got to the MTC on May 15th, and to say I loved it there is a major understatement. I adored the MTC. I made friends that I still see regularly; I learned more about the gospel; I soaked up every minute of devotional and every second of class time. The MTC, for me, was paradise.
And then I got to the field.
My first few weeks, I assumed that the way I was feeling was normal. Everyone has a hard time adjusting to the first few weeks or even the first transfer, or so I’d heard.
It was after the first three months that I really started to worry.
I’d never felt like this before. I felt like I was drowning; like I was suffocating and couldn’t find air anywhere. There was no relief, with walls inching closer and closer to me every day, threatening to break me and crush my spirit.
While we were teaching, I could be okay. I could put on an air of happiness and joy, but inside I felt like my emotions were too big for my body. There’s no other way I can describe it: it was too big for me and I couldn’t handle it. It was like the feeling of panic, but all the time, 24/7, magnified by a thousand. And I couldn’t take it anymore.
Because I genuinely loved my investigators and the members and because I could pretend to be happy when I wasn’t, a well-meaning companion suggested that I just needed to be more positive. “You’re not clinically depressed, Sister Carpenter. You’re just not.”
I knew she was right. I just knew it. I was sure that if I simply had a better attitude, that if I wasn’t so selfish, I wouldn’t feel this way. This was my fault, I told myself. Was the Lord disappointed in me? I couldn’t take it out here. I couldn’t handle it. But oh, everyone would be so ashamed of me if I went home! Everyone would judge me and think less of me. I poured out my soul in prayer, begging to find peace and comfort to no avail.
I began to meet with my mission president, an angel of a man, weekly. God bless him for his persistence, for his patience, for his love. He talked with me, read scriptures to me, and never once judged me or gave up on me.
I’d entered the field in May, and by November, I was steadily growing more and more depressed. I became CONVINCED that the Lord wanted me to go home. That was the only possible explanation for the way I felt. I scoured the scriptures, prayed, fasted, and I was absolutely positive that every scripture I read was a sign that I was meant to go home. I would do ANYTHING to believe that I wasn’t supposed to be there anymore. I couldn’t keep feeling like this. I couldn’t.
And then came the other day that I’ll never forget as long as I live. I called my mission president and told him I couldn’t handle this any longer. He allowed me to call my dad, and then followed the experience that will touch my heart for a lifetime.
We lived with members, and we stayed in their basement. In the corner of the basement, they had a little pantry. I went into it, immediately curled myself into what was basically the fetal position, and called my dad. He picked up and I instantly began sobbing. “Dad, please come get me. Please come get me. I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to die. Come get me, please come get me.”
Can you imagine getting that call from your child? Hearing her heart breaking, hearing her begging you for help, hearing her defeated and hopeless and lost? I can’t imagine what that felt like for my dad, but I’m grateful that he loved me enough to say what must have been the hardest thing for him to tell me.
“Amy, I’d crawl across the country over broken glass on my hands and knees if I thought it would help you. But I know you. I know what this experience is going to do for you.”
He pleaded with me to try medication, which I had resisted, since there was absolutely no way that I was depressed. He promised that if I tried it and it didn’t help, he would come get me. So I promised, but I knew it wasn’t going to help because it was my fault and besides that, I was supposed to go home.
I tried it. I was prescribed an antidepressant the next day and literally within weeks, I was a new person. I could feel joy again. I could feel peace, and because of that, I began to understand the Spirit more clearly. I was then able to finish the rest of my mission.
During this entire experience, the one thing that assured me that maybe I had done the right thing and the one thing that truly kept me on a mission were these words by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “Once there has been illumination, beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now.” I knew I had received the answer to serve a mission. I knew I had felt God’s hand in my life and that He was there and was, though it felt like He wasn’t at times, there for me and aware of me.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not saying that no one should return home from a mission due to depression struggles. There are certainly situations and circumstances where that is what needs to happen so healing can take place. What I’m saying is that sometimes it gets really hard, when you’re grieving, to discern what’s right from wrong; to discern what’s from the Spirit and what’s from your own desires. What I’m saying is to please, please, please, PLEASE take care of yourself. Get the help you need. Ask for help, pray for help, and certainly do not be too prideful or too overcome by your own prejudices to accept help. I suffered so badly for so long because I was too wrapped up in my own head to think that I actually might need medical help.
Mental illness is real! If it wasn’t, medicine wouldn’t help. And it did help — for me it made all the difference.
When I was struggling, I received blessings over and over saying that my experience would help others. I remember thinking, “I don’t care who this is going to help, I just need it to be over!” Maybe that’s selfish, but when you’re in the deepest despair you’ve ever experienced, it doesn’t feel selfish; it feels like SURVIVING. I didn’t know how I could go on like this. It felt like I was in a tunnel with no light at the end, pressing forward with no indication of when I would ever be out.
But my experience did help people. I was able to connect with SO many people because of my experience: people that felt alone, people that felt depressed, people that wondered if God was there. I was able to love them more. I was able to cry with them and understand them and comfort them.
I’m grateful for my experience. I never, ever thought I would say that, but I am. No way in the world would I ever want to relive it, but I’m so grateful for what it taught me. I understand Christ on a deeper level than I ever thought I would. I understand more than ever that the power of the Atonement is real.
My mission changed my life. It changed me and allowed me to get a glimpse of God’s love for us. I’m grateful for a parent who loved me enough to watch me hurt because he knew I would grow. I know without a doubt that my dad would have loved me and supported me no matter what I chose to do, but I also know that he realized I hadn’t tried everything I could try to make it work. I’m thankful for a mission president who didn’t give up on me when it might have been easy to. He worked with me, loved me, and accepted me. Their words of encouragement and love have lifted me in times when I felt things were impossible.
“I love you and I will never be disappointed in you, but I would be disappointed for you.” My father recognized that this experience was a time of growth and development FOR ME. Now things vary case by case, but for me, I needed this experience. It has shaped my life more than I could ever put into words.
Above everything else, my dad’s words in that email helped me to better understand the character of our Father in Heaven. Don’t you think that’s exactly how Heavenly Father feels? He loves us so much and I think He’s far more often disappointed for us than He is in us, because He wants to give us blessings and He wants us to grow to become more like Him. This advice applies to so much in life, and I hope you’ll never forget it, because I know I haven’t. I remember thinking, “I’ve tried so hard my whole life to be good, and this is what I get?” But looking back, I know that our Father in Heaven would “crawl across the country over broken glass on [His] hands and knees” if He thought it would help us, but often He lets us suffer because He knows that it will allow us to become better than we ever could be without adversity.
Show compassion. So often people are struggling and we have no idea. No one should ever feel like I felt: ashamed to need help. Afraid to go home because I was worried I’d be judged and thought less of. No one deserves that, but unfortunately it is sometimes a reality. We are all trying and we all deserve love and kindness, regardless of what we may or may not have done. That is Christ’s way and it should be ours, too.
Missions are hard. Life is hard. And there are times when it seems so, so impossible. But there is light at the end of that tunnel; I know there is. I’ve lost sight of it before and believed it wasn’t there, but it ALWAYS is. Because God is there. He is real and He can help. Please let Him.
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.