Today I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine. I was among her youth leaders when she was still a teen. She was the kind of kid every parent loves. Genuinely kind, smart and hardworking, Megan has been given many gifts. And just like the rest of us, she has also faced her share of challenges. Megan has written beautifully and frankly about making the difficult decision to come home early from her LDS mission on her blog Broken Things to Mend.
Tell us a little about yourself
Well, for starters, my name is Megan. I am the oldest of three. I love playing sports. I’m pretty competitive though, so, challenge me in something and I’m going to make it tough for you to win! Except for puzzles. Challenge me on something like jigsaw puzzles and you’re going down, no competition! I also enjoy watching movies (I’m a HUGE movie buff) and practicing the ukulele. Those who know me would say I am an outgoing and social person. I served a mission in the Alabama Birmingham mission, and came home early because of depression and anxiety.
How did you decide to serve a mission?
I think the first time that I felt like I really wanted to serve was when I went out with the sisters and we went on a tour of the temple grounds with a bunch of investigators. They were the Spanish sisters, so all their investigators spoke little to no English. At the end of the tour, we all sang “Families can be Together Forever” in English. As we sang, I watched one of the investigators holding her little girl. There were tears streaming down her face. I could feel the Spirit so strong, and I knew that she felt it too. At that moment, I knew I wanted to share that spirit with everyone.
What can you tell us about your mission?
I served in the Alabama Birmingham mission. It covers the northern 2/3 of Alabama, the Tupelo area of Mississippi, and a small sliver of Tennessee. It was so great serving in the South! The people have so much love for everyone. Southern hospitality is a real thing! One thing Alabama is known for is their football. Man, do those people love their college football! It is not an out of ordinary thing to be asked if you are an Alabama or Auburn fan before you even say hello. “Roll Tide!” is part of their vocabulary. Not only do they love football, but they love God. I learned so much about Christlike love from the people of Alabama. They serve everyone, because they know that we are all brothers and sisters. They are firm in their faith in Jesus Christ, and for the most part, even when they didn’t want to listen to our message, they were kind and loving. Most of my mission was spent helping less actives, and planting a lot of seeds. I didn’t have any investigators get baptized, but I did see two people who were excommunicated come back to the fold and get re-baptized.
As a teen you struggled with anxiety, self-harm and depression. How did things go once you were in the field?
When I first got to Alabama, I was super nervous! I don’t think that I was out of the norm by feeling that way. The more used I got to missionary life, the easier it got, and the less nervous and anxious I felt. About three or four weeks into my mission, I had an experience that brought up a lot of feelings I thought I had gotten over. My companion and I found out that a less active woman we were working with was in the hospital for what was perceived as a possible attempted suicide. We went to visit her, and I immediately felt like I was going to have a panic attack. I think that’s when everything started. There would be days that my anxiety was really high, but I just thought that was because I was in a high stress environment. I didn’t tell my trainer what was going on.
After my first transfer, I was assigned to be a trainer. I had only been out for six weeks, and here I was, training a brand new missionary. Again, there were days when I could barely get out of bed, I was on the verge of tears all the time, and I could not stop feeling like I wanted everything to disappear. But I had to be strong for my trainee. She was having a hard time herself, and I felt like I had to be strong for her as well. After training her for 12 weeks, I was assigned as a Sister Training Leader. Those were the hardest times. I was with an absolutely fantastic companion. I learned so much from her, and we are still as close as we were then. I finally told her all the feelings I was having. We talked to the mission president, who had me meet with a counselor to try and work through what I was feeling.
I am so grateful for a companion and mission president who were so understanding. My companion would always make sure I was feeling OK. She would push me, but not to my breaking point. When I needed a break, we took a break, got some frozen yogurt, played basketball, whatever it took to get me feeling better. My next companion did the same thing. By that time, though, it was to the point where I was sick all the time, and there were many days where I couldn’t get out of bed no matter how hard I tried. I felt absolutely guilty. I felt like I was keeping the work from progressing, and hurting my companion. All those feelings of guilt made it worse.
How did you know it was really time to go home?
I met with my mission president multiple times, and I remember one time in particular, about three months before I left, he asked me if I wanted to go home. He told me he felt like I should stay, but he wanted me to make the decision. I told him I wanted to stay, which was the truth. From October until January, the month I went home, there was a constant internal struggle of whether or not to go home. I loved being a missionary, talking to people, working with other missionaries. But there was a part of me that felt like I just wasn’t good enough, that the struggles I was having, with depression, anxiety, and the constant desire to harm myself, were making it so I was not able to do my job to the fullest. I pushed away those thoughts as much as I could for the first few transfers of my mission, but the longer I pushed them away, the more they bottled up. Eventually I hit my breaking point, but I still pushed through. The decision to go home came at a very inspired time for me. I am so glad it came when it did, because I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed another day. I may have gotten to the point where I did something that would be life-altering. I don’t think it would have gotten that far, but I am glad I didn’t take the risk to find out.
How did your local Mormon community react to your early release?
Most people didn’t realize I came home early. I think it was more awkward for me to explain than for them to hear it. When people did find out, they were supportive, but it was a little awkward at first. I mean, how do you ask someone how their mission was when they came home early? But for the most part, everyone acted pretty normal.
How did you feel once you had returned?
For me, coming home was a hard decision, but it was the time after I came home that was the hardest. After I came home, I felt so guilty about leaving early. I felt like I had given up on my mission, and that I failed. It was a very dark and hard time for me. It’s still hard to really think about or even talk about it. I felt like I was being judged by everyone, and that I had let everyone down. I was disappointed in myself, and I felt that Heavenly Father was disappointed in me too. I am a perfectionist and I felt like I hadn’t really accomplished anything on my mission, which would deem it a failure. I think that was the most heartbreaking part. I felt like I hadn’t really made a difference in Alabama, that I was a burden more so than a blessing. It took me a long time to get rid of all those feelings. I wish I could say that they are completely gone. Every once in a while, I’ll have them. But I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who gently reminds me that my mission was enough. Even if it was only nine months of serving, I accomplished everything I needed to. He was pleased with my efforts and there wasn’t anything else that was left undone for me in Alabama. I don’t regret going, even for the short amount of time I did.
What do you hope others can learn from your experience?
Depression and anxiety are REAL. Mental health is such a taboo issue, but it affects so many! But I think the biggest thing I hope people can learn from my experiences is the hope that the Atonement can bring. There truly is an enabling power that comes through Christ’s sacrifice. There are days where I feel that the world is caving in, and that I have lost every will to fight. But somehow, even in my darkest of times, I make it through. I know it is not my strength that keeps me moving, but it is in the Lord.
One of the scriptures that helped me a lot on my mission is Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Paul teaches us that we can do ALL things; not a few, or certain things. Every single trial, misfortune, bad day, catastrophic nightmare can be overcome. All because of Christ. It’s such a powerful and comforting thought! The Lord can expand what we feel is our capacity, if we allow him to. Overcoming by becoming; that’s my motto. We can overcome anything as we become more like the Savior. And that’s my message. That we CAN do all things, as we rely on the Savior of us all.
Thank you for sharing this, Megan! I admire you so much. You have a beautiful and powerful testimony of Christ. I feel confident that your words will make a difference to someone out there… and I also believe that you are very much being used by your Father as a missionary even still. God bless you, sweet friend.