I have been putting off writing my story for a while, because it is truly emotionally challenging to revisit the scenes and experiences of my mission. I have felt for a while however that I need to do it and hopefully provide my story to those who may benefit from it.
It was October 2011 when I received my mission call to serve in the Washington D.C. South mission. I was then in the middle of my first semester at BYU and was enjoying the friends and experiences that I was having, more than anything however I was focused on serving my mission. I mean it was actually gonna happen. Ever since I was a kid I had thought about it, but I mean the time was here. I had seen two brothers serve and come home and they were excited to see their little brother follow in their footsteps. Really the only reason I was at BYU was because I had heard so many people say that college was a good way to get used to being away from family before you serve your mission.
Now that I look back I was scared to death to serve, but I mean that is normal right. I was full of faith and I knew that I would be blessed as I followed the guidance of our modern day prophet. I never doubted that things would work out. Here I should mention that as a kid I was diagnosed with OCD, which is at its root an anxiety disorder. I tended to worry about being worthy enough, or good enough. Prior to my mission call I had gone through some extra screening and they told me that I was healthy enough to go. I was on medication and they felt that I was stable enough to serve.
On December 27, 2011 my family made the dreadful drive to the Provo MTC. We did the usual things, stop at Zupas for lunch and then take some pictures near the Provo, temple. I remember just kind of sitting around until my time came to enter the MTC. We pulled up to the curb and I remember telling my family, “I think I am going to puke”. I was sooo nervous and stressed and excited. I left my family, everyone in tears; I don’t ever remember my dad crying as hard as he was when I left him at the curb. It was almost like we had a inkling at what was about to happen.
From day one I really never felt comfortable at the MTC, in fact I felt awful. I hated sitting in a 12-foot by 10-foot brick room all day studying scripture and preach my gospel (I felt like we were just doing things that we should have done before we started our missions). It was in this room that I just sat and obsessively worried about all that was going wrong. I missed my family like crazy. They were all I could think about. I remember for about the first three days I just walked around crying all the time. My companion and I did not click at all. He liked comics and video games and I like sports and exercise. The food didn’t taste good and it seemed that I had a stomachache and a headache all the time. At this point I didn’t know what to do; emotionally I was drained, physically I felt drained, and spiritually I felt like I had been abandoned. I mean why weren’t my pleas for help being answered. I truly felt like I was going insane. I remember thinking to myself “I am going to have a nervous breakdown”.
It got to the point that I was begging for help. I talked with my MTC teacher, I plead with my district president, I met with the psychiatrist, I met with one of the MTC leadership, I just wanted help. I remember begging my district president to let me talk to my dad over the phone (something I thought was never allowed), which he actually let me do. I need to point out here that each of the individuals mentioned above were as nice as could be. They all listened to me and encouraged me, but it seemed that none of them understood what I was going through or how to help. It must have been about ten days in when I had the chance to call my dad. I remember hearing my dads voice on the phone and just breaking down, not even being able to speak. It was on this phone call that I remember telling my dad that I thought I might have to come home. He assured me that that didn’t have to be the case and that everything would turn out all right.
Over the next ten days or so I was just hoping and praying and hoping and praying. I had regular visits with one of the psychiatrists in which he tried to teach me tools to cope with what I was going through. Nothing helped. Nothing. We had agreed that if I wasn’t feeling better by the time it came for me to go to Washington DC that I would be sent home.The fateful evening hit when I went to check in with one of the MTC leadership to see if they had made up their mind on whether or not to sent me home. Of course I already knew within myself that I was going to get sent home. I sat down in his office and asked him to which he confirmed my greatest fear, he told me I was going home. I was absolutely losing it when my companion went with me to pack my bags and say goodbye to my district. It was really happening.
Maybe forty-five minutes after I had gotten the news my dad was there to pick me up. The look on his face showed love for me, confusion about why things were happening, and a slight bit of disappointment at the reality of what was taking place. I remember him saying afterward that when I walked up I looked like a prisoner of war. I definitely felt like one.
The next weeks and months were the hardest of my life. I had to try to reconcile my testimony, determine why God had abandoned me, and why I was given a mental illness that would always haunt me. I also had to reunite with my family, decide how to tell my friends, and figure out what to do with my time. School wasn’t an option, I didn’t have, a job and there was really nothing for me to do.
Words will never do justice to the feelings that I had during and after my mission. No one will truly understand the experiences that I experienced. But in the end all I can say is I learned a lot and am better off today because of the things I experienced. I will forever be grateful for my family who loved me without reserve, for the ultimate spiritual lessons I was taught and for the hard trial that I was asked to go through.
In the end I have a testimony of the gospel. I believe in the atonement and the Savior Jesus Christ. I believe that early return missionaries are some of the most faithful people there are. I believe in God and in his plan, and I hope someday I can leave my present day struggles as I head to the next life.
My only hope for early return missionaries is that they will find confidence within themselves. Find confidence to push on and do great things. No one will ever understand your particular experience, but you can use your experience to uplift others and learn an awful lot about the true gospel principles laid out by Jesus Christ.