My apologies to my blogger mates for a post that has nothing to do with Mormon history, but all the talk about missionaries coming home for psychological stuff and mission stories sort of made me want to share this.
My depression problem kicked in at the beginning of my junior year of high school. I first started noticing it at church (though I didn’t think of it as depression at the time). I would get very sad and I didn’t know why. So as I would walk home from church I would try to figure out why I was sad and examine my life to see what was wrong with it. Doing so I figured that various trivial things were really very important which made me more and more sad. Over the months I went into a downward spiral. After school every day I would hide in the bathroom and cry for about an hour (I tried my best to keep all this hidden, boys crying? shameful!). It got worse and worse and I became more and more fixated on suicide.
In the middle of all that, my bishop read a letter from church headquarters to us priests that said similar things to Raise the Bar (though this was before then). “We don’t want to send misbehavers or people with depression problems.” Something like that. That was devastating to me. I felt totally rejected. The church didn’t want me. I was too broken.
Fortunately, my mom figured out what was going on (I had older sisters with the problem, so she could spot the signs) and got me into see the doctor. I got put on antidepressants which helped somewhat. I certainly didn’t become cheerful, but I didn’t feel very suicidal anymore.
My senior year was better, but I had unfortunately established a pattern of negative thinking that I would fall back on during times of disappointment. I was doing better but the old depressive thoughts were never too far away. I remember keeping track of a bullet to use in case I felt the need (my dad, though not much of a gun user, did have a couple and would take us target shooting when we were younger).
My freshman year at BYU was a disaster. The depression problem kicked in almost as soon as school started (I tend to have a hard time adjusting to new situations). I made no friends, my grades were terrible. I really missed my girlfriend who went to Utah State. I became pretty unhinged, we broke up. Suicide was all I thought about (I was still on antidepressants and seeing a counsellor). I even made a rather pathetic attempt at an attempt.
Being suicidal actually helped me cope. As my grades went in the tank, I told myself that I wouldn’t have to deal with the negative consequences because I would be dead soon. At the same time, I figured that if I didn’t kill myself, I might have some problems. So I plotted out a course of action to properly motivate myself. I needed to make myself so upset that I would actually do it (unlike my previous half-hearted attempt). So I came up with a three step plan: 1) go to church. I rarely went to the BYU ward I was in (I was living in the dorms) because it usually upset me (I hated being around what I perceived to be “all the happy people.”) 2) see my bishop to determine once and for all if there was any chance that I could go on a mission (I figured he would say no which would upset me) 3) call my ex-girlfriend which I figured would do the trick (she had a new boyfriend which was really upsetting to me). 4) kill myself (I’ll skip what my plan was).
So I set the plan in action. I went to church, which did the trick (very upsetting) and then talked to the clerk about seeing the bishop. The clerk told me I could see him at 4 (church was over at noon). This threw a bit of a wrench in my plans (I didn’t want to wait that long) so I decided to move on to step 3 before I did step 2. [Okay this is all kind of ugly stuff, sorry.] I went to my parents house (in Orem) and (surreptitiously) called my ex-girlfriend to get some kind of sick pleasure over telling her that I was going to kill myself (like I said, pretty unhinged). We talked a while as I parried her various attempts to talk me out of it. But then after her various other attempts had failed, she asked me if I loved God and Jesus and then I had this really strong spiritual experience where I felt like I shouldn’t kill myself (a very moving experience for me, but I want to emphasize something else about this story).
Anyway, so I headed to see the bishop no longer feeling suicidal where I asked him if he thought I could go on a mission when I had a depression problem. His answer surprised me: he said basically that, yes, the church had sent around that letter but that they didn’t really mean it. He told me of people that had gone who were in much worse shape than I was and then said something like, “Yeah, and then when things flare up, we bring them home, stick them in an institution for a month or so, and then when they’re feeling better we send them back. So don’t worry, you’ll be fine. It’s not a problem.” And while that sort of sounds a little crazy as I’m writing this, I can’t emphasize enough how happy it made me to know I could go.
To make a long story short, I was still pretty messed up, but a series of things occurred after that that really helped me and that summer I sent my mission papers off feeling very excited to be getting to do what my friends were doing. I had to do a bunch of psych evaluations and also had to wait five weeks for the call to get back when my friends only had to wait two. But that August I was off to the Texas Dallas Mission.
In my first meeting with my mission president, he asked me if there was anything that he should know about me and I told him that I had had a depression problem. He said something like, “Okay, let’s pray,” and we got down on our knees and he prayed that I would no longer have a depression problem. I remember thinking, “can you pray for that?”
I supposed many others would have the same question but all I can do is share my own experience. My mission was very hard for me. I wasn’t very good at it. I was often very sad and discouraged. But I never felt suicidal on my mission. I never felt like I had my freshman year at BYU. I would say that I had only minor depression after my mission, all very treatable.
I share this because I wonder what I would have done if my bishop had said, “No, you can’t go.” That morning I told myself that I was determined to kill myself that day. So all I know is that I am very grateful. And as hard and discouraging as my mission was, it was incredibly important to me.