Friday, July 24, 2015

A generous explanation of why I came home

Mental health...

Over the years I’ve been attempting to crack the code. For example, I've found that my mental health is closely connected to my physical and emotional health. I also know for a fact that I was born anxious. Throughout my life, my anxiety has been a double-edged sword. When I've given myself good outlets for it, it's spurred me on to some of my greatest learning and achievements. However, at the end of the day, it's still mental illness. I haven't asked for help with it since I was seven. 

When I left for Argentina, I was on a quest. I began to overcome weird, compulsive behaviors and direct previously scattered energy to missionary work. After I adjusted, there were months of joyful, hard work ('Placentero nos es trabajar' #88 for those of you who know the Spanish hymn book!). The stress of the mission was high, but as long as I stayed focused, it was purposeful and gratifying. I no longer had time to think about old anxiety I’d brought with me, nor did I care to.

I learned that faith has no limits. As long as it's faith in a living, loving Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, the only ones holding us back are ourselves. However, while faith has no limits, we ourselves do have limits. We’re watery bundles of cells and tissues and we’re actually quite perishable.... Every time something reminded me of old fears, I didn’t let myself react to it. I couldn’t. I had to advance. So I let my body 'absorb the shock' as it were, without thinking too much about it, and moved on. I may have lost track of how many times this happened. 

Furthermore, Resistencia is a physically demanding mission. There’s little way around that. In mid-June I started to tire out. I took it to be “mission fatigue”, which is common and should sometimes simply be put up with (within reason). When it got uglier than normal, we slowed down and started to take even better care of ourselves (to be fair, we were already sleeping 8 hours a night, eating a fresh and balanced diet, and doing 30 minutes of resistance exercise every morning). Hermana Badu had us focus on quality-over-quantity and an overall gentler approach to missionary work. But I just got sicker. I was tested for anemia, thyroid problems, etc. Nothing was showing up. By July I found myself in all manner of frightful illness situations, something that taught me a lot. I had the intention of fighting it off and staying out for the traditional 18 months, since I thought it was a physical problem which could be solved physically.

One day, President Franco had me talk over the phone with a psychologist who works in Buenos Aires. The pieces quickly started to fit together...It became evident that I was making myself ill. Or rather, my mind was unwittingly making my body ill. What. What? It was hard to believe at first. I look back on it now (and on most of my life, for that matter) and I can see how obvious it was. Long-term anxiety + mission stress = panic attacks. (I'm no medical school graduate, but in this link I found a list of symptoms that is descriptive of what I was experiencing. The anxiety symptoms were what I thought was mission fatigue, and the panic attack symptoms were when my body was telling me that I needed to slow down:

We worked through mission-related stress and anxiety, but by then I was already tracing my problems to their clear and unmistakable root. I knew there were things in the past that I need to sort out and I can't do it alone. Working hard on your mission is excellent because it can bring to the surface things you might need to fix, and give you the opportunity to take care of them. The church doesn’t provide long-term counseling for missionaries in the field since it can be time consuming and more successfully done at home. Furthermore, I had already pushed myself over the edge and wasn’t going to physically recover in Argentina.

Why did I get so physically sick? I have a few theories. In October 2010, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said that "when distress appears. . . too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be." I have certainly shown a lifelong pattern of this. My senior year of high school, I was already experiencing anxiety at impressive levels. What did I do at that time? Instead of keeping up a nice, reasonable daily running log which is great for mental health maintenance, I ran a marathon. I trained for it in the dead of winter. I worked even harder in school, and I began to complicate my social life and endlessly confuse myself to the point where I was going against things I already knew. And as a result of all this, I got very sick a few times. "For no apparent reason. . ." Later on, early in my college career when ugly events occurred, I dealt with it in part by diving into my classes and my job. This is a fairly useful habit to have, as it's kept me from feeling too hurt or sorry for myself. However, sometimes you're actually just hurt. Earlier this month when I prayed about going home, I got a clear answer that it's time. It's finally time to directly consider the psychological aspect of my well-being. I think it will help me to be a healthier, happier person. Also, I'll be better able to help my future children one day in the occasion that they end up with personalities anything like mine.

I like being a person who's weak, because it makes it harder for me to ignore the necessity to learn. Sometimes I am even compelled to learn. When unchecked or unprincipled, my over-earnest nature has nearly destroyed me several times. While it sometimes feels impossible to keep ourselves in balance, with the gospel it's quite attainable. The end purpose of living the gospel is to become like our Heavenly Parents. Heavenly Father is perfectly balanced, so it's got to be possible. Our success in this life and in the eternities is dependent upon how well we live his commandments, because if we don't live them all, we won't become like him. That's why he gave us them all. So in D&C 58:27, we are told to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause". Yet in Mosiah 4:27 we are told that "it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength," therefore we must direct our lives "in wisdom and order."

So my message for you today is: sometimes people have problems! It’s okay! The gospel isn’t true because of the things I saw or could have seen for the rest of my mission; it’s just true.

Was my mission a failure because it wasn't like other people's missions? Well, sure, if I look at it that way. But on Tuesday, a friend quoted a speech called “The Good News about Failure” by Dr. Eugene Bryce. He said that "failure is something we can avoid...only by doing nothing, saying nothing, and becoming nothing."

If I look for my shortcomings or a sense of loss in all this, I’ll quickly find it. Conversely, if I look for all the good that has come of this mission, l quickly forget any sense of loss. 

I close my eyes and it takes about ten seconds before I get a flow of cherished memories and a sense of sureness about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In this whole process, I have felt an exquisite amount of love and support from fellow missionaries, humble priesthood leaders, family members, neighbors, and friends.

I have found hope and comfort in the words of the 2nd verse of "How Firm a Foundation". In going from healthy to ill, and in the sudden transition from Formosa to South Jordan, these words have come to mean a lot to me:

In ev'ry condition--in sickness, in health,

In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth,
  At home or abroad, on the land or the sea--
  As thy days may demand, as thy days may demand,
  As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be.
          The 5th verse goes on to say:
  When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
  My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
  The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
  Thy dross to consume, thy dross to consume,
  Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

In times when it's been tempting to despair this past month, I've also remembered what my L. M. Montgomery-loving mother taught me. "To despair is to turn your back on God." 

God hasn’t abandoned me--nor will he--so I won’t abandon him. Friends, family: I’ll get in touch with you all gradually as I have the energy. If I’m avoiding talking to you, it’s likely because talking to you would make me so happy and excited I would get overwhelmed and get really sick again. Also can’t remember my email or facebook passwords. Also my phone number was cancelled months ago! :D :) :)

For now, here are some pictures Hermana Badu and I took during the high points in my last couple of weeks in Formosa!


These posters in the 'downtown' centro area are constantly changing and morphing, being destroyed by the weather and people in the streets and being replaced. It has become a symbol for me of the transient nature of our earthly and socially motivated accomplishments. I think of the words of King Benjamin when he says "And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust."         (Mosiah 2:26).


Sunset in barrio San Pedro

Final bus ride to Resistencia
I leave you with a video we took on July 12th. It was an afternoon where I was too sick to have missionary discussions, but too antsy to stay inside the pension. We went for a short walk.

1 comment:

  1. Allison, I don't know if we've ever met, but I am friends with your Mom, aunts, and Hammond grandparents. I have read snippets of your mission posts on your Mom's fb, and have enjoyed reading your thoughts. I love your words here. I have battled anxiety and depression on and off over the years, including on my mission, so I relate to much of what you said. I love the understanding you already have of what you have been through, as well as your humble attitude. You are wise and insightful. The Lord will bless you as you work through things. Take care and best wishes to you.