I wrote this post a little while ago after reading Elder Bednar's talk again. It's just a different perspective on how being sent home and my diagnosis went.
“Do you have the faith to not be healed?”
Elder David A. Bednar posed this question to a man that had an aggressive cancer, before giving him a priesthood blessing. I remember when I heard Elder Bednar tell this story in his CES Devotional “That we might not shrink.” I was a freshman at BYUIdaho, and had just received my mission call to the South Carolina, Columbia Mission. I felt the spirit in that talk very strong and it left an imprint on me that I couldn’t forget. And now almost 2 years since his talk was given, I still find myself going back to this talk often…
January 2014 I was 6 months into my mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was working hard. I was being obedient. And I was loving the people. 3 things that my mission president said were 3 keys to a successful mission. But mid January in my second area I started to feel really down on myself. I thought it was because of lack of success in baptisms and told myself to suck it up. But it soon became apparent that the harder I tried the more down I got. My companion confronted me about it in a loving way and I shut her down. I told her I just needed to work harder. "Forget myself and go to work!" That's what President Hinckley did. That's what I was going to do.
“Why me?”At first I asked Heavenly Father, "Why me?" I thought maybe he's trying to humble me? Maybe I'm doing something wrong? I started having self-doubts, and started getting really down on myself. I started to drag deeper and deeper into what I can only describe as a deep pit. And the harder I tried to climb out, the deeper I fell. And the deeper down I got, the farther away I felt from the spirit, which I knew I needed to teach. My prayers were earnest pleadings asking my Heavenly Father to help me get over myself. To help me stay focused.
Finally my dear companion, out of love and worry, insisted that I call the mission president. His wife answered and the first thing she said after I described my problem to her was "Well Sister, it sounds like you are depressed." I broke down sobbing on the phone. A part of me knew she was right, but for me, admitting it felt like I was giving into it too. I didn’t understand depression, I had no history, and my family had no history of depression. How could it suddenly just pop up while I was in the middle of something so glorious? Why would Heavenly Father allow that? I must be doing something wrong, I would often think to myself.
I was told to go to the doctor and get put on an antidepressant. Meanwhile I would chat on the phone with an LDS counselor every other week. I loathed taking that antidepressant. It was making me gain even more weight than the southern fried food. And I didn't like how it worked for a couple weeks and then it stopped and I got worse and had to get put on a higher dose.
Eventually it was time for a companion change and I was so sure I was going to get better after getting my new companion. She understood depression better than I did, and I was the one that had it, she didn’t! I could tell that we were going to work so hard and get things done and I was going to finally get over what I thought was just a “phase."
The “natural man” takes over and I “shrink”But things kept getting worse. I started having restless sleep, nightmares, and mood swings like none other. One minute I'd be laughing hysterically for no reason, and 5 minutes later I'm crying. I became so frustrated I stopped taking the medicine; it wasn't working so why take it? Plus, I was embarrassed about taking it...so I stopped. After a couple of really hard days my companion asked if I needed to change medicine again and I told her I had stopped. It became a nightly chore for her to get me to take my medicine. It usually involved me yelling and crying. And her begging me, sometimes until midnight, until I would give in and take it.
My prayers at night became longer; I would go into our little kitchen and beg, sometimes for 45 minutes, pleading with Heavenly Father to just help me be happy. “I just want to be happy.” I would repeat as I sobbed on the floor, imploring for a miracle of healing, which I felt I deserved. When saying my prayers I would sometimes feel a little rejected. I knew I was supposed to be on a mission, I recalled the words that my stake president had promised me in my setting apart blessing: “You will have no sickness or illness mar your service…” I felt like Heavenly Father had gone back on his promise, because I was suffering from depression and it was effecting my work, how I taught, how I felt the spirit. I was deeply frustrated.
June 2014 just under a year of service, I was sent home for depression.
I can’t describe the shame I felt and the hurt and confusion that followed, I didn’t want to give a homecoming talk, didn’t want to see family, I wanted more than anything to be back on a mission. I prayed for a quick recovery, so I could get back out, but when I found out that I had to be depression free for 6 months before I could get back out. I knew then that I wasn’t supposed to be going back.
His Will not mineOne night, after being home about a month, while I was looking at old study journals I found my notes from Elder Bednar’s talk, and I went to my computer and read the talk. I was deeply touched, and humbled in some ways at these specific words:
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire” (quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle , 98).
After reading this part I got down on my knees and talked with my Heavenly Father. I didn’t ask for relief, I didn’t ask “Why?” I just talked to Him. I explained how I felt and I finally felt that bitter resentment lift. And little by little as I read more of this talk, understanding came to me. Like the sun rising I gradually felt like Heavenly Father was telling me everything was going to be ok. That this was His will, and that I needed to accept it as His.
As Elder Bednar quotes Elder Maxwell, I needed to remember that “Not shrinking is much more important than surviving! Moreover, partaking of a bitter cup without becoming bitter…” I had said on my mission “Thy will be done.” But I couldn’t accept it. For some reason I couldn’t grasp the thought of me going home early as Heavenly Fathers will. But reading the words “Do you have the faith to not be healed?” I realized that not all the priesthood blessings in the world would work if I didn’t believe this first.
Fast forward to September, where the doctor reads me my 28-vials-worth-of-bloodwork and tells me I have Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease is known as "The Great Imitator" because it imitates so many different kinds of diseases, and that is why it is so hard to diagnose. For example, if you would have asked me in July or August of 2014 why I got sent home, I would have told everyone it was because of depression. But the fact is that Lyme Disease imitates depression, or MDD. It can also imitate Fibromyalgia, MS, Bipolar, CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), Alzheimer’s, and also arthritis. It can effect basically anything in the brain, joints, nervous system, heart and muscles. The bacteria infested my brain, caused depression, anxiety, mood swings, suicidal thoughts, insomnia and many other issues. It had infested my brain for 9 months before I could even begin antibiotic treatments. I was bit by a tick in December of 2012 without even knowing, and now I am on treatment that will last up to 2 years to get the bacteria all out of my system.
I felt a sense of relief when I was told I had Lyme Disease. At first I thought it was because it meant that the depression really wasn’t me, like I felt all along. But as I think more about it, I feel like the relief was from Heavenly Father, because I accepted the diagnosis, and I understood I was being blessed with the capacity to “not shrink.”
As I battle this Disease I keep in mind Elder Bednar’s question, “Do I have the faith to not be healed?” As I do this my prayers have change from, “Please heal me.” To, “Please increase my faith and stamina so I can bear this Disease today. Or I’ll ask for strength. And I always end my pray that I may be open and understanding to my Heavenly Fathers will.