Thursday, October 22, 2015

How to Recover from a Mission

These are from conversations and from personal experience, I don't wish to speak for the whole church or for every early return missionary. But my personal belief is that we go through things so that we can help others along the way, and that is my reason and hope that pushes me to write this.

They say being a missionary is the best years of your life, if that is true, then what happens if you have to end early, suddenly. It all comes to an abrupt halt, sooner than planned. Well, from my experience, and from seeing others it ends a few ways, sometimes depression, sometimes it gets to the point where they just leave the church... there is so many negative reactions that can happen to this negative big event that ruins the best years of your life, to that point in your life anyway. So here are a few ways I have found to help one "move on" but in a positive way.

1) Allow yourself to be sad.

It is ok to be sad, to mourn the time that is lost and gone now. Don't feel like you have to come home and just get over it and put it all behind you. When I came home after an honorable medical release with depression and anxiety I was pushed into even more depression. But the society we live in, the LDS Community, thinks that we just have to push it behind us. Pretend that it is ok. Move on. Square your shoulders and fake it until you make it. I don't know anywhere in the scriptures where it says that. In fact one of my favorite scriptures talks about how even the most perfect person to ever walk the earth "wept"... That's right, even Jesus Christ cried (John 11:35).

In my personal opinion, if it is ok for my Savior to cry, it is ok for me, an imperfect person to cry, to feel sad, and to mourn the loss of my time on the mission. In mourning for Christ being crucified the earth trembled and shook, and there was 3 days of darkness covering the whole earth (3 Nephi 8). If we can get past the very false thoughts and beliefs that we need to suck it up, and just be happy all the time, then we can begin to heal, and move on, in our own time. Allow yourself time to mourn the loss. It is ok. But you need to give yourself permission to do it.

2) Don't self shame.

The majority of people that see you home early won't give it more than a second thought. However, there is a culture in the LDS Community to self shame. To talk yourself down. And to make yourself suffer even more than you already are. You cannot begin to heal and move on until you cut yourself some slack and stop shaming yourself. There is a big difference between guilt and shame. And sometimes guilt gets a lot of the credit, when we are actually feeling shame. Guilt is something that we are... If I still a candy bar I am guilty. I feel guilt because I did something wrong. A lot of the time shame comes from what we think we are. If I hit my brother I will have some guilt because I probably shouldn't punch him in the face. But I will feel mostly shame, because I feel bad and the fact that I don't want to face him and say sorry tells me that I am ashamed.

If I come home early from a mission and I have an honorable release I can tell myself that I feel guilty, but why? What is the reason? I didn't do anything wrong, I developed a sudden onset of depression and bipolar symptoms that after 6 months over took my work in the field... So why did I feel guilty? Once again, guilt was taking the credit of shame. I put myself down, I called myself a piece of crap loser every time I got a letter from a past companion. I told myself I screwed up and was not a real missionary when I would go to a friends homecoming. I told myself everyone was judging me when I would go to church. I did the shaming. Nobody else. And why?

Because I grew up in the LDS Community, where if you don't go out on your mission now at age 18 as a boy, you are probably not going out because you have a sin. Or, if someone is open about their depression and anxiety at the pulpit on fast Sunday they are doing it for attention. Or if a man gets a temple divorce he must have been cheating on his wife. So I wonder where I got it in my head that everyone would was looking at me as an "early return missionary", even if they weren't?

I told myself that people were judging me because 1) Sister Missionaries don't have to go out, so they can get an honorable release from just about anything. So therefore people thought I couldn't hack it. That the mission was too hard on me so I was a wussy and gave up, I told myself that was what people thought, and that I deserved to have them feel that way towards me because I came home early. 2) I judged other sisters who went home early, so therefore I had to be judged the same way. Karma.

I told myself I deserved to feel this way. It was karma all coming back because of how I had thought about some other poor early return missionary. It was the Lord humbling me, so I had to take it and let those people think those things about me...Here's the problem, if it worked that way, then everyone else would eventually have every single bad thing happen to them, that they thought about someone else. I should have been pulled over 5 times today, because I wished 5 other people would be pulled over for driving fast past me. But I didn't. Because that is NOT how God works.

3) Don't Wallow.

Go to school. Get out of your town. Leave the past behind. Once you have allowed yourself the time to mourn, and to be sad, and stopped shaming yourself, MOVE ON! I know some people who can't get past their mission because don't go and do other things. This was super hard for me, after serving 1 year I came home, but then was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, a super serious a debilitating illness, that has taken away 2+ years of my life! Once I got over the sadness and stopped shaming myself I was still too sick to move on, to go to school, to figure out my life, even to date! So what did I do? I wallowed, I couldn't do what I wanted so I fell back into the cycle of self shaming. DO NOT WALLOW!

4) Remember the good times.

Like any sad situation, whether the loss of a family pet, losing friendships, leaving a mission, it is ok to remember the good times, and to even see the growth from the hard times. That has been the biggest blessing for me. I may not be able to pin point exact blessings, but I can see my growth that has come from coming home early. I once heard a friend say that they learned more coming home early than anything they would have learned staying out on their mission. And where I don't think that is very true for myself, I am able to see my growth. And I am able to understand that it's ok to see those things, and to look back. And if you feel like you are in a place where you don't think you will ever find good, or find how you have grown from a situation, go ahead and go back and repeat these steps, you might be skipping ahead.

Again, these are just from personal experience as well as conversations of others who have gone through, to some extent, what I have. I don't wish to speak for every early return missionary, but I think and hope, that some of my experiences may have helped others.

-The Lyme Warrior