Long Story Short
For those of you who are not familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), I will give a summary of what a "mission" entails. In the LDS church, it is strongly encouraged for young men to serve a full-time two year mission. Missionaries serve all over the world and can start their mission when they are anywhere between 18 and 26 years old. During this time, they offer service and primarily teach others about their beliefs. They wake up at 6:30 AM, do this all day and go to bed at 10:30. It is stressful, challenging and exhausting.
I left on my mission at the age of 23 and served for 12 months without having any issues with depression or anxiety. But around 13 months into the two years, I began having serious problems. I had trouble getting out of bed each day, I couldn't face the world and eventually had serious thoughts of self-harm. I got on medication and it helped for a while but in the end, my mission president released me four months before I was scheduled to go home.
For those not of the LDS faith, it is hard to understand the cultural ramifications of an early release from a mission. It is difficult to explain as well. It is important to understand that there are certain standards of morality and spirituality that a young man must meet in order to serve. Unfortunately, when a young man comes home early, it is often assumed that a young man did not meet those standards, regardless of the actual reason. Missionaries who come home early sometimes are looked down on or thought to not be strong enough to endure the full two years. As one can imagine it is a very touchy and complicated subject so I will leave it at that. If you have any questions, feel free to email me and we can discuss it more in detail.
I was fortunate to not be judged by those around me when I came home. However, I did have internal doubts and struggles. I worried that I had not given 100% or that I had not been a good missionary. It was hard but luckily, I was able to bounce back fairly quickly.
Other missionaries are not so lucky. Especially when they are released for anxiety or depression. Because it is not obvious like a broken leg or arm, some judge those missionaries as weak or lacking in resolve. This makes things worse for the person coming home because then they question their own character and fall deeper into the vicious cycle of depression.
To those who served
If you are one of those missionaries released early for anxiety or depression, know this: Whether you served 18 days or 18 months, you served the mission you were supposed to serve. I truly believe that. You did the work you were supposed to do and you gave it your all. Just because your "all" is not the same as somebody else's does not invalidate your effort. You now have the opportunity to help others who struggle with the same things you do. You can now "mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort" Never for a second doubt your personal worth or capacity to do good. And if you start to, contact me. I will do all I can to help.
To the family and friends of those who served
To those who are family, friends and acquaintances or those who I previously addressed, I have one word for you: LOVE. Don't do anything but love those that come home early. Don't assume the worse, don't gossip and don't judge. Just love them and move forward with life. I firmly believe there is a reason for everything, including the unexpected. Just because their life didn't go as you expected doesn't make their path the wrong one. If it is hard for you to understand how something like depression could cause someone to come home early from a mission, I would suggest reading the previous post "The Fight: An Outsider's Perspective on Depression".
To those not of the LDS Faith
Thanks for bearing with me. Obviously, this post is geared towards a pretty specific niche. But the principle is the same. There are hard things in life that depression makes even harder. School is a great example. It is pretty much expected of us to get some kind of education past high school. But just because there is an expectation does not automatically make it easy. I have a lot of trouble in school. I struggle with having motivation and discipline and I am a chronic procrastinator. I let myself get behind until I am so far behind that I have a proverbial mountain of work to do and then I get overwhelmed, my anxiety kicks in and the next thing you know, I am in bed in a downward spiral of depression. How does this relate to returning home from a religious mission trip? Because the same thing happens to people who can't get through school that happens to those who come home early from a mission. People judge. People think you are just lazy or "can't hack it". Remember, your journey through life is only yours. Ultimately, you are the one who has to decide if that path is right.
I apologize for the long post. I try to keep these short to make people more likely to read them but this one holds special significance to me. I hope it has been helpful to anyone who has read it and once again, thank you for your support in reading this blog. Doing this has been more rewarding than I ever imagined.