*This is the story of my mission; how I felt, & why I needed to return home, so it’s a little gloomy. Most missionaries, myself included, reach a point in their mission where they learn to enjoy it, even love it. But I’d daresay you’re not getting the whole truth if someone tells you their mission was never hard & they loved every second. Looking back, perhaps, but it’s not all easy. –If you’d like to read more of what I learned from all of this, click the “JOURNEY” tab.
I returned home on medical release earlier than anticipated from an LDS mission to Concepcion, Chile on March 5, 2016. Those last few months were nothing I expected, yet more than I ever could have imagined. Such joy is found in sharing the thing that makes you whole.
I left for the Mexico MTC on December 2, 2015. I remember being so ecstatic at the idea of being a representative of Jesus Christ. I was ready to put on my little black plaque & hit the ground running, & in a way I did. I prayed, studied the scriptures, poured over every Spanish textbook, met some of my dearest friends, & prayed some more. My testimony grew, & although at times it was challenging to be without family, I was happy. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of happiness & feel that although I’m generally happy, there are special moments in my life when I truly feel joy. Happiness is fleeting, but joy comes with a testimony of the restored Gospel & stays as long as we invite it to. I felt true joy in the Mexico CCM as I did my best to dedicate every part of my heart & soul to becoming more of what Heavenly Father would have me be.
Before I knew it my time had come to venture into the unknown & share this good news. I was signing transfer journals, hugging friends goodbye, & it was off to Chile in what would be the most life altering experience I’ve had to date; a time full of lessons & experiences I don’t go a day without revisiting.
I arrived in Chile with five of my closest friends from the CCM. There is no way to describe the feelings I had as I walked out of baggage claim at the Concepcion airport. I turned the corner to see Presidente & Hermana Arrington smiling, ready to embrace every new missionary. I felt like family seeing the Assistants & office Elders wave & offer to take my luggage. Already, it felt like home. As a new missionary you are so invested in the work. We’d been flying all night long, but within a few hours we had met our trainers & were in route to our individual sectors, ready to push forward full speed & share the restored Gospel with every living thing we could find.
That first day I realized just how different the mission field is compared to the CCM & the week was a blur of difficult experiences. I quickly became aware that my ability to speak & understand Chilean Spanish was limited, that I couldn’t teach the lessons as well as I thought I could, & that this was really going to challenge me. I won’t lie, it was hard & in some ways it seemed to get harder every single day. I remember thinking of friends that had served missions. They return home & all say the exact same thing… “I loved my mission. It was the best 2 years of my life”. I wondered if they had all lied to me. There’s a lot of adjusting to do in the first few months of a mission. You’re walking more, eating different food, speaking a new language, & submerged into a foreign culture without much warning as to how things work. I don’t care if you’re serving stateside or not, the mission field is a different language & culture in & of itself. I struggled for what seemed like forever to feel like I was managing all these new weaknesses.
For 19 years I had a language at my disposal to explain & describe & invoke feeling, & now I was without even that. Those first weeks of adjustment were brutal. I felt useless in the lessons, lonelier the more people were around, & even hoped we wouldn’t teach again until I had a chance to study the language again. Sometimes it was miserable. At first I wondered if I could do it, or if I even wanted to. Eighteen months seemed like forever when I thought of my family & all the happiness I’d left behind, but it got better. Looking back each week I’d realize my Spanish had improved, my feet had less blisters, & I felt a little better about life, but it took time for me to realize it was getting better. In my experience & that of most of my missionary friends, those first 2-3 weeks in the field are harder than anyone expects. Missionaries often don’t even talk about it, almost like they’re expected to be smiling every second, but that’s not true. For me, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done & I really struggled; every hour of every day weighed on me. I’d think, “I don’t know if I can keep doing this for 17 more months!” I started to feel the pressure of numbers & responsibility, thinking about everything I needed to do better & then being reminded that I still needed to finish learning Spanish. I wondered if I was hurting the mission rather than helping it & I got depressed. I was so overwhelmed with everything I ought to have been & wasn’t that it was unbearable. I wasn’t happy, & instead of reminding myself it comes with time & learning, I’d tell myself I was failing in my calling. But I wanted to do better, to be better & become the missionary I’d always thought I could be. So I didn’t tell anyone what I was feeling, not really. I talked with my companion & the girls in our apartment about their missions, the beginning, when the language comes, & when they really started to enjoy it. They told me it was hard at first, but that it got better, so I buckled up & carried on; I just didn’t realize that what I was feeling was so much more intense. I tried not to talk about it, telling myself things would be better tomorrow, but it just got worse. I remember walking behind my companion everyday, head down & trying not to cry. I remember watching the clock & thinking I was losing precious “break” time, waking up & wanting nothing more than to be asleep again, crying at the computer every P-day, & wishing personal study was longer because it was the only peace I got. I’d avoid talking about home or how I was doing with my companion because I’d cry. I remember staring blankly at my companion after a failed contact or a question asked & not being able to say anything for myself.
But, I’m proud of myself for realizing something wasn’t right. How could it be? Everyone else was so happy & I just couldn’t get there. So I started talking, & after some long talks, a few phone calls, & a visit to the doctor I started to feel better. Everyday the idea that I could do this & really be happy was more within reach. I remember laughing & really feeling happy again & it felt so good. I remember going a week without crying & thinking that it was all uphill from there. Unfortunately, as I felt better & better emotionally, I started to feel worse physically. It came on so fast, almost like a night & day difference. I went to bed feeling tired, as usual, & woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a bus.
At first I thought it was just the effects of depression, knowing that our mental & physical health are undeniably tied, & maybe that was part of it, but I couldn’t understand how that could be if I was doing so well emotionally.
So, after seeing a doctor & being convinced it was a lack of sleep & the emotional strain of adjusting, I got up, worked my hardest, & hoped I’d feel a little better in the morning. Each day I’d wake up ready to do my best, & each day I’d go to bed feeling a little more defeated as it just seemed to get worse. One evening in particular, we had just taught a lesson with a member present, which is like gold to missionaries. We’d met our goals & were headed to a ward activity. Spiritually I was flying, but physically I was just hanging on. I’d felt sick all day, but hadn’t told my companion. Partially because I hadn’t felt well in a while & partially because I didn’t want to be the missionary that was sick in the apartment. But as we made our way to the church I blacked out & collapsed in the street. We returned home, called the mission nurse, & after drinking lots of water, I went to bed early. The next morning I arose as normal, & a few hours later had fallen unconscious on the floor. After several days of this happening repeatedly it became clear that this wasn’t dehydration. I’d work until I collapsed & then think, “What am I going to do? I can’t shake this.”
By this time I was a lot happier, & more comfortable in my new responsibilities. I was beginning to understand what it meant to be a missionary. I remember having a special conference, “Teach Repentance & Baptize Converts”, & singing the closing hymn feeling so ready to take on the world, but standing up to walk to the bus stop wondering if I would make it there without fainting. Each day I’d open my eyes & without even moving I could feel the extreme fatigue & the pain in my limbs. My arms & legs hurt all the time. I’d make my bed, noticing the lost dexterity in my hands, & hope I could do everything I needed to. Suddenly everything was difficult, almost not worth it. It was hard to brush my hair or to lift a fork to my mouth. I stopped wearing make up & would sit in a chair while everyone got ready because it made me tired just to pick out my clothes.
My prayers became more constant & more sincere. It means a lot more to pray for strength when you can hardly stand. I would plead for any ounce of help or energy, even just enough comfort to dull the body aches & pain or the strength needed to complete my responsibilities. We’d work until I passed out, go home to rest & then get up to do the same thing over again. Over the weeks as my love grew for those people, that place, & this work, my health declined, making it so, so hard to work how I wanted to & even harder to leave. I remember being so confused & even upset at times that this was happening. I’d think, “Seriously? I don’t need this trial right now. I’m doing my best here. I just started feeling okay again, but you’re going to get me sent home, God.” I remember trying to be strong & wanting to do whatever it took to beat this. I’d come to in the street after passing out & beg my companion not to call the nurse. I didn’t want anyone to know what was happening, hoping that if I just pressed forward it would pass, but the more I tried to ignore it was happening, the more noticeable it became. Soon I was hanging onto walls in the apartment & onto my companion’s arm in the street. I wasn’t allowed to leave the apartment unless we had a set appointment & I hadn’t fainted that day.
On March 1, 2016 I met with the doctor again & had some blood work done. We were hoping for an answer to show up in neon lights & offer a quick solution, & at first we thought we’d found it. The blood work came back showing everything was normal except for a dangerously low calcium level, which could cause all of my symptoms; the fainting, extreme fatigue, muscle & joint pain, lost control in my hands, all of it. I was taken to the ER, expecting to be admitted to the hospital for 5-7 days & then released, ready to work full speed. I was thrilled; so much so that I threw my arms around the doctor. I smiled as they drew more blood to confirm the low calcium level. All thoughts of illness or failure quickly faded away & I was happy. We were all convinced a low calcium level was the source of all my troubles, so when the doctor returned with the news of a false blood test & no ideas on my condition, I was not the only one left staring blankly. Within a few days I was on a plane home with the suggestion that I should see a neurologist & more feelings of guilt & failure than I care to express. I remember thinking that I would’ve stayed in that hospital room for a month if it meant I could leave ready to work again.
That has to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Just like clockwork, every few hours the tears would fall & I’d wonder how I could have let this happen. Maybe if I hadn’t fainted so many times in the street, perhaps if I had worked harder or prayed more or been kinder, or had more faith… Thinking that someone else could’ve done it, but I’m too weak & didn’t work hard enough. I felt guilty, hurt, & broken; like I had failed the Lord & let down those at home. I was convinced it was true, & convinced that I was a terrible person for returning home early, even if it was out of my hands. It didn’t feel like a valid reason for returning home & every thought seemed to be me telling myself I could have used a wheelchair or crawled to appointments & that somehow this was all my fault. That because there was a time during my mission that I hated being there, now that I enjoyed it I was being forced to leave.
Since returning home my life has been largely centered on healing. I meet with doctors, give each new remedy a fair trial, & when my health permits, I write, trusting that somehow, in some way the Lord will use this experience for good.
As of late, I was recently diagnosed with a neurological disorder, likely caused by an infection or bug bite & a structural alignment abnormality in my neck. So, I’ve been coping & healing, & although it’s taking a lot longer than I hoped, I’m starting to see some good from all of this.
People keep asking me what the plan is, & I tell them they’re asking the wrong person because I’m definitely not in charge. If I was I’d still be in Chile as a missionary. All I know is that although sometimes I hesitate, I trust Him & His plan for me, however seemingly inconvenient or unanticipated. I still don’t understand all the whys; why this is part of my plan or why I need to write, all I know is that I’m supposed to.
It’s a difficult path to walk, & one I wouldn’t have chosen, but I still know what I’ve always known. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is my anchor & at the end of the day all my heart wants is to do what He wants. We all have adversity because it’s necessary for growth, that I know. I’m still learning & growing so much through the challenges I face each day. Just as we are all unique children of God, our missions are different & often do not fit the typical full-time service missionaries are known for. But that does not mean that we’re not missionaries. Through this experience I’ve learned what a mission really is, & that if I choose to be, I can be a missionary forever; that’s what conversion is.
Diagnosis explained here.